Strictly Ballroom

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Strictly Ballroom
Australian theatrical release poster
Directed byBaz Luhrmann
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based onStrictly Ballroom
by Baz Luhrmann
Music byDavid Hirschfelder
CinematographySteve Mason
Edited byJill Bilcock
  • M&A Productions
  • Ronin Films
Distributed byMiramax
Release date
  • 20 August 1992 (1992-08-20) (Australia)
Running time
94 minutes
BudgetAUD 3 million
Box officeAUD 80 million[1]

Strictly Ballroom is a 1992 Australian romantic comedy film directed and co-written by Baz Luhrmann. The film, Luhrmann's feature directorial début, is the first in his "Red Curtain Trilogy" of theatre-motif-related films; it was followed by Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge![2]

Strictly Ballroom is based on a critically acclaimed stage play originally set up in 1984 by Luhrmann and fellow students while he was studying at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts in Sydney. An expanded version of the play became a success at the Czechoslovakian Youth Drama Festival in Bratislava in 1986, and, in 1988, it made successful season at Sydney's Wharf Theatre, where it was seen by Australian music executive Ted Albert and his wife Antoinette. They both loved it, and, when Albert soon after set up the film production company M&A Productions with ex-Film Australia producer Tristram Miall, they offered Luhrmann to transform his play into a film.[3] He agreed on the condition that he would also get to direct it.[4]


Scott Hastings is the frustrated son of a family of ballroom dancers, who has been training since childhood. His mother Shirley teaches ballroom dancing, and his father Doug meekly handles maintenance chores at the dance studio, while secretly spending hours in a back room watching old footage of his bygone dance competitions. Scott struggles to establish his personal style of dance on his way to win the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship, but his innovative and flashy steps are not considered "strictly ballroom", and as such are denounced by Australian Federation head Barry Fife.

Scott loses a competition because he started dancing his own steps, and his dancing partner Liz leaves him to team up with Ken, whose partner Pam Short has broken both her legs in a car accident (as just previously wished upon by Liz). With Scott now alone only three weeks until the championships, Shirley and her co-instructor at the studio, Les, embark on a desperate hunt for a new partner for Scott. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to both Shirley and Les, Scott is approached by Fran, an overlooked "beginner" dancer at the studio. Scott eventually agrees to partner with Fran, intrigued by her willingness to dance "his way".

The pairing faces its first challenge when Fife, in an effort to pull Scott into line and prevent him from threatening the Dancesport status quo, arranges for Scott to become the new partner of Tina Sparkle, an established Champion dancer. When Shirley and Les hear the news, they are overjoyed; Fran, happening upon them exclaiming over their happiness about Scott's new dance partner, misunderstands initially and believes they have discovered that she and Scott have become partners. When she realises the truth, she leaves, devastated. Scott chases after her and, although she is hurt, he entices her to dance backstage with him, and her anger is forgotten. However, their dance is witnessed by several onlookers, among them Shirley and Les, who then do everything they can to persuade both Scott and Fran that the best way forward for all concerned is for Scott to forget about Fran and sign on as Tina Sparkle's partner.

Fran, accused of damaging Scott's chances, reluctantly accedes and returns home crestfallen. Scott argues with his mother, telling her and all he won't be manipulated, so won't become Tina's partner. He follows Fran home, where he is discovered and challenged by Fran's overprotective Spanish father. Scott, to appease the father, proposes that they dance a Paso Doble for the assembled company. Fran's father and grandmother demonstrate how the Paso Doble should be danced, and offer to teach the youngsters.

Fran and Scott spend the next week training, supported by her family. However, Fife intervenes, telling Scott that Scott's father, Doug, ruined his career by dancing his own steps too, which he's regretted ever since. Not wanting to cause his parents further heartache, Scott reteams with Liz to attempt win the Pan-Pacific.

