This writeup contains spoilers, but since you can pretty much tell the outcome of the movie by watching the previews, I don't feel too bad about giving it away.
Save the Last Dance is about a girl, Sarah Johnson (played by Julia Stiles) who always wanted to be a ballerina. She and her florist mother live by themselves. Then, Sarah's mother is killed in a car accident while rushing to watch Sarah's audition for Juilliard. Sarah loses not only her mother, but her dream (she fails the audition because she is upset about her mother not being there) and her old life. She moves in with her father, a jazz musician who lives in the ghetto, and starts attending a school with predominantly black students. Luckily for Sarah, she is immediately befriended by a girl named Chenille, and eventually falls in love with Chenille's brother, Derek (played by Sean Patrick Thomas), who teaches Sarah how to dance hip-hop. Derek convinces Sarah to try out for Juillard again and helps her prepare. They are almost torn apart when Chenille tells Sarah that it's wrong for a white girl to take a black boy when there are so few good black men left. Chenille was angry with the father of her son at the time, but Sarah took her seriously and instigated a fight with Derek. Sarah reconciles with her father, who takes her to her audition. When Derek's sister reveals that she said something to make Sarah shy away, he dumps his plans for a drive-by shooting with an old friend and makes it to Sarah's audition in time to give her the encouragement she needs to blow the judges away.
The plot is somewhat obvious and a bit contrived, and I don't know how many times I could watch the movie and still enjoy it, but I'm glad I rented it. It's very much a tear-jerker, starting out with the death of Sarah's mother with the continual undertone of how much Sarah misses her mother. It's also very sensual, with all of the somewhat-dirty dancing. Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas have major chemistry, and they are very good at looking like they care a great deal for each other without talking about it and without making it seem more like lust than love.
I'm sure there were many racial issues that went right over my head because I'm a sheltered white girl. Still, the lessons of acceptance and making your own life despite where fate has put you are those we all need to refresh sometimes.
If you're the film critic type, this probably isn't for you. But if you want to cry and watch the bloom of love, this is a movie you'll enjoy.