Welcome to Luke's house. Actually, it's more like a dance studio disguised as a warehouse, but inside he's got a room full of boom boxes, one full of shoes and another full of electronic graffiti. Each of these things is something dancers could use to be inspired and perform well. And his dance team, the Pirates, performs really well.
He and the Pirates, a pseudo-family, live in this Brooklyn studio, dancing, working and competing against other troupes. But there's a problem: They're five months behind on their mortgage payments and the bank is threatening to break the door down. So—and you had to know this was coming—their best shot at paying the bill is to win the $100,000 cash prize at the World Jam dance contest.
Their biggest rivals, the Samurai, will try to win at any cost, even if it means stealing the Pirates' dance steps right out from under their feet. To accomplish this, the Samurai leader sends his beautiful sister, Natalie, to befriend and eventually romance Luke. If the Samurai can distract Luke with a new relationship, they can moonwalk away from World Jam with bragging rights and their rival's dance studio.
Natalie, who just so happens to also be an amazing dancer, is quickly recruited by the Pirates, as is Moose, a new NYU student Luke says is "b-fabb," meaning he's born from a boom box. But Moose has baggage, too—he's neglecting school and his best friend Camille in order to dance.
The dancers protect, encourage, love and provide for one another. They work exceptionally well together and feel like they, unlike most people, have gotten to choose the family they live with. The team also works very hard—at all things dance related, at least. And when their moment of truth comes, they refuse to throw the competition for an "easy" deal.
Luke behaves respectfully around Natalie. He also maintains the dance studio out of respect for his parents' memory. Natalie sees great talent in Luke and encourages him to apply to film school after she watches his videos of the Pirates. Moose eventually comes to value Camille more than he values dancing—and he sees that life isn't about a destination, but the friendships, lessons and experiences that happen along the way.
Someone jokingly asks, "What would Jesus do?" Dancers frequently talk about the spiritual benefits they get from their craft, and dance is said to come from the most truthful part of a person's soul.
Many of the dances are choreographed for teams of performers rather than pairs—with routines that are often meant to impress audiences with technical skill more than sexual prowess. When the tango is performed at a private party, however, the dance is much more couple driven. Men grab their female partners by the hips, for example, and pull them into a sensual embrace. Dancers sometimes grab their groins, but on the whole, Step Up 3D isn't as sexualized as some routines on Dancing With the Stars.
That said, several of the songs used for the dance numbers proffer sexual lyrics. T-Pain's "Take Your Shirt Off," for instance, encourages a girl to do exactly that. Natalie and other women wear camisoles and low-cut shirts and short dresses. Several show off their exercise bras. Men go shirtless. Couples kiss.
Rival dancers rough one another up lightly—a push here, a shove there. A fight breaks out in a restroom. Natalie hits her brother's chest. Jazmine Sullivan's song "Bust Your Windows" glorifies violent behavior after a breakup.
Crude or Profane Language
One muddied f-word. "Freakin'" stands in for that obscenity in another scene. There are also three or four s-words, a half-dozen uses of "a‑‑" and several more of "h‑‑‑." God's name is misused a handful of times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Moose lies to Camille about his dancing. And he repeatedly stands her up. Luke isn't helpful here, either, because he frequently pressures Moose to put dancing in front of everything else. Natalie lies to Luke. (She apologizes.) Luke and Moose fib their way into a party.
Luke carelessly quits his job as a waiter in the middle of his shift. He and Moose accidentally destroy a street vendor's balloons and then run from the police. As choreographed elements of dance numbers, other property is stolen, damaged or "borrowed" without consequence.
Dancers goof around with a fortune-telling machine. Gamblers bet on each dance competition.
We briefly see a man standing at a restroom urinal. A rival dancer wipes his bottom mockingly with a hat, telling the Pirates they have stiff competition.
Beyond the T-Pain and Jazmine Sullivan songs already mentioned, other problematic singers include Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes, Flo Rida, Timbaland, Outkast, T.I., Common, Jesse McCartney, Savage and Soulja Boy Tell'em.
Some people learn how to dance and others are born to boogie. Then there are those, like me, who can no more cha-cha than fly to the moon. But watching these dancers gave me a new appreciation for break dancing—more accurately known as b-boying. These guys can fly, not to mention bounce, spin and power step. Their version of the robot is so good it almost made me look for rivets on their necks.
It's this kind of excellence and devotion to a craft that can move audiences past mere applause and into the realm of inspiration. In one scene Moose says, "People dance because dance can change things. One move can bring people together. One move can set a whole generation free. One move can make you believe like you're something more. … Dance can give hope."
I don't know about all of that—me not being a dancer—but I do know that dance can bring certain people together. It can be a language that transcends words, and though I speak it haltingly, those who speak it fluently seem to cut right to the core of your heart.
Why then, I wondered as I watched, was it accompanied by flashes of foul language and behavior? Surely dance doesn't need those things to make its point.