The Motorcycle Scene In ‘Center Stage’ Is The Greatest Moment Of Modern Cinema
People who love film, like me, are constantly debating the truly transcendent moments of cinema — that scene with the extremely fast baby in Battleship Potemkin, the irresistibly sexy sled from Citizen Kane, the moment where we get introduced to the titular Godfather. You know, classic movie stuff.
But I can safely say, without controversy, that the moment where a sexy ballet dancer drives a motorcycle onto the stage in the dance film Center Stage, makes all those films look like artless pieces of shit.
Just, broom-broom, baby. There’s been no better moment on the silver screen.
Center Stage is an interesting film — a “teen” dance movie from that period in the early noughties where we had a swarm of that particular genre. Bring It On, maybe the most iconic dance/sport/cheer film ever made, was released in the same year.
Center Stage was always a different beast though, casting real (and very talented) dancers rather than any huge named actors. Thematically, it differed too, moving away from glossier teen narrative into a fairly nuanced examination of creativity and work ethic — with dancing! Oh the dancing, it will melt your face off.
The film is basically about a group of diverse young dancers who all make it into the fictional American Ballet Academy, and all struggle to become the best dancer possible to audition for a workshop, which could gain them entry into the American Ballet Company. We are told this is all very important. I imagine for a young ballet dancer, it has a similar gravity as RuPaul’s Drag Race has for drag queens.
As it progresses, we watch them deal with very real notions of competition and worth. Not all of them can make it into the company — and some of them realise that they maybe don’t want to.
In terms of creative careers, this kinda “its now or never” opportunity is pretty common — it’s cool that a teen films plays around with the concept of different types of success.
One of the main storylines centres around the character of Jody, who is an ambitious and talented dancer, yet… and it pains me to say this… she has trouble turning it out (I don’t know what that means, but they keep saying it).
Her feet are also bad. And for a classical ballet dancer, if your feet and their placing are absolutely munted, all the discipline, work, and attitude in the world won’t make a difference! It’s kinda like how I could be a classical poet, because I write real good, but my brain is all flat and shiny so all my sentences are stupid horny nonsense about Gilmore Girls.
Jody also ends up in a classic love triangle, between some cute guy whose name I forget, and also the bad boy of ballet, Cooper Nielson. The very CONCEPT of a bad boy of ballet is so so so funny to me, but also he is very attractive and talented, and his legs are muscular and lithe like two anacondas in tights.
Jody is persuaded by almost everyone to just cut her losses and go to college, rather than throw it all away for a dream that her stunted feet cannot achieve. Nevertheless, she persists.
But tonight I'm watching Center Stage, a forgotten gem that I am so happy is on @NetflixUK It has @nopenother in the soundtrack and plenty of 90s nostalgia. I will never not remember this film again 💜
— Suzanne Butterworth (@suzanneeb) May 5, 2020
All of this culminates for her in the showcase, where bad-boy Cooper casts her in the lead of his rebellious ballet choreography, which breaks all the rules! This isn’t your grandma’s choreography. And friends, it absolutely slaps.
It begins with a classic ballet lesson — boring! The crowd are bemused. This is not the showcase they were expecting.
And then… and then a motorcycle roars onto a STAGE. A real life motorcycle. And there’s a thin dancing man on it, who is dressed sexual, in leather pants. A cool Michael Jackson song is playing, and that’s a very cool song for a ballet show. Usually ballet is just old songs, about swans and the like.
I remember the first time I watched this, I genuinely thought it was the coolest and most attractive thing I’d ever seen.
It’s all the coolness of a motorcycle, combined with the grace of ballet — all in the safety of a clean, monitored environment, which I find extremely erotic. That little ballet kick he does when he dismounts? Well, that’s a bit of sass. It’s everything I want to take with me in life, a talisman of energy and mood.
Once before a job interview, I literally psyched myself up to succeed by thinking of this scene. (I did not get the job, but that is not the fault of this flawless scene).
Vulture just published this absolutely amazing oral history of Center Stage, and I didn’t think they’d be able to make the motorbike scene any better… but this quote by choreographer Susan Stroman totally does.
“People kept saying, “He rides a motorcycle, he rides a motorcycle, he rides a motorcycle.” And I thought, well, okay, why don’t we put a motorcycle in the ballet? And [Ethan] was thrilled to be able to drive his motorcycle onstage.”
Ethan Stiefel is the actor and dancer who played Cooper, and IT WAS HIS OWN MOTORCYCLE THAT HE RODE. This information has fundamentally changed my life.
Also apparently he went through around 24 pairs of those leather pants, because every time he slid across the stage on them, he would absolutely shred them.
Let’s watch it.
Center Stage is currently streaming on Netflix.
Patrick Lenton is the Editor of Junkee. He tweets @patricklenton.