An Analysis of 'The Dance-off Is On'
The written portion required as part of one of my final assignments for my master's program last semester.
Unlike the true stories that I used for the first two assignments, in which words were required to tell them, I decided to complete this semester by challenging myself with an entirely fictional story involving multiple characters and a more complex plot. It is about a dance student named Sebastian who strives to outshine his friend-turned-rival Maia in an audition for a spot on the broadcasted competition “Dance-off”. The final product combines text, visuals, and audio; as it is dialogue-oriented, we can look at how character motivation, goals, risks, and struggles are portrayed in the script.
The easiest way to pinpoint these details is to follow Dance-off’s five-act structure. When it begins, we are introduced to the main cast, their setting, and the inciting incident. (Yorke 36) Whereas my previous stories began with no more than one protagonist, that is not the case here. Instead, we first meet the dance instructor Thomas who is a secondary character in his office at Feather Boa Dance Academy. He enthusiastically tells us about how the invitation to audition for “Dance-off” will heighten the academy’s reputation. As the primary characters – students at the academy – are unaware of this news, he decides to go and present them with the opportunity.
The exposition ends with the point of attack, whereby, when faced with the inciting incident, the main character(s) must make a decision taking the conditions into account. (York 36) Our protagonist, Sebastian, and the antagonist, Maia, both agree to the audition despite the fact that only one of them will be selected to compete on the show. See comments below. That choice guides us through the rising action; we witness its consequences during the characters’ journey (Yorke 37) What renders the tension between Sebastian and Maia significant is that they are shown to be friends as opposed to classmates who just so happened to be picked for judging due to their extraordinary abilities. Rather than confiding in him with her audition preparation plan, she recruits the help of another secondary character, Penelope. This gesture upsets him; he initially did not regard the opportunity as an actual competition between the two, but is now going to facilitate his independence by forging his own strategy against her while keeping his distance.
His change in behaviour creates problems for Maia because she becomes too focused on him and not enough on correcting her technique as a tap dancer. Neither of them know what the other is going through, and the question for the audience becomes twofold: who will succeed in their audition, and will they be able to salvage their friendship? At the very least, we can assume prior to the climax that Maia is likely going to have a difficult time on audition day. When she does fall, it nevertheless comes as a surprise to the other characters. (York 39) There are still stakes involved, however: even if it seems as though Sebastian is at an automatic advantage, the judges were impressed by Maia’s performance. Her injury can be healed before filming, so he would need to stand out for his chance to appear on television over her.
Additionally, Sebastian is given an option to address his friendship in the falling action. (York 37) Thomas sends him to find medical supplies, but rather than leaving the other characters to tend to her wounds, he does it himself. Maia’s somewhat pessimistic reaction to his care provides him an opening to reconcile their differences. The lesson here is that focusing on self-growth is not a negative aspiration in and of itself, but it should not be done at the expense of a friendship. Maia’s support for Sebastian contributes to his performance in the audition, although his push for safe practice from earlier ultimately leads to his success in becoming an official contestant. We are then able to enjoy the characters’ resolution, having finally been relieved of the conflict. (York 37) Sebastian has time before he begins his contract with “Dance-off”, so he elects to spend time with Maia as she undergoes physiotherapy sessions. Given that he bandaged her injuries in a previous scene, we can assume he is helping her with her exercises here. They resume their playful banter as before, and reaffirm their strong bond.
In developing these characters, I wanted to establish the correlation between competition and friendship. A changing character type with a static motivation seems to befit both Sebastian and Maia, whereby the individual, as they are working toward a goal, have one or more experiences that challenge their outlook and thus shape the story’s overall theme. (“4 Ways to Motivate Character and Plot”) The two students clearly want to achieve a spot on “Dance-off”, but the influence it has over their dynamic affects them in different ways. Whether out of jealousy or an ignited competitive streak – or even a combination of the two – Sebastian’s attitude shifts from wanting to test his potential to actively outdoing Maia on audition day. The competition, therefore, is his priority, and he is risking the breakdown of a friendship in the process.
