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Strictly Ballroom – Belonging

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    People have the longing to belong and to be accepted by a group or community. A sense of Belonging can emerge from the connections and acceptance we have with other people, communities and the larger world. These ideas of belonging are represented in texts which explore aspects of belonging and an individual’s potential to challenge or improve a community group.

    The film ‘Strictly Ballroom,’ directed by Baz Lurhman, the film ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ directed by Kate Woods and the exaggerated true story of an African American youth’s fight to belong in the song “dance with the devil” by immortal technique all represent ideas of belonging formed by life experiences. ‘Strictly ballroom’ is a comedic ‘mocumentary’ set in the highly competitive world of ballroom dancing where the stereotypical plot follows an attractive male lead dancer Scott Hastings.

    He finds love with an ‘ugly-duckling’ female partner who dances from the heart. Within the ballroom dancing world in order to belong, creativity and individual ideas need to be sacrificed. The power held in the ballroom dancing world is by those who value tradition and fight to stop individuals such as Scott Hastings from breaking away from the norms and long held standards of behaviour. Barry Fife is the president of the dancing federation and will resort to anything to make sure that the current status of the dancing federation remains and is not altered.

    In the first scene of the movie Scott is shown dancing in competition with his partner Liz. When he stumbles into a difficult situation he abruptly resorts to improvised “non-federation” dance moves, revealing the freedom of movement that Scott so greatly desires. The “flashy, crowd pleasing” steps shocks and disappoints Scott’s partner, Barry Fife the president, and his mother who dramatically states “did I fail him as a mother? ” This dialogue is used to create satire and humour to show the audience just how seriously ballroom dancing is taken by these people.

    Their world is depicted as a fantasy world, shown through fairy tale motifs such as in the opening scene where the audience sees dancers slowly and swiftly gliding along the dance floor in their bright and glamorous costumes. The people in power within the dancing federation have corrupted values which isolate and take over the values of individuals creating a lack of belonging. Baz Lurhman uses juxtaposition as a main technique to show this. In the scene where Barry confronts Scott in the itchen of the RSL Club, Barry attempts to sway Scott to follow the rules by telling him a dishonest version of Doug, Scott’s father and Shirley’s past. He makes Scott believe that Doug singlehandedly ruined his own and Shirley’s career when he started dancing his own alternative steps. The Scott and Barry relationship is juxtaposed against the relationship Scott has with his father, Doug. He is a reserved man who never seems to have the chance to speak; especially in situations that his wife is involved in.

    Doug is seen watching the film he took of Scott’s unorthodox dancing. It inspires his secret dancing which keeps alive his own desire for freedom and he ends up being the help through which Scott ultimately finds the strength to dance his ‘Paso doble’ and avoid his father’s “life lived in fear. ” Another example, is the style of dancing encouraged and approved by the dancing federation being juxtaposed by the way Scott and Fran dance. The dancing of people such as Tina Sparkle and partner is flashy and displays false emotion.

    Backstage Scott and Fran are dancing passionately and represent real emotions and intimacy. In the beginning Fran is depicted as the ‘ugly duckling’, shown without make- up and wearing oversized clothing. This was shown in contrast with the other female dancers. When Fran starts exploring her own identity, her makeup becomes more natural and soft, she transforms into a graceful woman when she wears her paso doble costume and is juxtaposed with the gaudy outfits of the other dancers.

    Lurhman explores the theme of belonging through the value of self belief. Self belief is shown through the realistic dancing of the Spanish community and Fran’s family compared to the exaggerated and unreal images of the ballroom community, dominated by flashy costumes and insincerity. At the Toledo Milk Bar the earthy and sensual colours of reds and browns allows us to feel the real spirit of dancing. When Rico, Fran’s father challenges Scott to dance the Paso doble, Scott is laughed at by the way he dances. “What is so funny about the way I dance? Fran’s Family and the Spanish community soon teach Scott that the real value of dancing comes from the heart and Fran’s grandmother shows him where he needs to really feel the rhythm in his body. When Scott is still contemplating who to dance with at the Pan-Pacific’s he is approached by his father, “Scott can I bend your ear for a tick? ” who tells him the true story of his past, and how much regret he has in never dancing his own steps. This makes Scott finally step up, and as the Pan-Pacific competition starts Scott dressed as a bullfighter and Fran dressed in her red and black ‘paso doble’ dress come on the stage.

