Shake the Dust

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Shake the Dust Movie Poster Image
Poignant docu about B-boys and B-girls around the world.
  • NR
  • 2015
  • 85 minutes

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Kids say

age 14+
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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

There's lots of harsh reality here, but dance is presented as an outlet for hope and creativity. All of the young B-boys interviewed explain how dancing has given them something to live for and look forward to each day. Also clear that breakdancing crews are communities. Courage, perseverance, and empathy are major themes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The B-boys and girls reveal how hip hop and breaking have changed them for the better, given them hope for a better life, and helped them leave destructive behavior behind.


Footage of the 2011 protests in Yemen that turned violent.


A couple of rap lyrics include strong language ("N" word, "f--king"), but it's not in the dialogue or narration.



Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

No on-camera use of drugs, but the B-boys frequently discuss their former substance abuse before breaking saved them from lives of addiction and crime.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Shake the Dust is a globe-spanning documentary about the transformative power of hip hop and breakdancing. Produced by rapper Nasir Jones, aka Nas, the movie follows the B-boys (and occasionally girls) in four different third-world countries: Cambodia, Colombia, Uganda, and Yemen -- the sixth-poorest country in the world. There are references to the drugs and crime that most of the B-boys used or participated in before they got into dance, but there are no scenes of actual substance use. Strong language is limited to a couple of rapid-fire lyrics that use the "N" word and "f--k." The opening scene features footage of peaceful protests turning violent in Yemen in 2011, but otherwise there's no violence, either. Families that watch the documentary will find the dancers eloquent and philosophical as they explain how breaking has changed their lives for the better and given them hope.

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What's the story?

SHAKE THE DUST chronicles how breakdancing and hip hop have affected and transformed adolescents in slums around the world, particularly Uganda, Yemen, Colombia, and Cambodia. Director Adam Sjöberg follows B-boys (and a few B-girls) who live to break in these rough, third-world neighborhoods. Although they live in poverty, these dancers have something that makes them special, and by breaking with one another, they form tight friendships and communities that keep them safe and hopeful despite their daily struggles.

Is it any good?

Produced by rapper Nas, this lovingly shot documentary may not have a strong story arc, but it's a compelling and poignant look at the power of breaking. Shake the Dust isn't a Step Up-style story of how underdog B-boys compete for money or props at an international B-boying competition; it's an emotional series of interviews and dance sequences that explore why these Ugandan, Yemeni, Colombian, and Cambodian teens and twentysomethings have shed their previous lives of petty crime, substance abuse, and listlessness with energy, motivation, and hope.

All of the B-boys and B-girls are fascinating and surprisingly eloquent, but audiences will definitely have favorites. The Colombian crew is especially interesting, because one B-boy has a young daughter he teaches to break so well that she joins their crew and steals the show every time. The Ugandan B-boys describe how breaking has given their lives a purpose, and how they're "brothers" of the heart. The Yemeni B-boys dance in an oppressive society but find that audiences are more tolerant than they expected. And the Cambodians, led by a U.S.-raised former gang member, are street kids who've found a home in their studio. Even without a standard plot driving the story, these four narratives -- not to mention the amazing dance sequences accompanied by Nas' songs -- are both entertaining and inspiring to watch.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Shake the Dust's message: that breakdancing can change the lives of kids in slums around the world. Do you agree with the B-boys? Is there any activity or creative outlet you participate in that you feel could have a similar impact?

  • This documentary doesn't have one big event it leads up to; it's a series of stories. What do you think about that style?

  • Did the movie make you rethink what you know about breaking and B-boy culture? Did the B-boys and B-girls surprise you? How?

  • Did Shake the Dust inspire you to learn more about the subject matter, watch more breaking, or listen to hip hop? 

  • How does Shake the Dust promote perseverance, courage, and empathy? Why are these important character strengths?

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