(New Zealand, 93 min.)
Written and directed by Bryn Evans
When people surpass the age of 65, they’re more likely to break a hip than to bust a move. But that’s not the case with the nimble geriatric dancers of Hip Hop-eration who seem to be out to prove that age is just a number. This Kiwi doc, which comes to theatres after netting multiple prizes in its native New Zealand as well as an Audience Award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, is a fun and inspiring portrait of the unlikeliest of international hip hop sensations. The film follows a group of senior citizens from Waiheke Island, New Zealand, as they prepare for the World Hip Hop Dance Championship in Las Vegas. The dancers range from 66 to 95 years old, but they’re young at heart and eager to embrace this strange and novel challenge.
Hip Hop-eration, which gets its punny title from the name of the seniors’ dance troupe, introduces the group’s ringleader Billie Jordan (barely middle-aged) as she motivates the group to do their best. Jordan enters the dancers in the competition and shows the most investment in their success during rehearsals, but her interest is far from self-serving. She explains how she moved to Waiheke following the 2011 earthquake that rocked New Zealand in which she was injured and witnessed deaths and destruction. Like the elderly dancers, Jordan appreciates the value in living every day to its fullest. She has a lot to learn from the dancers, just as they need her youth and enthusiasm to fight for them every day.
The fish-out-of-water film focuses on three nonagenarian dancers in the ensemble—-Maynie (95), Kara (94), and Terri (94), also known as Quicksilver, Kara Bang Bang, and Terri 2-Cents—-as they rehearse moves, shake their booties, and snap like contestants on So You Think You Can Dance. There’s also Eileen, the octogenarian who danced professionally before retirement, and Violet, who does a mean crump from her wheelchair. The dancers share different stories that contextualise their early years, but like Billie, they thrive on the promise of tomorrow.
This rousing underdog tale tells an especially admirable story since the dancers in Hip Hop-eration had no experience hipping and hopping before Billie coaxed them to form a group. Going from beginners to performers on the international stage is no small feat, particularly since the dancers know that their bodies are more fragile than those of their young competitors are, so any slip-up could result in serious long-term damage. Their limitations are purely physical, though, as the dancers keep the pace with youthful enthusiasm.
Director Bryn Evans’ film also shows how activities like dance bridge communities as the seniors take lessons and guidance from a school of young dancers. The elders learn a lot from the youngsters—-but their youthful mentors show respect by cheering the aging dancers until the end. Hip Hop-eration doesn’t explore the urban roots of hip hop, nor does it illuminate why Billie specifically thinks hip hop is the best set of moves for the elderly, but the film acknowledges dance as a form of expression for diverse groups by moving the action outside of the seniors’ meeting hall and into New Zealand’s schools.
Hip Hop-eration offers a crowd-pleasing tale that defies age and celebrates life. The film joins recent documentaries such as Advanced Style, Ping Pong, The Last Tango, and Star Men in proving that nobody should feel limited by the number of years they’ve been on Earth. Bodies break down, but going out with one’s heels on is always in style. Hip Hop-eration is a wise and charming film about dancing and maintaining enthusiasm for life at any age.