Chayanne and Vanessa Williams in Dance with Me (1998)

Shall We Dirty Dance

Following the death of his mother young Cuban Rafael (Chayanne) discovers that his father is John Burnett (Kris Kristofferson) who runs a dance studio in Texas. With John having no idea that he has a son Rafael sets off to meet his father at his studio but on getting there decides not to tell him and instead takes a job as a handyman at the studio. It is there he meets the studio's top dancer Ruby (Vanessa Williams) who as a single mum is desperate for success to provide security for her and her son. It means she has no time for romance despite falling for Rafael who proves himself a talented in between fixing things. With the World Open Dance championship in Las Vegas coming up things come to ahead not only for Ruby who has to choose between love and security but also between Rafael and John when he learns that Rafael thinks he is his father.

So I sat down to watch "Dance With Me" expecting nothing more than a 2 hour dance movie focussing on Latin dancing and to be honest that is what I mostly got. Now on one level that does make it quite stereotypical from Rafael and Ruby ending up becoming romantically involved as he shows her how to really dance Latin style rather than by the numbers to all the women loving the sexy Rafael as he shows his talents on the dance floor. In fact I would go as far to say that at times "Dance With Me" is both cliche and cheesy and when we get a scene which requires Rafael to go shirtless it edges on being poor.

Kris Kristofferson in Dance with Me (1998)

But the thing is that whilst a big part of "Dance With Me" is the Latin dancing and music it is also a movie which has surprising depth. Now surprisingly the depth doesn't really come from the friendship which forms between Rafael and John as Rafael chooses not to tell him that he is his son although it is a nicely worked storyline. But the real depth comes from the relationship between Ruby and Rafael and in particular Ruby having to chose between having a career and security or trusting the young man who is in love with her having been hurt before. That probably makes it sound quite typical but there is a lot of depth going on in this side of "Dance With Me" as we watch Ruby battle with her emotions over what to do.

What that does mean is that "Dance With Me" works thanks to Vanessa Williams who delivers the turmoil of Ruby as despite being single minded finds herself having to decide between her heart and her head. But what Williams also brings is naturalness when it comes to the dancing and it is something which makes the movie a little bit more impressive than many dance movies because when Williams is dancing it comes across as being natural rather than staged. In fact all the dancing is of a high level and combined with a great Latin influenced soundtrack all the musical numbers are impressive. Even the more comical dance scenes featuring Joan Plowright as the elderly but game Bea Johnson are a pure delight more thanks to her wonderful comic timing but still strangely impressive.

In fact whilst there are numerous scenes in "Dance With Me" where the acting could be described as over the top all the performances from Chayanne as Rafael to Beth Grant as studio manager Lovejoy work in the fun context of the movie. I should add Jane Krakowski as Patricia to the list a well because she gets to show off her skills as a dancer and the scene where she dances with Rafael is a thing of beauty.

What this all boils down to is that in some ways "Dance With Me" is exactly what I expected and between plenty of stereotypical dance movie scenes it often bordered on being cheesy. But then there is the other side to the movie which actually has depth yet that depth never interferes with the fun which is the musical side with a great Latin influenced soundtrack and some excellent dance scenes.