During the competition, Doug tells Scott that Fife's story is a lie: he had convinced Shirley not to dance with him so he, Fife, could win the competition. It is also revealed that Fife is plotting to sabotage Scott in favor of audience favorite Ken Railings. Scott runs after Fran and persuades her to dance with him.

In the next round, Scott and Fran make their own dramatic entrance and begin dancing, immediately riveting the audience. Fife tries to disqualify them, but Scott's friend Wayne, having overheard Fife's treachery, disconnects the PA system, allowing Scott and Fran to dance a Paso Doble routine that wins the audience over. Desperate, Fife tries to turn off the music, but Scott's sister Kylie and her partner Luke interfere until Fife's girlfriend Charm Leachman disconnects the sound system. Fife then disqualifies Scott and Fran, but Doug begins clapping out a beat to enable Scott and Fran to continue dancing. The audience claps along, as Scott and Fran begin dancing again. Liz restores the music, and Scott and Fran's spirited dancing brings down the house. Doug asks Shirley to dance with him and the whole audience joins them on the floor. As the performance finishes, Scott and Fran kiss, the competition forgotten.



The film plays with clichés and stereotypes, mocking and embracing them at the same time. Luhrmann has also commented that the film revolves around stories similar to David and Goliath, Cinderella and The Ugly Duckling. Luhrmann created Strictly Ballroom in the red curtain cinema genre which follows three rules. First, the story needs to be set in a heightened creative world. Second, it is based on a recognizable story shape, such as that of Cinderella and David and Goliath. Third, red curtain cinema is known as audience participation cinema in that audiences should be aware that what they are watching is not real.

Production history[edit]

The film version of Strictly Ballroom was developed from an original short play of the same name. It drew on Luhrmann's own life experience—he had studied ballroom dancing as a child and his mother worked as a ballroom dance teacher in his teens[5] and inspired by the life of Keith Bain (who grew up in the same town as Luhrmann).[6] While studying at NIDA in the early 1980s, Luhrmann and a group of fellow students devised a short comedy-drama set in the cutthroat world of competitive ballroom dancing.[3] This original 1984 NIDA production was a critical success and, after graduating, Luhrmann was invited to re-stage the play for the Czechoslovakian Youth Drama Festival in Bratislava in 1986. He invited his school friend Craig Pearce to help him rewrite and expand the script. With its themes of artistic repression and underdogs battling against the odds, the play was a success at the festival, winning both the best director and best production awards.[3]

Strictly Ballroom film set used for Fran's family business and residence. (site since redeveloped, approx. to the Star City Casino complex, Pyrmont)

This led Luhrmann to direct more theatre productions back in Australia, and in 1988, as part of the Australian Bicentenary celebrations, the Sydney Theatre Company invited him to establish an experimental theatre ensemble, Six Years Old, which took up a residency at The Wharf Theatre for that year.[citation needed] Alongside Luhrmann and Pearce, the new company included one of the original NIDA collaborators, actor Catherine McClements, plus production designer Catherine Martin (whom Luhrmann subsequently married), set dresser Bill Marron and costume designer Angus Strathie, all of whom went on to collaborate with Luhrmann on his films. The group work-shopped the expanded version of play, which had a trial season at the Brisbane Expo in 1988 before opening at the Wharf Studios on 24 September 1988.[3]

During its successful run at the Wharf, the play was seen by an influential Australian music executive. Ted Albert was a leading record producer and music publisher, best known in Australia as the discoverer and original producer of 1960s pop sensations The Easybeats. By the time he saw Strictly Ballroom, Albert was the managing director of his family-owned music publishing company Albert Music (formerly J. Albert & Sons) and its subsidiary, the highly successful record label Albert Productions, which scored a string of hits in the 1970s and 1980s with acts including John Paul Young and AC/DC.

