At last we beat the Aussies at something, Australasia’s first Hip Hop Dance movie. Technically, this isn’t New Zealand’s first foray into the Hip Hop dance scene per se, that title belongs to the 2014 Bryn Evans directed hit film Hip Hop-eration. Niggles aside, Born To Dance is the first ever feature film, our take of the hit Step Up franchise films and a title we’ll happily take. Heavily peppered with local dancers and exuberant young faces (would you believe it’s set in Papakura um WTF?) Born To Dance has come off successful screenings at the recent Toronto International Film Festival, thanks in part to dancer Parris Goebel’s choreography

Fresh-faced Tia Maipi, who also dances in Parris Goebel’s Royal Family troupe is cast as the young protagonist Tu Kaea. He plays a young man questioning his allegiance to his dance crew & his values (his friendship with Stan Walker as best friend ‘Benjy’) all put to the test in this Kiwi ‘coming of age’ film. Maipi for the most is flawless as a young dancer but his ability to sell us the character is not matched. Maipi possesses however, an onscreen charisma that is noticeable and given this is his first film I think he has a decidedly bright future

All Tu wants to do is dance for the best, the K-Crew who are on Auckland’s swanky North Shore. However he has to do it on the sly from his crew and strict-as dad which leads to all kinds of trouble for the young Tu, this includes stealing the American girlfriend played by American actress Kherington Payne (Fame) from hard-nosed K-Crew leader Kane (Jordan Vaha’akolo) who I thought did a convincing job as the Polynesian Hip Hop antagonist

The film is directed by Tammy Davis (yep, that Tammy Davis ‘Munter’ from Outrageous Fortune) and takes a swing at the incredibly popular dance culture Kiwis seem to excel at, even exporting to the world. New Zealand’s reputation as a hot-bed for Hip Hop dancing makes sense evolving this to the big screen that includes singer/actor Stan Walker (Mt Zion, The X Factor NZ and sometimes Hollywood actor John Tui

The main star of the film undoubtedly is the dancing. Davis’s keen director eye ensures it looks nothing short of phenomenal, while choreographer/actor Parris Goebel’s pedigree (Step Up, Janet Jackson) is invaluable adding provenance to the films fast-paced look. Chris Graham’s (Scribe, Sione’s Wedding) input directing some of the dance scenes is ‘slick’ while the acting on the other hand, although secondary nonetheless fails to dour the viewing experience

Overall I enjoyed the film, it’s refreshing to see new local talent, music & fresh faces. My only gripe was that I found Payne’s character Sasha a little stiff, her role as the rich ‘North Shore’ girl and the romance between her and Tu a little sterile. Big John Tui (Battleship, Hobbit) is solid as Tu’s Army dad, his Hollywood experience really counted steering the movie back on track

Born To Dance is gutsy, it’s got heart and will get you in the mood setting up the ideal ending. Even director Tammy Davis makes an appearance as a real ‘tool’ guy in film. He must have ‘kahunas’ as big as buckets to take on a movie that no matter whoever had made it, would invite scrutiny & comment, a brave move indeed

Born To Dance like most films of its genre, is all about the dancing. Sure it’s not going to win any Oscars for best drama but it doesn’t set out to be. Take it for what it is and you will be entertained