This 36-page book is printed in-house and contains a detailed semiological commentary prepared with the general reader, students and teachers in mind. 

For those who would like to use it as a teaching and learning aid in a classroom situation the film has been segmented into eleven sequences of 10 to 15 minutes duration.


(DVD Chapters 1/...2: 8 mins) 
Let the film roll until Liz says “... like you’re supposed to!” 
The stately opening notes of Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz play on the soundtrack as a shot of red curtains 
fades in. The curtains open as at the start of a theatrical performance. This film originated as a stage 
production during Baz Luhrmann’s time at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in New South Wales. The 
star-burst graphics are accompanied by glissando notes that are added to the original piece of music and 
suggest a sprinkling of magic dust on the titles. Images of couples swirling around a great ballroom may 
come to mind as we listen to this tune. It is quintessentially Viennese. It belongs to a previous age. It 
represents great art, art that is classic and art that has stood the test of time, that sets a standard by which all 
else is judged. 
After a starburst that fills the whole screen, the camera cranes up from a shot of a polished floor to reveal 
male figures in silhouette against a brightly lit wall. They are in formal dress and perform as if in a mime 
show. Ladies in bright coloured flounced dresses enter. The characters tend to each other’s costumes, slap 
hands and embrace affectionately. The ease of their movements suggest that they are comfortable in each 
other’s company. The music seems to increase in tempo and excitement. The action is presented in slow 
motion as the characters pair off and move towards the camera in time with the music. A third couple moves 
quickly into the queue, and there is a crescendo in the music as the screen turns to colour and the frame 
freezes. We can see the facial expressions now, and empathise with the sense of anticipation, exhilaration 
and release the dancers feel as they move through the doorway from backstage to the full glare of the 
ballroom to be greeted by the cheers of the spectators. 
There is a dissolve to a pan shot of the first couple as they move to salute the panel of officials for the The 
Southern Districts Waratah Championship. As the film proceeds we will see these officials over and over 
again seated at ‘top tables’ above the dancers. This acts as a recurring metaphor for the power structure of 
the Australian Dance Federation. Shots of the other two couples follow. They pause in front of the top table. 
The first two ladies settle small, last minute details - a fleck of dust, a crooked bow-tie. The third touches the 
cheek of her white-haired partner. He grins, pleased with the attention. Each couple is presented to us as they 
bow and begin their waltz. The action is being presented to us in slow motion to suit the tempo of the music 
and to accentuate the gracefulness of the dancers. We have sight of the crowd but their cheers are barely 
audible at this point. The camera moves on a dolly around the floor and positions us to empathise with the 
exhilaration of the smooth flow of the dance. The facial expressions of the white haired dancer are featured 
A close-up shot of a score-sheet is inserted. Reality has set in. If we did not notice the numbers on the backs 
of the men and the word ‘championship’ on the panel’s table, then we certainly wake up now to the reality 
that all this elegance and grace is for show. It is all outward show designed to score points and win the 
competition. An enthusiastic “Come on a hundred!” is the sound that follows the shot of the score-sheet. It 
marks the changeover from the almost dream-like moves and sounds of the opening moments to the reality 
of the rush of sound and movement that assaults us now. The blonde woman who shouted and introduced the 
note of harsh reality into the film is presented to us in big close-up. She is lit in such a way that the lines of 
her face are accentuated. The low, side-lighting gives her a somewhat grotesque appearance. She will be 
presented to us like this at various stages in the film. Furthermore, the outward appearance of finery, 
elegance and graceful companionship will often be contrasted with the reality of underlying bickering and 
jockeying for prominence in the course of the film. The end of the dance is signalled by the music and the 
high angle shot of the dance floor followed by a quick tracking shot in to couple number one hundred. The 
movement freezes with the final cadence of the music. 
The captions in the next two shots bring us further away from the dream-like state of the opening dance. 
