Andie West (Briana Evigan) grew up in a rough Baltimore neighborhood and dreamed of spinning and stepping like the cream of the local street dancers. But when her mother died of cancer, the bottom fell out of Andie's life, and despite the best efforts of her mom's best friend, Sarah (Sonja Sohn), by high school Andie is heading down the wrong path. She's found a surrogate family in the 410, a local step crew—especially sort-of boyfriend Tuck (Black Thomas) and best girlfriends Felicia (Telisha Shaw) and Missy (Danielle Polanco)—and she's respected for her fierce, fearless moves. But Andie is also cutting classes, clubbing all night and participating in street-theatre pranks that could get her arrested. At the end of her rope, Sarah is ready to ship Andie off to an aunt in Texas.

Fortunately, local boy-made-good Tyler—a cameo by Step Up’s Channing Tatum—intervenes on her behalf, persuading Sarah to let Andie audition for the prestigious Maryland School of the Arts: If she gets in and makes good, she can stay in the hood. Andie gets in, mostly due to the intervention of star student Chase Collins (Robert Hoffman), whose brother Blake (ballet dancer Will Kemp) has just been made the school's director. Blake is all about classical discipline, Chase wants to mix things up in the dance department and has seen Andie strutting her stuff in The Dragon, the white-hot center of neighborhood step competitions. Andie tries to balance school and hanging with her homies, but she's inevitably accused of getting uppity and not keeping it real. Banished from the 410, Andie forms her own crew with Blake, cherry-picked from all the rebels, dreamers and rugged individualists who don't fit into MSA's rigidly defined programs. They have the fire, but can they take their moves to the streets?

The traditional musical may still be hanging on by a thread, but youth-oriented dance films are on fire, from Stomp the Yard to High School Musical. Step Up 2 the Streets sticks close to the formula: family tragedy plus class conflict plus a young person torn between aspiration and respecting one's roots. Words can't express such powerful feelings, but movement can. Step Up 2 delivers exciting dance sequences, but the dramatic scenes are just marking time. And for all Chase's talk about combining different traditions to produce a movement vocabulary greater than the sum of its parts, you have to wonder about the smarts of a dance movie that uses U.K. choreographer Matthew Bourne's all-male Swan Lake to evoke the hidebound prissiness of classical ballet.