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MOVIE REVIEW

In 'Gotta Dance,' seniors bust a move

Endearing documentary follows a group of senior citizens as they learn hip-hop dance moves.

August 21, 2009|KENNETH TURAN | FILM CRITIC

"Gotta Dance" is a feel-better movie. Warm and cozy with just the tiniest dollop of tension, this documentary will make you feel almost as genial as the 12 women and one man whose dancing adventures it details.

Those would be the members of the NETSational Seniors, a minimum-age-60 dance team whose assignment, should they accept it, would be to learn hip-hop moves and perform what they learned in front of 19,000 enthusiastic fans at the Meadowlands Arena, home of the NBA's New Jersey Nets.

Filmgoers with not-so-long memories will remember last year's "Young@Heart," a look at a senior citizen singing group that specialized in renditions of cutting-edge rock. The current film is kind of a "Young@Heart With Feet," and though it may not have quite the emotional depth of its predecessor, it's a charmer in its own right.

Documentarian Dori Berinstein, who did the excellent "ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway," started filming at the first dance tryouts and stayed with the dancers through the ups and downs of their six home games.

Though they are either retired or have day jobs such as teacher, therapist and legal secretary, the team members are united by a love of dancing. Some already are in dance groups with such names as the Happy Tappers or (inevitably) the Happy Hoofers. But all of them are challenged by hip-hop moves taught by lithe instructors of whom Joe B, the sole man, says, "I got pants and suits older than them."

Among the most interesting team members are Peggy, a former Miss Subways, and Betsy, a kindergarten teacher who favors an "I love math" sweat shirt and is so freaked out by what she's doing that she invents an alter-ego named Betty who loves to act out in public. Two of the oldest dancers, 83-year-old Marge and 81-year-old Fanny, actually have granddaughters who are professional dancers for the Nets.

Nervous at first, prone to looking "like deer in the headlights," the dancers coalesce through weeks of practice, and their first Meadowlands performance is a smash, leading to the kind of national publicity blitz that even a former Miss Subways might envy.

With success, however, comes problems. "There's a diva thing going on," one of the team's coaches says darkly, not to mention increasing aches and pains for not-so-young bodies and difficulty learning more complex dance steps that lead to a threat to cancel a performance. "If they're not cutting it," says a stern team official, "they're not doing it."

It's not giving away any state secrets to say everything turns out OK for this Wild Bunch. Watching these folks dance will make you want to return the favor yourself, and underlines the truth in the quote by Flo Ziegfield that opens the film: "Age is of no importance unless you are a cheese."

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kenneth.turan@latimes.com

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'Gotta Dance'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

Playing: At Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills; Town Center 5, Encino; West Park 8, Irvine

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