When the film opens, we see Jessica Anderson-Gwin, founder of Jagged, a contemporary pole dance company that’s the first of its kind, frustrated as she tries to find a venue that will allow her company to use its space for an upcoming performance. The frustration is palpable as so many of the people she talks to confuse what they do with stripping and refuse to host them. This is what Jessica is up against in Matt & Katie Celia‘s spectacular documentary Off the Floor.
What the Celia‘s are able to capture in the film is Jessica and the Jagged crew’s struggle to destigmatize pole dancing, something that is already a huge hit in the fitness world, and do her best to legitimize it as an art form. Her approach, according to Jagged’s website, “fuses the art of aerial pole work with concert and commercial dance.” We are given firsthand access to their struggles to make a name for themselves and shake off the stereotypes that abound.
Basing her operations out of her small apartment, dancers meet there to rehearse and work on routines for upcoming shows. There are peaks and valleys and all the while Jessica and her company-mates hold their heads high and never give up hope that what they are doing will be accepted, despite constantly looking from the outside in on the rest of the dancing establishment. Their pursuit for not just approval but acceptance is without bounds. They audition and appear on America’s Best Dance Crew (dismissed out of hand as too sexy) and also America’s Got Talent, but can’t break through. Alas, their spirits are not daunted, but Jessica needs a break from the scene in LA where the troupe is based and moves to Nashville, Tennessee, where her boyfriend lives. And here she continues to break new ground as she starts Jagged South, ceding control of the LA wing to fellow dancer Sarah Mann.
This is really a film about perseverance, something that Jessica and the rest of the Jagged dancers exemplify to the nth degree. The directors had what appears to be unlimited access to the troupe throughout their journey and frankly, the film is that much better because of it. I felt like I was one of the troupe going through the same trials and tribulations as the Jagged women did. To be situated in a story unnoticeably like that means it’s being done properly. They were conscious enough to let Jessica tell her story as if they just happened to be in the room while she was doing it. And the dancing…it is absolutely mesmerizing to watch these folks work.
The documentary form is such an amazing medium for discovery because even though on the surface you may not be interested in what the story is, if it’s well done it will hook you and take you on the journey of its subjects and likely educate you on the way. I had no idea what to expect from this film. I’m not a dance enthusiast, but this is the second dance documentary I’ve seen in the past month (the other being Born to Fly about Elizabeth Streb) and I have been held spellbound by both. Bravo to the Celias and the folks at Jagged LA and Jagged South.
This film has two more screenings at Heartland this week:
Wednesday October 22 @ 4:30PM – AMC Castleton Square 12
Thursday October 23 @ 12:00PM – AMC Castleton Square 12