19 Nov 2018
The Cultural Analysis of Step Up 3
Thomas DeFrantz says, “the social process that gives rise to black social dance will never be ended; hip hop offers only the contemporary manifestation of that cultural and political process” (DeFrantz 73). Now, Raquel Monroe defines Hip Hop to be “b-girls/boys, MCing, DJing, [and] graffiti writing” (Monroe 188). Today, hip hop is identified with rap music and minority populations. These identifications are made because hip hop was created in the South Bronx, where the most well-known breaking crews (b-girls/boys) were made up of people from minority groups (Hip Hop and Breaking Lecture). Step Up 3 strays from the history of hip hop by having the three main characters being white young adults; yet, reinforces the idea that hip hop is the dance of low socioeconomic neighborhoods.
Step Up 3 is about three white young adults who were born to dance; and their minority crew. First, we met Moose, a white college freshman at NYU studying to be an engineer; who fell into the underground world of street hip hop. Moose’s father loved that he was leaving behind his dance career to pursue engineering, but Moose wanted to find a way to continue dancing. His father’s reaction shows how the older and established white middle-class culture generally views hip hop, and boys dancing in general, as a childish pursuit that must come to an end. At orientation, Moose ends up winning a dance battle against a respected crew in a park in New York City. He caught the attention of Luke, a filmmaker and dancer looking to add to his crew for an upcoming hip hop competition. The movie mainly follows Luke, Moose, and the other new member in the crew, Natalie. They are all white dancers yet come from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Luke seems to come from a low-class background because of the warehouse he lives in; Moose comes from a middle-class background because of his family we meet at the beginning of the movie; and Natalie comes from an upper-class background because of the penthouse apartment we see her living in with her brother. Now, the rest of the crew are minority races or low socioeconomic white dancers. This provides an interesting authenticity to the movie that Monroe discusses in her “White Girl in the Middle” article. Monroe uses Eminem as an example of how aligning oneself with “black urban neighborhoods” can be beneficial to fitting in with the hip hop culture; yet, in Eminem’s case, aligning himself with “poor black youth” caused a “debacle” (Monroe 187). She explains how in the second Step Up movie, the main character was a white female whose “legitimacy” came from where she grew up (Monroe 187). In Step Up 3, we have a similar story; Luke is the one with the “black urban neighborhoods” experience. He is the one who has been running the crew. We even see pathos in the movie from how Luke’s home, the meeting place for the whole crew, was in danger of being foreclosed, on showing his low-income status. While in contrast, Natalie lived in a beautiful, expensive apartment overlooking Manhattan. The collision of their worlds with Moose’s unique engineering skills created an interesting crew and show.
In Step Up 3, Hip Hop is identified with poverty. The crew dancing presented in Step Up 3 is not thought of as “high art” dance. In the World Jam Finals, there are two teams battling to win. The battle is a series of three mini combinations per team, alternated by both groups. Then, both teams present one final large group dance. All the competitions take place in warehouse like spaces; in the World Jam Finals, the warehouse has been decorated to look like an arena with flags from around the world and lights. The underground hush-hush nature of the locations is just another physical representation of how the hip hop world is not embraced by the established “art” world. The audience was shouting and cheering on the dancers with great enthusiasm. The audience appears racially diverse; yet, the audience looks to be in the lower and middle classes based on their clothing style and responses to the dances. “High art” dance would be thought of as ballet or something similar where the audience attends a performance in a theatre in dressy outfits. “High art” dance also would include any form of shouting or cheering. In contrast to the crew dancing, Natalie’s dancing is presented as “high art” dance. Luke goes to Natalie’s “party” dressed in jeans, sneakers, and a t-shirt; yet, he and Moose are turned away by the bouncer because they are incredibly under-dressed for the high-class party. After some borrowing of clothes, Luke and Moose get into the party and find it to be more like a gala. There are men and women dressed in tuxedos and dresses dancing a “broken tango.” The movie associated wealth with classical, smooth, upright, white, fine art dancing. While hip hop is seen as more of an abrasive and physical low-class dance.
Step Up 3 also identified Hip Hop with aggressive animalistic movements. One part that struck me was that in the first battle, a crew made of entirely African American men danced to a song with growling in beginning. The crew was dressed in ratted dirty jeans, tank tops, and leather leash like straps around their chests. One man even danced like a vicious dog on the floor. This is an interesting example of how African American males are portrayed as overly aggressive, even animalistic. Now this crew was opposed by Luke’s crew. Luke’s crew does have African American male dancers, too; yet, in this battle the African American dancers are dressed in clean street clothes without holes or dirt. One African American dancer is even wearing a collared shirt, tie, and sweater. Now this suggests that the crew run by the white guy appears more civil and “put together” than the crew run by an African American guy. While Luke’s crew’s the final dance has lots of strong and bound movements with many different break-dancing elements, the dancers never appear animalistic or unnecessarily aggressive, like the other crews.
As Halifu Osumare points out, “rap and the entire expressive culture of hip-hop (deejaying, breaking, and aerosol art) resonate not only with the anxiety of youthful social rebellion, but extant global sociopolitical inequities as well” (Osumare 268). Osumare shows how teenage rebellion has resonated globally among the youth, particularly impoverished youth (Osumare 285). The young crew Luke puts together is a great example of how dance can cross boundaries like race. Yet, hip hop is still stigmatized as a low socioeconomic practice, even globally. But, according to DeFrantz, Step Up 3 is one example of how dance truly “[affirms] cultural connections among nation-states” (Osumare 285). In the World Jam Finals, there are flags hanging giving the idea that they are representing all the different nationalities that partake in the world competition. This is a positive outlook on the future of hip hop and maybe some good can come out of uniting the global youth.
Andelson, Amy & Meyer, Emily. “Step Up 3D.” Amazon Video. Director Jon M. Chu. Starring Rick Malambri, Sharni Vinson, Adam Secani, Alyson Stoner. 6 Aug. 2010.
DeFrantz, Thomas F. “The Black Beat Made Visible.” Andre Lepecki. Of the Presence of the Body. Wesleyan University Press, 2004.
Monroe, Raquel L. “ ‘The White Girl in the Middle’: The Performity of Race, Class, and gender in Step Up 2: The Streets.” Borelli, Melissa. The Oxford Handbook of Dance and the Popular Screen. Oxford University Press.
Osumare, Halifu. “Global Hip-Hop and the African Diaspora.” Elam, J. & Jackson Kennell. Black Cultural Traffic: Crossroads in Global Performance and Popular Culture. Ann Arbour: University of Michigan Press, 2005. Project MUSE,