    Barry Fife enraged by this couple dancing stops the music and demands them to leave the stage. However, in the crowd, Doug for the first time in his life stands up for something he believes in, he starts clapping the rhythm for Scott and Fran to dance to. A real dancer must only “listen to the rhythm and not… be scared”. Soon after, Yaya, Rico and the crowd all start clapping, and Scott and Fran are able to dance their paso doble on the stage. The music eventually comes back on, and the crowd end up on stage as well belonging to each other in a sense of unification as they dance to the tune ’love is in the air’.

    The fight for Scott’s expectation to fit in is over, and people realize that dancing your own steps is what truly makes you an individual and belong to your heart. The desire for someone to find where they think they truly belong is also shown in the film ‘Looking for Alibrandi’, Directed by Kate Woods. Set in the 1990’s of Sydney Australia, ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ follows the life of Josie Alibrandi, a 17 year old Italian-Australian girl dealing with the traumas of everyday life and is struggling to identify where she belongs.

    We see her struggles with the stresses of the HSC, boys, and dealing with social and racial bigotry including derogatory terms like “wog” or being called “ethnic. ” In the beginning Josie’s attitude is negative and she believes that she is burdened by her Italian ancestry, social status and the feeling of being illegitimate. This changes when she learns true and deeper meanings of life through her experiences and by learning from others. In the opening scene to the film we are shown Josie’s family celebrating “national tomato day” or as Josie calls it “National Wog Day”.

    Everyone is participating except for Josie. Woods uses the technique of a voice over throughout the film; by Josie narrating it give us insight into her emotions and opinions. It also adds humour and a connectedness with the character. As she looks around at her family celebrating, she says “this may be where I come from, but do I really belong here? ” Through the tone in Josie’s voice the audience can see that she is confused about who she really is as a person. Throughout the film the events experienced and the people Josie meets affects her development into an individual.

    One of the pivotal experiences that she goes through is the suicide of her close friend John Barton who like Josie struggled with constant pressures coming from his family and school in order to belong. “I’ve always had to be the best because it’s been expected of me”. Josie realises that John died because he couldn’t fight for his own freedom in life and it teaches her that she does have that freedom and can use it to find her sense of belonging. Josie’s Nona had always told her and her mother that the Alibrandi women were cursed and therefore “lucky to be involved because we have no right to belong. This has a great affect on Josie and her attitude she rebels against what her culture and family expects of her and decides that she is “going to be the first Alibrandi woman to have a say in her life. ” She rebels against the idea that she should go out with someone of her “own kind” such as what her friend believes in. “people breed with their own kind… if your fathers a dustman, you’re going to be a dustman. ” In the film Woods uses different techniques in order to show the contrast between Josie’s Italian world and her world as a teenager.

    Italian music is used throughout the film and in the first scene is juxtaposed with the modern rock music that is coming out of Josie’s friend’s car. Woods also uses colloquial language for a more realistic portrayal of contemporary Australian teenagers. “I swear the phone companies would go broke if it weren’t for the Italians! ” In the closing scene the audience is shown another annual tomato day, and on this day Josie is participating and going out with her Australian boyfriend Jacob.

    Through her experience she has developed into someone who can balance two worlds and realises that “what’s important is who I feel I am” and ends the scene saying “were not cursed, were blessed! ” “Dance with the devil” written by Immortal Technique is a narrative song that describes the disturbing true story of a young African American boy named “Billy. ” The song details how desperate Billy was to belong with a notorious gang in his area and the extreme actions he takes to become a part of it.

