Have you ever had one of those memory flashes triggered by something – music…a film…even a commercial where you see it or hear it and all of the sudden you recall a film from a long time ago…but the name eludes you…It’s driving you crazy…until the answer arrives when you least expect it?
In 1985 I loved nothing more than to dance around to music (the hubs would say I still do – ha!). My sis and I would come up with faux dance routines, and sing along like we were rock stars on MTV. My mom had decided that September 1985 was time to put this energy and interest to use. Aside from having our necessary weekly piano lessons, we took dance classes – Jazz to be precise. I took dance consistently for years well into high school until school work and jobs competed for my time and energy. I really did enjoy that time I took jazz and learned a lot about physical balance, coordination and timing – big things for me as I can be unsteady on my feet. I always wished I was good at team sports, but I just…am not. Dancing, however, was fun and physical, and in my own way, I was being sporty…with jazz hands.
Back in the 80s, Jazzercise as a theme was a big thing in films (see Flashdance, Staying Alive, Perfect, Dirty Dancing…). There was a succession of dance-themed films, and I knew about all of them. If there was dancing in a movie, I was watching it. Time has faded the memory of these films to a certain extent, however…until one of them caught my eye in my satellite guide recently… and those memories came flooding back.
Anyone remember a little Canadian movie called Heavenly Bodies from 1985? This gem used to air on Canadian TV so often from ’85 to ’88 that the dialogue, music and scenes of this film were burned into my brain. I couldn’t tell you if it was a movie channel I originally watched this on, or just plain old Canadian network TV Can Con fare, but regardless there was a time it seemed to be on every month, and I would catch it every time.
Samantha and her friends are dance fanatics working the day-job grind in gritty 1985 downtown Toronto. They have met their limit with their secretarial jobs and decide to quit. They find an old warehouse to rent, and open their own Jazzercise studio they name Heavenly Bodies. The place gains media attention as the hot new “it” aerobics studio; everyone is going, and Sam and her pals are watching the cheques come rolling in. Business is great, which is drawing ire from the big boss of the big hot-shot fitness club in town that used to have the curb on the workout market. Now his patrons are choosing to spend their dollars at Heavenly Bodies instead.
Sam, the main instructor in the studio, is a lifelong dancer, and has endless energy to jazzercise all day. Believing in her abilities, her friends encourage her to audition for the top spot on a new TV fitness program pilot. She is soon picked as host above a number of contenders, including the hot shot fitness club owner’s girlfriend. Her success irritates him and his jealous girl enough to threaten Sam to shut down Heavenly Bodies…and he can do it because he owns the property on which Sam’s studio sits! In typical fashion, no 80s dance movie would be complete without duelling fitness clubs having a danceathon, and Heavenly Bodies does not disappoint.
Heavenly Bodies is true 80s in style and soundtrack. Plenty of flammable leotard and leg warmers here! Some might say Heavenly Bodies is for mature audiences…for sure, when we are talking about people barely dressed, you will have the camera panning a little too long on some areas of the human anatomy, and no one sex was spared. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention other social factors addressed in this film, such as Sam being a single mom, and there being some surprising violent scenes that were impressionable on me as a kid. Being raised by a single parent, I could easily connect with Sam’s struggles raising a young boy alone. Thankfully, the violence bit never came into play at my house growing up.
Aside from the themes of sexuality and violence, there is something sweet and hopeful about Heavenly Bodies‘ story. The “dream come true” shallow easiness of the plot is appealing. With so many dance-themed movies at the time, it’s easy to draw comparisons between this film and Flashdance (another great film). But, what sets Heavenly Bodies apart from Flashdance is Canadian actress Cynthia Dale who played Samantha. Unlike Jennifer Beals who in Flashdance, had a double for most of her dance scenes (using cut shots of moving legs and her sweaty face to make it appear like it was her dancing…). Dale is a trained dancer who did ALL of her own dance scenes and stunts, and did them WELL, might I add. That girl worked her ass off for this film and gets kudos from me today. Even at age 11, she earned my respect: She could grand jeté, plié and spot turn anyone under the table – and I wanted to dance just like her.
The music is something that I definitely remember from my childhood. It’s not all good, let’s be honest. One song by the Sparks called, “Breaking Out of Prison, Baby” is pretty bad, and is unfortunately played several times in the film. Other artists, such as the Tubes (known for “She’s a Beauty”) and Gary Wright (“Dreamweaver” fame), also make an appearance. Of note is a song by Toronto New Wave band, Boys Brigade, whose song “Into the Flow” is probably the best song on the soundtrack. A little known fact about this song: it was produced by non other than Geddy Lee! You can sample the soundtrack here.
Heavenly Bodies is quite a rarity. I haven’t been successful in finding it anywhere for sale on DVD, to download or to stream (at least in Canada). Hollywood Suite (a Canadian movie network) seems to have an old VHS copy they must have pulled out of the dumpster somewhere as that print they aired is pretty darned gnarly. I’d love to find this cleaned up for sale somewhere. For now, I’ll have to settle for the recording of Heavenly Bodies on my PVR. Heavenly Bodies is for sure a hidden gem that brought up some great memories in me. If you are Canadian and subscribe to Hollywood Suite on Satellite or cable, be sure to check this blast from the past!
Starring Cynthia Dale