Have you ever had the urge to shake a tailfeather? Why not . . . after all, is not dancing one of the freest forms of expression? Well busting a move in the movies is one thing entirely if the performer is called to get down and funky (my apologies for the 70’s-sounding outdated lingo, folks) in a film that calls for such an occasion such as a musical or dance-oriented flick. However, what about the colorful dance scenes highlighted in films that are NOT considered musical by nature?
In Top 10 Dance Scenes in Non-Musical Movies, we will take a look at some dancing done by movie characters that you would not think would gyrate to tunes based on the type of motion picture they were situated in whether it be a crime drama, comedy or lighthearted horror movie. These impromptu movie hipsters who wanted to strut their stuff on screen capture the spirit of their off-the-cuff personalities.
The Top 10 Dance Scenes in Non-Musical Movies are as follows (in ALPHABETICAL order according to film title):
#10 “A Piece of the Action” (1978) featuring Manny Durrell and Dave Anderson
Career criminals Manny Durrell and Dave Anderson (Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby) are asked to reform their law-breaking ways when retired detective Joshua Burke (James Earl Jones) sentences them to do community service for delinquents at the local youth center in the late 70’s crime caper dramedy, “A Piece of the Action.” The film’s climax showcases both Manny and Dave dancing up a storm with the misguided kids that, despite prior reservations, they’d grown attached to. The jubilant dance sequence (done over the closing credits) has Poitier and Cosby playfully mingling with the youths to the soulful sounds of Mavis Staples and Curtis Mayfield’s hit single “Piece of the Action.” Indeed, Manny, Dave and their charges certainly gave “Soul Train” a run for its money.
#9 “Airplane!” (1980) featuring Ted Striker and Elaine Dickinson
There were no boundaries off limits for the comedy team of the Zucker brothers and Jim Abrahams in the whacked-out farce “Airplane!.” The nuttiness of “Airplane!” skewered disaster movies and everything else possible, including the cool disco nightclub dance scene from 1977’s “Saturday Night Fever.” There they take mopey pilot, Ted Striker (Robert Hays), drinking his sorrows away at a rundown dive until he spots the pretty and energetic Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty) on the dance floor rhythmically moving to the beat of The Bee Gees’ tune “Staying Alive” with a drunken geezer. Naturally, Striker gets into his ridiculing Tony Manero mode (white disco suit and all) as he and Elaine hysterically dance the night away — in perverse Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker style, of course.
#8 “Beetlejuice” (1988) featuring Charles and Delia Deetz and dinner guests
So what does one do to prevent the continuation of a relentlessly pretentious dinner party thrown by an elitist couple Charles and Delia Deetz (Jeffrey Jones and Catherine O’Hara)? Well, one hires the obnoxious Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton) to high-jack the feasting festivities by unwillingly making the unbearable Deetzes and their snobby guests dance uncontrollably to singer Harry Belafonte’s “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” in curious, comical fashion. You see . . . deceased married couple and now ghostly apparitions, Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) want to frighten the new owners out of their home, but in the process befriend Deetz’s Gothic teen daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder). However, soon the Maitlands will regret their decision to enlist the wildly unpredictable Betelguese from scaring away the unwanted intruders when he presents alarming harm to their young friend Lydia and her insufferable folks in director Tim Burton’s entertaining late 80s comedy freak show.
#7 “Charlie’s Angels” (2000) featuring Natalie Cook
Cameron Diaz’s jiggly Angel, Natalie Cook, certainly took her bouncing and trouncing to a whole new level when she strutted her stuff on the “Soul Train” dance floor in front of a mostly astonished black crowd that finally fell for her infectious booty-shaking antics as they chanted “Go white girl!” Between Natalie “doing her thing” on center stage as her enthusiastic and diminutive boyfriend Peter (Luke Wilson) looks on proudly while chatting it up with the expressionless skyscraper bulky bouncers (“You guys are like in really in good shape you know. Definitely.”) the whole dance sequence comes off hysterically funny, but oddly spirited. The bombastic background beat to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” as Natalie performs the Robot and other dance moves marks this fun-filled dance distraction as a quirky whirlwind of aimless goofiness.
#6 “Ghostbusters” (1984) featuring The Ghostbusters and Ray Parker Jr.
Okay, let’s get the backlash out of the way before we go any further with the selection of the “Ghostbusters” music video that showcases the film’s stars Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson dancing and singing in unison with singer Ray Parker Jr. Sure, the free-wheeling dancing was done in the official music video and NOT the movie, but who are you gonna call . . . a lawyer? I ain’t afraid of no criticism much less no ghost. Anyway, the side-stepping of dance steps by the actors in their Ghostbusters gear on location in New York’s Times Square is simply pure giddy, satirical symmetry (watch for Murray hamming it up at the tail end of the video). Add the variety of celebrity cameos popping up quipping, “Ghostbusters” as they answer Parker’s musical inquiry definitely adds to the pulsating 80’s finger-snapping tune. Ah, don’t you miss the enjoyment of silly 80’s sci-fi comedy popcorn pleasers?
