Who doesn’t love a good dance movie? From Step Up to Center Stage to Saturday Night Fever and You Got Served, all of our favorite dance films have a fairly familiar pattern where characters work through their internal struggles and break out into highly choreographed dance routines as a way to express themselves and overcome their troubled lives.
The pattern works time and time again — the music, the toned bodies, the all-or-nothing dance competitions, the underlying drama, the love triangles, the leave-it-all-on-the-dancefloor pep talks…it’s hard to beat the multi-layered magic of a really good dance flick. When it works, it really works. And in the new Colombian drama Somos Calentura (We Are the Heat), it REALLY works.
This film about Afro-Colombian culture is the perfect blend of a powerful personal and cultural narrative and the impact of passionate and all-consuming dance. While many dance movies try (and often fail) to deliver an engaging storyline that ties the dance numbers together, this movie grabs your attention, sheds light on an often unseen or ignored aspect of Colombian culture, and emphasizes the unique power of Afro-Latino heritage and the influence of Latin hip hop dance culture. It covers a lot of ground, and while it might seem like a lot to accomplish in a 90-minute movie, Somos Calentura (We Are the Heat) does so with ease.
The film takes place in the port city of Buenaventura, Colombia, which is one of the country’s poorest cities. In this city that is notoriously overrun with violence, drug trafficking and gang activity, a group of former local urban dance champions struggle to navigate their surroundings and leave poverty behind. The film’s lead character Harvey, played by the incredibly talented Duván Arizala, is a talented dancer and also a doting father trying to right by his family. He and his friends ultimately face a challenging decision: rejoin their dance crew and compete in local competitions to earn money and respect, or fall into the world of gang violence and sketchy job offerings. Harvey must choose to do what he can to protect his family, or make the wrong choice and end up trapped in a vicious cycle of violence and corruption. His friends are in similar (but different) difficult situations, where they are also caught up in crime in an effort to keep their families safe.
We know, so far it sounds somewhat familiar and other dance movies have come and gone with the same general framework. But Somos Calentura (We Are the Heat) is different. In this film the narrative works and the delivery is perfect; you truly feel that the stakes are high for this group of disillusioned youth.
And where the film is at its best is in the dance clubs.
Harvey and his friends form a dancehall crew called “Buenaventura Mon Amur” or BMA for short. Their dance floor rivals are “The Royal Niggas,” a crew that happens to be led by Ribok, a gang leader with intense influence in the local Buenaventura crime world. Clearly there is lot more riding on these dance competitions than just a trophy or bragging rights.
The dance scenes are consuming and empowering. The music makes your pulse race and you can’t help but want to move, or at least pretend you can move like these dancers. And the unique style of Afro-Colombian dance is mind-blowing. It’s very clear from the first dance scene — perhaps even from the moment you see the trailer — Colombian dancehall battles are not like the other dance movies you have seen.
The dancing is exceptional. It’s a special blend of hip-hop and pop n’ lock moves infused with African-inspired spirit and rhythm. It’s a combination of breakdancing with Colombian salsa, topped off with some insane acrobatic moves that even circus talent can’t pull off. It’s high energy but not overly rehearsed, and it’s not about an over-the-top choreographed routine that you might see on a TV talent search. But rather, the dancing is about the passion, the frustration, the desperation and the drive that the dancers communicate through their movements. Their moves are purposeful and their steps are about something bigger than being in the moment — their dance battles are a fight for their freedom and their future.
Even if you don’t think you like dance movies (and might we just say, shame on you), this movie will capture your attention and your heart. In addition to the dancehall elements, the incredible dance battle scenes and the epic soundtrack, the film also does a lot to change the perception of Buenaventura to a global audience. According to one of the film’s producers, Steven Grisales, the film is about showing the passion, the struggle, the pain and the beauty of this Colombian city. Despite the city’s sordid reputation, “Buenaventura is an exotic place full of magic, power, culture and beautiful people where music and dance are an act of resistance and survival and young urban artists are true heroes; this is what “We are the Heat” is all about,” he told Variety.
Other impressive feats: the film features more than 2,000 extras and the cast is almost entirely of Afro-Colombian descent.
This film is a must-see for anyone who loves dance movies and gets fired up watching dance battles. But it’s so much more than that. This film shows a whole different side of Colombian culture, and even the parts that aren’t pretty are somehow still full of energy and cultural significance. Think of it as a cross between Step Up, 8 Mile, City of God and You Got Served. Trust us, it all works, and this is a film that the Afro-Colombian community should be very, very proud of.
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