TAKE THE LEAD
The film opens with a montage of various people getting dressed for an evening out dancing, some in tails and spats, some in low-rise jeans and short skirts. Some end up at the ballroom dancing event, while others end up at a school dance. One, Rock (Rob Brown), encounters difficulty. While he is getting ready in front of the mirror in the bathroom, his mother tells him to let his father in because he is sick. The father throws up in the toilet, but as he gets up he throws up again, this time on the shirt Rob had laid on the side of the sink. His dance ticket was in the pocket.
There are cuts back and forth between the two dances. Pierre Dulaine (Antonio Banderas), introduces an exhibition from a class at his dance academy, where you see one girl, Caitlin (Lauren Collins) is especially awkward. Pierre also reminds the crowd about an upcoming competition.
Rock arrives to the school dance, but the math teacher Mr. Temple (John Ortiz), accuses him of having a counterfeit ticket due to the obvious water damage. Rock protests, and continues to resist as security begins to rough him up. Principal James (Alfre Woodard) comes out, but given Johns bad reputation refuses to allow him into the dance. Giving up, Rock leaves and encounters a couple of thugs whom he knows. As they are walking around they notice a car with the principals parking pass hanging from the mirror. Easy, one of the thugs, happens to have a golf club, and encourages Rock to get some revenge for being kicked out of the dance. He initially resists and starts to walk away, but after only one mild taunt, comes back and grabs the club. He fakes out the other two, looking like he is going to hit them, but then goes crazy in the car. The alarm is triggered and the other two run away, but Rock keeps hitting. Finally stopping he reaches in to grab the parking pass.
In the meantime, Pierre is riding his bike home (still in a full coat and tails), and sees the car getting destroyed. He comes up, startling Rock. Rock asks Pierre if it is his car, and when Pierre says no, asks why he is coming up behind him. Rock finally starts to run off, but is hit by a cab. He rolls off the hood and starts running again, but he does drop the parking pass, which Pierre takes.
The next morning at school, you see kids filing through the metal detectors. Principal James is interacting with them and seems to know all by name. Pierre is also entering the school, where he draws many stares for his suit, and is asked who died. He makes his way to the office to speak with the principal, who is arguing with Mr. Temple who refuses to cover his detention shift and is trying to get funding for Pre-Calculus. Clearly, he feels that only about six of the students in the school are worth his time, and certainly not the detention kids. While waiting, Pierre makes a point for rising and getting the door for every woman going in and out. He is teased about this by one kid, Eddie, but admired by the secretary.
Pierre explains that he saw a crime committed by one of the students, and after the principal refers him to the police, reveals that it was her car. He offers to help by teaching dance to the students. She initially resists, but asks him to come back at three, seeing this as a solution to the detention problem. He agrees, though when he is having Tina, his employee at the dance school, this worries her as it is a very busy time. Most of the students will want extra sessions preparing for the competition, and Caitlins cotillion is coming up, for which she also needs extra coaching. He promises her that it will all work out.
Back at the high school Principal James takes him down long hallways to the dank basement where the detention kids are. These are the worst of the worst, who are in detention for the rest of the year. Rock is there, as well as Eddie. The principal bets Pierre five dollars that he will not come back after today, but does tell the students to do everything he says. He starts by trying to break them into partners, but there are a few conflicts. Big Girl and Mountain are a good size match, but are cousins. He ends up with Egypt, but she ends up with Kurd, whom she does not want to touch because who knows where his hands have been. He then sticks his hands in his pants, which does not help. Danjou and Ramos both want to be with Sasha, and LaRhette refuses to dance with Rock, though does not explain why. They do not get very far, and when he goes out there is not very much of his bike left.
The next morning he shows up to collect his five dollars from the principal (you later see him put it on his bulletin board at the dance school), but also asks about Rock and LaRhette. She explains that Rocks brother was involved with some gang activity that escalated into a gang war, and one of the casualties was LaRhettes brother, an honor student. That afternoon Rock has brought a forged doctors note saying that he cant dance due to a heart condition. Pierre does not press the issue. He does see the others dancing to their own music in their own style, and is impressed, but cannot get them to cooperate until he turns up the volume on his music, torturing them into submission with Gershwin music.
Back at the dance school, Caitlins mother is asking for help. Pierre dances with Caitlin, who feels clumsy and has no confidence. She feels pressure because of the money her parents have put into the cotillion, but he tells her she needs to dance for herself. When she says she just wasnt born to dance, he asks if she likes dancing, to which she admits yes. He says, Then you were born to dance. When Caitlin says she would kill to dance like Morgan, another student with some seriously sensual moves, Pierre gets a brainstorm.
The next afternoon Morgan saunters down to detention throws off her coat, and begins a very seductive tango with Pierre. The students are enthralled, and flock around Pierre, except for Sasha who runs to Morgan and gushes that she has never seen anyone move like that. Im sure, Morgan snips. Still, the kids are more amenable to the lessons now.
Back at the dance school, Caitlin tells Pierre that Morgan said the kids were a bunch of no talent losers, and askes if she can go too. He agrees, and after some resistance is accepted into the group. This is fortunate because Egypt gets frustrated with Monsters size, and will not work with him anymore. Caitlin asks him to dance, and uses Pierres line about liking to dance meaning that you were born to dance on him.
