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Film / Center Stage

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"I am the best goddamn dancer in the American Ballet Academy. Who the hell are you? Nobody."
Maureen Cummings

A 2000 teen drama directed by Nicholas Hytner, starring Amanda Schull, Ethan Stiefel and Zoe Saldana, Center Stage follows a group of young dancers chasing their ballet dreams at the American Ballet Academy.

The story follows the lives of six dancers as they realize their various goals in the dance world, but most of the story centers around the passionate but technically challenged dancer Jody Sawyer as she tries to find her place in the ABA. Her technique continuously gets her into trouble, and when she catches the eye of company choreographer Cooper Nielsen, she naively believes she has found love. The year culminates in a workshop performance that sees some dancers doing everything they can for a part — and others desperate to relinquish their roles.


This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Maureen's mother is shown to be overbearing to the point of disregarding her mental health and is so smothering she falls into the category of emotionally abusive. She urges Maureen to break up with Jim, whom she truly loves, because it may affect her dancing, and when Maureen flat-out admits that she throws up half of what she eats, her mother brushes it off as "you watch what you eat."
  • Alpha Bitch: Maureen is said to be one by other characters, and while she's certainly cold, she borders more on Defrosting Ice Queen than Alpha Bitch, especially once it's revealed how deeply unhappy she is due to her mother's emotional abuse.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Anna shows shades of this. While she is sweet and polite on the outside, she's shown to be bitchy and competitive alongside Maureen.
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  • Blatant Lies: Maureen, every time she tries to cover up her forced vomiting.
  • Camp Gay: Eric speaks in an effeminate voice, is often hypersexual, lusts after his roommate Charlie and even adopts the stage name "Eric O. Jones" after his idol, Oprah. He's so proud of this fact that it's how he introduces himself to Eva (and the audience).
  • Chewing the Scenery: A number of the scenes are campishly overacted, but Maureen practically growling at her boyfriend as she tells him off on his doorstep takes the cake.
  • Dancing Is Serious Business: A number of training montages (played straight) take place across the length of the film, including a traditional "prepping of the pointe shoes" montage.
  • Genre Mashup: While Cooper's ballet still uses mostly straight ballet technique with some African and jazz influence, it is set apart from the rest of the performances because it uses more modern music, such as Michael Jackson and Jamiroquai.
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  • Jerkass : Cooper is a talented choreographer but is undeniably a jerkass, uses Jody for sex and seems completely taken aback when she gets a little clingy after (perhaps why you shouldn't sleep with a teenager).
  • Informed Ability:
    • Maureen is supposedly the best dancer in school and we never see any indication of that beyond her executing a simple port-de-bras at an average skill level at best. We never even see her doing basic barre work. Was it obvious enough that Susan May Pratt was one of the few actors who was untrained in dancing?
    • Eric falls under this as well. The most we see him "dance" is performing a lift, yet he's supposedly so good that he's accepted into a company without anyone even seeing him perform. Shakiem Evans was also not a trained dancer.
    • Inverted with Jody. She supposedly suffers from inadequate turnout and bad feet, but we only see a few examples of poor turnout in close-ups of her feet when she's doing pliés. When she's actually dancing, we don't actually see any technical difference between her and the others, other than a pained expression. As it happens, Amanda Schull was a professional dancer who was working with a company prior to this film.
  • Their First Time: It is never overtly stated that Jody's first time is with Cooper, but she is significantly more inexperienced than he is, sexually, and as a result seems to take the encounter more seriously.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Eva, as well as her friends at the beginning.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Jody and Cooper embrace, kiss and begin to remove their clothes... before the scene fades and we cut to them in bed post-coitus.
  • Technician vs. Performer: One of the main themes in the movie. Jody's imperfect but passionate dancing contrasts heavily with Maureen's mechanical precision. Both sides of the trope are deconstructed, since Maureen's lack of passion comes from her unhappiness with ballet, and Jody's lack of technical ability means that she actually doesn't meet the minimum standards.
  • There Are No Therapists: The professional ballet school has a nutritionist on-sight but not a therapist, counsellor or advisor who can help the increasingly unstable Maureen.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Maureen delivers a fairly cutthroat speech to her mother in which she spells out that ballet was her mother's dream, not hers. This is punched up given that the speech takes place right before Maureen walks out of the lobby and leaves her mom crying, realizing that her daughter has given up on dance forever.
    • Jody delivers a similar speech around the same time to Jonathan and Juliette before she is set to find out about whether or not she's gotten a place in the American Ballet Company. We never find out if she gets the spot or not, but she turns any potential offers down in favor of a spot in Cooper's less traditional company.
  • Training Montage: Too many to count in the movie's ballet-heavy setting.
  • Two-Teacher School: The students' training seemingly solely takes place from the same three teachers, including the director of the ballet company. For a company director, Jonathan Reeves is also oddly invested in the training school for a ballet company director, teaching pas de deux classes, attending class auditions and even having private meetings with the students. This would normally be very uncommon in a traditional academy.
  • Vague Age: It's never established how old the core characters of the movie actually are. Some assume that they are high school seniors, since they are part of a private training program at the American Ballet Academy. It's also established that ABA does have an elementary-to-high school program, since Maureen has been at the school since she was nine. However, the students are also seemingly the sole performers in the year-end workshop performance (no younger dancers featured), not to mention Jody's choreographer sleeps with her (morally sketchy even if she were of age, but downright abhorrent if she's underage). The Dawson Casting of the film doesn't help the ambiguity. Word of God states that the school and company are based loosely off of the American Ballet Theatre, which operates both a company and a school, as well as a "transitional" company training program for young dancers age 18 and up who are aspiring toward a company. Other professional ballet schools (such as Canada's National Ballet School) have similar programs or college-style programs for students who have finished high school but not yet ready for companies. This could be the case, but it's never stated.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Eva reminds Jody of this as she cries over Jonathan and Juliette telling her her training isn't up to par. She reminds Jody that there's more to being a great dancer than great technique, and that Jody needs to find her passion and love of dance again.

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