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Gotta Dance:<br> Sassy Seniors Shake a Tailfeather

A hit at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival, Gotta Dance follows America's oldest dance troupe: the New Jersey NETSationals. Yep, they're senior citizens doing hip-hop dances on the basketball court, and we talk to director Dori Berinstein about her doc.


Gotta Dance
director Dori Berinstein (ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway) understands our national fixation with dance: “I think dance is bigger than ever. In tough times, dance is fun and happy and healthy.” She has ample proof: the viral video of the moment, with a whopping average of eight million views, features a Minnesota couple and their wedding party doing a choreographed dance down the aisle to a song by Chris Brown. (It may even get credit for resurrecting his career.) On television, shows like Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, and Dance Your Ass Off are massive hits. Teen movies about dance crews open at the top of the box office. And yes, you can expect a Step Up 3-D to pulverize audiences next year.

Berinstein's take on dance is a little different—her documentary, which premiered at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival, is about the first season of the all-senior citizen hip-hop dance team for the New Jersey Nets, the NETSational Seniors. When Berinstein heard about the open auditions, she came down with her camera. “I had in my mind to make a film that celebrates aging and people that chase their dreams no matter the age,” she says. “This is a film that captures that ‘why not.’”

Twelve women and one man, ranging in age from 60-83, make the final cut. They’re a group of mostly hip-hop novices: a kindergarten teacher, a great-grandmother, a postal worker, a legal secretary. While some of the dancers were accomplished in other areas, like ballroom or jitterbug, none of them came from professional backgrounds. “If this were a group of ex-Rockettes, it would not be as suspenseful,” notes Berinstein.

The question for the director was whether the Nets were casting these seniors merely to be the butt of the half-time joke. ”I did wonder, ‘Is this a gimmicky thing or something more substantive?’” says Berinstein. But after watching not only how hard the team practiced, but the high standards the Nets management expected them to meet, she realized this was a serious dance team. “If they didn’t perform at a level they expected, they would not be allowed to go on,” she says. And whether they can make the cut becomes the central tension of the film.

gotta dance

Getting older is a bit of a pet topic for the director, who chose as the movie’s subtitle, “Age doesn’t matter unless you’re a cheese.” “You reach your mid-thirties and you age out of so many areas,” sighs Berinstein, who, at 48, splits her life between Hollywood and New York. The entertainment industry is a place where, she says, 20-something writers and executives make blockbusters for the 20-something demographic. Her career is split as well, between documentary work and as a producer on Broadway (Legally Blonde: The Musical, The Crucible), which is a place, she says, that is far more friendly to a range of ages. “In theater, you’re surrounded by incredible role models and talent who are 60, 70, 80, even 90 years old,” she says, while, on the other side of the room, the dancers are teaching a morning television host their moves. “I love that and I want the world to be that way.”

A little ageism might work in the troupe’s favor; the first time they perform, Nets fans go wild for them. They’ve proven to be a fan favorite and, in addition to the documentary, have been featured in numerous articles and TV segments. “They get the biggest applause. We get calls everyday about the team,” says Kimberly Garris, Vice President of Entertaining and Marketing for the Nets.

Berinstein’s favorite part of her own film is when the senior team performs with the Nets’ kids dance team. “You see the generations coming together and developing a strong mutual respect.”

Garris notes that the senior dancers often ask for sexier costumes than the modest warm-up suits they normally wear. Some have even sent in sketches of their own designs. The seniors defy any expectations of shrinking violets or doddering old ladies.

Having so many colorful personalities was an asset, says Berinstein, who is working on another documentary called Some Assembly Required, about kids competing in a toy invention competition. “Making a documentary is so challenging economically. It puts a lot of onus on the filmmaker. Tribeca has been an incredible launch for my films. The audience reaction at the Festival was thrilling.”

She has a secret weapon, of course: when the movie opens at the Beekman Theater, the team will be on hand to perform. That’s not the only way Berinstein has been creative with marketing a movie to an audience that is usually ignored. They’ve created a Gotta Dance hip-hop dance program on the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. After the movie is screened on one of twenty participating ships, cruisegoers have the opportunity to join a team, learn the moves, and perform at a finale show. They have also launched a social networking site, gottadancewithus.com, for adults who love to dance; a nonprofit called the Gotta Dance Project, which brings together generations through dance; and Berinstein is merging her Broadway and Hollywood sides by turning Gotta Dance into a Broadway musical.

It may just seem like a lot of creative marketing, but the director sees it as part of something larger. “It’s more than a movie,” she says. “It’s a movement.”
 



Gotta Dance
opens at the Beekman theater in New York on Friday, July 31. Click here for ticket information.

Catch a sneak preview on Wednesday, July 29 at the 92 Y Tribeca. There will be dancing, for sure!

Word on the street is that you can also catch the NETSational Seniors on Thursday, July 30, dancing in Times Square at about 11:00 am. Boogie on down.
 

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