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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.


Not to be confused with 1991 Hong Kong film Center Stage.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Kathleen feels that Cooper has become this since she dumped him for Jonathan.
  • Actor Swap: Maureen secretly arranges for Eva to perform the lead in Jonathan's ballet in her place.
  • Agony of the Feet: The shot of Jody's battered, bloody feet after practicing alone all evening might cause some Squick.
  • 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. As an example of how informed this attribute is, Eva brands Maureen as a "big-time bitch" simply because Maureen tells her that smoking indoors is forbidden.
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  • Art Imitates Life: Cooper's ballet is intentionally a very thinly veiled depiction of his Love Triangle with Kathleen and Jonathan. Less intentional is its similarity to Jody's love triangle with him and Charlie.
  • 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.
  • Blatant Lies: Maureen, every time she tries to cover up her forced vomiting.
  • Butt-Monkey: If anyone in class is going to have a correction shouted their way, it's probably Jody. Her fellow dancers are visibly annoyed when an instructor holds up class to adjust Jody's turnout manually.
  • Camp Gay: Erik speaks in an effeminate voice, is often hypersexual, lusts after his roommate Charlie and even adopts the stage name "Erik 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).
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  • Cast Full of Gay: Apparently the male half of the student cohort is typically this, as the girls are very excited (while Erik is very disappointed) that Mr. Fanservice Charlie is both straight and single.
  • 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.
  • Contrived Clumsiness: Jody "stumbles" into Cooper, Jonathan, and Joan Miller in an effort to get Cooper's attention.
  • Courtly Love: The somewhat flirtatious first meeting between Cooper and mega-donor Joan Miller has shades of this, including a gallant kiss on the hand.
  • Dance Off: A playful one between Jody/Charlie and Erik/Eva at the salsa club.
    • In a sense, the final workshop performances are this, since everyone is competing for spots with the company.
  • 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.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: At first it seems as though Jim will be a Hopeless Suitor for Maureen, showing signs of being a Stalker with a Crush by calling her repeatedly at the school office and waiting for her outside the front door. She does agree to a date with him, however, and after that they become a couple off-screen. He is still a dogged nice guy, evidenced by his efforts to convince Maureen of his genuine concern for her health.
  • Dress Code: Female dancers must wear a black leotard and pink tights to class, with their hair pulled back from their faces.note  Eva demonstrates that she is a Bad Butt by violating this code on her first day.
    • While not explicitly stated, the dress code for male students is apparently black tights or shorts and a white T-shirt.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending:
    • Cooper gets the funding for the ballet company he wants to start.
    • Jody earns a principal role in said company and ends up with Charlie.
    • Four students—Charlie, Eva, Erik, and Anna—are accepted into the school's affiliate company.
    • Sergei is accepted into the same company in San Francisco where his girlfriend dances.
    • Maureen breaks free of her mother's insistence on pursuing a ballet career and decides to go to college and stay with Jim.
  • Evil Gloating:
    Cooper: You're still holding onto all that personal shit.
    Jonathan: I don't have to hold onto anything. I got the girl.
  • Family-Friendly Stripper: Cooper's ballet includes a scene in which Jody strips down to her bra and dance briefs.
  • Game-Breaking Injury: Erik is supposed to play one of the male leads in Cooper's ballet, but slips on stage and injures his leg—always a dancer's worst nightmare. At the end, we learn his injury is not permanent and he will be Back in the Saddle in time to dance professionally.
  • 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.
  • Glory Days:
    • Juliette's previously illustrious career as a dancer is hinted at, but never detailed.
    • Jonathan's career as a dancer gets a little more detail; apparently he was the company's best-ever Romeo until Cooper took up the role.
  • Good Old Ways: A theme of the movie is the frustration of some dancers at the school's strict adherence to classical ballet tradition.
    • Subverted, however, with Eva, the student who is constantly rebellious and doesn't fit into the uptight ballet atmosphere. Although one would expect her to rebel from the genre itself and gravitate toward more modern ballet or jazz, Eva is shown to be nothing but passionate about classical ballet and thrives in Jonathan's very traditional piece.
  • 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?
    • Erik 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 (although she's playing it safe at times during the final number). As it happens, Amanda Schull was a professional dancer who was working with a company prior to this film.
  • In-Universe Soundtrack: Most of the music on the movie's soundtrack is played while the characters are dancing onstage, in class, or (in one scene) at a club.
  • It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": "Juliette Simone" was born "Julie Simon."
  • 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).
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    Sergei: (dramatically posing on bended knee) I am your slave!
    Eva: I'd believe it more if you weren't staring at your fucking reflection when you said it.
