January 11, 2007




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Clubfooted Indoctrination 

"Stepping" Gets Trotted Out as One More Dance Craze

ColeSmithey.comLike every other dance movie with "street credentials" (see "Take The Lead" or "Step Up") "Stomp The Yard" dangles the carrot of a finale dance-off competition to ward off any issues of narrative inadequacy that might distract from the forcefully undulating nubile bodies pushed to their contorted limits.

DJ Williams (Columbus Short) is a talented hip-hop dancer forced to relocate from Los Angeles to Atlanta for college after his brother is murdered by a rival crew of street dancers. Evidently, street dancers are a violent bunch as a rule. Talk about idiotic.


Those rival drug gangs — I mean street dancers, play rough. DJ moves in with his aunt and uncle in order to attend Atlanta’s historically black Truth University where he is exposed to the fraternity tradition of "stepping."


Evolved from African "gumboot dance," the group dance style combines rhythmically dynamic steps with chants and percussive hand movements maintaining two independent military cadences.

DJ’s sense of solitary individuality dissipates as he determines to steal the affection of April (Megan Good) from her privileged-but-robotic boyfriend Grant (Darrin Henson) of the Mu Gamma Xi frat. At heart, DJ is a born follower. After joining underdog stepping fraternity Theta Nu Theta (Mu Gamma Xi’s rival frat) DJ has to figure out more new ways to keep dancing in the limelight.


From a dance standpoint "stepping" is a confrontational and mocking type of primal activity conceived to intimidate competitors by expressing a military intent. The subtext is an open invitation to violence, but like the head-cutting rap face-offs shown in "8 Mile" there is a silent contract that the displays are merely a way of letting off steam for testosterone-driven egotistical young men unsure of where to stick their masculinity.

In the context of fraternity spirit, steppers are an equivalent to a drumline marching band — parade and party — all in one. The Mu Gamma Xi identify with howling wolves while the Theta Nu Thetas present themselves as hissing pythons when they present their step routines. Oooooh hissing snakes. Scary. 


What newbie screenwriter Robert Adetuyi ("Code Name: The Cleaner") and music video director Sylvain White ("I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer") intend is to reinvent the clunky step moves as an extension of freestyle hip-hop under an umbrella of collegiate comradeship.

Theta Nu Theta’s leader Sylvester (Brian White) voices crucial theme lines when he boasts of a lasting bond of brotherhood that DJ will enjoy for as long as he lives if he joins the fraternity. The scene comes before DJ walks through the school’s Heritage Hall where photos of fraternity and sorority members like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Michael Jordan silently endorse membership in the groups as a gateway to advantage and success. There’s a glaring disconnect between the indelible person that DJ seems to be and his indoctrination into a populist affiliation of wannabe followers.


The shell game for DJ’s rebellious identity becomes further obscured when Grant runs a history check on DJ and turns over the information about DJ’s part in his brother’s death to the school’s provost Doctor Palmer (Allan Louis), April’s overly protective father. The movie slips into soap opera territory for DJ to square off against his girlfriend’s autocratic dad even as his genteel aunt brings her own romantic past to bear with the provost in his uncomfortably populated office. Soap bubbles form.


In the over-stated final competition between the wolves and the pythons, choreographers Dave Scott ("You Got Served") and Jesus Maldonado present an evocative, if not convincing, amalgam of street style hip-hop, krumping, and stepping that the filmmakers fumble to dramatize with multiple camera angles and slow-motion sequences.


The effect is a generic blend of coordinated group movement embellished with primal energy and raw anger. Who are these impressionable youth, and what will they wake up to when they realize that their devotion to fellowship is a promise glimpsed in a rearview mirror? That question never arises in "Stomp the Yard" because the story isn’t the sum of its parts. Rather, it's just a bunch of locking, popping, and posing. If you've seen one street dance movie, you've seen them all.

Rated PG-13. 115 mins.

2 Stars

Cozy Cole



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