Just as The Color of Money taught us the jargon of billiards, and
Rounders instructed us in the vocabulary of poker, Dance With Me makes
us literate in the field of Latin dancing. It's the feel of being
inside this specialized community that drives the narrative of the film.
Assisted by extraordinary choreography and editing, the dance scenes
occupy a good amount of the 126-minute running time. Their motion and
grace pass the time easily. We witness first the informal abandon in
the bar in Santiago de Cuba, the hometown of Rafael Infante (Chayanne).
Soon afterwards, we are in a Texas dance studio, the walls mirrored, the
floor crossed and re-crossed by dancers giving lessons or practicing for
the big-time competitions to be held shortly in Las Vegas. The
competitions provide some of the most interesting and tension-filled
moments. Finally, the scenes shot in dance clubs, reminiscent of the
early Cuba footage, highlight the conflict that sparks the film's
romantic subplot. Ruby Sinclair (Vanessa L. Williams) practices
routines that are ostensibly Latin in design, painstaking in
choreography - but that lack the music-driven insouciance of the real
Williams is a remarkable dancer. From her drills in the studio to her
twirls before the judges, she shows off her accomplishment. She is
quite likable in the role, even when we discover that she is a single
mom who is quietly determined to do what is best for her son Peter.
This family situation is one of many cliches in the plot; it is
forgivable, though, because Williams acts so naturally. Particularly
riveting are her facial expressions as she dances: one thinks of
Michael Jordan, tongue out and eyes wide, pivoting and darting with
stunning sureness. Williams' presence onscreen guarantees the viewer's
Her character's relationship with Rafael builds slowly. She picks him
up at the bus station and takes him to the studio, which is owned by the
man who is apparently Rafael's father. Working as a handyman, Rafael
slowly becomes part of the family of employees of the studio. What
takes Ruby a while to find out is that Rafael can dance extremely well -
just not how she is trying to instruct him how to dance. Perhaps
Rafael's most charming scene has him stranded on a lawn just as the
sprinklers activate; here Chayanne does a hopping and stomping routine
that nods at Gene Kelly, the simulated rain bringing out his love of
life. Like Williams, Chayanne does his own dancing, including the body
language that helps to show his passion.
Kris Kristofferson plays John Burnett, who for over 20 years has run the
studio and competed in the international competitions. Although
Kristofferson is not convincing as a dancer - he really dances in only
one scene, and it's generic ballroom - he does a credible job as an
aloof but likable aging man. It's his situation as a sudden father, and
Rafael's reaction to the resulting behavior, which constitutes the
unforgivable cliché in the work. The supporting studio dancers and
students are quirky and well-sketched. There's Stefano (William
Marquez), the older instructor who plays his ego for laughs; there's
Lovejoy (Beth Grant), the seeming manager of the place; and there's Bea
(Joan Plowright), Stefano's student, who steals the camera whenever it
is pointed at her.
Most of the picture's dialogue is believable. Once, though, Rafael
utters the sentiment, "I'm Cuban, of course I can dance." And there are
a few too-long pauses, which caused me to doubt the adage, "If you can't
say something nice, don't say anything at all." Sometimes it's better
to say what regular people would say, even it's meaningless.
Why should a viewer sit through Dance With Me and maybe even rent it
upon video's release? Because of the acting, pleasing to look at.
Because of the music, fast and relentless. Most of all, because of the
dancing, which does for the viewer what a good book does for a reader:
transports her for a time into another, fascinating world.
Copyright © 2000 Mark OHara