    The listener follows Billy’s decent into complete corruption from being “fascinated by material objects” and small drug deals to rape and murder. The song begins with a description of Billy whose primary goal in life was “making a million”. At the age of thirteen he was mentally affected by his mother’s drug habit and even though “she put the pipe down… yeah she was sober but her son’s heart simultaneously grew colder. ” Billy consequently deals drugs as this is what he feels is the norm of his culture. He decides that he wants to belong to a gang in his area but “the criminals he chilled with didn’t think he was real. They explained to him that any “coward” can sell drugs on the street but only a true criminal can “stab someone…looking straight in their eyes. ” Billy was willing to do anything to prove he was “cold hearted” and so the gang set up a test for him and suggested raping a woman. With these lines heard throughout the song the listener can see that in order to belong, people such as Billy will carry out actions blinded by desire to be accepted and respected; which can ultimately have extreme and horrible consequences. Within the song there are many biblical and spiritual references.

    The song aims to inform listeners that in the struggle to fit in you can lose sight of who you really are and the outcome may not be what you expected. “Devils used to be gods angels that fell from the top, there’s no diversity because we’re all burning in the melting pot. ” Billy chooses to take the test in the whirlpool of his desire, so the crew meets him on “Friday night at a quarter to three”. On this night Billy and other members of the crew followed a woman on her way home from work, the other members captured her and “wrapped a shirt around her face. They knocked her down and took to her to the top of an abandoned building and “proceeded to rape her. ” Because she was a witness to what she had been through, the crew handed the gun to Billy and told him “that if he killed her he was guaranteed a spot in the crew. ”

    Feeling “strong standing with his new brothers” Billy put the gun to her head and took the shirt off her face. As he does so he realises that he is staring into “the eyes of his own mother”. He “cries out to the sky because he was lonely and scared but only the devil responded, cause god wasn’t there. The song describes how Billy at that moment felt what it was to belong to that crew and so he “jumped off the roof and died with no soul. ” The background music plays an important role in emphasizing the mood of the story and the actions of the main character. The music in the beginning is a haunting, dark piano cord which is repetitively played as immortal technique narrates the sinister and tragic events in Billy’s life. When Billy’s actions start sucking him into a place of no return the music is played lower to show and emphasise this.

    The music plays a large role in wordlessly recounting the emotive aspects of Billy’s descending life. The line in the last verse is used by Immortal Technique as rhyme and it teaches listeners that getting caught up in the wrong desire to belong can have serious and devastating outcomes. “So when the devil wants to dance with you, you better say never because a dance with the devil may last you forever. ” In conclusion we can say that the longing and desire to belong to a community or even a gang can have improving effects or detrimental effects to the individual or society.

    In ‘strictly ballroom’ we were shown the positive outcome of having self-belief in finding a place that you belong to that is true to your heart. In ‘looking for Alibrandi’ we were shown that differences among people, such as racial differences can make the lines between two worlds blurry; and finally the song ‘dance with the devil’ relates to belonging to the wrong group of people and the outcomes it can have. These texts all prove that wanting to belong can have different effects on everyone.

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    Strictly Ballroom – Belonging. (2017, Mar 19). Retrieved from

    Frequently Asked Questions

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    How is belonging shown in Strictly Ballroom?
    Belonging to the world of ballroom dancing involves conforming to the use of extravagantly coloured cloths that is worn. Throughout the film different characters present the viewers with the extremity of their costumes even off the dance floor.
    What is the main theme of Strictly Ballroom?
    Prominent themes in Strictly Ballroom include: Relationships. Self-expression/Self-identity. Power/Corruption.
    Why is it called Strictly Ballroom?
    Strictly Come Dancing took it's name from a mixture of the BBC's long running ballroom competition Come Dancing and the successful 1992 film Strictly Ballroom. Instead of following the same format as Come Dancing, the series was brought up-to-date and celebrities were introduced. The series debuted on May 15, 2004.

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