Despite her technical role as the antagonist, Maia seems to value the friendship more; whether she tries to approach him or vents her frustrations with him to Penelope, it compromises her concentration and puts her in a position where she may not fully develop good technique. As foreshadowed by Penelope, she risks getting injured in the process. This makes her casual comment to Sebastian about avoiding overindulgence all the more ironic because his commitment to properly constructing his routine is what offers him the upper hand in the competition as a response to her working with someone who will spot her mistakes. Attending a seminar shows his patience in learning the importance of safety, whereas Maia simply rushes into her routine to get her mind off Sebastian. Other elements I wanted to experiment with in telling this story are how I structured the dialogue and voiced the characters. Instead of acting as the narrator and/or placing myself in the narrative as I did in the aforementioned assignments, Dance-off is told solely by the characters. This meant that I had to craft a (mostly) unique voice for each one and by extension create implications with respect to how information is accessible to the audience. (Smith 94) Both Sebastian and Maia are expressive; whether one or the other is happy, sad, confused, or upset, the emotion is palpable in their voices.
A common trait of theirs, however, is that they tend to interact in a jocose manner, so there are instances of them laughing and spontaneously changing their tone in exaggerated ways. These attributes demonstrate their fun, though emotionally receptive personalities particularly since they are the most involved participants in their own conflict. Thomas’ antics are much more emphasized due to his dramatic and grandiose demeanour, but because he does not share in the tension his interactions largely remain the same. Penelope is mostly enthusiastic individual, though upon gaining some insight into Maia’s friendship troubles this does wane into a more serious tone, especially when warning Maia of her habits. The judges, meanwhile, play a significantly lesser role near the end, so they do not stray from their professionalism.
The visuals, once again, proved to be quite the task. For variety, I used the Make Beliefs Comix software to create my own images. Unfortunately, it is much more limiting than Pixton in terms of customization, poses, and backgrounds, so I did my best to portray the ideas in my script as closely as possible with the assets available to me. The camera sees notably less use compared to my earlier assignments that required visuals, but there are nonetheless a few features that the audience will likely notice.
First, there is only one instance when a character is completely isolated, which suggests detachment from a situation (Cade) and that is when Sebastian is practicing his routine at home. Unlike most of the other scenes where everyone’s interactions are more balanced, he is at his most intense. He has the freedom to behave this way because he does not approach Maia with his concerns and allows them to manifest. There is otherwise a general lack of visual balance (Cade) in Dance-off to show the very direct and histrionic nature of these characters and their surroundings.
To elaborate on this point, I had the cast be situated in a predominantly urbanized environment characterized by crowdedness and pandemonium. This is to create a sense of urgency for our main characters as they strive to perform well before the judges, and to reinforce the idea that the performing arts as a whole is highly socialized. Rhythm, movement, and the above-mentioned lack of space contribute to these concepts (Block 3) as well as the stark contrast in colour that depicts a highly-stylized version of reality. (Block 4)
Block, Bruce A. “The visual components.” The Visual Story: Creating the Visual Structure of Film, TV and Digital Media. Focal Press/Elsevier, 2008, pp. 3-4
Cade, Simon. “Composition and framing – Storytelling with cinematography.” YouTube, uploaded by DSLRguide, 5 Feb. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfIanZimZR8
Kress, Nancy. “4 ways to motivate character and plot.” Writer’s Digest, 19 Mar. 2013, writersdigest.com/online-editor/4-ways-to-motivate-characters-and-plot. Accessed 29 Sept. 2019.
Smith, Hazel. “Narrative, narratology, power.” The Writing Experiment. Allen & Unwin, 2005, pg. 94.
Yorke, John. “Five act structure.” Into the Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them. Penguin, 20 Oct. 2015, pp. 36-9