“That sex face is...something.” A very 2023 recap of Save The Last Dance.

Save the Last Dance is a movie that many have long forgotten.

But not me.

I think about this movie all the time. One could say it's my Roman Empire. 

There's a lot to love about Save the Last Dance: the soundtrack is packed full of early '00s hip-hop anthems, it's one of the better dance movies, and it gave Kerry Washington her well-deserved big break.

However, in recent years, the film has been getting a lot of flack. In small part because of its tone-deaf approach to race, and in much larger part, due to the dance Julia Stiles does at the end of the film where she hops around like a demonic energiser bunny.

This dance has become so notorious that on the latest season of Saturday Night Live, Stiles herself appeared to recreate her most iconic dance routine. 

Watch the skit here. Post continues after video.

Video via

In light of this Save The Last Dance throwback, we decided to recap the 2001 movie in 2023 and see how it's aged.

 As it turns out...rather badly! 


Let's jump in.

Julia Stiles plays small-town teen, Sara. We meet her solemnly staring out the window of a train, as we meet most women in most movies about small-town teens. 

Some stranger asks her something about whether she dances, and Sara replies, "I used to." 

You see, Sara used to dance. This is something the movie demands you to know. 

The operative term is used to because Sara gave up dancing because of something that happened when she was auditioning for a prestigious ballet school, Juilliard. 

Sarah's mum did not make her Julliard audition because she was too busy dying in a car accident. 

Due to this, she has had to leave her suburban life and move to urban Chicago to live with her jazz-playing father. 

"I guess you got stuff?" he asks upon her arrival. "Three suitcases, one big one," Sara responds.

This is the most words they've ever shared together. She does not know this man. 

Sally? Susie?? Sangetta?? Image: Stan. 


Sara starts at a majority black school and the only person who is nice to her is Chenille, played by Kerry Washington. 

Sara charms her new friend by referring to her brother (played by Sean Patrick Thomas) as an 'asshole'. You see, Derek and Sara clashed in class but never fear, within 10 minutes they will be dating. 

At gym class, Sara shows off her ballet moves for no particular reason, prompting Chenille to ask her where she learned her moves.

"I USED TO DANCE!" she shouts (in my memories, I can't be sure.)

Anyways, Chenille invites her to a nightclub, Steps. "Steps ain't no square dance," Derek teases. "That's okay, I can dance in circles, probably around you!" Sara snaps back.

This is a lot of confidence for a woman who ends up wearing her nanna's maroon shirt as a bandana.


'Just call me Sezzy from the Block.' Image: Stan.

At the club, she sits with fellow student Nikki, who takes an immediate dislike to her, which is never fully explained but viewers are supposed to believe that Nikki is the villain and Sara is the hero.

Nevertheless, I like Nikki. She's inexplicably sassy and seething with hate – hard relate!  


Sara immediately wins more friends by using a racial slur to defend them. 

I'm not kidding. 

Nikki gets up and skulks away, as Chenille hints that Nikki once 'played' Derek. 

On the dancefloor, Sara is fixated on how her new friends dance to R&B tunes, like she's watching a baby horse walk for the first time. 

Derek asks Sara to dance and she gyrates her body up and down like she's got the hiccups, as she flings her limbs like just discovered she has arms for the first time.

'What are these waving limbs?' Image: Stan. 


"That's not the first time I've heard hip-hop," Sara tells Derek at the start of their walk home, which ends with her earnestly telling him "I would never bust a cap in your ass." 

I am unwell. 

Derek offers to help Sara become a less shit dancer. This man is trying to get into a university to become a doctor but sure, spend your spare time teaching some strange white woman (and a trained dancer) how to dance.

At dance class, he teaches her how to sit and walk. Afterward, she decides to ask him if he has kids.

The audacity of this woman. Image: Getty. 


I get that Chenille has a child but take it down a notch, Sara. Asking random young black teens if they have secret babies at home is not okay. 

