Tuesday, January 23, 2001
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Posted on: Tuesday, January 23, 2001

'Last Dance' has little sway on Isle teens

By Katherine Nichols
Advertiser Staff Writer

Everyone’s talking about the teen movie "Save the Last Dance." Because of the compelling script? Not likely. But the music, dancing, clothes and an interracial love affair have created enough buzz to make it the No. 1 movie in the country - and also in Hawaii, according to Jerry Pokorski of Consolidated Theatres in Los Angeles - on its opening Martin Luther King Day weekend. In just four days, theaters brought in more than $27 million, knocking Tom Hanks and "Cast Away" from the top of the charts. For anyone too old to know what’s "slammin’" these days, the phenomenon could be reminiscent of 1983’s "Flashdance."

"Entertainment Weekly" reported that 78 percent of the audience was female, and 61 percent were under 21. These statistics probably didn’t differ much in Hawaii. But how does a movie with an interracial relationship as its primary dilemma play in the Islands? "Flashdance" influenced the way people dressed. Will "Last Dance" do the same? Will it change the way people move and groove? To get answers, we went directly to the audience: a culturally diverse group of students at Radford High School in Salt Lake.

One of the central issues of the movie is the connection between Sara (Julia Stiles), who is white, and Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas), who is black. Their mutual love evolves slowly, after Sara moves to Chicago’s inner city to live with her jazz musician father when her mother dies in a car crash while rushing to Sara’s Juilliard audition. What brings Sara and Derek together, however, is likely the main attraction of the film: dancing.

According to the Radford High students, the hip-hop dance style highlighted in the club scene in "Last Dance" is definitely popular here in Hawaii. But it’s not new. As the group of black, white and local young adults sitting in a circle inside a classroom said: "That’s been happening." When asked if hip hop happens at school dances, they shook their heads. "There’s regulations at school dances, so hardly anybody goes," said 17-year-old Victoria Jones.

These rules limit the close physical contact integral to hip hop, so instead, students tend to score fake identification to gain admission to dance clubs (as they do in the movie), or they frequent all-age, non-alcoholic clubs.

Apparently, a person who favors hip hop is classified as "normal," (as in, "just normal dancing"). Outside that definition, other labels include "breakers" (break dancers), "poppers" (who employ a more jerky movement) and "ravers" (who float to techno music). And it doesn’t end there. Gang members use dance to communicate to each other and to rivals. The hand movements they make while dancing are "an art form."

Said 15-year-old Hays Tavale: "It’s like you’re talking without words, with only your body language and movement." That’s why "battles" are so popular in clubs. People face off not with fists, but with one-on-one dance. Who can show up the other person? Who can gain the respect of the crowd?

The Radford students also said hip-hop fashion is more accurately referred to as "urban" style. And like the dancing, "it’s been happening for years."

When asked if Hawaii ever begins these trends, the students laughed. "Nothin’ ever starts here," said Daniel Park, 17. "The military kids bring things over over from the Mainland."

If the person is popular, others take note of what he or she is wearing. Currently, this means baggy pants ("if you wear a size 32, you buy a size 38"), cut at the cuffs to fit over work boots, often Timberland. The shirts are big, and the nuances of your particular crowd will determine jewelry (if any) and hair style.

"You come to school wearing whatever you’re into," said 15-year-old Chris Gray. "There’s skaters (people who skateboard still say "dude" instead of the newer "dog," and have a dress code all their own), athletes (athletic shoes, T-shirts or jerseys), locals (surf shorts, T-shirts, slippers) and thugs (baggy clothes and specific jewelry, like chunky bracelets or necklaces).

In the movie, Sara complimented her friend Chenille’s clothes by describing them as "cool." Chenille (Kerry Washington), far more in touch with trendy vocabulary, quickly corrected her: "My outfit is slammin’."

The group at Radford shook their heads and waved the word away. Slammin’ "is not even an option," said 16-year-old Cortez McCoy. The catch-all term du jour for something of excellent quality? "Tight." As the word got repeated around the room, everyone nodded approvingly. But they were quick to admit that slang "changes every four or five months."

At one point in the movie, Sara said to Derek, "We spend more time defending our relationship than actually having one." The Radford students who had recently moved from the Mainland admitted that in most places, this is still a problem.

They talked of being warned by their parents about dating girls of a different race. Said McCoy: "In Georgia, most people go out with their own kind, because it keeps the troubles down." Others from Texas and California said this was also the case in their former cities.

But several believed "Last Dance" has the potential to alter attitudes about interracial relationships. "It’s going to show people that it’s out there," Gray said. "Love doesn’t have any color."

Everyone agreed that in Hawaii, it’s not an issue. "Ain’t no one has no racial remarks against each other here," Tavale said.

"Yeah," Gray said, "it’s not that racist because it’s multicultural." Added Park and 14-year-old Christen Baldwin: "There’s no dating rules. If you like that person, that’s your own trip."

The verdict for "Last Dance:" A fun movie that probably won’t affect much change in Hawaii- except to make every viewer want to go out for a night of dancing.

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