Albert's wife Antoinette (known as "Popsy") took him to see the play after seeing a newspaper ad; they loved the energy, colour and musicality of the play and Ted Albert immediately saw the potential to develop the play into a film using the musical resources available to him through Alberts' publishing and recording enterprises. Soon after, Ted set up the film production company M&A Productions with ex-Film Australia producer Tristram Miall; they tracked Luhrmann down through NIDA and approached him with the offer to transform his play into a movie.[3] In its early stages, with the involvement of writer Andrew Bovell, the script took a more serious tone, including a subplot set around the trade union at the BHP steelworks in the industrial city of Newcastle. Luhrmann balked at the move towards naturalism and eventually, with Albert's agreement, the director brought in his old friend Craig Pearce, who was able to translate Luhrmann's theatrical vision into a workable screenplay.[3]

The producers had difficulty in securing funding for the project, which mostly featured a cast of newcomers. The only "bankable names" in the cast were Barry Otto and screen veteran Bill Hunter, and although co-star Paul Mercurio was well known as a dancer through his work with the Sydney Dance Company, Strictly Ballroom was his first acting role. With the original budget set at over AUD 5 million, government film funding bodies were reluctant to back such a left-field project with few major names in the credits. The script was then pared back and the subplot dropped, but when Miall approached the Film Finance Corporation, he was told that they would not back such a high-budget film (in Australian terms) with a first-time director. He was told to replace Luhrmann, but he refused, promising to make further cuts. Miall and Albert then pared the budget down to AUD 3.3 million and the FFA then agreed to provide around 65%, on condition that the producers were able to raise the remaining AUD 1 million and secure a local distributor. They sent Luhrmann to the Cannes Film Festival in hopes of finding an overseas distributor, but this came to nothing. After returning to Australia, Miall and Luhrmann had a fortuitous meeting with Andrew Pike, head of the Canberra-based independent distribution company Ronin Films. Intrigued by Luhrmann's colourful pitch which involved sketches, set miniatures and pieces of costume, Pike agreed to back a limited local release, although he later admitted that, had he seen only the script, he would probably have turned it down.[3]

Although the FFC funding was now in the pipeline, the production faced its most serious challenge when, on 11 November 1990, Ted Albert died suddenly from a heart attack (the film is dedicated to him). This threw the entire project into doubt, but Ted Albert's widow Popsy decided that it should go to completion in honour of her husband, so she took over as executive producer, with Miall as producer. With her blessing, Ted's family company Albert Music invested AUD 1 million, with the remaining AUD 300,000 sourced from private investors. Even after completion, the team were greeted with stiff resistance from exhibitors: Luhrmann recalled that one exhibitor walked out before the film had even finished, declaring that Luhrmann was ruined and that he would never work again.[3]

The film was accepted for the Cannes Film Festival, but another tragedy struck just before its first screening—actress Pat Thomson, who played Scott's mother, was diagnosed with cancer and she died in April 1992, only one month before its Cannes world premiere in May. Strictly Ballroom had its first public screening at midnight in the Un Certain Regard programme and proved to be an instant hit—the cast and crew received a fifteen-minute standing ovation, which was repeated the following night; it became one of the major hits of the festival, winning the Prix De Jeunesse and triggering a bidding war among international distributors.[3]

It was a huge success when released in Australia in August, and it swept the field at the 1992 AFI awards, gaining 13 nominations and winning in eight major categories. It was also a major success at the 1993 BAFTA awards, gaining eight nominations and winning three awards for 'Best Costume Design', 'Best Original Film Score' and 'Best Production Design'. Other major accolades included a 1994 Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture, 'Newcomer of the Year' at the 1993 London Critics Circle Film Awards, the 'People's Choice' award at the 1992 Toronto International Film Festival and 'Most Popular Film' at the 1992 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Home Video[edit]

The film was released on DVD on 19 March 2002 by Buena Vista Home Entertainment.[7]


Strictly Ballroom holds a rating of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 42 reviews.[8]

Box office[edit]

Strictly Ballroom grossed A$21,760,400 at the box office in Australia,[9] and a further US$11,738,022 in the United States.[10] Worldwide, it eventually took A$80 million at the box office,[1] making it one of the most successful Australian films of all time.


