By Laurie Coker
With the huge popularity of shows like Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You can Dance, many of us have dance fever. As a lover of dance (though I never took lessons), I watch those silly shows and enjoy movies with similar themes. offers a twist on traditional dance films, since one of it protagonists suffers an accident and is bound to a wheelchair. Director Susan Seidelman (Desperately Seeking Susan) sets her inspiring story against a backdrop of wonderful toe-tapping tunes. Although the story offers little fresh overall, I stay engaged for much of it.
Written by Marty Madden, Musical Chairs follows Armando (E.J, Bonilla), a dance loving busboy, who also works at a dance studio in Manhattan, where he teaches rich old women how to tango and secretly has eyes for the beautiful Mia (Leah Pipes), a tall, blonde instructor who hails from Upper East Side money and is completely out of his league. After she is crippled by a tragic accident and basically dumped by her dance partner, Armando steps up and inspires Mia to go back to the ballroom and they develop a bond that evokes feelings of hope in the human spirit.
Pipes and Bonilla have obvious chemistry and their connection plays well on screen. Seidelman captures the essence of her settings – the neighborhoods of NYC, the studio, the contest world and the contrast between what Mia and Armando’s lives. She also – and this can be credited to the leads as well – manages to draw her audience into her characters’ lives in spite of a formulaic, predictable storyline. Both virtually unknown, Pipes and Bonilla’s near anonymity plays well and connects us personally to Mia and Armando, making them even more relatable and believable.
Before I saw Musical Chairs I knew little about wheelchair dance and competitions. Not unlike normal ballroom routines, dance from a chair is synchronized, choreographed movement relying on perfect timing and a strong connection with body (above the waist) and one’s partner. Seidelman’s takes a simplistic, but heartfelt view of life after tragedy and recently I read the story of a dancer whose foot was amputated after the Boston Marathon bombing – life imitating art or just one of life’s harsh lessons – making Seidelman’s little story all the more poignant. From me Musical Chairs earns a C+/B-.