Top Ten Dance-Craze Movies
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As the Harlem Shake lays waste to a civilisation only just recovering from the devastation of Gangnam Style, let’s cower in our shelters from the butt-shaking hordes and remember a time when a dance craze would require a whole 80 minutes for people to get sick of it. Movies based on exploiting a dance craze have been around since the Lindy Hop and Hellzapoppin!, but make no mistake: despite its title, The Running Man contains no footage whatsoever of anyone doing The Running Man.
10. Damsels in Distress
Whit Stillman’s criminally under-watched 2012 return to film-making had, amongst its many and varied charms (“that is a playboy, or ‘operator’ move” doesn’t sound like the funniest thing ever out of context, but trust me) a lead character who’s biggest goal in life was to start a dance craze called The Sambola. A year ago this was a symbol of how charmingly adrift and out of touch with the modern world both she and this film were: post Gangnam Style and with The Harlem Shake sweeping the globe, what was the joke again?
9. Dirty Dancing
Hard as it is to imagine today, prior to the 1980s dance crazes were not entirely about trying to make it look like you were having sex with your partner or some kind of invisible ghost. And then along came “dirty dancing”, AKA “doing whatever you like so long as it looks sex-ay”. As it was never really an official dance as such – any official guide to dirty dancing moves is incomplete without the phrase “dry-humping” - what does this have to do with the much loved movie? Nothing much at all really, apart from providing people with an excuse to grind up against each other on the dance floor. Thanks Hollywood!
8. Dance Craze The Movie
You all know the rules: if a movie has the subject on a Top Ten in the title it automatically qualifies no matter what it’s actually about. Surprisingly for a movie titled Dance Craze, this isn’t about a dance craze per se; rather, it’s a look at 2 Tone / Ska music in the UK in the early 1980s. While you sure can dance to Ska – as Gavin Wood no doubt once said on Countdown, take a look at those crazy guys from Madness! – it didn’t exactly sweep all before it in the way that, say, line-dancing did. So let’s instead direct your attention to one of the funniest things you’ll see today: The Ska-Mitzvah episode of Delocated! Actually, the Ska-Mitzvah joke is the best joke in the episode, but it’s still pretty funny.
7. The Forbidden Dance is Lambada
Forbidden for a reason, amirite right everybody? One of those occasional dance crazes that no-one you know ever seems to do because it involves learning more than one move, the Lambada was basically women twirling around while wearing short skirts while the guys tried not to look across at their non-dancing mates while giving the thumbs up. That’s not the strongest basis for a movie, yet two movies based on the Lambada (the other being, unsurprisingly enough, Lambada) were released on the same day in 1990. This one wins out, largely because it was made in four months and features a black magic shaman, a sleazy dance joint / brothel called Xtasy, and a lot of talk about saving the rainforest. Oh, and the booty-shaking female lead is a Brazilian tribal princess. Yes, the New York Times said “the dance sequences are barely as sexy as a bowling tournament”, but what would they know? They don’t even provide regular Krumping reports.
6. Looking for Lola
Some dance crazes make those doing the dancing look sexy and attractive. The Macarena was not one of those dances, as those few people who survived seeing the clip of then federal Treasurer Peter Costello doing it with Kerry Anne Kennerly will tell you. So while the Lambada scored two movies on the same day, the Macarena had to make do with this largely forgotten dance movie involving two people who both pretend to be richer and more successful than they actually are. Does it end with both of them being really pissed off at wasting their time on a no-hoper? Watch and find out! Actually, don’t: of course they end up together, right before the female lead went off to be the Inca Mummy Girl on Buffy.
5. Paris is Burning
Seven years in the making, by the time this independent documentary about drag balls (kind of like highly stylised fashion shows) in New York City in the mid to late 80’s was released in 1991 the dance it was documenting – Vouging – had already been popularised by Madonna’s single Vogue the previous year. Yes, before the internet people could only find out about obscure subcultures and their dances when Madonna brought them to light, making her kind of like a pre-online Google, only with no way to turn on SafeSearch. While Paris is Burning is an amazing film and Vogue is a pretty good song too, there’s no better way to present the majesty of Voguing than the following clip. Take it away, Graham and the Colonel!
4. You Can’t Stop the Music
While this bogus biopic of The Village People is notoriously one of the worst films ever made, that could be said about just about any movie aimed at cashing in on a dance craze. Can you imagine if someone made a movie about boot-scootin? We’d all be living in a rubble-strewn radioactive wasteland by now. And anyway, when the Village People started waving their arms around in a salute to cheap accommodation and easy homosexual hook-ups with YMCA, little did they know they’d be starting off a dance craze that would live on at suburban weddings and drunken office parties to this very day. Unlike every other dance craze mentioned here, you don’t have to move your legs for this one, which - along with its extremely basic literacy requirements - goes a long way towards explaining its enduring popularity on Australian dance floors.
3. Saturday Night Fever
One of the few movies to help start a craze by depicting the craze as horrible and depressing, this pushed disco into the public conciousness via the story of Tony Manero (John Travolta), a man escaping a dead-end job and generally crummy existence by putting on a white suit and hitting the dance floor. Sure, the dancing looks fun, but what about the rape scene? What about Tony’s buddy falling off a bridge and dying? This is like finally seeing the clip for Gangnam Style after hearing about it for six months and it’s just five minutes of some guy getting brutally punched in the face.
2. Twist Around the Clock
According to some (okay, according to wikipedia) Chubby Checker’s 1960 cover of ‘The Twist’ is the biggest selling single of all time and the first song that got adults dancing to teenager’s music. So obviously the first Twist movie would be a bare-faced rip-off of the notoriously shoddy and thrown-together Rock Around The Clock, in which a dodgy music promoter stumbles across a small town craze and decides to take it national. But on the up side, that is a totally brilliant plot for a dance craze movie. Okay, it’s the only plot for a dance craze movie. Unless developers are trying to bulldozer the Rec Center, of course.
1. Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo
Yes, breakdancing first came to the big screen with 1984’s Breakin’. But it wasn’t until the sequel’s unforgettable slogan “Don’t miss it / Breakin’ 2 / If you forget it you’ll regret it / Electric Boogaloo” seared its way into the global consciousness that breakdancing really took off. Well, it didn’t really take off, despite the popular move “the helicopter”; more like it bumped along the ground for a while, like the popular move “the worm”. Still, Adolfo ‘Shabba-Doo’ Quinones and his dance partner Michael ‘Boogaloo Shrimp’ Chambers had a lot on their plate, what with trying to stop the evil developers from bulldozing the Rec Centre. Who knew that spinning on your head would become a viable way to influence town planning decisions?
Lead image: Saturday Night Live via here.