Amber Steele’s Cruel But Accurate ‘Freeform’ Dance

When Amber Steele sought out a venue to shoot the short film Freeform, she wanted a real Russian dance studio to provide an accurate setting for a story of an ex-dancer now teaching in an infamously demanding system. When she started shooting, staff there confirmed there was some truth in the script as well. “The instructor there told us we had it right,” she said. “She told us her mom was a teacher, and asked, ‘How it was we could know all of this. Did you take this out of my life?,’ ” she said.

The filmmaker showed the story to Sarasota audiences this week. Her film was included in this years Florida Showcase for shorts. Now she takes the film to the Visions 5 festival at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.Freeform tells the story of a dancer injured in the course of her career who turns back to instructing dance. Some of the moments spotted as real by the Russian school? Teachers cursing at students, smoking right in front of them and demanding more than physically possible from the dancers.

“It’s like the hardest teacher you ever had,” said editor James Noir. “It’s almost a PTSD story with ballet.”

Both Steele and Noir got their film education at the University of Central Florida in Orlando; Noir has graduated and Steele is a junior. Steele submitted her short films around the festival world at Noir’s suggestion; he says his biggest regret was not sending his own work for consideration while he was still in school.

So far, Sarasota has been a special festival for the filmmakers if only for the fact that audiences are populated with real film buffs, not just fellow filmmakers hawking their own work. “It’s so great not only to have filmmakers present, but to have an audience who loves watching film,” Steele said.

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