Rock continues to sit on the sidelines. He does have a confrontation with Pierre where he wants to know what Pierre wants from him since he has not told about the car, and where Pierre asks why he keeps coming if he will not dance. Rocks answer is that if he does not attend detention he will be suspended, and will not be able to graduate.
Rock is late for his job sorting garbage/recycling materials, and gets fired. He goes home and finds no food available, even though he gave his mother money to buy food. Apparently his father spent it on liquor. The father blames his health, and he and Rock get into a scuffle and he is kicked out of the house. Rock knocks on the boiler room door at the school and the janitor lets him bunk there. Without a job, he starts helping Easy by acting as a lookout for some theft and fencing operations.
They have already shown that LaRhette takes care of her younger siblings and that her mother has at least one prostitution client. One night when her mother is late, the john hits on LaRhette and begins to get rough when she tries to kick him out. Her mother comes in and LaRhette runs out of the apartment and to the school, where she goes to the detention room and starts dancing. Rock hears music and sees her there. They start fighting and get busted for being in the school after hours. Rock calls Pierre, saying that is his father. Pierre takes him home for the night.
The next morning Principle James wants to suspend both LaRhette and Rock, but Pierre argues that is not what they need. She agrees to let him give them extra detention, so they meet with Pierre at 7 AM each day and have to dance together. They practice waltz and use a blindfold to practice trust. They start to bond, and have a lot in common. Both miss their brothers a lot, both brothers were involved in illegal activities so they could contribute money to the family, and both have a lot of responsibility now. Although he is no longer in the home, you see Rock going to his familys door and slipping some money underneath.
Pierre gets another visitor at his apartment, Kurd, who is concerned because he is starting to be attracted to Big Girl, but cannot show it because it would not be considered cool to like her, and yet it is hard not to show it when they are always dancing so close.
The detention basement gets flooded, so Pierre takes the group over to the dance studio while the repair crew dries it out. Everyone is having a great time until the evening class, including Morgan, comes in and some words are exchanged. As they see the moves of the more experienced students, and find out that the contest has a $200 entry fee, they feel like all their time has been wasted.
Pierre meets with Tina to go over the books, and they see that the school can fund the entrance fees for all the kids, though you know it will be leaving him broke. He says he is sure he wants to do it. He lets the kids know that the money is taken care of, but that they will really need to work hard as they have only started learning these dances compared to students who have been doing them for years. You see them practicing at home, on buses, sitting in other classes, and so on. They are also mixing Pierres old music with CDs of theirs that have similar beats, giving more energy to their dancing. One day Pierre comes out and his bike is back, a little pimped up.
Tina comes over with costumes from the school and helps outfit the kids. Caitlin lets Pierre know that Tina likes him. Monster apparently likes Caitlin, and asks if she is going to the contest. She says she cant, as she has the cotillion. Her mother has arranged for her cousin to escort her. Monster asks if she would like him to take her, but she doesnt think anyone would accept it. She still asks if he will practice with her, and he does. LaRhette and Rock will compete in waltz together, and Ramos and Danjou both dance with Sasha as Pierre tells them to work it out.
In the meantime, Mr. Temple is complaining about the waste of resources on this program (this does not make sense, as they are basically getting free detention coverage). He has brought the parents association in for a meeting. Pierre does a brief demonstration with the Principal, and explains that dance teaches men to treat women respectfully, and women to demand respectful treatment, and it has a value there, and that everyone deserves some culture. The parents have no objection to the program continuing.
The night of the contest Rock has a job with Easy. He does go, but does not like that he is expected to shoot anyone who comes by. Easy asks if he is going to punk out, and without actually admitting pulling the triggers, says that is why Rocks brother died. Rock shoots the sprinkler system and gets a quick beating while the others run away.
At the cotillion, Caitlin makes her grand entrance down the staircase, willing herself not to mess up. She stumbles towards the bottom, but Monster catches her arms and steadies her. Thrusting her bouquet at her cousin, Monster leads Caitlin to a graceful entrance that is well received, although her mother looks really confused. Monster then tells her, Weve got to bounce and they run off to the contest.
For each dance, everyone competing goes, and then certain couples are called back to dance and be scored. The $5000 prize will go to the individual with the highest scores. The detention kids get several call backs and seem to be having a good time, except for LaRhette who is heartbroken that Rock is not there and that she will not get to dance. Pierre tries to comfort her with no success.
Sasha and Danjou get called back for the tango with Morgan and her partner, but feel like they need something extra, so improvise a three person tango with Ramos. It is very impressive and sexy, but impossible to judge since the rules are based on couples. They get no points and Morgan gets perfect tens. She says they should call it a tie, and gives Sasha the trophy, saying she has never seen anyone move like that. Sasha replies, Im sure.
The final dance is the waltz, and Rock bursts in as it starts, not in his tux, but still there. He and LaRhette dance and she feels wonderful, imagining that they are the only two there.
Principal James has been watching and is thrilled. Pierre is happy too, but mentions that it was a lot of work. She says it will be even more, as they need to make the program permanent and expand it to more students and more schools. Rock comes to her and admits he was the one who destroyed her car. She says not to spoil the evening; they are okay for now (though the for now part is slightly ominous). For the final dance Mickey takes over the sound system, putting on their music, and everybody dances.
A note over the credits explains that Pierres work led to a city wide ball room dance program for New York schools.