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How She Move

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“How She Move” is a stupid title, obviously, and no reason for its ungrammaticality is given within the film itself. Which is a shame, since the movie, an indie production from Canada that played at Sundance last year, is rather good, despite its nonsense title and shopworn premise.

Newcomer Rutina Wesley plays Raya, a promising high schooler who returns to the inner city where she grew up after her older sister’s drug addiction and death eliminates the family’s ability to keep sending her to a private school. Raya’s parents, now split up, are from Jamaica, as are the parents of everyone else in the neighborhood. All the kids have known each other since grade school. There’s a sense of community, but also a sense of futility and hopelessness, as is often the case in the ghetto.

Rejoining her classmates at their seedy public school, Raya is perceived as a traitor and a snob for having deemed them unacceptable and for trying to get out of the city. Michelle (Tre Armstrong), a tough-talking girl who was once Raya’s friend, now sees her as a rival for the affections of Bishop (Dwain Murphy), who heads up one of the many street-dancing teams and isn’t particularly interested in Michelle anyway.

The form of street dancing that’s all the rage here is called “stepping” (see also: “Stomp the Yard”), a highly competitive and physically demanding team-based sport. Raya always displayed some talent for it, back before she decided she wanted a good education so she could go to medical school. In one scene where she and Michelle ought to be getting into a fistfight, they have a dance-off instead; apparently that’s how we settle our differences around here. Of course, then they get into an actual fight, too, so maybe the stepping is just for warm-up.

Raya doesn’t really want to get into the dance thing again, but she needs money to go back to private school, and some of the step competitions offer cash prizes. Knowing that all-girl squads seldom win, she wants to join Bishop’s team — but, then again, coed teams don’t usually do well, either. Were you aware of the sexism that is rampant in the step-dancing community? I was not!

The plot and tone of the film are remarkably similar to other urban dance dramas like “Save the Last Dance” or “You Got Served,” yet director Ian Iqbal Rashid (“Touch of Pink”) gives it an earthy, indie vibe by shooting it with handheld cameras and avoiding too many pretty compositions. The fresh-faced, mostly unknown actors are charming and honest, giving unjaded performances the way only fresh-faced, mostly unknown actors can. Moreover, they perform some genuinely stunning dance routines (choreographed by someone called Hi-Hat). The movie is almost worth watching for that reason alone, but you should watch it for the simplicity of the story and the earnestness of the characters instead.

B (1 hr., 31 min.; PG-13, moderate profanity, one F-word, a little innuendo.)

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