Shall We Dance? (2004)

Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V-0 ; L-2 ; S-5/N-0

You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
Psalm 30:11-12

Shall We Dance?

Although I prefer Masayuki Suo’s original film, this Americanized adaptation has its charms also. It is a bit hard to conceive of Richard Gere as an unglamorous corporate lawyer, but his John Clark still is a good stand-in for Koji Yakusho’s reserved and proper Shohei. Many of director Suo’s shots are copies—such as Clark’s viewing from his commuter train the beautiful but sad-faced woman looking out of the second-floor window of a dance studio; and then later, after he has been taking dance lessons, Clark sitting at his desk while the camera tilts down to reveal his feet practicing a dance step. Best of all, the new version features Susan Sarandon as Beverly, John Clark’s neglected wife. No filmmaker could cast such an actress in the tiny supporting role of the original, so her part has been considerably been enlarged, providing more of a family context for the story.

When the hesitant Clark, drawn by the beauty of the woman in the window, gets off the train, climbs the steps, and goes into the studio the observe, he soon finds himself entering into a demanding but beautiful world that brings grace to far more than just to his feet and his body. Miss Mitzi’s Studio is a small world in itself, headed by the along in years Miss Mitzi; her assistant, the brash Bobbie; and the woman whom he saw and hoped would be his instructor Paulina (Jennifer Lopez). In this he is disappointed, as Paulina remains aloof, teaching more advanced students. Under Miss Mitzi’s tutelage are fellow classmates, the giant-sized Vern, whose claim to have a fiancé no one believes; the fast-talking Chic; and a longhaired Latin dude who tries to hide from John. Turns out this guy is the stiff from John’s own office, whom virtually everyone dislikes.

John’s attraction to Penelope, while at the same time loving his wife, is well handled, she, when at last she allows him to talk to her, deftly turning his attention the dance with its joy and beauty. Once he sees this, Clark spends more and more time rehearsing at the studio, while telling his wife that he is working late. As Beverly becomes more worried about his late nights out, she turns to a detective to find out if there is another woman. How all this turns out, and how dance transforms the humdrum life of a lawyer who had been drifting through life on autopilot makes for enjoyable viewing. John Clark might not have been in mourning, like the Psalmist, but his was a life of gloom until he discovered something important in Miss Mitzi’s second floor studio. We can only hope that he will discover the source of that joy, not just dancing itself, but the Lord of the Dance.

For reflection/discussion

1) What song does the film’s title suggest? Was the song used in the Japanese version? How many times do you hear it in the new film? What does this say about American subtlety? Why do you think the Japanese director chose not to include it—was it really necessary?

2) What is each of the students hoping to get out of dancing? How is each of them changed?

3) How is dance a good symbol of life and joy? What other films use dance as a metaphor? (Zorba the Greek; Footloose; Dancing at Lughnasa)

4) How have Christians often viewed dancing?Check out the hymn “Lord of the Dance.”