F*ve Dances

Lauren Salzman

Things that are “bad” are often never talked about. They are avoided in class and usually brushed over by parents. One of these topics we often just don’t talk about is sex or how it is portrayed in the arts or the media. Nudity in the media is usually about either objectification or inserted into a movie or tv show for dramatic effect. So why shouldn’t the Latin community be open to viewing a movie that portrays both a homosexual and heterosexual sex scene that further enhances the plot? Every channel we turn to has characters that have affairs or one-night-stands and this is something that our generation has gotten used to. Many would say we’ve become immune. In a world filled with pornography and portrayal of brutal sexual relationships, it is important for kids to see a loving relationship, and it is even better that a positive homosexual relationship is depicted. Alan Brown’s Five Dances tries to provide its viewers with positive sexual relationships-something that the media is thoroughly lacking. Additionally, the homosexual relationship is a more loving and enviable partnership than the heterosexual one which is rooted in infidelity.

All of the 9th-12th grade English classes will be watching the film Five Dances this week (or last) in preparation for Alan Brown’s visit to Latin. That being said, the film is generating some controversy amongst students, parents and teachers-should an English period be used for this? Is the content appropriate and something that should be shown at school? Is there a meaningful message that the film will impart?

English teacher, Kate Lorber-Crittenden, said, “This film challenges typical forms of entertainment that are fast paced and action packed.” Lots of students have said that Five Dances has neither action, nor a plot. But to most, this movie is more akin to the average person’s life experiences. LC remarks that, “This film is worth our time to challenge the idea that fast paced films aren’t usually realistic.” Film is another storytelling outlet, and sometimes it is hard for students to appreciate the story that is being told. We often question the director. Why did we not hear more about his family life? What about the affair? What are his parents like?

“This film asks us to slow down, and then forces us to,” Ms. LC elaborated. Storytelling in film is a lost art and movies that feature this are often labeled as boho or indie films, but these movies are just as credible as any large box office hit. Millennials need quick response time, action, and a neat ending. That is not necessarily a bad thing, just something that has become the norm. Five Dances asks us to value a story, expand our horizons, and appreciate an optimistic, yet not straightforward ending.  

Despite dancing at Homecoming and Bar Mitzvahs, the greater population is not exposed to eloquent dance. Ms. LC describes that the dancing in the film further reflects the protagonist, Chip’s, social and emotional situation. Latin strives to open its students’ minds to different views, ideals, and art forms. This film uses the beauty of dance to display one man’s journey and relationships. Part of our strategic plan is to help Latin become a better and more accepting, inclusive community. Many students are accustomed to exploring this through novels but not necessarily through dance and film.

When asked about the sexual component of the film, Ms. LC doesn’t, “…know if underclassmen should have had the film edited to omit the sex scenes, but regardless, there should have been a more open dialogue with the students.” The exact reasoning the film was edited for the freshmen and sophomores was explained in an email sent by the school to the English department and the parent body. The email explained that although the film is unrated, if it were to be, Five Dances would most likely be rated R. That is why the R-rated-scenes were expunged from the underclassmen’s version. 

In addition to an email explaining the omission of nudity, another was sent out directed to the parents of upperclassmen. It stated that the film did have adult content and parents could choose to have their child view the edited version if preferred. Some parents, both liberal and conservative, believe that it is not a school’s role to show sexual scenes to their children. In some cases, it is actually a school’s job to shelter its students from such important ideas and messages reserved for families. A high school parent said, “I consider myself very progressive, but I am not sure if I am comfortable with my child being shown these scenes in school. Having nothing to do with the couple being two men, I do not know if I believe that it’s a school’s decision to show my child nudity and graphic sex scenes in the classroom. Furthermore, it can be awkward and not all students feel comfortable watching such scenes with their peers. Having said that and having seen the movie, the sex scenes aren’t really necessary and are the least of what the film is really about.” Parents raise their children in a variety of ways, so it is understandable that they should be the ones to allow or disallow their children from viewing scenes such as those in Five Dances and that is why an email was sentTechnically, the school has the right to show the film. 

Sophomore, Lia Kim, who has not yet watched the film said, “I have heard so much buzz on the sexual content of the movie that when I watch it later this week, I’m worried my attention will be pointed towards that instead of the true message of the movie.” This poses the question: Why is this movie worth watching? Simply because Alan Brown is coming to speak to the school and wanted us to watch his film? Lots of students believe that we should have watched Saving Face or A Girl in the River, directed by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, two-time Academy Award winner who recently visited Latin. These two films have an prominent message and introduce us to a new culture and severe world problems, acid attacks and honor killings, on the other side of the Atlantic, in Pakistan. 

Junior, Annika Johnson, remarked that the film was, “…unnecessary and the hype in regards to the sex scenes was worse than the scenes themselves. The whole time I was wondering why we were watching the film.” High schoolers are at a vulnerable age and it makes many students uncomfortable to watch a sex scene sitting next to their peers. Although hard to admit, some high school students are possibly not emotionally or physically mature enough to handle this type of content and be able to appreciate it.

Latin students are often unprepared when speakers come to Latin, so a main objective for watching the film is because we have a unique opportunity to talk to and interview Alan Brown. When Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy came to visit, time was limited and teachers knew that we would not have the unique opportunity to personally interview her, like we do with Alan Brown. 

Ms. Barker, sophomore and junior English teacher, said, “In addition to Mr. Brown’s visit, the film is also a text that we don’t have many of in our English curriculum. LGBTQ is drastically underrepresented and Five Dances displays a homosexual relationship in a positive light.” This further supports the decision and value in watching the film.  Alan Brown’s movie provides a window for those who might not have been previously exposed to homosexual relationships, and a mirror for some students at Latin who often do not see depictions of admirable LGBTQ characters in novels and film. 

As students, we sit in class all day and analyze novels. We learn to question an author’s choices and judge a character’s actions. “We as teachers are very good at teaching students to be critical of things, but do not teach our kids enough to accept what an author is trying to do,” explains Mr. Joyce, another English teacher. The first step before criticizing a director’s choices is to understand the motives and messages behind them.

We don’t talk about the things we are uncomfortable with. When deciding to show this film, it was well expected that some students would feel uncomfortable.  You watch films like Five Dances to expand your world and because discomfort and seeing life through a different lens cause discussion. So discuss.