Art imitates life, they say–but life isn’t STEP UP, or even STEP UP 2: THE STREETS. Your average human being is significantly less coordinated than Channing Tatum and his ilk, and boasts significantly fewer reasons to break into dance.
That’s why it’s so satisfying when a non-musical or dance movie–seemingly without plot-driven motivation or any informed talent on the part of its characters–suddenly whips out a full-blown dance break. An entire sequence devoted to shaking what what their mama gave them.
In otherwise cerebral films, one may be tempted to analyze these spontaneous dance numbers; but at their core, these scenes are pure catharsis. The culmination of all your moviegoing and real life emotions unleashed in one rousing dance number. They’re magical. They’re nonsensical. They’re groovy as hell. They demand: Get on off of that thing.
Shortly before winning America’s collective heart as rebel heartthrob Poe Dameron, Oscaar Isaac was busily confusing our nether regions as genius megalomaniac Nathan Bateman in last year’s haunting sci-fi drama EX MACHINA. Huge brain, rippling muscles, probable sociopathy–it was almost too much for the audience’s poor, disturbed genitalia to take. The tension building up to this scene had taken a decidely sinister turn, as an affable Domnhall Gleeson began to realize the depths of his host’s callous cruelty towards his robot creations.
And then this happened.
It’s a truly transcendant WTF moment, the duo’s perfectly synchronized grooves managing to both ramp up and provide a moment of respite from the plot’s intensifying sense of dread.
The scene in which playful sophisticate Audrey Hepburn pretty much sums up everything that dancing should be. The scene’s not merely a random dance sequence–it’s is an enormous twirling FUCK YOU to the patriarchy. She’s not “inhibited by outmoded social conventions;” Audrey’s going to EXPRESS HERSELF through sensual dance charisma. Dancing as character development, y’all. Should be more of a thing.
Tarantino films are known more for blood than booty-shaking–with one notable exception. In a brief diversion from several intertwining plots involving murder, kidnapping, and gimp suits, John Travolta and Uma Thurman enter a dance contest. Travolta disguises his natural dance talent with slump-shouldered shimmies, whilst Uma Thurman does a lot of frenzied head shaking. This is no ordinary rhythmic flailing of limbs; never has someone twisted with such intense purpose. It serves simultaneously as a palate-cleanser from all the guts and gore and an atmospheric escalation that builds into the next, wild scene.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Let’s be real: we all want to be Ferris Bueller. He’s the poster boy for skipping school; the gleaming pinnacle of effortless cool. But never do we want to be Ferris more than when he commandeers a parade float and unites the streets of Chicago in a glorious lip-synced rendition of “Twist & Shout.” Forget your woes! Forget your sorrow! IF THIS SCENE DOESN’T MAKE YOU WANT TO GET JIGGY WITH IT YOU ARE PROBABLY NOT HUMAN. You might need to get that groove thang checked out.
Essentially, this is Hugh Grant asserting his dominance over the hearts of emotionally vulnerable hetero-ladies everywhere. The prime minister’s moment of triumph could make even the most die hard U.S. patriot beg to be recolonized by this crumpet-loving dance machine. Skeptical as you may be about LOVE ATUALLY’s relentless rom-com charm, you have to admit: you smiled during this scene. YOU SMILED THE WHOLE DAMN TIME.
This is a dance of evil. And like many evil dances, Spiderman 3’s Fosse-inspired bit is truly surreal. At first you’re full of questions: what? what? why? Why Spiderman? Why this? Why now? Stop snapping, Toby MacGuire, why are you snapping like that?? Why was this movie made??? Eventually, though, your bafflement gives way to fascination, and you think: hmm. Maybe the movie didn’t need this. But I DID. My soul did. Thanks, Dancing Toby MacGuire.
Pretty in Pink
Oh, Duckie, you beautiful, desperate bastard. This performance is arguably one of the most delightful movie scenes of all time. Also serves as Exhibit A in my hypothetical doctoral thesis, “Fictional Love Triangles and The Machinations of Satan.” Because the stupid protagonist never picks the lover they should, and PRETTY IN PINK is perhaps the worst offender of all. From the moment Jon Cryer slides into the record store to the his final frenzied hip thrust, one is overcome with Duckie love. “Look at this man dance!” you cry impotently at the screen. “Look at his passion! His humor! His charisma! TRY A LITTLE TENDERNESS, ANDIE, YOU DICKWAD.” If you weren’t invested in the love triangle before, now you fucking are.
Tom Cruise made dancing in your underwear iconic. He also made running a brothel out of your house whilst your parents are out of town seem totally plausible and like a very cool thing to do. In all sincerity, though–this scene is the epitome of home alone freedom. The moment of undressed ecstasy before you realize that with great power comes great responsibility–before Scientology steals your boyish charm and makes you kind of creepy.
500 Days of Summer
Ah, the just-got-laid dance. We’ve all done it in our heads, but Joseph Gordon Levitt gets all of Los Angeles involved in his triumphant Hall & Oates choreography. This scene is pure giddiness–the dance number embodiment of a post-coital glow, the smile that lingers long after you’ve boarded the subway back home. And whether you’re in the midst of a dry spell or you’ve just gotten some poon-tang yourself, this scene endows you with same feeling of release.
And is that was dancing’s all about? Isn’t that what movies are all abovut?