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Movies That Make You Shake Your Ass

By MyySharona | PaEHba Day | November 18, 2009 |

By MyySharona | PaEHba Day | November 18, 2009 |

There are two things that mark a true ’80s dance movie: underdogs and cheese. The best dance movies are about overcoming hardship through the transformative power of dance. Dance that is cheesy, overwrought, and only very passably cool (and maybe only for a month after the movie’s release).

But I love cheesy dance movies. I’m not ashamed to say it. I will watch the worst movies made as long as there’s rhythmic movement involved. Plot? We don’t need a plot! Just tack on a remotely plausible reason for the dancing! It’s all about the DANCING.

Anyway, here is a list of some of my favorite “so bad they’re awesome” ’80s dance movies. Some are classics, some aren’t. There might even be one or two you’ve never heard of. In which case, you’re welcome.

Flashdance (1983)

Oh, Flashdance. You inspired an entire generation to change their exercise routine and start wearing one shoulder off of a ripped t-shirt. You not only unleashed the secret of the bra removal, you turned it into a mid-date seduction technique. But the point of the whole movie is an inexplicable stipper/welder combination who dreams of something better. Naturally, she’s self-taught and encounters snobbery from the other ballet dancers (and even the snooty receptionist who we all wanted to punch in her pinched, non-dancing mouth).

But she overcomes! She goes in and dances her own style and wows the judging panel. She even makes one guy start blowing his nose to the beat — she’s that good.

Unintentionally funny parts
*0:40 I’m sorry, did she pull a loose record from her jumbled dance bag? Shouldn’t it be all scratched?
*0:52 Why is the snotty receptionist on the judging panel?
*1:00 The nervous, shaking fingers that make it difficult to place the needle on the record. Now that everything is just a slight nudge of a button, the image of fingers on stereo equipment is rarely used to reveal anything. The other time was in Fright Night when a long vampire nail seductively reaches out to press “Play” on a tape deck. It was awesome.
*The obvious wig on the dancer
*The outdated dance moves that would, today, get someone shitcanned on “So You Think You Can Dance.”

But you can’t deny it. When the song hits its stride and the dancing lets loose, you cheer for her all the way.

Dirty Dancing (1987)

Now, this one has a more complicated underdog story. While in Flashdance the romance is peripheral to the protagonist’s dream, in Dirty Dancing the romance is created through dance. We all know the plot: privileged, sheltered girl meets a hunka burnin’ love at a summer camp. There’s a (gasp!) abortion that scares (yet oddly excites) the girl and necessitates that she spend a lot of time with the bad boy. Dancing. Dirtily. Oh baby.

Baby might be the main character, but all she’s having to prove is that she’s an adult or something and really isn’t the bumbling idiot everyone thought. The real underdog here is Johnny (Swayze). He just works for the man, occasionally gets taken advantage of by rich women, and gets shit on by Neil, the annoying manager on a permanent power trip. But Johnny gets his revenge. No, I’m not talking about deflowering Baby and having it thrown in her rich father’s face. He gets to dance his way dammit, in front of all the rich people. His dancing is actually a giant “fuck you” interpretive which brings everyone over the dark side of dirty dancing. And they like it! A lot! Everyone dances! His dancing makes Baby’s father forgive him (along with Robbie’s admission, but whatever). And again, no matter what you might have thought about the movie leading up to the final scene, you know that seeing them dance together and pulling off that damn lift makes your own heart get a little squishy.

Unintentionally funny parts
*0:20 He beckons her by crooking his finger at her. I find this unspeakably funny and a little dirty.
*1:38 That swooning look she gives him.
*1:45 They are so enamored of each other, they forget to keep dancing!
*1:48 “Crap! Start dancing again!”
*1:50 “Ha ha! We’re dancing again and I am giddy with relief because this time you’re the one who screwed up our routine. La la la, not Baby’s fault this time!”
*1:59 Dirrrrrrty.
*2:04 That screaming girl should be at a sporting event or a concert. And even though this is set in the 1960s, she looks as if she’s screaming at Bon Jovi back when he had girl hair.
*2:12 Weeeee!
*2:20 Johnny leaps off the stage in order to show off his absolute freedom, his poo-pooing of the rules that asshats like Neil try to force on him. Let us all find something and leap from it (barring tall buildings) so that we may share in this exhilaration.
*2:24 The concert-screamer is losing her mind.
*2:41 Oooh, thrusting. Which Baby finds amusing.
*2:53 “Come on!” You know that’s what he screams to his fellow dancers right then.
*2:55 The inexplicable “group mentality” portion of the dance number. Did they all practice this every summer, just in case Johnny was able to one day stage a coup? Or is the spirit of rebellion so strong and Johnny’s sweat so pungent that they all just fall into line?
*3:23 The lift!! The effing lift!! Come on, even the most cynical bastards get a little happy right now.
*3:33 “Oh my God, we did it! You didn’t drop me! I want you so much right now. Let us run away to make the sex.”
*3:59 Right there, the girl in the polka dots! Doriana Sanchez, the disco choreographer from “So You Think You Can Dance.” You can find her everywhere, eventually.
*4:07 Are these women lesbians? Sorry, “romantic friends?”

