Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Baz Luhrmann (director), Baz Luhrmann, Andrew Bovell and Craig Pearce (writers), Strictly Ballroom (1992)

The film Strictly Ballroom (1992) was directed by Baz Luhrmann, whose original idea for the film was developed by the writers Andrew Bovell and Craig Pearce.  It provides an introduction to the subculture of competitive ballroom dancing, which centres on rival dance schools and competitions.  The film highlights the ballroom dancing scene’s distinctive aesthetics and particular sense of style, as well as its hierarchies and notable dancing families, along with the scene’s internal rivalries, power struggles and passionate debates over dance styles.  While doing this, the film explores universal themes of tradition versus originality, conservatism versus innovation, conformity versus rebellion, compromise versus integrity, and adherence to the dictates of a bureaucratic establishment versus artistic freedom.  In this regard, the film comes down strongly in favour of originality, innovation, rebellion, integrity and artistic freedom. 

The young dancer Scott Hastings is an innovator.  He clashes with the middle-aged Australian Dancing Federation president Barry Fife who upholds tradition.  Innovators are depicted in the film as potentially popular with the people, while the establishment is characterised as old, corrupt, ruthless and out of touch.  The film argues that conformity, and a loss of integrity resulting from submitting to authority, can impact negatively on one’s long-term psychological wellbeing. Conversely, the film celebrates Scott Hasting’s rebellion against the establishment, a rebellion that leads to the establishment becoming increasingly blatant in its corruption as it defends tradition, so much so that it eventually loses its legitimacy.  This leads to the people siding with Scott Hastings, which suggests that the establishment can be beaten by being courageous and winning the support of the people. 

Strictly Ballroom is structured like a film in the sports genre, where a competitor with whom the cinema audience is positioned to identify (Scott Hastings) works towards a championship by overcoming all obstacles, to climactically succeed against the odds through the application of the virtues of courage and determination.  As Scott Hastings declares: ‘A life lived in fear is a life half lived’. 

Strictly Ballroom is also a romance between Scott Hastings and his dance partner Fran.  The couple come from different worlds: he is Anglo-Australian and she is from a Spanish migrant background; he is a champion dancer while she is a beginner.  They have to overcome these obstacles before they can be together and in love.  In this romance, the film draws on elements from fairy tales, like ‘Cinderella’ and ‘The Ugly Duckling’.  Scott Hastings initially does not appreciate Fran, who is plain in appearance and awkward as a beginner-level dancer.  But Fran’s courage and determination are rewarded as the talented Scott Hastings comes to appreciate Fran’s attractive qualifies below her plain appearance and awkward dancing.  As their romance develops, Fran emerges from being an ugly, awkward duckling into a beautiful, graceful swan.  As a dancing couple who are also in love, they win the support of the crowd and the dance championship. 

Strictly Ballroom also promotes multiculturalism.  The relationship between Scott Hastings and Fran crosses ethnic divisions.  Scott Hastings is Anglo-Australian and Fran is from a Spanish migrant background.  There is some fear and suspicion to overcome from diverse families and communities before they can be together, but perseverance and good will win in the end and the two worlds come together in mutual appreciation.  Scott Hastings discovers in Fran’s Spanish relatives a treasure trove of dancing expertise.  Through a common appreciation of dance, both the Anglo-Australian and Spanish migrant communities come to appreciate each other. And, more generally, the mainstream Anglo-Australian community is shown to be potentially enriched by experiencing migrants and their cultures. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: Strictly Ballroom meaning, Strictly Ballroom themes, Strictly Ballroom analysis, Strictly Ballroom notes