Friday, April 9, 2010
There are certain movie moments that have an enduring impact, resonating with film-watchers long after they've left the theater or turned off the DVD. Dance scenes in particular resonate well with movie fans. When executed well, these moments have the power to morph into iconic imagery, inspiring their fair share of parody and mocking. We may all be sick of Pulp Fiction dance knock-offs, but it's a testament to the original that it's spawned so many lesser imitators. Much, much lesser.
While some of these movies may predate some of us children of 90s' birthdates by a year or two, their popularity was long-standing enough to make them a memorable part of our childhood. Whether you blame on VHS or incessant TV re-running, these movies are well-known to kids coming of age in the 90s. Plus, it would be pretty difficult to compile a list of favorite dance movie moments while completely overlooking the 80s; the easy cheesiness of 80s movies was a prime breeding ground for iconic dance scenes.
Just to be clear, there's a fine line in defining these categories here at Children of the 90s. Avid readers (I'm probably flattering myself here) may remember a feature entitled "80s and 90s Spontaneous Group Dance Scenes Where Everyone Knows Exactly What to Do." This blog has never been short on specificity. If we're splitting hairs, we (okay, I) may as well set some ground rules for these entirely different set of dance scene movie moments:
1. They're generally in character. Most of these moments don't have us suspending our disbelief at completely uncharacteristic behavior from our principal actors. The moves might be over-the-top or silly, but these dances are reasonably within the parameters of the characters' behavior and ability.
2. They may be prerehearsed. Unlike the She's All That style prom dance phenomenon, the majority of these dances involve some sort of choregraphing backstory. In the case of the 80s movies, these rehearsals are best shown to us in the form of a training montage, culminating in the achievement of a tough move timed at the most climactic moment in the corresponding background music. If the moment does occur spontaneously, it's realistically within the ability of our stars.
3. They usually involve relatively few dancers. Instead of large scale Fame-style scenes that could now be classified as formidable flash mobs, plain old "dance moments" are mostly sparsely populated affairs.
With those rules that I've just made up firmly in place, it's time to meet our contenders for memorable 80s and 90s movie dance scenes:
(I've Had) the Time of my Life (Dirty Dancing)
dirty dancing - time of my life (video)2
Uploaded by carlson.
Oh, how I once longed for Jennifer Grey's dress in this scene. It probably wouldn't be quite so twirly without the dancing talent, but I like to think wearing it would have given me the motivation to learn. Few of us can ever hear "(I've Had) the Time of my Life" without immediately thinking of the big lift at the end. It's also purportedly the third most popular song played at British funerals. That fact is from Wikipedia, so take it as you will, but if it's true it's incredibly ridiculous.
What A Feeling and Maniac (Flashdance)?
If you ever need inspiration for costuming yourself for an 80s party, look no further than Flashdance. This movie is an 80s cliche goldmine, from it's ripped-neck off the shoulder t-shirts to the ubiquitous leg warmers. The movie also serves as a great guide for how to cast your dance movie with a non-dancing star through heavy reliance on misleading body doubles. If she's wearing the same leg warmers, it's got to be the same person, right?
Based on movie industry standards, we're all just a mere six degrees from starring in this movie. Really makes you feel a part of it, doesn't it? Kevin Bacon plays Ren, a city teen who finds himself in an oppressive small town with a serious aversion to rock n' roll. I do mean serious. Sense of humor isn't really the town's strong suit. Somehow, though, Ren stages a full 180, and everyone realizes just how great rock music and dancing can be. It's cheesy, but everyone seems to be having such a genuinely good time it's tough not to get caught up in it.
You Can Never Tell (Pulp Fiction)
This scene is pure Tarantino, a man who's vision can be pretty divisive. His work is very stylized, full of personal trademarks, meta-references, and usually reliant on a nonlinear storytelling method. Whether you love him or you hate him, it's tough to deny the appeal of this scene. Something about it just works. Maybe it's the way they seem to be taking themselves so seriously, or possibly it's the thrill of seeing John Travolta back in dancing action. Whatever it is, it all adds up to an incredibly memorable dance scene.
Tango (Scent of a Woman)
This truly is a beautiful scene, expertly choreographed and set to the instrumental "Por Una Corbeza". It's quieter and less outwardly dramatic than some of the dances on this list, but it's moving in its own right. As Lieutenant Colonel Slade tells Donna, "If you make a mistake and get all tangled up, just tango on." Wise words, indeed.
Old Time Rock n' Roll (Risky Business)
When I first started living by myself, I had to constantly repress my impulse to don men's briefs and some Wayfarer sunglasses while blasting some Bob Seger. After watching this movie, it can become a tough prospect to resist. That and turning your home into an impromptu brothel. Really, we all fall into that trap from time to time
Risky Business established Tom Cruise as a bona fide sex symbol, shaping his career for the better part of the next decade or so. Recently, his public image has gone sort of the way of Britney Spears; that is, their names were once used as incredibly favorable comparisons, they're still putting out arguably solid work, but their forays in crazy public behavior has led to a drop in their celebrity stock. Whenever I see clips of Tom Cruise couch-jumping with glee or accusing Matt Lauer of glibness, I try to block it all out with the image from the above scene. It's pretty powerful--it usually does the trick.
Chopsticks/Heart and Soul (Big)
Big is big on heart, effectively capturing the earnestness of children before they're inevitably ravaged by the cynicism of imagination-crushing adulthood. It may sound bleak, but there are moments of reprieve when we can transport ourselves back to our childhood mindset. That's why you're here reading, after all.
Tom Hanks plays a magically aged man-child, and his innocence and enthusiasm is contagious to his adult peers. Some might argue that this is not a dance per se, but if you've ever attempted any sort of cohesive melody on the giant piano mat at FAO Schwarz you know it takes an incredible amount of kinesthetic coordination. Dance or not, it's pretty darn heartwarming.
Dancing in Heaven (Girls Just Want to Have Fun)
It's entirely possible this movie played a significantly smaller role in your childhood than in mine, but as someone whose family owned a very limited number of VHS tapes my daily watching regimen was regularly split between this movie and The Sound of Music. On the sum of these alternating days, I watched Girls Just Want to Have Fun something like 200 times, yet I never managed to master the dance at their DTV final on-air competition. This movie's got the requisite 80s montage and tons of great dancing footage, not to mention some awesome costumes. If you ever see Helen Hunt's lizard hat in a thrift shop somewhere, please pick it up for me. I promise to pay you back.
Doesn't this all just make you want to have a life-affirming dance moment in your day? It seems like the perfect culminating event to wrap up your day's story line. Imagine how much more interesting a day at the office would be if the climax of your workday was marked by a Baby and Johnny-style dramatic lift? That's the world I'd like to someday live in. Someday.