Review: ‘Shake the Dust’ shows break dancing’s effect on world’s poor

Of the many break-dancing scenes in the documentary “Shake the Dust,” about the form’s inspiring effect on impoverished kids around the world, one seems to speak directly to the film’s metaphor-catchy title: a young Yemeni twirling, flipping and stepping in a crumbling building, his every contact with the ground kicking up a rhythmic puff of earth, as if to say, “Here’s my mark, there’s my impact.”

Adam Sjöberg’s film bounces from slum to favela to inner city across many troubled countries — Colombia, Uganda, Yemen and Cambodia — to showcase hard-luck stories of boys (mostly) and girls who’ve found in hip-hop culture a hoped-for path away from more dangerously available pursuits.

Sjöberg is so enamored with the dancing and overall positivity that moves and platitudes fairly dominate, when the movie could have used more narrative cohesion and engagement with his subjects. (The few times testimonials go deep, as when a Ugandan teen named Fahad describes the smiles he sparked dancing at his mother’s funeral, it’s heartbreaking.)

But for the most part “Shake the Dust” is a passably engaging ode to joy, the kind that feels special because it’s hard-earned and communal, and it displaces adversity, however briefly.


“Shake the Dust.”

No MPAA rating.

Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes.

Playing: TCL Chinese, Hollywood.