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.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
The 90s were a good time to be a bad dancer. The dance music industry seemed aware of the plight of the uncoordinated and responded aptly with some incredibly detailed instructional dance songs. All you needed was a basic command of the English language and the ability to distinguish Right from Left and you were golden. It was just that easy.
From country line dancing to hip hop moves, the 90s offered us a wide range of group dancing options. Whatever your fancy, it was pretty likely you'd be hearing it at every wedding you attended in the span of the decade. There was no better surefire way to get all the wallflowers out on the dance floor than to bust out a dance they'd learned in gym class. It had a certain way of easing the tension. For the most part they just involved a step forward, back, or to the side, a turn or two, some directional changing, and voila! You were dancing.
For the most part, you couldn't pinpoint exactly where or when you learned the routine, but when the song came on your body instinctively fell into step. It's like some sort of reflex. To this day, whenever I hear the opening bars of Cotton Eye Joe, I immediately break into a complicated series of hops and turns. While this list is by no means comprehensive, here are a smattering of dance crazes that took the world by storm circa 1990-2000:
Cha Cha Slide
I heard a rumor (via infamous gossip maven and disseminator of potentially misguided information Wikipedia) that the Cha Cha Slide was actually developed for a Bally's fitness class. Since I don't have the drive or energy to verify or refute this claim, we're just going to go with that. So, it started with a fitness class. What do you know.
This one requires a bit more on the coordination side, particularly during the "Cha Cha real smooth now" interlude. We're supposed to interject our own saucy salsa moves there, but that's asking a bit much from your average line dancer. Not to mention the "Reverse! Reverse!" part. The franticness of it all is enough to send you into stress-induced palpitations.
Cotton Eye Joe
You've got to wonder what exactly was the tipping point that drove someone to consider recording this traditional Southern folk song as a knee-slappin', toe-tappin' techno single. Because when I think Southern country music, my mind immediately makes the leap to Swedish Eurodance. To be fair, the Swedish Eurodancers in question did brand themselves as Rednex, but it just doesn't add up. Luckily they provide us with enough synthesized harmonica and banjo riffs to distract us from the discrepancy.
This one's been around a bit longer, but it enjoyed a fair amount of popularity in the late 80s and 90s. It's a pretty straightforward procedure, really. You do a couple of grapevines, throw in a little toe brandishing, and top it all off with some good old fashioned boogie woogie woogieing. Repeat.
If I can be totally honest with you, I learned how to vogue from Stephanie Tanner of Full House. That girl had some moves. Madonna's 1990 song "Vogue" helped popularize the growing dance movement, leaving club-goers everywhere to awkwardly strike pose after pose in well-timed succession. The trick was in keeping a straight, underfed model-esque face throughout the whole thing.
Achy Breaky Heart
Remember, if you will, a time before Billy Ray Cyrus was just Miley Cyrus's dad. Back in the early 90s, he was a mullet-headed one-hit wonder of a country music star. With his pop crossover success, he had even the Yankee-est among us queuing up for country line-dancing.
If you ever have a chance to check out the lyrics, you'll be treated to a comprehensive list of people Billy Ray suggests you consult regarding his achy breaky situation before alerting his heart of its impending breakage. My personal favorite is Aunt Louise. I always secretly thought she'd have been sympathetic to the dire state of his romantic life.
The only problem with this one was figuring out what to do during the verses. The chorus was relatively instructive, but everything in between was pretty up in the air. The 69 Boyz also seem especially intent on reminding us that the dance is not the butterfly but indeed the Tootsee Roll. Thank goodness they keep bringing it up. Between mentions I start slipping into thinking it might be the butterfly I'm doing, but they set me straight in the next verse. Close one, though.
Apache (Jump On It)
I'll admit this one isn't quite as widespread as the others, but after seeing that Fresh Prince episode I was completely hooked. Carlton and Will enter an 80s dance competition to salvage their busted Vegas trip, and the results are hilarious. Really, anything that includes Carlton dancing is okay by me.
What list of dance crazes would be complete without mention of the infamous Macarena? For no apparent reason, this catchy tune spiraled into one of the biggest dance hits of the later part of the 20th century. If you don't speak Spanish, I don't recommend the English translation of the original. It probably makes more sense in Spanish, assuming you speak no Spanish. The song has some choice moments, but I think my favorite are when Macarena gets together with her boyfriend's pals in the midst of his military swearing-in ceremony. Yes, it really is that specific. Thankfully they came up with looser translation for the English version.
The dance itself is pretty simple, which is probably why it caught on in such a big way. It doesn't matter how terrible a dancer you are, everybody can put out one hand and then the other. The butt shaking part might give you some trouble, but at that point you're just seconds away from a jump turn that'll leave you home free.
