Step lively

Set in Toronto, 'How She Move' offers view of W. Caribbean immigrant culture

Posted: January 25, 2008

The notion that tough city kids could resolve conflicts with dance instead of guns, or join troupes instead of gangs, might be a fantasy.

It is, however, an enormously appealing one, and accounts for the runaway success of stomp/step movies that arrive virtually every winter.

The latest is "How She Move," an offbeat variation on the theme of "Stomp the Yard," "Step Up" and "You Got Served."

The setting is Toronto, and many of the characters are specific to the culture of West Caribbean immigrants, giving the movie a distinct ethnic flavor.

Raya (Juilliard-trained Rutina Wesley) is forced to leave private school when her sister dies after an expensive battle with addiction that drains her mother's financial resources (shades of "Stomp the Yard").

Raya hopes to re-enter private school by acing a qualifying test for a full scholarship, but in the interim she's in public school, where former friends resent that she treats them as a way station.

She could always pay her way, of course, and Raya starts to eye the large cash prizes given out at step-dancing competitions. Raya starts dancing again, hoping for a cash payoff and to establish her street credibility.

The movie gets a little messy as Raya jumps from one competitive group to another - one team is run by her would-be boyfriend (Dwain Murphy), one by a tough female rival (Tre Armstrong), and one by a perennial champ who'll do anything to win.

Raya's shifting allegiance mirrors her own internal conflict related to aspiration and representation - and the movie should have found a way to convey Raya's confusion without being confusing itself.

Most of the energy lost through a leaky narrative, however, pours back in the dance sequences, choreographed by Hi Hat, presented competently by director Ian Iqbal Rashid, working with what is obviously a restricted budget.

Produced by Brent Barclay, Jennifer Kawaja, Julia Sereny, directed by Ian Iqbal Rashid, written by Annmarie Morais, music by Andrew Lockington, distributed by Paramount Vantage.

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