Sara then accidentally reveals she used to dance. She shows off a ballet move and Derek is left confused. 

Later, Derek opens up about how he almost got arrested after robbing a liquor store with his shifty friend Malakai. 

Sara replies, "I stole a hat once when I was 12." 

She gets it. 

On the train on the way to a fancy ballet performance Derek has planned, Sara spots some racist lady death-staring them so they basically dry-hump until she leaves. 

Sara is hesitant to go to the ballet. Derek is wondering why he spent all his college tuition on these damn tickets. 

Okay okay, we know. Image: Stan. 


Sara reveals she's been avoiding ballet because she thinks she killed her mum. 

"She was dying while I was dancing!" she cries.

Poor Derek. This man just wants to dance and be a doctor! He doesn't need these problems. 

Sara and Derek have their first kiss because nothing bonds two people more than this kind of grim revelation. 

Back at Steps, Sara has gotten a bit better. She's dancing with Derek when Nikki swoops in with her sexy dance moves and Sara walks off in a huff.


Malakai arrives to rub salt in the wounds, telling Sara, "You'll never look as good as she does with him."

But all is well because back at home, Sara shows Derek her sexy dance too which is... sex.

Sara's sex face really is... something. 

'I used to dance.' Image: Stan. 

While playing basketball, Sara and Nikki come to blows. Afterward, Nikki explains to Sara where her issues stemmed from. 


"It's about white girls like you. Creeping up, taking our men, the whole world ain't enough, you got to conquer ours too," Nikki thoughtfully shared.

"Whatever Nikki," Sara responds. "Screw you!"  

Cool cool cool. 

Chenille is having trouble with her sick baby who has a father who doesn't help, or offer money. (Sidenote: this is one of Kerry Washington's first roles and she's already INCREDIBLE.) 

At the doctor's, Chenille defends Nicki to Sara. "Here you come white so you've got to be right," she tells Sara. 

Sara walks out on Chenille as she sits with her sick baby crying in a packed doctor's office. Sara then dumps Derek. 

"I don't need this shit," he tells her. Amen, Derek. 

Chenille confesses to Derek that she might have caused their split. Derek rushes to see Sara just as she's auditioning for Juilliard and look: Sara's audition is not particularly good. 

Let's watch and then discuss...

Video via YouTube.

Okay, so firstly, what's with all the finger-pointing? What are you pointing at, doll?

Then there's the nose rub which just makes her look like she has an itchy nose. 

The chair is rather unnecessary but at the same time, I get it. I'd also work a chair into everything I do so that I can have a little sit. 

Then there's the moment, she hops in the air like a dysfunctioning robot.  

The end pose is very odd, like is she holding an M&M? She's holding something between her fingers, I just know it! 

Either way, she has seemingly nailed this performance. "I can't say this on the record yet but welcome to Juilliard," the judge confidently declares. 

I have questions. 

If you can't say it on record, then should you say it at all? How can one dance that involves at least two straight minutes of heel-toe-hell-toe be good enough for instant entrance into Juilliard? 

What about the other judges?? Do they agree?? The audacity of this man. 

Did he just want the M&M???

The real question that begs to be answered. Image: Stan. 


I will note that Sarah did seem to nail the technical performance part and this extra dance was a 'contemporary piece' so maybe she was already in the school even before she got possessed by some demonic gangsta rabbit.  

Meanwhile, Malakai and some of his friends were left bloodied and bruised from a shooting, which plays while Sara nails her little routine. This movie is a fever dream. 

Oh well! Sara is back in the club and she's made up with Chenille. They hug. Nothing is resolved. Fab! 

Also, Sara's hair looks like this.

Sezzy for Julliard ain't here to mess around. Image: Stan.


The gang (the ones who aren't dead/injured) all have a nice dance as the credits roll. 

The lesson of this movie is that people die :( but dance lives on forever :)

You can watch Save The Last Dance on Stan. 

Feature image: Stan. 

For more from Tara Watson and her recaps, you can follow her on Instagram.

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