No matter how self-conscious and awkwardly adolescent you were, you could usually fake it on the dance floor thanks to these handily prechoreographed songs. When one of these came on at the school dance, it didn't matter that you couldn't do the worm or that your Running Man was decidedly subpar. You just needed to step into the well-organized lines, listen to the lyrics, and churn out a few basic steps. You may not have been able to cha cha real smooth during the free dance breaks, but you could grapevine and Charlie Brown with the best of 'em.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Only a few days left! Don't forget to entire the Children of the 90s Ultimate Nostalgia-Fest 2010 Giveaway! It's open until Wednesday, February 17. Click here to see rules and enter for your chance to win some fun Goosebumps, BSC, Magic Eye, Lisa Frank, Pete and Pete, and more!
Even before they were harping about online predators, Dateline NBC had me terrified to leave the comfort of my own home. With their multi-part series on the dangers of 90s raves, I was almost certain that someone was going to randomly usher me into an abandoned warehouse against my will, stick an ecstasy-laced candy pacifier in my mouth, and subject me to endless hours of pulsating techno music and seizure-inducing light shows. You know you're growing up in pretty cushy conditions when your most major fears revolve around involuntary attendance at a wild underground party.
Other generations have all the luck. Their subcultural miscreants were usually tied to some sort of ideological principles. You know, peace, free love, that sort of thing. It's almost as if the preceding counter-cultural movements took all the good visionary underpinnings and we were stuck sorting through the remnants bin. Our take on rebellious youth culture amounted to Seattle Grunge culture and Euro-techno ravers. We may not have been as idealistic as the hippies who came before us, but it could have been worse. After all, we could have been pseudo-intellectual fake glasses-sporting ironic t-shirt clad hipsters.
There were some vague alliances between rave culture and principles, but the connection was fuzzy at best. At its heart, rave culture represented the happy-go-lucky invincibility that characterized the 90s. You know you're getting older when you start drawing broad metaphors between youth culture and the state of the economy, but it's an aging leap I'm willing to make. Raving was youth culture in its purest, least dilute form: wild, irresponsible, and generally under contempt of adults everywhere.
Many of us may have been too young at the time to be a driving force in the rave scene, but that wasn't about to stop us from defiantly sucking our pacifiers in homeroom. Rave trends quickly disseminated from underground phenomenon into mainstream fashion statements. While the raw ingredients undoubtedly varied from rave to rave, here's a rough recipe for a legitimate 90s raver.
What's a party without a proper venue? By proper venue, of course, I mean a sketchy abandoned space that may or may not have once been some sort of industrial storage facility. As many of the early raves were a sort of impromptu underground effort, any old enclosed area would have to do. Raves were by no means limited to these settings, but there was a certain charm to illegal party squatting. Or at least that's what I gathered from my avid viewing of numerous multi-part Dateline NBC undercover exposes. They made it seem like every abandoned warehouse in the country was packed fire-code defiantly full of sweaty, effervescent teenagers.
If you're going to party straight through to the wee hours of the morning, you've got to have some sort of visual stimulation. Laser light shows were a signature rave feature, with brightly colored strobe-like flashing creating a uniquely headache-inducing effect. I had to settle for my cheaply imitative Nickelodeon brand laser light how generator. I had the power to turn my basement into a wild party light-flashing party scene, but unfortunately I was only 10 at the time. The closest I was coming to raving was chugging a bottle of Surge and nursing a ring pop.
This was one of those inexplicable trends that caught on in a big way despite a total lack of purpose and functionality. Our parents spent months coaxing us off these damned things only to have us pick up the habit again 15 years down the road. I'm still not completely clear on if the pacifier had any sort of representational meaning or if someone just thought it might be fun to start selling them as necklaces to teenagers. Either way, these things were everywhere.
The more I look at it, the more it seems like ravers all had some sort of serious oral fixation. The ecstasy could only make everything all the more delicious, so it was probably a good idea to keep some highly portable snacks on your person at all times.
They're sort of like your own personal laser light show. If you get bored with whatever lights the party coordinators are flashing, you can always wave your glowstick super quickly in front of your face. I'm going to go out on a limb and say the drugs probably enhanced this experience somewhat as well.
Ecstasy and/or Cocaine
Speaking of mood-altering substances, 90s partiers weren't really the depressant type. Leave the mellowed-out drugs to the peace and free love hippies. Ravers needed uppers to maintain a decent level of prolonged hyperactivity. If you've got to flail wildly in a warehouse with only the aid of glowsticks and laser light shows to keep you awake, you probably needed a little something to keep the edge on.
Again with the glowing. It's a pretty safe bet to say if it glowed, ravers wanted to slather their bodies in it. I suppose it's a bit hard to see in a darkened warehouse, so any light source is much appreciated.
It's odd to think of raves as retro, but countercultural phenomenons tend to age quickly. While in the 90s raving seemed edgy and dangerous and unspeakably modern, in retrospect it loses a bit of its luster. Not literally, of course. I imagine that UV facepaint bonds to pores for life.It was a pretty wild ride while it lasted, but for now we'll just have to relive the experience (or vicarious experience) through the magic of memory. So grab your glowsticks, pop in a pacifier, and beware the judgmental Dateline undercover reporters; it's rave reminiscing time.
