54 Thoughts I Had Watching "Center Stage" for the First Time

September 13, 2018

I have a confession. Until today, I had never seen the seminal classic Center Stage.

Now that you’ve picked your jaw up off the floor, allow me to explain. It’s not that I don’t love a good dance movie—I did my time with all but the most recent flicks in the Step Up franchise, my brother and I LIVED for the original Footloose, and I can quote at least 75% of Dirty Dancing from memory. But when Center Stage hit theaters in 2000, there was no way my mom would’ve let six-year-old me see a PG-13 movie, no matter how many American Ballet Theatre stars appeared in it. And in the years since, I just kind of… never got around to it? My dancer friends had already seen it tons of times, and I don’t particularly like watching movies alone. There’s no excuse, I know. I’M SORRY, GUYS! OKAY?

Now that I work at Dance Spirit, my ignorance has become a bit of a running joke here in the office. Or at least I thought it was a joke until earlier this week, when a coworker kindly yet pointedly lent me her copy of the DVD.

So! Without further ado, here are my unfiltered reactions—including many, many burning questions—to what may in fact be the greatest dance movie of all time.

1. American Ballet…Academy? I see what you did there.

2. Cool it with the chopper hands, girl in the black leo. Someone’s not getting into ABA, lol.

3. C’mon, mom and dad. They should read Dance Spirit for our advice on how parents can be supportive of dancing dreams.

4. Oh hey, Lincoln Center! Lewking as gewd as ever. Four for you, Lincoln Center. You GO, Lincoln Center.

5. There are WAY too many pairs of loose pants on these men for them to supposedly be in a ballet class. And practically in the next breath, Juliette Simone reprimands Eva for not being up to dress code? I smell a double standard!

6. Charlie. I love you already, but “anyways” is not a word. Not today, not ever.

7. Okay, I am living for this pointe-shoe-prep sequence. It’s painfully relatable—literally.

8. Hold up, there’s a foot shower? In the middle of the dance studio? Which donor decided that’s what they wanted to contribute?

9. How does the company director have time at the beginning of the school year/company rehearsal season to teach student class—not to mention regularly drop in on upper-level student activities? While we’re on the subject, he never seems to be doing any work related to the main company.

10. Speaking of confusing, these facts don’t exactly line up: Maureen and other students have been at ABA for 4 years. By a show of hands, most of the advanced class is new. But only *this year’s* workshop performance matters? If I were Maureen, I’d be salty as heck that these noobs were not only placed in my level, but will also be judged based on just this one year of hard work.

11. Mother Gothel (aka the character Juliette Simone, aka actress Donna Murphy) can teach my ballet class anytime. She’s giving me major Anne-Bancroft-in-The-Turning-Point vibes. She’s faking this port de bras SO WELL. A+, Donna.

12. OH THAT’S MAUREEN? Did not recognize her at first without the trademark bangs.

13. Excuse me, but why are we wearing skirts in technique class?

14. Maureen, quit it with the body-shaming. Not cool.

15. I may or may not have just peed myself with excitement. Balcony pas from Romeo and Juliet and “little swans” in a single performance from ABA? This is terribly misleading and I am ALL ABOUT IT.

16. They would’ve been breathing much harder than this had they actually just finished the balcony pas de deux, instead of what they obviously did instead: starting this particular cut with the post-choreo long look into long kiss. Just saying.

17. All these early ’00s camisole necklines at the gala! Amazing.

18. Casual Stella Abrera sighting at the gala. Stellaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

19. I feel like I’m gonna barf watching this disgusting encounter between Cooper and the female donor. I’m sorry, did he seriously wink at her just now?! Gag me with a spoon.

20. Why would they be selling tiaras? Wouldn’t a company just re-use them, even if they needed re-jeweling?

21. Oh, totally. Improvising lifts onstage at the David H. Koch Theater seems like a very safe idea that definitely won’t get you into serious trouble, kids.

22. On that note, the “empty” theater seems like a great place for a private, emotionally-charged convo, Cooper and Kathleen. I DO NOT APPROVE OF ANY OF THIS.

23. Ahem a fruit tart is practically all SUGAR, Maureen. Not fat. Where’s a fact-checker when you need one?

24. Jody doesn’t even know the eight positions of the body? Yikesicles. How exactly did she get into ABA again?

25. Cursing at teachers seems like a great way to lose your scholarship. That said, over and over Eva proves herself to be the character who’s brave enough to speak up when she disagrees with how things work in the world of ABA—and, more broadly, how things work in the world of ballet. She stands up for herself and for her friends, and that’s probably a huge reason why Eva remains so beloved among fans of the movie, almost 20 years later. (Many thanks to commenters on Facebook for pointing out some problematic and dated aspects of how Eva’s character is written.)

26. Living for the unabashed theatricality of this partnering instructor. Yes, ballet boys, you are my slaves. Thank you for asking.