#5 “Napoleon Dynamite” (2004) featuring Napoleon Dynamite
“And up next I hope you’ll enjoy a skit from Pedro Sanchez,” mentions the Preston High School principal in the coming-of-age sleeper comedy “Napoleon Dynamite.” Of course the “skit” in question turned out to be the weirdly, but spry and jerky, dance routine from one bespectacled nerd Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) delivering one of the most bizarre yet ambitious and hypnotic dance sequences to grace a cult comedy. With his “Vote for Pedro” T-shirt slogan, lopsided hair perm and black space boots, the fast-thinking Napoleon needed to come up with something to put his buddy Pedro (Efren Ramirez) over the top to ensure an elusive victory over the snobbish popular girl Summer Wheatly (Haylie Duff). Well he did and it was his impromptu movement to Jamiroquai’s tune “Canned Heat” that did the trick. The lanky Napoleon came to the rescue for not only his pal Pedro, but to every underdog looking to groove without apology.
#4 “Nola and the Clones” (2016) featuring Nola
Irish filmmaker Graham Jones’ indie feminist drama “Nola and the Clones” is an affecting story that incorporates psychological plight from the daunting perspective of a young homeless hooker Nola (Caoimhe Cassidy) whose run-ins with male clones (all played by Joseph Lydon) on the streets results in self-discovery, reflection and self-examination. The audience senses a special kind of liberation for the film’s embittered heroine towards the end of the film when Nola — “borrowing” the clothing from someone’s random clothes line — frequents a local dance club and just methodically sways to the music in solitude among the other clubbers who have a home (and certain future) to retreat to when the dance club comes to a close. Nola’s isolated dancing is symbolic of the her shaking off the frustrations of her personal demons with men, no emotional support or comfort and a checkered past only matched by an unknown, unstructured future.
#3 “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” (1985) featuring Pee Wee Herman
A man-child and his red bike. Only the witty and wacky Pee Wee Herman (Paul Reubens) can take this slight premise and turn it into a pop cultural sensation in the mid 80s. Not since the 60s, when television’s Caped Crusader in “Batman” did the campy dance “The Batusi,” had a fictional character made such an impact with dance moves until the Pee Wee Herman dance became all the rage in large part to Reubens’s infantile comedic shenanigans. In this case we find the vulnerable Pee Wee, surrounded by blood-thirty bikers in a smoky bar, humoring the beer-guzzling bunch by dancing erratically to the Champs’ “Tequila Song” in clunky white platform shoes. One did not know which was the most surreal — Pee Wee’s spastic dancing on the bar top or the whole movie project being directed by the twisted creative mind of Tim Burton. Herman was quite the hipster and it never gets tired watching the lanky simpleton stiffly rock to the beat of his own demented drum.
#2 “Pulp Fiction” (1994) featuring Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace
What stands out in filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s compellingly absurdist crime noir “Pulp Fiction”? Let’s see . . . the sadomasochist masked Gimp and his racist hillbilly associates, trivial discussions about foot massages and cheeseburgers and the metric system, gunshot brain matter splattered during daytime driving, divine intervention, a sloppily executed lunchtime diner stick-up and a syringe-to-the-heart drug overdosing, to name a few. But nothing came out so spontaneous than watching John Travolta’s hitman Vincent Vega twist away with Uma Thurman’s gangster moll Mia Wallace to the rollicking tune of rocker Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell (C’Est La Vie)” at a nostalgic 50’s themed restaurant. Vincent and Mia dancing up a storm (and ultimately winning the dance contest) amid the offbeat turbulence is one of the film’s softened off-balanced vignettes that interestingly composed Tarantino’s toxic crime odyssey.
#1 “Tropic Thunder” (2008) featuring Les Grossman
It took rather convincing makeup to disguise pretty boy Tom Cruise as the puffy-looking, bald-headed, middle-aged shady Hollywood studio executive Les Grossman in the Ben Stiller-directed war satire, “Tropic Thunder.” Cruise’s doughboy-shaped Tinseltown hotshot fantastically gets down in his velvet blue lit office to Ludacris’ lyrical rap anthem “Get Back” during the film’s finale. Flashy, frolicking, frenetic and frothy in nature, Cruise’s jamming Les Grossman is an unctuous kind of cool. As they used to say back in the day, “This guy is the bomb!” Certainly Cruise’s foul tempered, but surprisingly deft, Grossman puts to shame Cruise’s “Risky Business” strutting peacock, Joel Goodson.