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Happy 10th Anniversary to 'Step Up,' you beautiful piece of trash

Ten years ago, Step Up: The Movie hit theaters on Aug. 11, leaving intelligent audiences everywhere simultaneously delighted and afraid of their own tastes.

A movie that should have never made it to even the most base, butter-encrusted soulless multiplexes somehow grossed over $65 million worldwide (or $86 million, adjusted for inflation). A story that should have never been published in a high school zine, let alone by a major movie studio, suddenly achieved some level of recognition and one or two thumbs up from critics whose thumbs we actually respected. 

Channing Tatum, drowning under the weight of his own Modell's sweatpants, breakdanced his way from obscurity to semi-obscurity and into our cynical, lifeless hearts.

Over the past 10 years, America has watched Step Up grow from a sweet little one-off to one of the most moderately successful teen dance movie franchises of the modern era.

Haters, step down. Step Up deserves every bit of glowing fan fiction and middling critical reviews it gets.

Dance movies belong to one of the least respected genres of film — and if they are liked, its only because they've been heavily salted with irony. Movies like Step Up and Center Stage appear in winking listicles and half-assed roundups, not serious pieces of film criticism. 

Most of this is well-deserved — these movies aim for simple coherence, not artistic greatness — but some of the criticism feels disproportionate. Saturday Night Fever and Dirty Dancing are proud exceptions to the trend. Dance movies showcase female performers in ways that would make even cartoonist Alison Bechdel smile (sometimes).  Dismissing them casually can feel gratuitous, if not a little bit sexist.

To be clear: There are many good, solid, evidence-based reasons to dismiss Step Up. The plot is so formulaic it could have been written by a TI-86 calculator. A teenage ballet dancer from a good side of the tracks, Jenna Dewan, meets a stoic dancing janitor from the bad side (Channing Tatum). He teaches her how to dance hip-hop, she teaches him how to be civilized/not shoot people, she puts on a show, he comes back to high school, together they make it to first base.

Bonus: The couple even got married in real life. 

Still, what the plot lacks in originality, it makes up for in the sheer optimism of its dancing. The Step Up series brought dance battling into the milquetoast American mainstream. And while the battles were stripped of the rawness you might see in, you know, an actual dance battle, they were skillful and sexy. Like America's Best Dance Crew, which premiered just two years later, the series featured highly sanitized dancers with heart-pounding levels of talent and annoyingly pro-social attitudes. These teenagers didn't whine; they had great skin and enormous skill. They were people with stories worth watching, they were better than you.

Step Up, directed by choreographer Anne Fletcher, R&B singer Mario in turtlenecks and Channing Tatum jumping off a miniature trampoline. Cynics, sit down: What more do you want out of a movie?

Sure, what the movie had in choreography it lacked in dialogue, originality and substance. And subsequent movies skirted even more dangerous social ground. Step Up 2: The Streets featured a predominantly white private school team battling against another team, composed of mostly people of color, for control of something writers called "The Streets." The twist: The audience is actually supposed to be rooting for the privileged because "The Streets" belong to everyone, not just the kids from "The Streets," because "The Streets" are something you fight for, not something you were born into, and the kids from "The Actual Streets" don't deserve "The Streets" because they are not very polite! 

If that horrifying plot line offends you, might I suggest Step Up 4: The Revolution, the story of kids who try to fight gentrification — and discover the best way to defeat it is by accepting internships at Nike.

Sure, these stories are pure emotional gas, but they make up for it with sheer energy. Our favorite cliches — star-crossed lovers who overcome odds to win scholarships — are made stronger by music we love and understand, and dance moves we've always dreamed of executing.

It's been 10 years since Step Up first premiered, and four sequels have followed. Fans know that years of middling profits means that Step Up: All In will probably be the series' last. Sure, it's turning into a YouTube streaming series, but it's not the same. No matter what happens, Step Up, know this: You will always have a strange, deeply shameful place in our hearts. We will always hate how much we love you, and because of that, we will love you even more.

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