NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Sandee.
Reverend Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid) is delivering a Sunday sermon; he feels the town’s despair over the tragic deaths of 5 high school seniors, including his son, Bobby, in an auto accident after a night of teenage drinking and dancing. Soon afterwards, the town council voted to ban partying, loud music and all forms of public dancing. Ariel (Julianne Hough), his daughter, is upset, and not happy about any of it.
THREE YEARS LATER: Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald) gets off the Greyhound bus in the small town of Bomont, Georgia. He came from Boston to live with his Uncle Wes (Ray McKinnon) and his wife and 2 kids, as his mom has recently died. He moves in to his uncle’s “office," and is reminded by his uncle that this isn’t Boston, so no getting into trouble and to make sure you keep up in school. Wes tells him that his neighbor’s cotton gin has saved a job for him, and that with the economy the way it is, he’s lucky to have it. Uncle Wes gives him an old, broken-down VW, and says if he can fix it, he can have it. Ren gets to work, and soon enough, he has the car running. He takes it for a drive, with the stereo blaring, and is promptly pulled over by a local cop. When he asks why he was pulled over, the cop says for loud music and disturbing the peace. Ren back talks a bit, and can’t believe that loud music is illegal here- the cop writes him up.
The family goes to church, and Ren catches the eye of a pretty girl, Ariel. She’s the daughter of Reverend Shaw Moore and his quiet wife, Vi (Andie MacDowell). After church, Ariel tells her parents she has a school project to work on and will spend the night with her girlfriend, Rusty (Ziah Colon). It’s a lie, as they have no project, and just want to go to town and see Chuck Cranston, her boyfriend (Patrick John Flueger) race his car at the track.
At school Monday, Ren meets Rusty and Ariel, and they comment on his more city-like attire. He literally bumps into a camo-wearing cowboy, and they verbally spar, until the cowboy laughs and introduces himself as Willard (Miles Teller). Willard informs Ren about the deaths of the students 3 years ago, and how the town went crazy and outlawed loud music, dancing and parties for kids. There isn’t even a high school prom anymore. After school, Ren goes to the cotton gin, and starts his job.
Later that night, the high school kids go and hang out at the drive-in restaurant to listen to music and dance. Ren sees Rusty and Ariel there. Ariel dances and Ren is obviously attracted, and she likes that. Chuck sees it and is jealous. In comes Reverend Moore, and he pulls the plug on the music. Ariel is embarrassed and angry with her dad.
Ren goes to court for his ticket, and his Uncle Wes speaks up for him. Since Ren has a job, he is eligible for a suspended sentence, but must not have any other violations in the meantime.
Ariel pays Ren a visit and says that Chuck wants him to come to his daddy’s race track tomorrow. Ren has no idea what to expect, and when he gets there, he is challenged by Chuck to a race…in old school buses. They drive, smash up things, and eventually Ren wins.
A kid at school offers Ren a joint but he refuses. The librarian sees it, and chases Ren down the hall. Ren quickly flushes it down the toilet, and is promptly taken to the principal. He tells the truth, that it wasn’t his and he didn’t want it. He also explains that he is a gymnast and never does any kind of drug. He is let off, but his Uncle is told.
In anger, Ren drives to an old, deserted garage. He blasts the music, drinks a beer, and rips off his shirt. He dances his anger and stress out, and does gymnastic-flips, too. Ariel was watching, and they begin to talk. She takes him to an abandoned train car, which is covered in graffiti, all of which is quotes, lyrics and poems. The local kids call it The Yearbook. It is there they can express themselves freely, without fear of the tight laws in Bomont. Then, she takes Ren to the track, and stands in the middlea train is coming, and she won’t get out of its way. As it barrels towards her, Ren yells and pleads for her to get off the track, and as she is about to get hit, he leaps and grabs her, and pushes her out of harm’s way. Ren is angry at her stupidity. She says she has been reckless and lost ever since her brother died.
