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Review: In 'Stepping High,' life's answers are found on the dance floor

A woman puts her dreams of being a professional dancer on hold and teaches high-schoolers how to cut a rug.

By Amy Nicholson

6:10 PM EDT, June 13, 2013

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At 32, Sima (Palmer Davis) is ready to grow up. In "Stepping High," that doesn't mean moving out of her conservative Iranian American parents' house, or even introducing them to her white boyfriend. It just means finally pausing her dreams of being a professional hoofer to take her first real job as a high school dance instructor.

Sima's in over her head, but luckily her eight students fall into neat teen movie stereotypes — the princess, the nerd, the Christian — who on Day One do their new teacher the favor of laying out all of their interpersonal tensions. And when one squawks, "LMAO!" he immediately defines what the acronym means.

Character development out of the way, director Henri Charr is free to waste time watching the kids prance. They're pretty good. The plot kicks back in when Sima dares instruct her class in belly dance, outraging the parents, the principal and a local pastor. Yelps one, "Have you forgotten what happened on 9/11?!" (Alas, in Fa King and Sreescanda's script, bizarre racism is the voice of the masses.)

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"Stepping High" is both a trifle and an impassioned argument that dance is a direct route to character, ethics and world peace. Yet despite its psychosocial pretensions, the film never realizes that stubborn Sima is her own worst enemy. Hint: When the school board thinks your choreography is too scandalous, your dance routine rebuttal shouldn't put the kids in bra tops and transparent harem pants.

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"Stepping High." Not rated. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. Playing at Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino.

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