Strictly Ballroom Psychology Review

My View

Strictly Ballroom is an Australian movie about the competitive world of ballroom dancing, with the glitz and glamour. The film mainly focuses on the perspective of Scott Hasting (lead cast) along with Fran (his ‘hidden’ dance partner) through the conventional ballroom dance scene. The movie by Baz Luhrrman has a strong depiction on the concept of social influences. The key themes of it are conformity, compliance, and obedient. They are explained further as follow:-

1. Conformity
By definition, conformity is when one is pressured for real or imagined, one will change in behaviour or belief. The whole film revolves around the idea of conformity to bring about the sense of belonging in the ballroom dancing field. As sense of belonging is what makes or breaks a person by acceptance or rejection. To illustrate, Barry Fife (President of the Australian Dance Federation) crowned Scott’s rival the winner of that season’s competition because new steps introduced by Scott was unacceptable, only conventional moves are favoured, which reinforces the group’s norm.

Consequently, Scott was blamed and frowned upon by many parties such as his mother, his dance partner Liz Holt, and his coach. As he did not conform to the rigid and dull moves, he is somehow ‘out casted’ by his circle of people. However, eventually he did conformed (even for awhile) to the rules of the competition after he found out about his father’s early attempts to introduce new moves into the competition but was rejected by the dance community. In order to not shame his parents, he decided to pair up with Liz at the end and danced along with the rules and norms of the competition. He was pressured by the dance community to conform to the behaviour. However if Scott won the competition instead, would he be treated differently and would his new moves be accepted as part of the rules of the competition?

2. Compliance
When one outwardly agrees or goes along with the group but privately disagree to the group is showing the act of compliance. It is effectively applied by someone who has authority or well respected or through rational suggestibility. For example, after hearing rumours of Scott practicing new dance moves with Fran despite opposition from the majority, Barry Fife met with Scott in private to tell him the ‘truth’ about his father’s past of attempted to show new moves in the dance world. Barry has the sense of authority as he is the President of the dance federation and an experienced senior to Scott, he suggested Scott to conform to the conventional moves of the dance competition and disregard his own new moves for him to ultimately win the competition and not shame his parents. Barry rationalised the matter that Scott’s father is a living example of not conforming to the federation, hence successfully coerced Scott to comply to the Federation’s rules and norms by dancing with Liz instead with Fran doing the “pasodoble”.

3. Obedience
Scott showed the act of obedience when he complied to Barry’s suggestion (more of an explicit command) to keep his new moves to himself and just dance following the normal moves subjected by the Federation for the competition. Barry cunningly made Scott to think that he is obligated to fulfil his parent’s dreams on winning the grand prix dance competition. With that, Scott was in a dilemma whether to be true to himself or to comply with Barry’s suggestion. Obedience is an act of compliance to an explicit command to either reap a reward or avoid a punishment. In the scene, Scott has chosen to comply with Barry’s command in order to make his parents proud of him (reward).

Besides the themes arising in the story line, there are dynamic characters that have portrayed a few key psychological concepts. They are as follow:-

1. Liz Holt (the original dance partner of Scott Hasting; in picture below) – Aggression


Throughout the film, she portrayed the lady who rages and screams A LOT! For example, she does it most especially at Scott for his unconventional dance moves and reckless ignoring the rules of the dance competition – forcing Liz to join him in his dance routine which was improvised and spontaneous (against the ballroom competition rules). With that, Scott jeopardised their chance of winning that resulted in Liz to be furious at him, all the time. Liz showed hostile aggression towards Scott as it is stemmed from anger induced by Scott.

Aggression, verbal or physical, is a response to frustration. On the frustration-aggression theory, when one is hindered from reaching one’s goal, one will displace the frustration as a reaction. Liz’s aggression is resulted from the frustration of not being able to win the competition (goal) because of Scott’s character of moves improvisation and not following the rules of the competition. Quote Liz, “…I’ve been working towards winning the Pan Pacific since I was 6 years old”.

She mostly displaced verbal aggression toward Scott’s mother or Scott by yelling and screaming. For example, while she went into the studio and Scott took her and guided her to dance and she was happily following his rhythm and beat until Scott decided to improvise by adding in his flavour of different moves into it. Of course, Liz was angry at his behaviour and screamed at him, as all she wanted was that Scott to just dance properly and follow the conventional ways of ballroom dancing (follow the rules – no move improvisations are allowed).

2. Scott Hasting – Individualism, self-expression


He has been showing his stance against the rules and norms of the ballroom dancing competition since the first scene of him dancing with Liz. His defiance against it is because he strongly holds onto the belief of self-expression in dance. He is determined not to be bullied by the competition’s organisers and adopt his style of dance instead of the rigid and conventional moves. For example, scenes showed during his dance with Liz at the beginning of the film and the last scene with Fran (dancing the “Pasodoble”). His insistence of including his own individual dance style results in conflicts with his mother and the organisers of the competition. His self-expression of individualism shows that he is prioritising his own goal over group goals (organisers of the competition and his mother) and defining it to be a personal attribute (‘uniquely him’) than associated to group identification. Through the sustained efforts of himself and help from Fran, he was able to cultivate his own unique style of dance and triumph over the corruption of the system of the dance Federation.

3. Scott and Fran – Sense of belonging


Both of them challenged the Federation’s way of dancing by showing new dance moves into the competition. They have challenged the norm of ballroom dancing as a whole. They are prejudiced by the dance community especially Scott’s mother and the organisers of the competition. However, they have found the sense of belonging after going through the tribulations with lots of practices and ridiculed by many, before their only dance in the public, dancing the “pasodoble” (image above). They were eventually accepted by the dance community and everyone who are in the dance field on improvisation in ballroom dancing competition. Scott and Fran’s reason to challenge the Federation at the start is to search for the sense of belongingness through dance with the spirit of loving to dance and not to dance just for competition sake.

Overall, the film illustrated many key psychological concepts that show how society can influence one. Through social influence – conformity, compliance and obedient that play important roles in how a society functions and interacts. However, individualism with determination and without fear can triumph against such social influences. With the quote from the film,

“A life lived in fear is a life half lived” – Fran

Do check out these few movies with similar themes as Strictly Ballroom:- – Easy A – Accepted – Admission



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