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Magic Mike

Since Channing Tatum is one of my Hollywood Boyfriends (along with Ryan Gosling and Michael Fassbender) of course I had to support him by going to see Magic Mike. On opening night. What a chore.

The entire theater was filled with women on Girls Nights Out with their friends, all of us cheering and jeering and laughing. Overall I would say it was a decent movie and a fun experience. And strangely feminist, to boot.

Let’s start with the obvious:

Yes, the men are hot, and the dance numbers are fun. “Sexy” is arguable, though. Because of the strip club setting and the cheesy costumes, I found the routines to be comical more than anything else. Especially in comparison to, say, the routines in the Step Up movies, which are slick, smooth, and technically impressive. To me that is sexy.

In Magic Mike, only Channing is capable of that level of dancing. It’s no coincidence that he got his big break in a dance movie (the first Step Up), nor that it catapulted him into the Hollywood spotlight.

As for plain old sex, there’s some of that too — mostly implied. What I appreciated, actually, was the movie’s casual, comfortable attitude toward the human body. No character was judged for their nudity or their sexual activities — on stage or off. That includes the women. In fact, Olivia Munn’s character is perhaps the most overtly sexual in the whole film, but she is not reduced to the stereotype of a slut, or to the “does it like a dude” mentality. She is neither needy/clingy/weak, nor a bitch. She is simply (as Mike finds out) a real, full person with a strong sexual appetite but also a life outside of the bedroom.

I haven’t seen a lot of Steven Soderbergh’s work, so I don’t know if he always tries this hard, but there were definite “style” choices that seemed to strive to validate this “male stripper movie.” The audio for one scene would start before the video of the previous scene had ended. There were long, yellowy shots of the city. Awkward pauses and stuttering were left in. Sexual activity was sometimes shown upsides or sideways, as if it was too real to be given to us straight.

While I was wary of all this “style” at first, part of me thinks it probably was necessary to balance out the campy strip club stuff, and to prepare the audience for the real story of Magic Mike.

Yes, there is a real story.

It’s simple, but “deep.” Basically it’s about the American dream. About using a means to achieve an end — and then realizing that the means is becoming the end. I thought the way that Mike and the Kid intersected, paralleled, and then polarized was a clever way to illuminate this for both Mike and the audience.

So yeah, women looking for 100% mindless entertainment aren’t going to find it in Magic Mike. The film strikes a pretty good balance between the fun and the serious — but it’s funny how my yearning for those reversed. At first I felt like the story was interfering with the dancing; then I felt like the dancing was interfering with the story. In the end, I was fairly satisfied with the mix.

Fun fact: I went to school with these two hotties! Well, not with them. But I went to the same school a few years later. Carnegie Mellon pride, baby.

Also, I didn’t realize Adam Rodriguez (from CSI: Miami) was in this until the day of. Yum.

A certain fire

I love dance movies — first and foremost because I love dance, and second because if there’s any world as brutal, beautiful, and inspiring as writing, it’s dance.

Center Stage: Turn It Up — the 2008 made-for-TV sequel to Center Stage — isn’t the best dance movie I’ve ever seen, but it was a pleasant surprise. Kate Parker, a self-taught dancer from Detroit, moves to NYC to audition for the American Ballet Theatre and pursue her dreams of being a professional ballerina. Her technique is found to be lacking, but what she does have is a certain fire. The question is, will that be enough?

Tommy: One rejection and you’re gonna quit?
Kate: I’ve had plenty more than one, thank you very much.
Tommy: Okay, but you realize that’s what this business is about. Rejection after rejection after rejection.
Kate: Thanks for the tip.
Tommy: You’re welcome. If you don’t have thick skin and serious drive, you could just give up now.
Kate: Serious drive? You woke up one morning, decided to be a dancer, and 6 months later you’re at the best school in the country. You have no idea what it’s like to work your entire life for something and then have no control over whether you get it or not.
Tommy: What are you talking about? Do you know how long I played hockey? Do you know how many times I got smashed into the boards hoping some scout might find me?
Kate: Yeah, and you walked away.
Tommy: I didn’t walk away. I made a choice. I didn’t let somebody else make it for me.
Kate: What do you care anyway?
Tommy: Because you’re good. You’re so good.
Kate: You know, I thought I was good. I was so sure I just had that thing that everyone always talks about. So I packed my bags, came to New York, and I gave it everything I had. And guess what? No one else sees it. My father didn’t see it. Jonathan Reeves didn’t see it. If no one else sees it, you’ve got to think, maybe it’s just not there.

