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Who Is the Real Lord of the Dance?

A ‘Center Stage’ vs. ‘Black Swan’ dance off

Ringer illustration
Ringer illustration

In 2000, Center Stage — a movie that concludes with a flamboyantly triumphant, Jamiroquai-soundtracked final dance targeted at people who frequent community-center hip-hop classes — became the Best Dance Movie in Cinematic History. It spent a mere decade on the throne before Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan came and snatched the official BDMICH title. Black Swan was like a brutally honest New York City Ballet instructor who looked at Center Stage’s hips and said “you’re not a dancer, darling, this, is a dancer” while gesturing to a picture of waifish Natalie Portman winning an Oscar. It was critically acclaimed; it had real actors. It was a smart, philosophical reckoning of the cost of being a true artist, and Winona Ryder stabbed her own face with a nail file. It was never a fair fight.

But both of these movies are in danger of being one-upped this weekend, when Lifetime’s Center Stage: On Pointe — starring Peter Gallagher and Sascha Radetsky (Hot Charlie!) from the original Center Stage — makes its triumphant debut. OK, that’s a lie, no one is getting upstaged here, but it’s a good excuse to talk about the other movies.

So which was better? Let us break it down Winners and Losers–style.

Winner: Natalie Portman (‘Black Swan’)

Natalie Portman committed to this. From the tips of her flared nostrils to her tightened sphincter, she took the tortured, self-harming perfectionist ballerina prototype seriously. Her greatest feat: convincing us that she might actually be an OK person to grab a beer with, based on this performance. She passes the Beer test and the Oscar test. Sorry, ballerina-whose-name-we-don’t-remember-from–Center Stage.

Loser: Susan May Pratt and Selma Blair (‘Center Stage’)

Selma Blair wasn’t in this movie, but 2000 was sort of her heyday. Doesn’t it feel like casting directors wanted her for Maureen — the bitchy, type-A prima donna — but took a few wrong turns and had to settle for Susan May Pratt? (Drive Me Crazy, 10 Things I Hate About You, Open Water 2: Adrift)

Winner: Vincent Cassel (‘Black Swan’)

In Ocean’s Twelve, Cassel moved like liquid metal (remember the laser Capoeira dance?) and was a fantastic prick. In Black Swan, he cemented it: He excels at both dancing and being very rude. More dancing-prick roles for Cassel, please.

Loser: Mila Kunis (‘Black Swan’)

As proven by her parts in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Jim Beam Whiskey Commercial, Mila Kunis is the consummate “cool girl.” Black Swan should have been the moment for Kunis — a chance to move past the “sexy chick who likes beer” roles, but I’m just going to say what everyone else is thinking: You were better in Ted, Mila Kunis. You were better in Ted.

Winner: Zoe Saldana (‘Center Stage’)

Before she danced on Nina Simone’s grave, she danced beautifully in Center Stage. Inconvenient but true.

Loser: Leg Warmers (‘Center Stage’)

I understand that athleisure is now an acceptable trend, but do you think any actor in this film is looking back and thinking, “Man, that one long, slouchy sock that I pulled up to my thigh was so chic?”

Winner: Peter Gallagher’s Eyebrows (‘Center Stage’)

As bushy as they are versatile: they can knit with concern, raise in surprise, arch with bemusement. To borrow a phrase that we’ll surely be sick of by next week: Peter Gallagher’s Eyebrows? She got the range.

Loser: Darren Aronofsky (‘Black Swan’)

It took four years for the follow-up, and the best he could do was Noah.

Winner: Amanda Schull (‘Center Stage’)

Surprise! Jody Sawyer didn’t just fly back to Topeka, Kansas, and settle into obscurity: she’s now the lead in the Syfy version of 12 Monkeys. Yes, she actually got an acting job.

Loser: Sex (‘Black Swan’)

Every sex scene in this movie morphs into an act of psychosexual violence on the audience’s libido. Natalie Portman masturbates in front of her mother, gets groped by her director, and is mocked for hallucinating a sapphic romp with Mila Kunis. I wish I could just live in the PG sex scene in Center Stage for the rest of my adult life.

Winner: Male Ballerinas (‘Black Swan’)

All right Benjamin “Many feet? How is that your name?” Millepied, I see you in dem tights.

Loser: My Stomach (‘Black Swan’)

Between Natalie Portman’s swan rash, her bloody fingernails, Winona Ryder’s aforementioned face stab, and those prolonged scenes of bodies being painfully worked by a physical therapist, who the hell could eat popcorn during this movie?

Winner: “Higher Ground,” Red Hot Chili Peppers (‘Center Stage’)

Winner: “I Wanna Be With You,” Mandy Moore (‘Center Stage’)

Winner: “Cosmic Girl,” Jamiroquai (‘Center Stage’)

Winner: “Canned Heat,” Jamiroquai (‘Center Stage’)

Winner: “The Way You Make Me Feel,” Michael Jackson (‘Center Stage’)

Do you know how good the Center Stage soundtrack was?

The Ultimate Lord of the Dance: Center Stage, for capturing the pure, unrealistic joy of dance and music and making art in New York City, without any of the psychological self-flagellation required to actually do it.

Ultimately Pulled Off the Stage With a Cane Like It’s Showtime at the Apollo: Black Swan