Rusty and Willard, and Ren and Ariel drive to the city to the Cowboy Bar, for some live music and country dancing. While Willard refuses to dance, Ren, Ariel and Rusty have a great time. Rusty reminds Willard that he promised that there wouldn’t be any fighting. A cowboy asks Rusty to dance, and Willard watches…and then can’t take it anymore. He cuts in, and then gets in a fight with the cowboy. They leave, and as they drive home across the bridge where the accident happened, they talk about the tragedy and its after effects.
Reverend Moore visits Uncle Wes and tells him he doesn’t like Ren hanging around with his daughter. Uncle Wes tells him that Ren is a stand-up kid, who had to care for and watch his mother die from leukemia. He tells him Ren is strong and good; Reverend Shaw leaves, not persuaded.
Ren decides to get a petition going, which he will present to the town council that asks for a repeal of the law against dancing. He wants a prom for his senior class. He thinks it’s time the law changed. His Uncle Wes and Aunt sign it, and say his mom would have been proud of him.
Willard tells Ren he can’t dance. He never learned how, and is afraid to try. Ren, along with his two nieces, teach Willard, and soon Willard is an excellent dancer, and happy that he can now dance with his girlfriend, Rusty.
Ariel meets Chuck at the race track and breaks up with him. He doesn’t take it well, and calls her a slut, and hits her. He leaves her face down, and she staggers up, grabs a pipe, and wails on his truck. He is furious, and hits her again.
When Reverend Shaw sees her bruised face, he immediately thinks Ren did it, and threatens to get that S.O.B. Ariel tells him it is just like him to blame Ren, like he blamed everything on Bobby, her dead brother. She tells him she has been so lost since Bobby died. She also tells him she isn’t a virgin, and he slaps her.
Vi and the Reverend talk: she tells him that they overreacted with all the fast changes to the laws after the kids diedit was too much, too soon. She reminds him that his obligation is to his daughter first, and the congregation after family.
At the council meeting, Ren speaks and quotes the Bible (which Ariel gave him) and says, “there is a time for dance." Reverend Shaw answers that they don’t want the “spiritual corruption” that dancing brings with it.
When Ren is at work the next day, his boss tells him that he hasn’t noticed that the cotton gin is just over the city line, and isn’t in Bomont, but Basin. So, he says…why not have the prom at the cotton gin there in Basin, where it isn’t illegal?
Reverend Moore is rehearsing his next sermon in the chapel, and Ren comes in, and listens. When the Reverend notices him, he stops and they talk. Ren tells him they are having a dance at the cotton gin in Basin, and he wants to take Ariel as his date. Ren promises to be respectful to Ariel. He tells the Reverend that the dance means a lot to him, but his daughter means more. He won’t go to the dance if he can’t take Ariel. The Reverend has to decide, and Ren tells him, “You gotta do what you gotta do," thanks him, and leaves.
During the sermon on Sunday, Reverend Shaw tells the congregation that we all need to take responsibility for our own lives. He explains that we have to trust, and can’t hold on forever. He announces the senior class is having a dance in Basin, and hopes that they can all support it. Ren and Ariel, and the other students smile and cheer.
The kids all show up at the gin to sweep, clean and decorate for the dance. They raise the lights, and it looks beautiful, and is ready.
Ariel is getting ready for the dance, and her mom comes in and tells her she looks stunning, and hands her a corsage. Ariel tries to thank her, but she says, “it isn’t from me…” it’s from the Reverend.
She hears Ren’s car and comes out before he can ring the bell. He is stunned by how beautiful she looks, and tries to let her in the car. The door is stuck, so he lifts her and slides her in through the windowReverend and Vi are watching from the window inside the house. Vi comments that that was a smooth move, and the Reverend smiles.
They arrive at the dance, and no one is dancing. Ren and Ariel go on the floor and start dancing. Others join in, and soon everyone is dancing. Willard and Rusty arrive, and as they are walking in, Chuck and some of his posse drive up in trucks, and grab Rusty and start to gang up on Willard. Rusty had made him promise, “No fighting!” but as they hit him and restrain her, she yells, “Beat the hell outta them, Willard!” At that same time, Ren and Ariel go outside for some air, and see the fight and join in. When they defeat Chuck and his loser friends, they dust off, and head into the dance, where Ren exclaims, “Let’s Dance!” They all dance, confetti falls, and the movie ends as they all line-dance together.