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Tough Choices ‘Dance Me Outside’ Explores The Harsh Life On An Indian Reservation

Although its exact meaning is never directly explained, the title of the Canadian film “Dance Me Outside” refers obliquely to sexual intercourse. When, in the smoky, music-filled intimacy of a tavern, a girl whispers this phrase into her date’s ear, he suspects he’s gonna get lucky.

And maybe he will.

Maybe she will, too, although maybe not.

Maybe, as happens in “Dance Me Outside,” she’ll ask the wrong guy and end up dead. If that happens and she’s an Indian, chances are that the guy - especially if he is white - will end up having only a few pages of the book thrown at him.

So the phrase is arbitrary: It expresses a longing for something pleasurable, but it also refers to behavior that could lead to self-destruction.

In the larger sense, then, “Dance Me Outside” could mean breaking the spell that keeps certain native peoples shackled to their reservations. For, clearly, the choices can be scary: Stay at home and court the demons that lead to alcoholism, or forsake the very family atmosphere that nurtures you for the often unfriendly world of mainstream culture.

Those choices are before Silas Crow (Ryan Black) and his friends on the Kidiabanessee Reserve of Ontario, Canada. Their decision isn’t an easy one to make.

Silas and his friend Frank Fencepost (Adam Beach) have a chance to attend car mechanics school in Toronto. But to enter, they have to write a story about their lives. Since neither seems particularly motivated to do anything other than have a good time, they put it off.

In the meantime, they hang around home, go out with their girlfriends and, typically on a Saturday night, go to a dance and get drunk.

But then one Saturday, a friend of theirs “dances outside” with the wrong guy and everything changes. Silas’ girl Sadie Maracle (Jennifer Podemski), who is already anxious about the non-direction of her life with Silas, becomes an activist. Frank’s girl, Poppy (Sandrine Holt), simply leaves.

Silas and Frank are left to face their futures. Alone.

Their decisions are made even harder by the fact that the role models they look up to are as confused as anyone else. Silas’ sister, Illianna (Lisa Lacroix), is an older version of Sadie: She left the reservation, and her longtime lover, to marry a white lawyer (Kevin Hicks), but she can’t cut the ties completely. Her ex-lover, Gooch (Michael Greyeyes), managed to leave the reservation, too, but only by serving a three-year prison sentence.

The filmmakers, especially director Bruce McDonald, deserve credit for attempting to see contemporary Indians as something more than spiritual symbols. Silas, Frank, Sadie, Gooch and the rest are straight out of “Powwow Highway” territory, real to the point of harshness.

The screenplay he follows, though, is less believable. Silas and his family take advantage of his naive (and somewhat dense) white brother-in-law, whose very portrayal feels like a cheap shot. The lengths that Illianna goes to have a child, for example, are far beyond what the basically decent man deserves.

And there are just too many throw-away moments of humor that boast too harsh an edge, such as when Silas and Frank wreck a car with ironic consequences. Also, too many other instances smack of mere manipulation: The revenge scene is too complex and overwhelming for what should have been a much smaller, and less overly dramatic, script.

Still, as in a more mainstream film about teen minorities, the performances of the young actors in “Dangerous Minds” are fun to watch. Black makes for an empathetic protagonist; Beach (who starred in “Squanto: A Warrior’s Tale”) is the Indian version of “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”; and Lacroix is fine as a woman who wants a better life but not at the expense of her past.

All in all, “Dance Me Outside” offers an inside look at a culture that, all too often, has been either ignored or portrayed with halo-wearing political correctness.

It provides that look through the eyes of Silas, who ultimately doesn’t just settle for luck. Instead, he makes his own.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “Dance Me Outside” **1/2 Location: Magic Lantern Cinemas Credits: Directed by Bruce McDonald, starring Ryan Black, Adam Beach, Jennifer Podemski, Lisa Lacroix, Michael Greyeyes and Kevin Hicks Running time: 1:27 Rating: Not rated (but equivalent to a PG-13 for sexual situations)

This sidebar appeared with the story: “Dance Me Outside” **1/2 Location: Magic Lantern Cinemas Credits: Directed by Bruce McDonald, starring Ryan Black, Adam Beach, Jennifer Podemski, Lisa Lacroix, Michael Greyeyes and Kevin Hicks Running time: 1:27 Rating: Not rated (but equivalent to a PG-13 for sexual situations)

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