They are a feature of the documentary genre. Scott is labelled a “Ballroom Champion”. An interview with his 
mother, Shirley, is inserted to illustrate this assertion. We form impressions about people from what they do, 
what they say, how they look, and the things they surround themselves with. Shirley seems to be at home but 
looks dressed and coiffured for the ballroom. Her cushions and dress are colour co-ordinated. Her parlour is 
full of trophies and photographs. All her life is ballroom. We learn that she is a cosmetics consultant. The 
theme of appearance and reality will loom large in this film. In the two-shot her husband, Doug, sits 
inscrutable behind her on the sofa. He has nothing to say. He uses his inhaler spray at the mention of the 
word ‘champion’. There is a cut back to Scott and his partner and the voice of the compere replaces Shirley’s 
after she mentions that Scott was a champion. As she resumes talking to the camera and gets around to 
mentioning Barry Fife, there is an abrupt cut away to the compere again. This cross-cutting destroys the 
notion of the straightforward documentary, and signals parody and pastiche. The low angle shots of both men 
gives an ironic twist to the piece. Once again, hairstyle is a notable feature of the characters, and the big 
close-up shots emphasise this detail. The tone is mock-serious. The camera looks up to Barry as he 
acknowledges the cheers of the crowd. The compere plugs Barry’s video Dance To Win, declaring it “The 
only way to dance”. This slogan introduces one aspect of another major theme in the film - self-expression 
and conformity or, to put it another way, individual freedom and institutional control. The medium shot of 
Shirley gives us the opportunity to take in her hairstyle, ear-rings and dress, as she dolefully enunciates what 
was in store for Liz and Scott. They would be “The next Pan Pacific Grand Prix Amateur Five Dance 
Latin-American Champions”. She almost chokes on the next word ... 
The ironic nature of this mockumentary is signalled again in the editing by the cut away to the compere 
pronouncing the word that caused Shirley so much difficulty: the Samba is introduced. We cut from couple 
to couple with emphasis on couples 100, 54 and 69, as before. The couples seem to be expressing themselves 
more freely in this dance. Sound effects are added to increase the sense of exhilaration. The cuts from Shirley 
in her parlour to Ken Railings on the dance floor are full of irony. The image suggests a foppish character 
who is full of his own self-importance, whereas, the soundtrack has Shirley speaking in awe of him. His 
groans and yelp further distance him from our affections. We are being positioned to see him in a different 
light to the way Shirley sees him. Dramatic irony - the difference between what the characters know and what 
the audience has had revealed to it - will be a major dramatic device in the unfolding narrative of this film. 
Adding to the tongue-in-cheek irony of how Ken is presented to us is the fact that the music being played is 
Tequila. The irony of this counterpoint between the sound and the image will become more apparent as the 
sub-plot involving Ken is developed. This ironic distancing of the audience from the action is typical of Baz 
Luhrmann’s post-modern direction. Doug is photographing Scott and Liz on his cine camera. They seem to 
be getting somewhat crowded by Ken Railings. When Les Kendall appears on the screen he is filmed in 
medium shot. Once again our eyes are drawn to the hairstyle of the character. He speaks in clipped tones. He 
has a firm conviction of what is correct and acceptable on the ballroom floor. 
The contrast noted earlier between the appearance and the reality is emphasised in Liz’s use of bad language. 
Once boxed in, Scott gets out of the situation by using unorthodox moves. Reaction to the steps is caught in 
a series of close-ups of Shirley, Doug and Barry. The look of shock on their faces is set in sharp contrast to 
the cheers and applause on the soundtrack. A mockumentary shot of Liz in her colour co-ordinated costume 
and bedroom is inserted that positions us, the audience, to think of her in the same way as we think of 
Shirley. Scott’s moves are shown in slow motion as he calls to Liz to join in and follow him. Reaction shots 
in big close-up follow and emphasise the horror felt by Shirley and Barry. The two kids, Kylie and Luke, are 
taking on the classic role of the Chorus which traditionally comments on the action in the course of the play.  
