Despite its R rating, Flashdance is largely a fairy tale. Through the glitz and glamour and a vision of Pittsburgh that's somehow both a smoke-filled steel town and the Emerald City of Oz, we can see a sly updating of the Cinderella tale, albeit with sex, Spandex, and lots of '80s pop-rock. Note that MTV was only a few years old when this movie came out; this was one of the first movies to successfully (and profitably) combine the visual razzmatazz of music videos with a plot. The movie's slender, go-for-it premise proves a sturdy construction for all the music/dance scenes and inventively edited montages of blast-furnace steam, sizzling nightlife, and willowy Pittsburgh welder/dancing girl/ballet diva reverie.
Mawby's seems akin to all those escapist Golden Age of Hollywood musicals of the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, where Broadway chorus girls did impossible "stage" routines on ice, underwater, and on airplanes -- places only an energetic movie camera could go. Alex and a few other dancers, briefly clad, do elaborate, self-choreographed avant-garde routines that mostly bring only polite applause from the working stiffs at the bar. If parents are bothered by the benign treatment of an erotic girlie club as a nurturing environment, there's a contrast provided later in the film between the risqué but non-risky Mawby's and Zanzibar, a strip joint where the less-empowered and less-fortunate girls seem to end up, explicitly nude and degraded.