You'll Be Floored by the Dance
I've long had a theory that every movie generation feels the need to let its tough guys dance. Stomp the Yard, the supercharged step-dancing musical, is just the latest iteration in a form that goes back at least as far as the 1930s, when machine-gun toting gangster James Cagney morphed into a machine-gun tapping George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy.
What's step-dancing? Well, it's been a tradition on black college campuses since there have been black college campuses, and high schools across the country are developing teams of late. Think martial arts meets marching band meets Busby Berkeley, and think competition between dancing fraternities. The film's music-video style, with slow-motion, fast-forward and lots of other editing tricks to add even more ferocity to the percussion-driven, macho challenges and choreographed insults of step-dancing.
Which is much in the style of previous tough-guy dance movies — everything from dancing gangsters in Guys and Dolls and gangs in West Side Story to the athleticized disco of Saturday Night Fever and Footloose, which made the working-class hoofers hot. Later variations include everything from Michael Jackson's Beat It music video (yeah....well, he's supposed to be tough) to Drumline.
Stomp the Yard begins with an urban step-dancing face-off that leads to a gang killing (sort of starting where the last scene ends in West Side Story). Then it morphs into the kind of college musical that June Allyson and Peter Lawford used to make in the 1940s. Rival frats compete in a national step-dancing championship, and star Columbus Short (who's a choreographer offscreen and can also be seen on NBC's Studio 360 on Sunset Strip) brings urban moves to the mix. The plot's just silly, but the dance is undeniably galvanizing.
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