The Internet and memes have a way of expanding the lifespan of any cultural moment far past its point of relevancy. Save the Last Dance hit theaters 20 years ago on January 12, 2001, and while people loved the movie when it came out, one particular scene continues to resurface over the years and inspires endless jokes on social media.
For those who aren’t familiar with the plot, Sara Johnson (Julia Stiles) is an aspiring ballet dancer from the Chicago suburbs with dreams of getting into Juilliard. Her mother dies in a car accident on her way to Sara's audition, and the guilt makes her quit ballet. After her mother’s death, Sara transfers to a school in the South Side of Chicago, where she’s living with her father Roy (Terry Kinney). She struggles to adjust as one of the only white students in the high school, but things start falling into place when she begins dating Derek Reynolds (Sean Patrick Thomas), who eventually invites her into his world and convinces her not to give up on her dream.
After some expected drama, Sara decides to audition again after getting some coaching, inspiration, and dance lessons from her boyfriend. For her final dancing scene in the teen flick, Sara decides to surprise the judges by incorporating some hip hop moves into her ballet routine, which the movie implies is what sets her apart from all the other applicants. Instead of a tutu and a pastel ensemble, Sara hit the stage wearing all black and edgy faux leather pants. She also danced to Athena Cage’s “All or Nothing” as opposed to a classical ballet song that is usually used in recitals or auditions.
While it all seemed like a brave and bold choice two decades ago, the scene has now evolved into a running Internet joke. At the time of its release, viewers may have even been impressed by Sara’s final performance and admired her for her tenacity, but that has certainly since changed. Fast-forward to now, and fans make fun of it every chance they get, never missing an opportunity to bring it up. Fans are a bit more critical this time around, with some even calling her dance moves “mediocre” at most.
In the past year or so, it has garnered even more attention thanks to TikTok, after people hilariously recreated the scene right from their living rooms and shared their creation on the video platform. One comedian, in particular, Bria Janay, nailed the dance number and also poked some fun at it. “Why did 10-year-old me think Julia stiles was killing this shit,” she captioned her video.
We are sure Stiles worked really hard to learn the choreography for this scene and she deserves to be commended for her efforts—especially since the actress had no previous dance experience prior to the film and still did most of the dancing herself. But let’s be honest: If it wasn’t part of a movie, there’s no way that dance number would have held up in real life and gotten her accepted into one of the most prestigious dance schools in the world. After all, the famous NYC school has an extremely low acceptance rate of 8%, beating out a majority of Ivy League Schools. That figure makes the fine arts school harder to get into than Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania.
For young viewers, seeing the crossover between hip-hop and ballet may have been refreshing and compelling in 2001. Now with a wiser and more mature point of view of the world, some people on social media find the dancing to be downright hilarious and a lot less impressive than it was to them back then. They also find it hard to believe that her moves were enough to beat out the competition for a spot at the school. In hindsight, the dancing in movies like Save the Last Dance, Honey, You Got Served, Stomp the Yard, and others, might be cringeworthy to watch now, but we sure did love them when they first came out.
Last year, this tweet asked people to name a movie they had loved for years but realized it wasn’t good after watching as an adult. One user responded: “There's an entire genre of TikTok video where people rewatch Save The Last Dance, after loving it for years as kids, and are now horrified by how breathtakingly bad the actual dancing is. So on behalf of the people of TikTok: Save The Last Dance.”
In retrospect, the MTV movie may not be as great as it seemed when it first came out, but it is still pretty damn entertaining. The cast also included Kerry Washington, Fredro Starr, and Bianca Lawson, who has become a fan favorite through the years. Some even say that Lawson, in her role as Nikki, is the real hero of the story and not the villain the movie tries to portray. She was Derek’s former love interest who he pushes aside when Sara came in the picture—and some fans would have preferred to see him end up with Nikki. And now that we’re on the topic of Derek, where is Sean Patrick Thomas?
Even two decades after its release, Save the Last Dance still inspires plenty of discourse from fans who are either rewatching one of their favorite films or discovering it for the first time. While the movie may not have been Oscar-worthy or even one of Stiles's best, it served its purpose. It was engaging, helped open the door for more interracial couples to be onscreen, and it made viewers feel something .At the end of the day, that’s what movies and art are all about.
In honor of the movie’s 20th anniversary, check out some of the best tweets that Save the Last Dance has inspired recently.