  • 1992 – Won AFI Award for Best Achievement in Costume Design, Best Achievement in Editing, Best Achievement in Production Design, Best Actor in Supporting Role (Barry Otto), Best Actress in Supporting Role (Pat Thomson), Best Director, Best Film, Best Screenplay
  • 1992 – Nominated AFI Award for Best Achievement in Cinematography, Best Achievement in Sound, Best Actor in Lead Role (Paul Mercurio), Best Actress in Lead Role (Tara Morice), Best Actress in Supporting Role (Gia Carides)
  • 1992 – Won Cannes Film Festival: Award Of The Youth for Foreign Film
  • 1993 – Won BAFTA Film Award for Best Costume Design, Best Original Film Score, Best Production Design
  • 1993 – Nominated BAFTA Film Award for Best Actress (Tara Morice), Best Editing, Best Film, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound
  • 1993 – Nominated Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
  • 1993 – Won London Critics Circle Film Awards: ALFS Award for Newcomer of the Year (Baz Luhrmann)
  • 1994 – Nominated' Bogota Film Festival: Golden Precolumbian Circle Award for Best Film
  • 2013 – Nominated 20/20 Award for Best Supporting Actress (Pat Thompson)
  • 2013 – Nominated 20/20 Award for Best Original Screenplay (Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce)
  • 2013 – Nominated 20/20 Award for Best Film Editing (Jill Bilcock)
  • 2013 – Nominated 20/20 Award for Best Original Score (David Hirschfelder)
  • 2013 – Nominated 20/20 Award for Best Art Direction (Catherine Martin)
  • 2013 – Nominated 20/20 Award for Best Costume Design (Angus Strathie)


Among the songs featured on the soundtrack are:

Both "The Blue Danube" and "Time After Time" were played in the 1984 and 1986 Strictly Ballroom stage productions.


In May 2011, it was announced that Strictly Ballroom would be adapted into a stage musical and premiere at the Sydney Lyric theatre. It premiered on 12 April 2014.[4] The production moved to Her Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne in January 2015,[12] and the Lyric Theatre, QPAC in Brisbane in September 2015.[13]

The show received its British premiere on 30 November 2016 at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. The show had its North American premier in Toronto at the Princess of Wales Theatre on 25 April 2017.

In popular culture[edit]

The film has become a staple of pop culture, being referenced in various media worldwide.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Subscribe". Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Albert, Jane (2010). House Of Hits: The Great Untold Story Of Australia's First Family Of Music. Richmond, Australia: Hardie Grant Books. pp. 316–331. ISBN 978-1740668811.
  4. ^ a b Strictly Ballroom The Musical: Timeline Linked 2014-07-10
  5. ^ Fidler, Richard (11 February 2014). "Conversations with Richard Fidler: Baz Luhrmann". ABC Radio: Conversations with Richard Fidler. Australian Broadcasting Company. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  6. ^ Baz Luhrmann (Director/co-writer) (2002). Audio commentary from Strictly Ballroom (DVD). Miramax.
  7. ^ Rivero, Enrique (7 March 2002). "Director Luhrmann Is Busy On the DVD Front". Archived from the original on 4 June 2002. Retrieved 10 September 2019.
  8. ^ "Strictly Ballroom reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Los Angeles, California: Fandango Media. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  9. ^ ""Film Victoria – Australian Films at the Australian Box Office"" (PDF). Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  10. ^ "Strictly Ballroom (1993) - Box Office Mojo". Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  11. ^ "MILESAGO - Groups & Solo Artists - John Paul Young". Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  12. ^ "Strictly Ballroom The Musical: Waitlist Tickets". Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  13. ^ Dean, Jodie (10 September 2015). "Strictly Ballroom the Musical sweeps Brisbane QPAC crowd off their feet". Brisbane Times. Retrieved 17 August 2017.

External links[edit]