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Film / Strictly Ballroom

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A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.
Strictly Ballroom is a 1992 Australian ballroom dance film. Young Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio) has the makings of a superb dancer, and he's being groomed to win the coveted Pan-Pacific Latin Championships. Secretly, however, he longs to try some new, original steps in his dancing. When the authorities of the ballroom dance world (his mum Shirley, his uncle Les, and local ballroom head honcho Barry Fife) discover this, they pressure him to conform. But then he meets ugly duckling dance student Fran (Tara Morice), who thinks he should follow his dreams—and offers to dance with him. Though initially scornful, Scott agrees. But the powers that be aren't just going to let him do his crazy, crowd-pleasing steps without a struggle. After all, it's been tried before, and ruthlessly dealt with. And Barry Fife will do almost anything to ensure things remain...strictly ballroom.

Strictly Ballroom was directed by Baz Luhrmann of Moulin Rouge! and Australia fame and is the first in his Red Curtain Trilogy (the other two are William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge). It's the Australian chick flick (Dirty Dancing? What's that?), and its climactic dance scene finds its way onto most Best Movie Dance Scene lists.

Plentifully embellished with tulle, sequins, and cheese.


This film provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Ken Railings. Liz claims being his partner feels like "dancing in a brewery".
  • Bilingual Bonus: When Fran's father and grandmother watch her dance the beginner's category at the Pan Pacific, her grandmother comments in Spanish on how pretty Fran looks. Fran's father on the other hand says that if he sees "that asshole", he'll kill him.
  • Beautiful All Along: Fran begins this way, and gets better.
  • Catchphrase: "A life lived in fear is a life half-lived" from Fran. Also, "Gutless wonder!"
  • Dance of Romance: The achingly tender dance to Doris Day singing "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps".
  • Dance Party Ending: After Scott and Fran finish their routine during the Grand Prix, Scott's parents take to the floor and are soon followed by the entire audience. Liz can be seen dancing with Fran's father while her grandmother dances with Les.
  • Dancing Is Serious Business: Played with hilariously: everyone in the movie treats the grandly-named Pan-Pacific Championships like the biggest thing in the world...but it sure looks like a small regional competition...
    • But it is justified when you consider he may need the kudos of winning to make a successful professional/teaching career in dance.
  • Dodgy Toupee: When Wayne and Les try to stop Barry Fife from sabotaging the competition, his hairpiece falls forward in a pretty hilarious way, and he never really corrects it after that.
  • Fixing the Game: Barry planned to give the Pan-Pacific Championship to Ken and his partner no matter what Scott did. Wayne called Barry out on his duplicity, and toward the end Liz turned against Barry as well. By the end of the movie, it's clear that Scott and Fran are the future of ballroom dancing, and Barry's reputation is pretty much ruined.
  • The Glasses Gotta Go: Justified. Fran only seems to falter when she isn't looking at Scott, so taking off her glasses forces her to pay more attention to him and, hence, the dance.
  • Greek Chorus: Arguably, Scott's adorable little sister Kylie and her pint-sized dancing partner.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Liz.
  • The Ingenue: Fran
  • Ironic Echo: "A life lived in fear is a life half-lived." Or could that be an Awesome Echo? "WE LIVED OUR LIVES IN FEAAAR!!!"
  • Land Downunder: Set in Sydney. Filmed primarily in Marrickville and Pyrmont (suburbs of Sydney).
  • Lampshade Hanging: Liz says, "I want Ken Railings to walk in here right now and say, 'Pam Shortt's broken both her legs and I wanna dance with you.'" This is immediately followed by a flashback of Pam Shortt having a car accident before Ken Railings walks in and says to Liz, "Pam Shortt's broken both her legs and I wanna dance with you." This is then lampshaded by one of the children who whispers, "That was unexpected."
  • Large Ham: A far larger proportion of the cast than seems strictly fair.
  • LOL, 69: The film doesn't draw attention to it but Ken Railings' contestant number at the dance competitions is 69.
  • Mockumentary: The film starts as this as a clever means of introducing the characters and the main situation.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Paul Mercurio as Scott. His solo dance after Liz ditches him as a partner seems at least partially to show him off. One version of the poster art shows him in his finale outfit but with no shirt under his jacket.
  • Only One Name: Fran's surname is never revealed.
    Scott: What's your name again?
    Fran: Fran.
    Scott: Yeah, Fran what?
    Fran: Just Fran.
  • Only Sane Kid: Kylie, who doesn't get why everyone is up in arms about Scott's "crowd pleasing steps".
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Taken to ridiculous lengths by everyone, even Fran at the climax though hers is more flamenco inspired at least, still glitzy. The men's outfit's aren't to be sniffed at either especially when Scott borrow's Fran's father's golden sequined toreador's jacket.
    • Which you will see is Truth in Television if you watch a Latin dance competition.
      • Pretty much only if you're watching Dancing with the Stars or Strictly Come Dancing...The costumes are extreme even for the period they're a nod to (Luhrmann notes that the ballroom world shown is a loving but exaggerated parody of ballroom about ten or twenty years before the film is set.) Now you might see sparkles or if they're feeling really daring, some color, but for most Latin men, black on black rhinestones are about as daring as it gets.
  • Running Gag: Wayne's got to practice his bogo pogo...
  • Running Gagged:
    Scott: Not now, Dad.
    Doug: YES, NOW!
  • Second Place Is for Winners: A variation; Barry orders Scott and Fran disqualified at the end, but the rest of the participants and audience begin the Slow Clap, showing their support for Scott and Fran over Barry. We never hear the final results of the Pan-Pacific competition, but by this time it doesn't matter; Scott and Fran achieved personal victory by dancing their way.
  • Serious Business: Ballroom dancing. Made 100% funnier when you realise that most of the characters are amateurs with day jobs. Wayne is a mechanic, Ken sells spa baths, and Shirley Hastings sells makeup!
    • Maybe not that funny. It's not too easy to imagine there'd be a real market for ballroom dancers unless you're a paid instructor, so they'd likely only take it really seriously when they're on the floor. The only ones who treat dancing as an art form are Scott, Fran and Fran's parents
  • Shrinking Violet: Fran starts out this way.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: A doozy of one from Scott:
    Barry Fife: Where do you think we'd be if everyone went around making up their own steps?
    Scott: Out of a job.
  • Slow Clap: Played straight and totally awesomely. After Barry Fife orders Scott and Fran to leave the dancefloor, Doug starts to clap for them. When Fran's family join in she and Scott start their routine again. Eventually the entire audience is clapping along, making it clear that they prefer this way of dancing.
  • Stepford Smiler: Shirley is wearing her happy face today.
  • Tactful Translation
    Grandma: (in Spanish, subtitled) Hot Stuff can shake his tail feather, but he knows chickenshit about rhythm.
    Fran: Grandma wants to teach us.
  • Terrible Interviewees Montage: All of the potential new partners Scott auditions after Liz leaves him are dreadful. Kylie provides a running commentary of what's wrong with them ("She's got no body flight!", "A bit of musicality, please!"). The auditions are contrasted with scenes of Scott and Fran practising in secret, showing how well they work together.
  • Twerp Sweating: An unusual variation. After Scott drops Fran off late at night, her father starts to chase him off. But when Scott tells him he dances, Dad makes him come around back and demonstrate in front of all his buddies and family while they laugh at him. They warm up to him before the night is over.