Tu (Tia Maipi) has just finished school and is finding pressure on all sides as to what he does with his life now. His father is intent on him making something of himself, and to that end has given him an ultimatum: he must decide on a proper path, as his late mother was promised he would, and if he cannot decide then his father will enlist him in the Army and they will make a man of him, just as they made a man of his dad. But this sounds like a terrible idea to Tu, who would much rather capitalise on his real talent for dancing; he is part of a hip-hop crew with some of his friends, and there is a contest coming up they could enter that might just be their ticket to the big time...
Born to Dance, not to be confused with the nineteen-thirties cult Eleanor Powell musical out of Hollywood, was a youth movie straight outta New Zealand with a view to depicting an aspirational tale for the young audience, specifically though not exclusively the Maori one as part of a handful of films the nation had concocted in the twenty-first century with them in mind. Yet while there were references that would mean a lot to the locals while not very much to anyone without much experience of the Kiwi culture, actor turned director Tammy Davis and his producers were keen to stick to the template of dance movies as set out by the internationally popular and long-running Step Up franchise, which meant one thing.
That's right, we’re having a dance-off. Back when these movies aimed at teens were new, the common plot would be to have the characters set about saving their local youth club by putting on a show, and that's more or less what they got up to as the decades wore on, only the club-saving measures were replaced by a goal more contemporary, which was to win a talent contest. As these entertainment television shows spread like a rash across the globe, nothing new in their most basic form but very much dressed up as vital by canny production companies, they became the new aspirant culture; it’s almost refreshing when Tu's best friend here actually gets a place at university and is happy to take it.
After all, you can't dance forever, and though Born to Dance was thuddingly predictable to a point, it did make it clear that simply because you wanted to do something with your life it wouldn't necessarily pan out that way for various reasons, be that the amount of rivals in an overcrowded field or the plain fact that there are unscrupulous people out there ready and willing to take advantage of your better nature and naivety. Through the course of the story, our hero comes to terms with all of that, though not in a particularly novel manner, as this was very much beholden to the American model of how musicals had adapted to the more modern dance formats, so nobody sings here for a start.
Davis had hired dancers to do what they did best, which was not necessarily act, therefore nobody was going to win any awards, never mind any talent contests, for their thespian skills in this case. This meant the dramatic business could weigh the tone down as Tu gets his chance to audition for the biggest crew around and falls in love with Sasha (Kherington Payne, herself a graduate of TV talent shows) who is the girlfriend of the leader. But it undoubtedly sprang to life in any scene where the cast had the opportunity to strut their stuff, and Davis, working with P-Money's soundtrack and Parris Goebel's lively choreography, made the most of what the audience really wanted to see as the dancers busted moves across the screen. The whole of the last third was devoted to the routines, and the general theme was of positivity winning out over negativity, leaving an improving air to the energetic sequences. Not quite a Breakin' for the twenty-tens, not a Starstruck either for that matter, but in that well-intentioned vein.