The camera follows Liz and Scott around the floor and catches the excited reaction of the crowd. We cut 
back to Shirley in her parlour as she gets more and more hysterical. Her behaviour is over-the-top even to the 
point where she doubts the way she reared her son! The worst thing, in her estimation, is that this all 
happened in front of Barry Fife. She is fast becoming a caricature in the way she is being presented to us. In 
comedy and satire characters are often presented in this one-dimensional way.  Once Liz gets over the initial 
shock of having to follow Scott, she seems to be enjoying herself. The camera, music and editing add to our 
enjoyment by increasing the sense of exhilaration in the sweeping movement of Scott’s steps. The table of 
Federation officials is appalled. Doug films the couple, obviously delighted with the dance. A series of 
reaction shots is inserted: firstly, Barry Fife, then Kylie and Luke, whose delighted cry encapsulates the joy 
of the whole crowd, and then Shirley’s horrified gasp because she knows what Barry Fife will make of the 
steps. The dance sequence ends with Scott presented in slow motion as a vocal chorus trills over his steps on 
the soundtrack. 
According to Les, only a select few could pick out what was wrong with the steps. Only those ‘in the know’. 
Only those in the Federation. The metallic ‘clang’ on the soundtrack and the echo on his words, coupled with 
the lighting, invite us to see Barry Fife as a threatening presence. The treatment is mock-serious, though. He 
is almost a pantomime villain, terrifying but presented in an ironic/comic way. The zoom in to an extreme 
close-up of his mouth for the word ‘win’ confirms this. 
The compere appears again adding to the knowing, ironic distancing effect as he brings the truth of Barry’s 
statement to bear on the championship. Each time we see him the camerawork increases his stature by 
presenting him from a low angle. His voice is loud, almost distorted, as he ‘talks down’ to us. Ken lets 
another yelp out of him as he moves up to receive his prize. The camera tracks in to the smug grin of Barry 
Fife as he stares Scott down. A reverse track in shot of Scott and Liz shows their defiance and 
disappointment, respectively. The booming voice of the compere and the musical score add to the 
disappointment and frustration of Liz. It all becomes too much and she storms out.  
Another mockumentary interview is inserted. This is Fran and she is presented to us in big close-up. Her hair 
is tied back and un-coiffed. She is dressed plainly and her most salient feature is her large spectacles. Her 
appearance is in contrast with that of all the characters we have met up to this, with the possible exception of 
Doug. Her grin after the line “I thought they should have won!” marks her off as a plain person who speaks 
her mind. In the flashback to the championship she wears a nondescript dress. She is knocked over twice, in 
the manner of cartoon victims, as Liz and then Scott storm past her. We do not stop to ask ourselves if Fran 
is injured when she is knocked over. This is just the slapstick that forms part of the genre that is stage and 
screen comedy. The director is positioning us to view his characters in this way. 
The setting in which an action takes place is always significant in literature, drama and cinema. Sometimes 
that setting can take on a symbolic life of its own, as it were, apart from its significance in moving the action 
forward. Liz and Scott are filmed in a doorway. This may act as a metaphor. These new steps are a new way 
for Scott. For Liz they represent a threat big enough to make her close the door on what they have worked for 
“all their lives”. She does not want to dance with Scott again until he decides to conform. Everything was 
fine for her until he disrupted her world with his new steps. A narrative will often introduce such a disruption 
at an early stage by presenting the audience with an enigma, a question or riddle that must be solved in the 
course of the action. The enigma becomes the engine that drives the story. The enigma here is whether Scott 
will conform to the rules of the Federation. This would please almost everybody in his world, by the looks of 
The frame freezes on Scott’s exasperated face and the music beats a full stop to this sequence. Luhrmann 
has introduced almost all his characters at this stage. They are categorised by their attitudes to the new 
steps. Many of them seem little more than caricatures, in terms of characterisation. As has been pointed out, 
this is typical of comedy and satire. We have been presented with a hero in the person of Scott and a villain 
in the person of Barry Fife. Fran and Doug have something in common - their appearance and their 
approval of Scott’s steps. Scott is at odds with those of the Federation who frown on new steps.