Dance is a universal form of self-expression. A sway of the hips, a lengthening of the leg, and an evocative hand gesture—all non-verbal descriptors of your personality. The agile few who take part in this silent form of communication have an obligation to tell a story. Whether that be pre-existing or one from a dancer’s own heart, the teller’s physical relay must be convincing. Otherwise, the inherent message gets lost.
In the Georgian-Swedish film And Then We Danced, director and writer Levan Akin guides us through the life of a struggling, young dancer named Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani). When he’s not chasing after the precarious Georgian dance he so wishes to master, Merab is the sole breadwinner for his family. His father is all but absent, and his older brother David (Giorgi Tsereteli) has a lot of growing up to do. Meanwhile, Merab feels threatened when a talented dancer named Irakli (Bachi Valishvili) joins his class. In time, though, their one-sided rivalry translates into a relationship that neither of them ever expected.
Akin and his crew filmed with a looming threat over their heads. Georgia remains ultra-conservative, so a movie about two men having a love affair undoubtedly sparked controversy. Seeing the movie in theaters was no easy feat either as parties attempted to cancel screenings. And Then We Danced does not shy away from the scandal either. To tell the truth, the taboo ties into Merab’s inability to learn the dance he’s devoted his life to. The confidence he seeks only comes once he finally admits who he really is. To know his body and all that it’s capable of means giving it and his heart what he’s always desired.
Queer cinema has a long history of being frank, on-the-nose, and downright forlorn. Thus, viewers are understandably apprehensive when watching. And Then We Danced largely opposes the thought, much to the relief of audiences and critics alike. There’s pain to be had here — of both the emotional and physical type — but the movie is, in the long run, more uplifting than sorrowful. We already have an extensive, and not to mention overwhelming, catalog of heart-rending movies about coming out. In light of the situation in Georgia, Akin commendably offers hope rather than gloom.
There is a romantic side to the film that, much to our discontent, pans out realistically. However, it still hurts to watch it go down. Conversely, Akin doesn’t let the heartbreak overrule everything else in his movie. He treats it pragmatically before assuring us that there is still a chance for love. The only catch is that said love comes from different sources. Ones we might not have expected considering the general attitude of other characters.
In the most triumphant way possible, Mareb challenges his society as well as the traditional Georgian dance that mocks him. All along, he’s been told to act more masculine, or that he is too ‘soft’ to pull the dance off. Mareb’s rejection of archaic ideals and prerequisites at the end is of note. As he purges himself of pernicious doubt and criticism, the cloud that weighs heavy over him disappears. It’s life-affirming in the best way possible.
And Then We Danced is cathartic, topical, and ultimately optimistic in spite of itself. The jury is still out on whether or not a film of even this caliber can change any minds, but progress is never made overnight. The sheer fact this movie exists is a sign of strength that everyone can certainly use a bit of.