There are two things every dance movie needs: great dance sequences and a scintillating romance. Netflix’s Work It has both. While the film crescendoes at a high school dance team competition full of dizzying dance numbers, the best part of Work It are the smaller, more intimate dance duets that fuel the central love story. Work It stars Sabrina Carpenter and Jordan Fisher make these simple dance scenes simmer with flirtatious longing. These moments aren’t just the sexiest part of the whole damn film, but among the sexiest dance duets since Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan got it on in Step Up.
Work It stars singer and actress Sabrina Carpenter as Quinn Ackerman, a sweet teen girl so singularly focused on getting into Duke University that she’s forgotten to have a fun high school experience. The stellar student and extracurricular activity addict is confronted on this score by none other than Duke’s offbeat admissions officer, Veronica Ramirez (Michelle Buteau). When Ms. Ramirez finds out that Quinn goes to the same high school as the famous Thunderbirds dance team, the eager teenager finds herself implying that she’s on the team as well. When this thrills Ms. Ramirez, Quinn decides to double down on the lie and auditions for the Thunderbirds. The only issue? She can’t dance.
Eventually, Quinn decides to start her own team. She decides that the secret weapon the cutely named TBDs need is none other than choreographer Jake Taylor (Jordan Fisher). A few years back, Jake was the most talented dancer in the area but his own dreams were dashed with a torn ACL. Quinn pounces on Jake by enrolling in his dance class for kiddies and before long he relents. He helps Quinn and her ragtag dance team — and it’s obviously because he’s harboring a crush on the spirited girl. The good news is the feeling is reciprocated. The problem? Quinn is more than a little bit inhibited.
Work It is a movie about a young woman learning to follow her heart and not just her head. Quinn’s life is so tightly wound that she needs to learn how to let loose. Dance is obviously a metaphor for this, but it’s also a conduit for Quinn and Jake to express their feelings for one another. Quinn is too buttoned up to openly flirt with Jake, while he is gun-shy as a rule when we first meet him. Using an impromptu dance lesson, Jake is able to express his desire for Quinn by dancing to Zara Larsson’s “Wow.”
While at first Quinn stiffly stands around like a prop for Jake’s dance, she soon joins him in the rhythm. Eventually the two are coiling around each other, swaying their hips close enough to touch. Finally, Jake sweeps Quinn in his arms with her legs wrapped around him. It’s sensual to the point that they share a passionate kiss.
Quinn and Jake have another scene later in the film that serves as their reunion after a bitter fight. In this dance duet, Quinn starts the dance — putting herself on the line to show how she’s grown — and Jake joins her. It, too, ends in a hot and heavy kiss.
More importantly, these scenes are hot. The choreography is full of hands sweeping over naughty places and lingering. It’s libido-driven and expressly about the physical attraction that Quinn and Jake feel. Pushing it all over the edge? The performances of Work It‘s two leads: Sabrina Carpenter and Jordan Fisher. It’s in these moments where their chemistry gets crackling.
The purpose of a dance duet is almost always more about emotional storytelling than it is about the dance itself. There’s beauty in a technically perfect pas de deux, but if you’re more moved by the dancers’ extension than their connection that can stymy the art of storytelling. In dance movies, like Work It, it’s therefore less important how “good” the dancing is in a dance duet than it is how well it conveys the character’s relationship. In a good dance duet, we see the characters express their emotions through movement. In love stories like Quinn and Jake’s in Work It, become clued in on where their romance is in the scope of the story.
By that measure, both of these scenes are achingly good dance duets. Simple, straight-forward, and unabashedly full of longing. The choreography highlights Quinn’s journey to self-discovery as well as how these two people are learning to fall into a rhythm together. The last time I can remember feeling so swoon-y watching a dance duet in a film was all the way back in the original Step Up, when Jenna Dewan and Channing Tatum rehearsed their big romantic number on a rooftop. The first time? When Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey danced into each other’s hearts in Dirty Dancing. (My favorite? Scott and Fran’s backstage rhumba in Strictly Ballroom.)
Dance movies can be judged by many metrics, but the one that I fall for the most is the sheer romanticism of the dance duets. I want to see two people move as one to the rhythm of the music — and more importantly — their heartbeats. It’s a cheesy, subjective metric, but it’s why I loved watching Work It on Netflix so much. Sabrina Carpenter and Jordan Fisher nailed their dance duets.
Watch Work It on Netflix