Much like the still heavily-shrouded, and ever-receding Origins of COVID-19, it seems like Dance Movies have been around for much longer that we were first led to believe!
With the first actual sighting filmed by none other than the inventor of the Light Bulb, himself: Mr. Thomas Edison! During his recording of the then-famed dancer Ruth St. Denis performing – not “Wap!” But just her moreso al-fresco than just plain freaky “Skirt” dance! While the first dance movie that actually involved an audience, has been historically recorded as being the 1895 Swan Lake Ballet in Russia’s St. Petersburg.
That said, I have my own theory about how Humanity first discovered Dance! One which I have roughly located around the Stone Age; since it was also when the First Caveman…let us call him “Columbus The ‘First?’” Flatly refused to also discover, that the other cave-dwellers had not only already discovered his first cave, but also the Fire long burning steadily within it!
Leaving Columbus The ‘First’ so mightily unmanned by his mere secondary discovery, as to momentarily fail to grasp the personal significance of it being noting but a large lump of live coal glowing brightly beneath his bare foot! A “moving occasion;” when the warm light finally dawned – and for all concerned! Since one causing him to trip over the loosely-tethered, but still fantastically long length of Cavewoman’s hair, during his highly motivated bid to exit their cosy domestic rubble! And thereby unwittingly originating that quaint, but regrettably enduring phrase: “tripping the light fantastic!”
All of which now bringing us if not neatly, then certainly by a series of hops, skips, and jumps…happily to more modern times! The least modern of which being our very first sighting of the dynamic dance duo of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, playing Honey Hales and Fred Ayres in Flying Down to Rio (1933). A film whose top-billing went ironically not to these two scene-stealers, but actually to Delores del Rio and Gene Raymond!
Hard on the heels of this movie, comes my next selection: Singin’ in the Rain (1952); starring Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor as best pals Don Lockwood and Cosmo Brown. Who together nearly turn a prissy elocution lesson given by diction coach Robert Watson, into an energetic exercise in quasi-strangulation!
Joining the head of the queue in the universal hunt for “hard, young, bodies,” we now stand dutifully impressed before John Travolta and Shelly Batt as Tony Manero and “Girl in Disco” in Saturday Night Fever (1977). An actress whose simpleminded Case of “Kiss-taken Identity,” went unsurprisingly un-billed in this movie. And one whose professional career faithfully followed – according to Bostonherald.com, along the similarly anonymous lines of “nurse.” Or “classmate.” Or simply once more “girl;” in the few other films in which she subsequently appeared.
And talk about how all “wrong”…as in “wrong” gear! “Wrong” body-type! And “wrong” dance technique for “classical” ballet! All still managed to turn out pretty darn alright~ At least for Gene Anthony Ray, if not-so-much Carol Massenburg, playing the successfully auditioning Leroy Johnson and his steamily outshone audition-partner Shirley Mulholland in Fame (1980)! A streetwise kid with a dancer’s soul; Ray’s on-screen scorning of the ‘sissified’ constraints of tights over the infinitely more “freeing” ballsiness of loose-fitting, thigh-skimming boxers, led to rave reviews from females both on and off screen! Now, where did I put my befogged binoculars…?
In Flashdance (1983), we get lots of “feel-good” moments from this Ultimate in “feel-good” dance movies! Where Jennifer Beals and Michael Nouri play Alex Owens and Nick Hurley, respectively; even as they individually wrestle with the steel bars of personal Doubt and professional Despair, to ultimately discover eternal Love! And (again as in Fame!) all against the backdrop of “triple-threat” Irene Cara’s vastly underrated vocal talent! What a feeling, indeed…that Cara more than fully deserved her double-Grammy wins for: “Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.” And “Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or a Television Special.”
In Dirty Dancing (1987), Carole “Kelly” Bishop delivers her lines as Jennifer Grey’s screen-mom Marjorie Houseman in real Proud Mama style! Guess the only time parents don’t proudly say: “I Think S/He Gets It From Me”…is when the Cops arrive in a long screech of really embarrassing squad cars, to haul away the real beneficiary of their offspring’s ill-gotten gain! But watching Grey as Frances Houseman, match Patrick Swayze’s dazzling dance moves as Johnny Castle step for mesmerizing step, Bishop’s maternal pride becomes both forgivable and expected!
Step Up (2006) Hot Tip? “Never dare a Hot Dame on a Hot Date!” Unless – just like Channing Tatum’s Tyler Cage? You’re more than up for some odds-on “gamboling” with Jenna Dewan playing Nora Clark in this class-conscious, coming-of-age movie!
Black Swan (2010) Whew ! What can I say? Except that the Devil must have been in the details! For surely no one ever explicitly outlined to either Natalie Portman or Nina Sayers, that that old, exaggerative saying about “Dancing Till You Dropped”…was just that: an old, exaggerative saying!
Climax (2016) Okay! Now this is that dance that you do at the club? When you’ve tossed-back two one-too-many! And your legs just gave way under you! But you still want to look mad-sexy! While desperately signalling – at the “climax,” to your BFF to come haul your drunken arse both up an’ outta there!
Magic Mike XXL (2018) That “smile” on Joe Manganiello’s face? Is the one which you give as Lindsey Moser’s “minimart girl” to Big Dick Richie…after you’ve been trying to move that bottle of re-called Water! And those batch of expired Cheetos! For, like – months, now! “Thanks, Big Dick! You really came through for me!”
Cats (2019) Rebel Wilson took a lot of heat under all o’ that fake CGI fur…for her rambunctious role as Jennyanydots in a movie that got more panning off-screen than on! Good thing this thick-skinned Aussie chick saw critique coming a mile off!
Feel the Beat (2020) Oh-kaaay! Cardi B? Better watch your own twerkin’ arse, girlfriend! ‘Cos watched-over by ratchet “dance mom” Shannon Currie? These li’l Chicklets look set to snatch your waist-length, virgin-hair, Brazilian “crown!” ‘Cos we know Bacardi don’t mess wit’ no Cheap Ass Weave!
Finally…if you liked “Hamilton” the Broadway musical? Then In The Heights (2021) looks set to be yet another winning adaptation of a Lin-Manuel Miranda work! That’s if this musical movie drama ever gets out to the box-office… Directed by Jon M. Chu from a screenplay by Quiara Alegría Hudes, this film is set in New York’s largely latin-esque Washington Heights and is based on a stage musical by the same name as originally penned by Hudes and Miranda. And if like me you also believe it’s good enough to wait for, then by June 11th, 2021 either the wait to get “butts on theatre seats” should be finally over! Or some horrible new strain of COVID-19 should have reared its unwelcome head to butt all those butts back into the supermarket aisles! There to grimly wrestle our dearest friends and closest neighbours, for that last Loo Roll!
And speaking of waiting…I’ll also be making you wait – but only until next week! To find out the title of my next article! Why? Because I haven’t thought of it yet myself, that’s why! Cheers! (No…that’s NOT it!).
D. J. PAYNE, Dialogue Doctor – Denise is a banter dialogue specialist whose favourite thing to do is help other writers take their scripts from funny to Funtastic.
© Copyright 2021. D J. Payne. All Rights to this Material fully Reserved by Author D. J. Payne.