A dance movie? In five star films? The horror! The blasphemy! The indignity of it all! While most generic dance flicks automatically have you cocking a pistol and pointing it at your cranium, How She Movie is definitely not one of them. Gritty, compelling, and emotional, this look into the world of ‘step’ is an indie gem that slipped under the radar. It’s also one that definitely deserves a second look.
It begins simply enough: a child’s rhyme plays softly as an old video of two girls dancing is shown. Then the music changes in intensity: a dramatic beat is introduced and we now see a young woman dancing along to the video. But it's not the cute, innocent movements of the kids. It's an angry, almost violent physical display that matches the ferocious switch in music. It builds and builds and you know something this relentless cannot last. The opening scene ends in tears as the nameless woman dancing to the clip breaks down, sobbing.
This is all in the first two minutes. We know nothing of the characters, we know nothing of the setting or the situation. Perhaps it's this lack of prior knowledge that makes the scene all the more affecting. As How She Moves unfolds we learn the girl is our central character - Raya Green (Rutina Wesley) - and she is watching a video of her and her older sister when they used to compete in step competitions as kids. Her sister is dead now, having recently died of a drug overdose. With every last cent her parents had poured into fighting the addiction, Raya has been pulled out of private school and returned to the ghetto she so desperately sought to escape. From the jump director Ian Iqbal Rashid sets us up for an alternative to the dance movie experience.
Song: G-Slide (Tour Bus) – Lil Mama ft Kadar
Ian Iqbal Rashid
A Sundance darling with his first feature Touch Of Pink (which spent 12 years in development), Ian Iqbal Rashid returned to the festival four years later with How She Move - something entirely different and entirely surprising. The openly gay poet, screenwriter and filmmaker brought a new element to the stereotypical dance flick and critics responded to it with the film nominated for the Sundance World Cinema Grand Jury Prize. Sure, there are still cliches in How She Move but his execution and insight turned them into catharsis.
Who run the world? Girls
Raya is an ambitious, determined individual and she's willing to do what she has to achieve her goals. In How She Move that means turning down an invitation to dance with an all-female crew in favour of angling her way into an all-male crew because she knows they have a better chance at winning. Bitches get shit done. On the flip side, the all female crew is just as hungry: knowing that judges favour the opposite sex in the world of step dancing, they steal a male crew's routine and perform it even though it requires humping the ground and switching up the lyrics from girlfriend to boyfriend i.e. "he want it, he like it hot-hot-hot" (Montell Jordan, what a poet). Bitches don't give a f***.
Before she went on to become one of the most annoying characters on television (Tara in True Blood), Rutina Wesley was a Juilliard graduate looking for her big break. She found it in How She Move, a big screen debut that announced her to the world. Not only was Wesley able to highlight Raya's emotions like an exposed nerve, she brought a magnetic physicality that the role demanded. Perhaps that’s what makes her run on True Blood so frustrating - knowing there's this talented individual just waiting to step into the ring.
By its very definition a dance movie is going to have dance scenes, but if Make It Happen and Step Up 4 taught us anything it's that the quality can be questionable. How She Move, however, not only answers all of the questions - it rams them down your puny human throat. Step dancing isn't soft, fluid or pretty to look at: it's aggressive, raw and tribal. New York choreographer Hi-Hat (don't question the name) was the man for the job and boy did he deliver. The hip hop choreographer is best known for his work with everyone from Missy Elliott to Jay-Z and segments on the US version of So You Think You Can Dance (he's also responsible for The Clovers routines in Bring It On). But Hi-Hat was at his best making beats with peoples bodies in How She Move where there were literally limb dislocations mid-routine for added affect. Case and point: the finale.
Maria Lewis - follow Maria on Twitter here: @moviemazz