Save the Last Dance is a 2001 American dance film produced by MTV Films, directed by Thomas Carter that was released by Paramount Pictures on January 12, 2001.

The film stars Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas in the lead roles.


Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

Sara Johnson, a promising dancer in high school, hopes to be admitted to study at Juilliard School and invites her mother to attend the audition. She fails the audition and soon learns that her mother was involved in a fatal car accident in her haste to get to the audition. Sara is wracked by guilt and gives up on ballet. She moves in with her estranged father and transfers to an urban Chicago school.

At her new school, Sara is one of a handful of white students but quickly befriends Chenille, a single teen mother who is having relationship problems. Chenille invites Sara to a dance club called STEPPS, where she has her first experience of dancing to hip hop rhythms.

At STEPPS, Sara dances with Derek, Chenille's brother and a student with dreams of ultimately attending Georgetown Medical School. He decides to help Sara develop her dancing skills by incorporating more hip hop into her style.

Derek takes a reluctant Sara to the Joffrey Ballet and, afterwards, Sara confides in him about her mother and her dreams. Later, they return to the club and amaze others with their dancing. Having achieved his dream of being accepted at Georgetown University, Derek convinces her to follow her dreams of Juilliard. Eventually, Sara and Derek begin a relationship.

At school, Nikki, Derek's jealous ex-girlfriend, picks a fight with Sara. Chenille tells Sara that she didn't approve of the fight, but can understand the bitterness since Sara, (a white girl) is seen as stealing one of the few decent black men in the school. Because of this, Sara breaks up with Derek.

Meanwhile, Derek deals with his friend Malakai, who is heavily into the gang lifestyle that Derek is trying to leave. Derek accepts Malakai's plea for support in a drive-by for the same time as Sara's audition. Sara's father has a heart-to-heart talk with her and encourages her to audition for Juilliard again.

After hearing what Chenille told Sara, Derek confronts her. She admits what she did was wrong and encourages him to be with Sara. Chenille also warns Derek not to support Malakai knowing the consequences and he will lose his chance to attend Georgetown. Derek turns his back on Malakai to attend Sara's audition. He arrives at a crucial point to offer her encouragement and moral support.

After her audition, Sara is accepted and she rekindles her relationship with Derek. Meanwhile, the drive-by becomes botched and Malakai is arrested. The film closes as Sara, Derek, Chenille & their friends meet at STEPPS to celebrate Sara's successful audition.


  • Julia Stiles as Sara Johnson
  • Sean Patrick Thomas as Derek Reynolds
  • Terry Kinney as Roy Johnson
  • Kerry Washington as Chenille Reynolds
  • Fredro Starr as Malakai
  • Bianca Lawson as Nikki
  • Vince Green as Snookie
  • Garland Whitt as Kenny
  • Esengül Ayyildiz as Girl dancing in the club
  • Ray McCort as helicopter pilot


The filming dates for "Save the Last Dance" took place from November 21, 1999 to February 18, 2000. The filming locations took place in Chicago, Illinois. The high school scenes was filmed at Lemont High School in Lemont, Illinois.

Filming also took place at the Chicago Academy of the Arts in West Town, Chicago, Illinois. The audition scene at the beginning of the movie was filmed at the Atheneaum Theater in Chicago.

Originally, the filmmakers originally wanted to film at Mount Assisi Academy (an all-girls Catholic school in Lemont, Illinois), but when they asked the school if they could remove the religious decorations, the president of the school refused.

According to an early draft of the script, Sarah lived with her mother in Pennsylvania before moving in with her father in Baltimore. By the time the film was shot, the locations were Lemont and Chicago, Illinois respectively.

During Derek and Sarah's first dance practice in the school cafeteria, the entire scene was completely improvised, specifically by Sean Patrick Thomas as the cameras caught him muttering instructions to Julia Stiles even though she already knew how to dance.

The lighting for the dance sequences was composed by Internationally recognized dance lighting designer Kevin Dreyer.

Box OfficeEdit

"Save the Last Dance" debuted at #1 at the North American box office making $27.5 million in its opening weekend. Even though the film had a 44% decline in earnings the following weekend, it was still enough to keep it at the top spot for another week.

The film was a surprise success in theaters especially with the teenage female audience, and is regarded as having two of the best breakthrough performances for its leading actors Julia Stiles, and especially Sean Patrick Thomas.

It was financially success as well with box-office earnings of $91,057,006 in the US alone and more than $130 million mark worldwide.

Critical ReceptionEdit

"Saved the Last Dance" received mixed reviews from critics.

Rotten Tomatoes' rating assesses the film as "Rotten" with a 53% rating & summarizes the critical consensus as "This teen romance flick feels like a predictable rehashing of other movies."

Some of the reviews marked "fresh" are measured in their enthusiasm, with remarks such as, "Look elsewhere for reality or good drama. Look here, however, if you're in the mood for a good heaping of fantasy and some fun"; "a decent, well-put-together romantic drama to hold hands to on the weekend"; and "A sometimes predictable, but mostly enjoyable tale."

Salon's reviewer called the film "a bad, friendly, enjoyable movie," observing that "for all its dumb clichés it offers the basic appeal of teen movies: the pleasure of watching kids be kids, acting as they do among themselves instead of how parents and teachers expect them to act."

Roger Ebert rated it three stars out of four, stating that "the setup promises cliches, but the development is intelligent, the characters are more complicated than we expect, and the ending doesn't tie everything up in a predictable way."


"Save the Last Dance" was also successful at a number of movie awards, most notably:

  • The 2001 MTV Movie Awards, winning in the category "Best Kiss" for Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas, who also won "Breakthrough Male Performance"; and being nominated for "Best Female Performance" for Julia Stiles and "Best Dance Sequence" for a scene in the hip hop club
  • The 2001 Teen Choice Awards, winning in the categories "Film — Choice Actress" for Julia Stiles, "Film — Choice Breakout Performance" for Kerry Washington and "Film — Choice Fight Scene" for Julia Stiles and Bianca Lawson; and being nominated as best "Film — Choice Drama"
  • The 2001 Young Hollywood Awards, winning in the category "Standout Performance — Male" for Sean Patrick Thomas

It was also nominated for the 2002 Black Reel Awards in the category "Theatrical — Best Supporting Actress" for Kerry Washington and the 2002 Golden Reel Awards in the category "Best Sound Editing — Music, Musical Feature Film" for the music editor Michael T. Ryan.


Save the Last Dance (2001) Official Trailer 1

Save the Last Dance (2001) Official Trailer 1

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