Perhaps you’ve seen enough dance movies by now to recognize a few patterns, like the all-or-nothing competition or the introspective dancer who uses their art as a form of escapism. In some of these movies, dance can also be the main character’s possible ticket to escape their troubled surroundings. A dance movie can thrive or fall apart by how it films its showstopping performances, but it’s not the only factor that goes into making a memorable dance movie. If the drama that holds it together is wobbly, the audience will feel that unease.

The latest movie to mix these elements together is the Colombian drama Somos Calentura (We Are the Heat). Immersing its audience in a world of dance and violence, Jorge Navas’ film follows a young dad and talented dancer named Harvey (Duván Arizala) who – after a failed attempt to leave the poverty and gangs of Buenaventura behind – finds himself left with two options: rejoin his dance crew and compete for little sums of prize money or take a sketchy job offer from a gang leader.

Although Harvey’s character is rather stoic and sometimes difficult to read, his personal saga feels poignant. He’s a doting father trying to do his best for his family, even at the expense of his friends. He’s in an unenviable position of having the world crash on his shoulders, and should he make the wrong move, it would leave his partner, Luz Mar (Ana Lorena Rentería), and their infant daughter in danger. The other members of Harvey’s team are also caught up in some crime scheme or another, be it with corrupt cops or other gangs, in order to spare their families violence.

While the story of Somos Calentura is quite engrossing and the stakes feel high, the acting can feel stilted in certain scenes, like a pause that lasts too long while an actor remembers their line or a line reading that perhaps should have been more emotional. Where the movie really thrives in the club scenes. Here there are no pauses, no somewhat awkward interactions. It’s just pure movement. The camera floats through the crowd, swimming through saturated disco lights and gyrating bodies. Even as the team’s problems are catching up to them as they’re about to step onto the stage of the dance competition, it’s a beautiful scene of happy people dancing, cheering on the performers, and having a good time.

Somos calentura still courtesy of Epic Pictures

If you’ve grown up watching the Step Up movies, you might be more used to seeing dance-offs in their most polished state, with the combatants having rehearsed for dozens of hours before their battle is recorded for the movie. The dancers in Somos Calentura are not interested in looking like they’ve spent days rehearsing. Instead, they keep their routines looser but just as high energy. In groups of three, they will either dance some steps together or two will fall back so one of the performers can take a solo. Mixing breakdancing, dance hall, hip hop, Colombian salsa, and acrobatic moves, each team has its own kind of signature style or formation for the competition. The scenes can feel sped up because of the quick cutting between the two sides, ramping up the energy of the moment. Before long, the music’s up and the judges are weighing in on the future of Harvey and his friends.

In addition to the film’s dancing, part of the beauty of Somos Calentura is that it shows a different part of the country outside of the major towns like Bogotá and Medellín. Buenaventura is a coastal place where people live in wooden homes propped up by stilts above the water, and there’s always a level of precariousness when walking on the wooden planks. The town’s shipping industry and organized crime aren’t just a part of the movie’s beginning, it works its way through the plot like a stream that threatens to carry the men away. It’s also a place with its own music and instruments from the Pacific, which the movie includes alongside its infectious club beats.

Somos Calentura’s strength lies in its ability to capture the raw frustrations and unleashed energy in its characters’ dance moves. The men’s performances develop as the drama in their lives escalate. By the movie’s finale, they’re less free-spirited and playful in their steps than angered and purposeful. Because they cannot physically retaliate against the violence, they fight with their bodies in front of cheering crowds, stern-faced judges, and an emcee. It might not bring them revenge for all the world has done to them, and it won’t solve all of their problems, but it does give the dance crew something worth fighting for.

Somos Calentura (We Are the Heat) is currently playing in Santa Ana and Miami, and will be available on iTunes February 26, 2019.

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