27. What is this skyline? Were these studio scenes filmed at Ailey? Sure doesn’t look like the School of American Ballet studios to me…

28. This teacher/Eva altercation is so frustrating to watch. Eva’s not wrong: In most cases, screaming at a dancer in front of peers isn’t a productive way for a teacher to correct technique. It can be assumed that Jody, along with every other dancer in the room, is trying her hardest here. It’s not her work ethic that should be attacked. Props to Eva for defending her friend, even if Juliette Simone doesn’t listen.

29. Sascha, a word. That shirt is atrocious. And it’s even worse unbuttoned. Oh thank goodness, Sascha finally lost the shirt. Now this black tank top is giving me major Johnny Castle vibes.

30. Noooooooooooooo Maureen don’t do this. You only had 2 bites of pizza and some of the ice cream. 😩 Side note: This movie’s treatment of bulimia (and by extension, eating disorders in general) rings true to me. Bravi, CS writers, for getting it right with this fictional portrayal of a very difficult topic!

31. Well, this is a rather cavalier treatment of Sergei cheating on his girlfriend. Must be nice to be a straight guy in ballet and never face any consequences to your womanizing and disrespectful behavior, huh?

32. Does Ethan Stiefel just…never blink? Or is it only in scenes with Peter Gallagher, because he’s got to somehow measure up to those epic eyebrows?

33. Is that—yes, it is. Tony-winning Broadway choreographer WARREN CARLYLE is taking this jazz class. He’s serving so much face and he is taller than everyone who’s ever danced (except Tommy Tune, obvi) and all my dreams just came true!

34. Jody, Jody, Jody. A super-hot principal dancer is offering you a free dinner. Why oh why would you pretend you’d eaten already?! That’s just a poor financial decision!

35. Okay, now I’m sure: Ethan Stiefel never blinks. Especially not while seducing a HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT. (This does not and should not work. Pros, don’t ever pursue students. Kaythanksbye)

36. What an incredible easter egg in the “Beautiful, Aesha!” line. (ICYMI, SAB and NYCB alumna Aesha Ash dance-doubled for Zoe Saldana in this movie.)

37. Juliette Simone 1000% just redeemed herself in my eyes with that inspirational speech. Excuse me for a moment while I audition for ABA so I can get that wisdom myself, direct from the source.

38. I now require all action movies, instead of traditional fight scenes, to have male-dancer jump-offs like this absolute gem of a Cooper/Charlie showdown. Can we make this happen, Hollywood execs?

39. Does ABA make students work as underpaid stagehands? Because these kids seem to have a LOT of backstage access. There also seem to not be any dancers in ABC other than Kathleen/Julie Kent and Cooper/Ethan Stiefel. Which is, you know, fine by me.

40. Jody!! For the love of pointe shoes, READ THE ROOM. This snub by Cooper is so beyond painfully awkward to watch. (Hi there, Gillian Murphy.)

41. Charlie is so pure. I can’t handle it. Why was Team Cooper vs. Team Charlie ever even a question?!

42. Once again, characters are choosing *~excellent~* places to conduct their upsetting personal conversations. Right before class, in a glass room? C’mon, Maureen’s mom. Look at your life. Look at your choices. (Well actually, I get the feeling that Maureen’s mom has looked at her own regrets a lil too much. Too soon?)

43. This is what, 5 super-dramatic and intensely emotional scenes in a row? I can’t handle this! It’s too much! Too many feelings! My favorite clichéd line though: “I’m not dancing for them anymore. I’m dancing for ME.” You tell them, Eva!

44. These dancers really don’t know what “Places!” means? *facepalm* And the curtain is kept up while the stagehands sweep the floor in plain view of the audience?! Excuse me, I’d like to speak to the management of this theater.

45. Yo Eva? I’m happy for you, and Imma let you finish, but where is Maureen’s understudy here? Was she cool with you just jumping the line?

46. I just gagged, y’all. “You didn’t have the feet. I don’t have the heart.” What an instantly #iconic quotable. Thank you for that cathartic moment, Maureen and Maureen’s mom!! Also, thank you for having your private conversation actually in private this time!

47. Coming in on a motorcycle? That’s wildly inappropriate. Do it again, please.

48. THAT DRESS CHANGE FOR JODY. Make me a GIF, and then make it play all day, every day of my life.

49. There has never been anything more important than Cooper’s leather pants in this ballet.

50. SO MANY SET PIECES JEEZ. Did we really need the fake subway entrance? I don’t think we really need the fake subway entrance.

51. This is possibly the most awkward pas de trois I’ve ever seen. Way too much of our dudes C & C just standing around, waiting to jump. Though maybe that’s the point? IDK.

52. Jody, I don’t care who you are or what kind of personal growth you’ve undergone throughout this teen movie. That is a super-disrespectful speech to give someone in authority, all without even letting the adults say their piece. Also, you should’ve checked your hair before you went into the room, because those curls of yours are super-uneven.

53. HOWEVER: That was an excellent simultaneous mic-drop/kiss-dodge, Jody. Way to re-establish professionalism in your relationship with Cooper while keeping Charlie (who was the clear choice all along, let’s be honest)!

54. Oh this epilogue montage in the credits. Oh my heart. Everyone’s so happy doing their thing! Hooray for dancers getting happy endings. <3