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More articles by Belinda Elliott


Calling Teens to 'Take the Lead'

By Belinda Elliott Daily Life Producer When was the last time you went ballroom dancing? Ever showed off your fancy footwork with a tasty tango? Maybe you switched it up with your friends and did a little salsa dancing? No? Not to worry, even those with two left feet will find inspiration in the upcoming movie Take the Lead, starring Antonio Banderas.

While the film features a feel-good story with enough hip hop music and chic dance moves to enthuse even those of us who are rhythmically challenged, Take the Lead also offers some important messages for teens with aspirations larger than looking cool on the dance floor.

Yes, the film revolves around ballroom dancing, but bigger issues quickly take center stage. Two of the film’s central characters, high school students Larhette (YaYa DaCosta, America’s Next Top Model) and Rock (Rob Brown, Finding Forrester, Coach Carter), live in Harlem where life is more about simply surviving than it is about doing well in school.

Rock works a dead-end job to provide money for his family, while he endures life with an alcoholic father. Larhette’s free time is spent taking care of her siblings while her mother earns money through prostitution.

Recently, DaCosta and Brown discussed how the roles of Larhette and Rock affected them. Similar to her character, DaCosta also grew up in Harlem, N.Y., but she said her experience was quite different than that of Larhette’s.

“My upbringing was so different because I had parents who were together, who were so loving. I have two older siblings and one younger one, and we all took care of each other,” DaCosta said.

She said her parents stressed the importance of education and always encouraged her to do her best. She credits them for the success she has found in both her acting and educational pursuits.

Brown, who was born in Harlem and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. also stressed the importance of education. Although Take the Lead is his third feature film, he said his first priority is finishing college. He is currently a senior at Amherst College in Amherst, Mass.

“I still don’t consider myself an actor yet,” Brown said. “I’m a student first. Education, I really feel, is the key to do whatever you want.”

That is the message that he has been sharing with students who attend school near his college. “I tell them, yes, follow your dreams, but have more than one hustle. And the best way to do that is to be educated so that you can maneuver,” Brown said.

Whatever your dreams are, he said, education is the way to can reach your goals. “So to those kids who want to sing, you want to be able to read the contract that you are signing. To those kids who want to be in the NBA, same thing,” he said.

Rob Brown and YaYa DaCosta practice their dance moves in 'Take the Lead'In the film, the students spend time learning to ballroom dance, but they are also learning more important lessons. Having to dance with partners that they may not usually socialize with forces them to look past common racial and economic barriers. They also learn to treat each other with courtesy and respect, something that DaCosta said she feels is missing in society today.

She said she hopes the film will inspire teens to bring back the “lost arts of chivalry and politeness”. That’s what happened to her as a result of starring in the film. She said the dance training she received in preparation for the movie caused her to be more conscious of her manners and how she treated people.

 “It helps my attitude throughout the day,” DaCosta said. “I was in New York and a lot of people are hustle-bustle rude, but it’s easier to go about the day being nice to people. It’s just easier. It helps your spirit too. The more you smile, the more smiles you get back, so what’s the problem?”

Brown agreed. He said ballroom dancing also caused him to become more polite on a daily basis. He said he has found that he now opens more doors for people (both male and female), uses his turn signal more often while driving, and makes an effort to be more considerate of others in general.

The two actors also hope the film will show teens that nothing is impossible for them. Whether they come from what society considers a “dysfunctional” family, or they grow up in a stable, loving environment, they can achieve any goals that they set.

DaCosta said she understands that one film may not change the world, but she hopes it will influence teens who can then begin to change the world themselves. Although the film depicts life in the inner city -- and the crime, violence, and drug use that goes with it -- she said she hopes teens will see that they can rise above that and work to make their communities better.

Five Simple Ways to Take the Lead

What about you? How can you ‘take the lead’ in your school or community? Here are a few ideas to consider.

Smile. You’ve probably heard the often-quoted saying, “It takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile,” but it’s true. Ashamed of your grill? Keep your lips closed; it still counts! A smile from a friendly face can brighten someone’s day.

Remember, chivalry is not dead. Good manners make a good impression, so bring out those “please” and “thank-yous” as often as you can. Hold a door for someone, give a compliment, or do something nice for a fellow student, teacher, or neighbor.

Consider the importance of role models.  Is there someone who has made a big impact on your life? Drop them a line to let them know how much you appreciate it. What about becoming a role model yourself? Schools and community groups are always looking for volunteers. Whether it is tutoring an elementary school kid a few hours a week, or making a bigger commitment through a mentoring program such the one offered by the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization, there are many kids younger than you looking for a good role model.

Don’t be afraid to take the initiative. If you see a need that is not being met in your school or community, take the first step and find a way to help. Schools and community groups are often open to helping, but they don’t have anyone to make them aware of the needs or champion the cause. If you are passionate about a project, you could be the best person to head it up.

Share your faith freely. As Christians we have the peace and joy that others are searching for. We understand that it is our relationship with Christ that gives our lives meaning. It is our job to expose others to Christ’s love and show them how He can change their lives. It is also important to remember that our actions often speak louder than our words. If you are going to tell others how your faith has impacted your life, be sure the way you are living matches what you are saying.

The Bible says your life is “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). We are only given a short time here on earth, let’s use the time we have to make a difference in our communities and in the lives of those around us.

Sure, you may not ever get the chance to dance with a celebrity as dreamy as Antonio Banderas, and you may never master the fox-trot, but even off the dance floor you can still take the lead.

Take the Lead opens in theaters Friday, April 7. Check out on Friday for a review of the film.

Message Board: Tell us how you ‘take the lead’ in your school, church, or community groups. What are you doing to help make a difference?

Comments? Email me

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