Monday, November 9, 2009
All movies require a certain degree of suspended disbelief. We know and understand that these words and images do not constitute real life, nor should they. If we wanted real life, we'd go out and live it. If we want a brief period of escapism, we shell out ten bucks to watch other people lead more exciting lives.
Despite this understanding that movies should not be taken as real life, there are some scenes that make it more difficult than others. In real life, very few of us are trained dancers who have spent grueling hours under the guidance of professional choreographers and stage blockers. In movies, though, we're just supposed to ignore the fact that the cast has put in hours of dance rehearsals (or better yet, have body doubles) and just assume that there lives are just so exciting and carefree that it's impossible to not spontaneously break into well-organized group dancing. It's awfully convenient when someone spontaneously breaks out into dance and their costars know all the complex prechoreographed steps, but we just accept it as movie truth.
This trick was especially prominent in 80s and 90s movies, with directors throwing in a spontaneous eruption of dance whenever things seemed to be getting a little slow. Nothing like a foray into the art of dance to get things moving again. Except, you know, some plot twists and character developments. Honestly, though, that would probably be asking too much from these films. It's almost better to just take their cop-out flashy spontaneous dance distractions for what they are.
Regardless of their plot-thickening merit, these scenes are pure fun. They're almost enough to make us wish our current coworkers would toss aside their desk chairs and assemble into formation for a grandiose musical number. Until that happens, though, you'll have to rely on these clips to hold you over for your spontaneous dance fix:
She's All That
Let's start strong here with the classic 90s teen movie example, She's All That. This movie is not exactly grounded in high school reality, so it's not wonder they were able to pull off this spontaneous eruption of choreographed prom dancing. Depending on your definition of "pulling off", of course. The scheming prom attendees got down to the Rockerfeller Skank by Fatboy Slim, proving that a movie doesn't need a wealth of substance to crank out a spontaneous dance number. Well played, She's All That.
I'm not embarrassed to admit my boyfriend and I watched this entire movie in full this weekend. Okay, I lied, I'm incredibly embarrassed. What I thought was a hilarious caveman comedy is actually possibly the worst movie ever made, though this glaring fact won't stop me from loving it unconditionally. This ending dance scene was indeed the inspiration for this entire post, so I refuse to concede that I wasted 88 minutes of my life engrossed in this glaringly awful piece of 90s cinematic ridiculousness. The entire movie is so hokey and nonsensical, this dance number almost seems like a shot of realism.
As a parody, Austin Powers was a prime candidate for a group dance number. It was already mocking everything these movies stood for, so why not throw in some groovy swinging moves well-timed to catchy theme music? It was a dance that spurned a thousand imitators, each more annoying than the last, but you must admit the original was pretty entertaining.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
I've never been in a marching band so I can't say for sure, but I imagine it's not the kind of thing you can just orchestrate with a snap of your fingers. Unless you're Ferris Bueller, that is, in which case the world is your parade float. Like I said, though, I'm not expert in this arena, so it's possible my inexperience as a marching band member is throwing off my judgment a bit.
In this now-classic scene, Ferris performs a spur-of-the-moment show-stopping version of "Twist and Shout" atop a parade float at the Von Steuben Day Parade in Chicago. Everyone joins in on the dancing, from his Oktoberfest costume-clad floatmates to scaffolding-bound construction workers. It's classic John Hughes: totally over the top, yet almost believable in the moment.
This one isn't quite a stretch considering the whole movie hinges on a dancing equals social freedom plot line, but the dancing is great nonetheless. You've got to admit, these kids seem incredibly at ease with their moves for people who've never danced a step in their lives. Just saying.
I still can't watch this clip without yearning for Molly Ringwald's awesomely 80s dance moves. This scene embodies the movie because it pounds each character's two-dimensional stereotype into our heads with their personality-specific dance moves. The wild one is going crazy, the nerd's nerding out, the weird one is going nuts. We get it, they're all different. I'm not sure if I could have grasped at that conclusion without the help of this handy dance scene.
Do the wolf, man. Or is it...do the Wolfman? We may never know for sure. Either way, it's cheesy 80s school dancing at its finest.
I admit, with its 1980 release date it's pretty unlikely many of us children of the 90s grew up with this one, but the scene is just such a classic example of the spontaneous group dance I would be depriving you by leaving it out. At least in this case, most of the group in question is actually made of trained dancers, so it fits in well. Plus, it's just a really catchy song. I'm pretty sure if someone started singing it while I was on the street, I'd bust a move or two also. Probably two.
This movie was meant to be the defining Generation X film, so it's fair enough that this group doesn't go for the all-out choreography. They're far too cynical and angsty for something that mainstream. No, they're content with their makeshift moves certain to humiliate Ethan Hawke's character. Can you blame him, really? I'm not saying the gas station attendant is there to judge, but if I were him I certainly would be. If nothing else, I'd be judging the hell out of Janeane Garafalo's bangs. What is up with those?
These movies may not be especially reflective of real life, but they're entertaining enough to almost make us believe that a crowd could instinctively just feel the moment was right for breaking into some serious dance moves. Our everyday lives may not contain copious amounts of extemporaneous group choreography, but that just makes it all the more fun to watch.