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Strictly Ballroom

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Belonging is a dynamic concept that is of inherent nature for all humans to make connections with people, places, groups and communities. The complexity of belonging is explored in Baz Lurhmann’s film Strictly Ballroom through the need to conform in order to belong and how an individual can affect ones sense of belonging. This is evident with the main characters of the film, Scott Hastings and Fran. The film is set in the arcane world of ballroom dancing, which only emphasizes the strain between individuality and strict conformity, which together pose as barriers to belonging.
Strictly Ballroom starts with the silhouettes of the dancers accompanied by Blue Danube, subsidizing the gaudy yet glamorous world in which they belong to. The extravagant costumes worn by the dancers, define how the formulated steps of the samba, further portray a pretentious world of prestige. The close up shot of dance mentor Lez Kendall when talking about Scott, who “resorted to his own flashy crowd pleasing steps” in mockumentary style informs the audience that in order to belong to this world of ballroom dancing, strict conformity to the rigid steps is required.
However it is through Scott’s reaction “Maybe I’m sick of dancing someone else’s steps all the time” that foreshadows his struggle between his individuality and the forced conformity of the dance culture and Barry Fife. Scott’s rebellion is shown when he partners up with ‘ugly duckling’ Fran for them to dance their own non-federation steps, portraying how the influence of others has an effect on an individual’s sense of belonging.
Scott faces social rejection by Liz after the competition failure, partnered with Shirley’s escalating sense of failure; however this does not stop Scott from continuing to reidentify his sense of belonging. The tracking shot of Scott as he dances in and around the spot light gives insight into his struggle in rebelling against the limitations that are forced upon him when he is trying to embrace his individuality.
This struggle is intensified with the entry of ‘ugly duckling’ Fran, who is dressed in a baggy t-shirt and large unattractive glasses. Fran’s appearance is often juxtaposed with characters such as Liz, who wears form fitting, obnoxiously bright costumes. This clearly establishes Fran as the outsider who does not belong.
However, Fran is portrayed as motivation for Scott’s change, as her harsh tone “you think you’re different but you’re not” asserts to her commitment to individuality. Its meeting with Fran’s father, Rico, who truly cultivates Scott’s sense of belonging when the two of them dance the ‘Paso Doble’, the dance is accompanied by natural lighting and non-diagetic sounds to provide a contrast to the over lit, garishly bright, ballroom world that Scott has become accustomed to, acting as a haven where Scott’s sense of belonging is enriched- confirming Luhrmann’s central assertion that individuality should not be compromised in order to belong, despite the limitations that others in the world impose.
The impact of other individuals is with the dilemma Scott has in choosing what path of belonging to follow. The relationship between Scott and Fran flourishes. However this sense of belonging is compromised by the corrupt Barry Fife, who by fabricating the fate of Shirley and Doug Hastings, places Scott in a dilemma between family expectation and determining his personal identity.

The burlesque scene of Shirley and Doug reveals the distorted world view of Barry Fife, and his attempts to limit Scott’s belonging. The characterised elements of the sequence create a dramatic irony, in which the crowd can gain an understanding of the impact that individuals have in gaining a sense of belonging. The Dynamic nature of belonging allows it to be influenced by others, by either developing or limiting a sense of belonging.

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