    Pas de deux instructor: If someone wants to hear profanity, Miss Rodriguez, they can take a subway. They don't need to spend sixty dollars on a ballet ticket. (to Sergei) Though she has a point.
  • Jerkass with a Heart of Gold: There is no indication that Eva's audition for the program was anything less than voluntary, and clearly she does have a passion for ballet. Yet from the moment she is accepted into the training program, she has a terrible attitude toward the company and the instructors and goes out of her way to antagonize them. This is meant to be justified In-Universe because of a few arguments she has with Jonathan and Juliette, but these arguments likely would not have happened if Eva did not pick them herself. That said, she is a loyal friend to people she considers worthy of her friendship, she is capable of loosening up and having a good time, and she can be brought to tears by a beautiful performance.
  • Karma Houdini: Cooper sleeps with a student (possibly underage), berates and mistreats her in front of guests, uses a piss-poor excuse to cast himself as a lead in his own production last minute (which also sees him pantomiming sex with that student onstage) and what happens to him? He gets enough of a grant to fully fund his own company and gets a principal dancer who's desperate to work for him. He doesn't even get verbally chastened.
  • Living Legend: Prima ballerina "THE Kathleen Donahue" is apparently this, to hear the girls speak of her.
  • Long-Distance Relationship: Sergei, with another dancer named Galina who works in San Francisco. This doesn't stop him from getting very cozy with an older woman at the salsa club.
  • May–December Romance: Slightly downplayed as it's not clear how much older Jonathan is than Kathleen, but considering she's a principal or featured soloist, she's likely in her late 20s or maybe early 30s, while Jonathan, a retired performer and longtime director is at least 10 years older (Peter Gallagher was nearly 45 at the time of production, while Julie Kent was 30).
  • Parental Neglect: 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." It is even implied that the only reason Maureen ever began dancing was because of her mother's unfulfilled ambition.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    Maureen: So what happens is the elephant goes, "Ow! Ow!" and the mouse goes, "Take it all, BITCH!"
  • Random Smoking Scene: Eva and Erik are both smokers, but this has no bearing on the plot or their evolution as characters.
  • "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.
    • Although he tries to do so as nicely as possible, Jonathan ends up delivering one to Jody when discussing her lack of technical improvement.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Eva, as well as her friends at the beginning.
  • Screw the Rules, She's Beautiful!: It is very doubtful that a ballet school as prestigious and demanding as the ABA would accept a student with all of Jody's (alleged) flaws: poor turnout, bad feet, "not the ideal body type." A brief conversation between two proctors at her audition suggests the reason she is ultimately accepted is because she is pretty.
  • Second-Hand Storytelling: Maureen, Anna, and Emily recount the huge fight between Kathleen and Cooper that led to the latter escaping to London for some time.
  • 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.
  • Shout-Out: Jody's mother thinks she would be better off going to college, particularly Indiana University, which has an excellent ballet program. Actress Amanda Schull, who plays Jody, began attending that very program on scholarship at the age of 17.
  • Shown Their Work: In terms of ballet choreography, thanks to the numerous professional dancers in the cast. In just one example, the pas de deux Kathleen and Cooper perform together from Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet was more or less just Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel doing for a film crew what they'd already done together hundreds of times onstage at the American Ballet Theatre. It was tweaked for filming purposes, of course, but it's all straight out of the real ballet.
  • Soul-Crushing Desk Job: Likely Maureen's mother's attitude to her own job: Having lacked the talent to get ahead as a dancer in her younger years, she must settle for working in the company's press office.
  • Start My Own: Cooper's ambition is to open his own, more modern ballet company. By the end of the film, the help of a Wealthy Philanthropist is enough for him to make it happen, with Jody as the star.
  • Static Character: We don't really know anything about Anna, except that she is friends with Maureen and Emily and is talented enough to dance the lead in one of the workshop ballets and get a spot with the company.
  • Stern Teacher: All of them, particularly Juliette.
  • Straight to the Pointe: The dancers wear their pointe shoes to their very first class. This trope is subverted in that the movie does make it clear how difficult and painful it is to dance en pointe.note 
  • Technician Versus 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.
  • 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.
  • There Are No Therapists: The professional ballet school has a nutritionist on-site, but there is no mention of a therapist or counselor who can help the increasingly unstable Maureen. Not that she thinks to ask.
  • 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 four teachers (two for the girls, one for the boys, one for pas de deux). Jonathan Reeves is also oddly invested in the training school for a ballet company director, 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.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: We hear Maureen make herself purge twice, but always from the privacy of the bathroom stall.
  • 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.
  • You Are Fat: The implication behind a teacher advising Emily to make an appointment with the school nutritionist.

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