‘How She Move’ offers inside look at step-dancing
Raya can step-dance like one of the guys, drumming her feet with a heavy stomp and a hip-hop flow. When she tries out for the all-male step dancing team, JSJ,she kicks a step so hard she shatters the windshield of a car and sends one JSJ member running in shame.
"You weren’t a girl who wanted to win," says her friend Garvey after he sees her compete with JSJ. "Those were definitely ‘need-to-win’ steps. There’s a big difference."
And she does need to win. In "How She Move," a selection for Sundance’s Dramatic World Cinema Competition, Raya aggressively reaches for her dreams to make enough money to return to private school and continue her education.
Set beneath the cold lighting of a Toronto winter, "How She Move" follows Raya back to her former stomping grounds in a tough neighborhood where her sister, Pamela, was seduced by drugs.
After Pamela dies, Raya’s family struggles to restore normalcy. Her father, replays old home video tapes of his two daughters dancing together, and her mother perpetually reminds the family of what went wrong. At times, music from Jamaica stirs Raya’s father’s dancing feet, but the up-beat moment is short-lived, snuffed by family tensions over Pamela’s death.
Taking a break from studying for scholarship exams, Raya is lured by the music of a step-dancing competition in an old warehouse. Though she has never competed, her friend and love interest Bishop, remembers seeing her dance, and encourages her to take it up. Aside from the $50,000 jackpot offered for a win at a competition, step-dancing soon becomes an emotional release from the tensions at school and at home.
British-based "How She Move" director Ian Iqbal Rashid is a Sundance veteran, returning only three years after his film that he both wrote and directed,"Touch of Pink."
Rashid began his career as a writer for British television series and screenplays. For "How She Move," however, he left the writing to Annmarie Morais.
"This is the first time I’ve directed something I hadn’t written," he admits. "There was something liberating about doing something you didn’t write, because you’re not tied to something that’s in your head. Sometimes you get so stuck on something, and when a better solution comes along, you can’t accept it, and I felt more open minded and more able to receive suggestions and inspirations than I would with my own script."
It took some research for Rashid to familiarize himself with step-dancing, since before "How She Move," he hadn’t been exposed to it. The dance, a group dance that has its origins in African tribes, he says, is much more percussion-based — closer to tap, than hip-hop.
"It actually originated in the early part of the last century when the first black universities came into being and some of the universities brought over African cultural practitioners to try to instill a sense of pride and history in the kids. Then it struck a chord with some of the kids at the universities and became almost a competitive dance form between the universities and the fraternities and sororities grew from that," Rashid says.
Rashid cast actors who could move and dancers who showed some instinct for dancing, he says. Nearly all cast members needed to rehearse their steps daily. The largest challenge according to Rashid was the time crunch. Big-budget films typically have as much as two week for one dance sequence he had 25 days to rehearse and 25 days to shoot.
Filming the dancing and capturing the energy of the step-competitions he had seen was also a learning experience for Rashid.
"I was very naïve about it — I thought it would be much more creative than technical, but in fact, it’s very technical," he explained. "I didn’t want it took look like and MTV music video. I wanted to show the whole body in motion, I wanted it to feel more organic with long takes. I think it lent itself to the style of dance and to the energy and spirit of the film as well."
At the heart of what Rashid says inspired him to take on "How She Move," was the script itself. Initially, he was given the screenplay to edit, but once he read it, he says he fell in love with the project.
"Even though I wasn’t familiar with step-dancing, the community and family story were very familiar. I felt like I could actually tell the story I grew up in a neighborhood pretty much like Raya did. My parents were very ambitious and aspirational like Raya’s parents as well, and like her I felt a lot of pressure to do well as a child and overcome all obstacles," he says. "I really related to the script."
The first screening of "How She Move" will be at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City at 9:00 p.m., Monday, Jan. 22.
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