Tommy: I bet she’s proud of you.
Kate: I haven’t really done anything to be proud of.
Tommy: What do you mean?
Kate: Well I mean, all I wanted to do by coming out here was show her she can do anything she wants. And I couldn’t do it.
Tommy: Just trying’s all she needs to see.

Jonathan: Next time someone like me tells you you’re not what they’re looking for, remember this moment. Because whatever you had to do to get through that and end up here, is exactly what it takes to be great.

Memories of another time

Sometimes the best things in life are accidental.

I remember 8-counts, dizzying pirouettes on the dusty cafeteria floor, and waiting with my heart beating in my ears. I remember the shock of hearing my number called. I remember being annoyed with my friend for backing out, and then not caring when I realized she had inadvertently done me a favor.

I remember that tickling sensation in my empty stomach every time I stood in the wings. I remember the bright lights of the stage. I remember all the faces in the bleachers. I remember the cold air against my skin as I listened for the music. I remember the damp grass, the scratchy Astroturf, and tense fingers gripping my shoulders during kick line.

I remember the first time I had to change clothes in a locker room with forty other girls. I remember wishing I knew more of them. I remember the relief of finding two best friends, and the safety of our corner. I remember the loud laughter, the dirty jokes, and the high, girlish shrieks. I remember sharing bobby pins and eye shadow. I remember the smell of perfume sprayed above our heads, and the stench of sweat after long hours of practice.

I remember jealousy, insecurity, admiration, exhilaration. I remember crying after being told I wasn’t good enough. I remember telling my friend not to bother, when she offered to help. And I remember changing my mind, deciding that I had to try again, even if I failed again, because giving up was worse than not succeeding. I remember my second chance, and I remember my redemption.

I don’t dance much anymore, but I remember.

Dancing to the top

This weekend I was going through my dance show DVDs from college, trying to find a certain number for a friend. (We were waxing nostalgic after seeing Heather Morris kick @$$ in the Britney Spears Glee episode last week — which, incidentally, my high school dance team captain was in too!) Then I decided to re-watch all my old numbers. Hoo boy, was that a laugh!

Y’all, I love to dance, but I am not that good at it. I mean, I can wiggle around in a club and not feel like a fool, but that’s about it. Yet somehow in college I “rose through the ranks” of our school’s largest dance club, and senior year I was one of only five Directors.

How? Why? Because I worked at it.

(Note: My timeline is a little fuzzy. I can barely remember 3-7 hours ago, much less 3-7 years ago. So please forgive any errors, although none of you will even recognize them.)

Freshman year, I auditioned, sucked, and only got put in one dance. But that was my foot in the door. I got to know the other dancers, I made friends with my choreographers, and I showed up for every practice on time, ready to learn. Sure, I was incredibly nervous and intimidated by all the older, better dancers. But I put myself out there, because I knew that was the only way I would ever become one of them.

Sophomore year, I auditioned for genres that were not my strong suit (hip hop) and for numbers that weren’t very popular (Chinese ribbon dancing). I placed into a total of four pieces that year, and I can see on the DVDs how much more confident I had become, how my body had loosened up. I wasn’t the best dancer on stage, but I was growing. More importantly, I was having fun.

sunnyday9 sunnyday5 sunnyday6

Junior year, one of the Directors asked if I wanted to choreograph with her. I had been in a few of her pieces before, and her usual co-choreographer had just graduated. I thought, “Holy crap, I don’t know how to choreograph!” But I said, “Sure!”

We ended up trying a lot of unusual (Andy called them “creepy”) things — glow-in-the-dark balls, red wigs, painted silhouette backdrops… A lot of complicated stuff. And what seemed like a great idea in our heads, sometimes came out a little less-than-great on stage. Still, it was all valuable learning experience, and with every number, we pushed our creativity to the max.


Senior year, I was offered a position as Director, in recognition of my exceptional dedication and organization — not my exceptional talent. (Because I didn’t have it, hah!) But of course, leadership requires a balance of all three. I still wasn’t the best dancer on stage, but I was pretty good, and that combined with my passion and management skills put me on top.

That year I only auditioned for the pieces I really wanted to be in, and I kept my choreography simple without abandoning my creativity.


Look, I won’t get all “moral of the story” on you, but let’s just say that watching these DVDs was a good reminder of how I need to proceed with my writing career.

(Also a good reminder of how I need to get my butt back to a dance class before all hope is lost!)

This Woman’s Work

In addition to writing, one of my big passions is dance. This video encapsulates why:

This video also shows why I love Melissa, Ade, and So You Think You Can Dance. It’s totally worth watching the responses from the judges as well (particularly Mia Michaels).

Obviously as a writer I think words are worth a lot, but I think this dance expresses the issue of breast cancer at least as well as, if not better than, anything I have ever read.

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