The Background Dance History Of Billy Elliot Film Studies Essay


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The background of the film Billy Elliot was set in the context of the 1984 Miners Strike in England, where both Billys father and older brother were miners participating in the strike. In the history of England, this was an important event for the governing party of England at that time, the Conservative Party led by Margaret Thatcher. The event set a strong political and ideological standing for the United Kingdom (UK) with regards to the ideas accepted by the people today.

The 1984 Miners Strike was an intense period for the miners, who made up a significant proportion of the working class in England at that time. The reason behind the strike was the intended shutting down of twenty coal mines by the government, which would in turn result in the massive loss of jobs by as many as twenty thousand people. This led to the uproar by the miners in opposition to such a decision. Billy's family was heavily involved in this strike, with his brother Tony as the union leader. Essentially, this was somewhat a symbolism of a class struggle because such a decision affected mainly the working class only in terms of employment. In the film, Mr. Wilkinson, the husband of Billy's ballet teacher, was a figure representing the upper middle class with a rather cynical attitude towards the lower middle class i.e. the miners as well as the strike. Similarly, at the end of Billy's audition and interview together with Billy's father, the panel of judges, a representation of the upper class, offered his father a patronizing and perhaps sarcastic, 'good luck with the strike' (Blandford, 2007). Despite all the heavy-hearted circumstances Billy and his family were going through, the beginning of the film, together with the dancing along the way, was a surprisingly light-hearted scene.

With upbeat rock music playing, Billy's jumping revealed a certain uncontained and unrestrained soul that seemed free. As the story developed however, the contradiction was the fact that Billy's life, at the age of 11, was hardly so. This somewhat likened to the period after the French Revolution, stepping into the Romantic Ages, where light-hearted, happy and fun ballets, often fairytales, were seen as a form of escapism from the harsh reality of people's lives. In another segment of the film, when Billy's father finds him dancing on Christmas night at the gymnasium with his friend, instead of succumbing to his father's objections, Billy bursts into a powerful segment of dancing, which was strong, uplifted, together with jumps and turns. This was almost like an open confrontation between Billy and his father, except not verbally. That dance segment portrayed a two-sided representation of Billy's emotions, one of frustration, with the circumstances and with not being able to dance freely, and at the same time, one that seemed to help him express what he could not through words, his love for dance. This was shown through his movements which were heavier and more grounded than when he was dancing to 'I love to boogie', his inspiration for the audition piece. Though there were jumps in the sequence, they were executed with a strong intention of frustration and desired release from being bound to his father's expectations of carrying on family traditions as a boxer and objections of being a ballet dancer.

The unwillingness of Billy's father also revealed something intriguing about the situation, in relation to the political climate at that time. The governing party of England at that time was the Conservative Party, led by Margaret Thatcher. The ideology that followed with such a leadership was conservatism. Conservatism is a political and social ideology that promotes the maintenance of traditional institutions as well as to limit change, or at its best, allow minimal and gradual change in society. This ideology could be seen to have set its roots in the lives of the characters in the film. The strike was an obvious resistance to a significant impending change, the closing down of 20 coal mines and causing the massive loss of jobs. This philosophical idea also had its social impacts on the characters in the story. One of the core reasons for the objection of Billy's father to him dancing was the notion that male dancers were 'poofs', or simply put, homosexual. Billy's friend Michael was such a representation, who began showing signs of cross-dressing and homosexuality at a young age. However, the important thing to note was that Michael was not a dancer, placing an immediate call to relook this so-called social phenomenon. This phenomenon, or rather, broad generalization of male dancers, had painted a negative image of males doing this art form and coming back to the ideology of conservatism, Billy's father was simply not ready for a change in mindset about such a phenomenon that had already been etched in his mind.

The influence of Fred Astaire was another aspect that had an impact on the choreography of Billy Elliot's dance segments in the film. Rock was the main genre of music popular at that time but Billy Elliot was influenced more by Fred Astaire, who was popular among Billy's mother and grandmother's generation. Fred Astaire was a broadway dancer and choreographer. Though there were no details about how Billy Elliot knew how to tap dance, in many segments where he was dancing, whether out of frustration, happiness or the desire for freedom, his steps incorporated a certain jazzy and broadway style to it.

The film, Billy Elliot, was put in the context of many issues that would have surrounded someone who lived in a middle class family, even more so if they were miners and involved the 1984 Miners Strike. The governing party of England at that time played an important role in shaping the mindset of people with the ideology of conservatism, the social and cultural influences revealed its impact on Billy Elliot's dancing as a young boy and ultimately, Billy was motivated by a desire for freedom, breaking away from social norms and standing out as an individual. All of these ideas displayed in Billy's behaviour were formed and passed on from predecessors such as Aristotle, who believed in a society open to ideas and disagreements, as well as John Locke, who was an important figure in the history of freedom. It is through the embodiment of such ideas through the characters in the film, including Billy's father, his brother and even his ballet teacher's family, that gives us a glimpse of the life and thoughts of those living during the Miners Strike.

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