Sunday, February 9, 2014

DVD/VOD debut: Florida seniors (ladies division) dance in Brian Lilla's BALLROOM CONFIDENTIAL

Initially, as you watch the new documentary about some ladies of a certain age in the waiting room of the after-life known as Florida, you may very well have a sense of déjà vu. Haven't we seen thee people (or some very much like them) already, perhaps many times in documentaries over the past decade devoted to seniors and their lives? Well, yes and no. Stick with this new doc for even a little while, and you'll find yourself surprisingly wrapped up in not only the old folk themselves but in the owner of the dance studio and his staff members who give these elderly women a chance at everything from finding a little happiness to getting some exercise to, yes, following their dream.

The title of BALLROOM CONFIDENTIAL, it turns out, is quite unlike other "confidential" movies. There's nothing salacious here. Rather, think of this more as delving into buried knowledge that gets you to the heart of things. As directed by Brian Lilla (of the excellent Patagonia Rising), the movie never pushes nor tries to turn either its seniors or its kindly dance instructors into marvels of perseverance or heroism. They're just who they are, but as we learn more about them, they become important individuals, each of whom has something worthwhile to say to us and do for her/himself.

Chief among these people -- literally and symbolically -- is Caleb (above, right), the dance instructor who organizes things and is currently rehearsing for a dance program (its theme based rather charmingly on a compilation of old "spy" movies) for his seniors that will give them each the chance to dance and individually perform, while also entertaining the audience. Caleb's story, which we learn in dribs and drabs, has brought him from NYC, post-9/11 and a lover lost to illness, back to his original home in Florida to pick up the pieces of his life and begin again. (That's one of his seniors (above, left), a feisty lady named Margaret, who lost her husband and dance partner of some 50 years to the dementia of Alzheimers and is now herself trying to grab whatever excitement she can find left in life.)

Above is Jean, a still very attractive woman who desperately wanted to take dance classes as a young girl. The three dollars per week it cost back then her parents could not afford. Today, Jean spends a lot more than three bucks but is finally fulfilled.  Lois, below and one of the oldest of our dames, designs her own dresses and does a damned good job it it. All of the women have a reason for being here and doing this, and one's turns out to be as good as another's. Yes: They dance (sort of). Yes: They're alive and kicking (showing us this fact seems to be the raison d'etre of many of the senior docs). Mostly though, they're having fun, and that's what keeps them and the movie going.

Of everything we discover here, for me, the most important and surprising are the statistics a propos the relationship between ballroom dancing and dementia/Alzheimers disease. (Second most interesting and surprising is the confession we hear from one of these woman regarding how she fell in love with Caleb and had to learn how to get over this and work it out. This provides one of the more remarkably honest sections I've seen in a documentary of late.)

We hear from Caleb's own parents who also dance, his dad coming late to the game and very definitely in his own good time. "Dancing is just too... gay for me."  (Director Lilla's mom dances, too, and she -- above -- was the prime force behind this documentary.) Some of the women, like Edna, below, may be a little heavy but they're very game, glamorous and fun to watch.

At one point in the film Caleb thanks Shirley, below, right, for making her initial gift to him of $1,000 so he could open the studio in which she now dances. From what we see in Ballroom Confidential, this was a terrific investment for all concerned.

The movie, running just 83 minutes, hits the streets on DVD and VOD (here's the link) this coming Tuesday, February 11.

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