Step

Movie review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Step Movie Poster Image
Dance gives teen girls focus, power in moving documentary.
  • PG
  • 2017
  • 83 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Perseverance, teamwork, and hard work all clearly valued and pursued. Lots of hope and ambition, also a healthy dose of tough love and realism, especially related to college, the future, and family relationships. The girls care about their parents; their parents care back. Dances explicitly reference confidence, and dancers credit their troupe with changing lives ("If you come together with a group of powerful women, the effect will be immense," says one grateful dancer). All dancers portrayed as proud and powerful.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Practically every character is a strong role model, even Blessin, who's struggling hardest to maintain grades and focus (it makes her relatable). Cori is interested in STEM topics and demonstrates her intelligence and skill with coding. School counselor Paula Dofat emerges as perhaps the most impressive figure, alternatively tough and sensitive. She demands a lot of students and works hard to help them get into college or educational programs. Parents cry when their daughters do well; one dances around the kitchen with joy when her daughter gets into college. Members of a dance team have different body types, which is never mentioned or an issue; all of the dancers have powerful, proud movements.

Violence

The movie opens with footage of real Baltimore riots: law enforcement shields and boots, people being pushed down and punched. One dance explicitly references police violence/Black Lives Matter: "hands up, don't shoot!" the girls chant. One dancer who's fighting with two of her teammates says she wants to beat them up. A famous case in which a man died while in police custody is referenced several times. 

Sex

Tayla's mom briefly refers to her being a "virgin" and advises her that "boys have cooties." Blessin goes on a date with her boyfriend.

Language

Infrequent cursing includes one "s--t," one "damn," and one "hell." At some points, the girls say "Jesus!" or "Christ!" as exclamations.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Step is a moving, inspiring documentary about a group of Baltimore high school students in a step dance troupe who are working to graduate and get into college. There's no drinking, drugs, or smoking; very little sexual content (one mom advises her daughter to stay a virgin); and only a few curse words (including one use of "s--t"). Violent content is minimal, too, except for footage of Baltimore riots at the beginning of the movie and references to a famous case in which a man died while in police custody. One of the team's dances references this case and the Black Lives Matter political movement. Expect a bounty of positive messages about teamwork and perseverance, as well as great real-life role models. These hardworking young women talk about being proud, having integrity, working hard, and caring for their families. Their teachers support them, push them, and honestly rate their chances for future success. This is a great choice for families with tweens and up (younger kids may lose interest between step performances). 

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What's the story?

In a gritty Baltimore neighborhood, a group of real-life teen girls has big dreams. They want to go to college. They want secure, successful futures. And they're hoping to get there through their own hard work and the support of their families, teachers, and counselors and the step team at their high school. Schoolwork and studies will get them the grades they need to get into the colleges they long to attend; step dance will give them the discipline and teamwork to succeed there. At least, that's what they hope. Following the dancers from practice and performance to the classroom and their homes, STEP chronicles the hopes and the struggles of a group of teens who are both ordinary and extraordinary -- and utterly inspirational. 

Is it any good?

Heartfelt, moving, and full of so many rousing emotional moments that viewers may veer between welling up and wanting to cheer, this documentary packs a punch. Opening with footage from real Baltimore riots -- as if to show us what these girls are up against -- the film soon narrows its focus to the students at an ambitious public charter school, and then further zooms in on a handful of members of the school's step team: struggling Blessin, sardonic Tayla, brilliant Cori. Each has a vision of what her future could be. Cori hopes to get into Johns Hopkins, Tayla wants to get further in school than her mom did, and Blessin just wants a secure future in which there's food in the fridge and she has her own space. Normal, typical dreams of the average high schooler. But as we soon find out, each of these girls -- and indeed, every student at the school -- has her own struggles and limitations. 

But in the step rehearsal room, all of these outside worries fall away. Here, they work together as a unit under stern but loving coach Gari. Gari, the first in her own family to go to college, alternately disciplines and praises the team, hoping to teach them something about discipline and integrity. School counselor Paula, too, gives her students both tough love and encouragement, helping them fill out applications, making phone calls, sometimes even begging for a chance. Before long, viewers will be hoping right along with these high schoolers. Will they get the grades they need? Will their dream colleges accept them? Will the girls somehow find the money to go to school, the dazzle to win step competitions, the toughness to keep going? In a style reminiscent of great documentaries like Hoop Dreams, Step will make you care. And maybe cry. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why documentaries are often made about real people who triumph in the face of challenges/obstacles like the students in Step. What's appealing about that setup?   

  • How do the girls featured in Step display teamwork and perseverance? Why are these important character strengths?

  • Which of the people in the movie do you consider role models? Why? Are they relatable? How does that affect how much you care about what happens to them?

  • Do documentaries have to be objective? Why or why not?

  • The emotional power of a documentary often depends on how much access the filmmaker has to the subject. What kind of access did this documentarian have? How can you tell that those featured in the film had a level of trust with the filmmaker? 

Movie details

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