Staying Alive (1983)

The sequel to Saturday Night Fever sees our beloved Tony Manero trying to make it as a Broadway dancer. Like Alex from Flashdance, Tony is self-taught and trying to compete against people with absolute gobs of technique and experience. Cynthia Rhodes plays the slightly shabby love interest with a heart of gold. By the way, for those that don’t know, Cynthia Rhodes is the glue of ’80s dance movies, especially since she’s in the first three movies of this list. Recognize.

Finola Hughes is the other love interest (because Tony Manero always has at least two women on the line) and plays the uber diva dance bitch from hell. In fact, she quite literally plays the queen of hell in the final dance number. AWESOME.

Anyway, Tony bucks all the odds and manages to become the star of the show. But that isn’t enough, oh no. Like Johnny Castle, he has to do it his way or it just isn’t validating enough. And he does, to the point of throwing his co-star off the stage and going into a crazy, shimmying solo.

Unintentionally funny parts
*0:02 The demons are groaning. Or is that moaning? These are some sexy freaking demons. Frankly, if hell is this much of an orgy, sign me up.
*0:10 The unitards that the guys are wearing, with the chests cut out … I don’t know whether the point is to make me giggle or do a demony moan/groan.
*0:25 What is that noise that chick just made? Putting my onomatopoeic skills to the test, I bring you “Oh-UNGH!”
*0:31 Finola Hughes and Cynthia Rhodes are giving each other stink eye. Keep it professional, ladies. You’re fighting over John Travolta, have some perspective.
*0:38 Here comes his shinyness now. Did they rub him down with Vaseline for this?
*0:42 I hear whip noises, but I see rope. ROPE. They couldn’t have at least painted the rope? I’m not scared of fat white rope.
*1:48 Heaven is a strobe light/laser show. Does that mean God is a DJ?
*2:13 I just can’t.stop.laughing. He is leaping with total abandon, isn’t he?
*3:25 Threw the Hell Queen right off the stage. Where she kind of rolled. This would have been more awesome if she grabbed some of those ropes and brought the curtains down on him.

*Are we all aware that this was directed by Sylvester Stallone? Really? This the secret vision of Rocky? I guess that explains the uber-glistening.

Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1985)

Before Sarah Jessica Parker ignited debates and murdered fashion sense as Carrie Bradshaw, she played a dance-lovin’ army brat whose biggest dream was to make it onto DTV, a dance program filmed in Chicago. Lucky her, her family has just moved there! But her overbearing military dad won’t let her go to the auditions. So her new best friend, Lynne (Helen Hunt), convinces her to sneak downtown and try out. She makes it through auditions and is paired with bad boy (natch) Jeff for the final competition on live television.

Unintentionally funny parts

*The whole thing is a montage of dance styles.
*1:35 Punk dancing!
*1:59 Helen Hunt is dancing. This might be the only time you ever get to see this.
*2:43 Jeff sees Janey as the dance goddess she really is, even though she’s wearing a uniform.
*3:23 Running around rhythmically on stage and then crashing through some paper into a shaft of sunlight means a guy is not only a dance god, but probably has a giant penis.

But okay, Janey and Jeff finally make it to the big show and are pitted against Janey’s nemesis, Natalie. Natalie is a rich bitch debutante with an automated closet, just so you know. Through many trials and tribulations that include revenge at a party, petty disagreements, Janey getting caught sneaking out, and her subsequent grounding, they are able to come together and dance, dammit. Also witnessing the dancing suddenly makes Janey’s dad all supportive or something. I think.

Unintentionally funny parts

*0:25 He’s hanging on to her like she’s a cranky toddler. My mom used to drag me out of stores just that way.
*3:22 Natalie’s “ungh” thrust during her dance number
* 3:27 The obvious difference between the slow, half-witted turns of SJP’s close up and the up to speed version of her double
*4:09 “Let’s do it.” That’s your battle cry? Really?

Fast Forward (1985)

Oh, honey. Really. I can’t even tell you how craptastic this movie is. That’s why I saved it for the end. For those of you willing to read this far, this is the lopsided cherry on the dance pile, the wonky pirouette of doom.

First of all, you should know that this is directed by Sidney Poitier which, I think, lends a certain credibility to the whole thing.

Fast Forward is a noble tale of 8 teenagers from Sandusky, Ohio. They are a dancing/singing group working hard, rehearsing daily in an abandoned building, dreaming of running away from home to a compete in a talent competition in New York City. Because talent scouts are always on the lookout for a dance group. They’re different, and edgy. Also, they are racially diverse.

So! They get there! The main guy, with whom two of the group members had an in, he’s all recently dead. The talent competition has been moved back by a few weeks. A decision has to be made, go home and forget about it or stay there in the big, scary city and wait it out.

I think you can figure out which option they choose.

While they’re waiting, they decide to dance on the street for money. Another dance group (my, but they’re just everywhere!) gets all angry at a club one night and the leader, Caesar (Michael DeLorenzo) challenges them to a battle. Our poor little group gets their asses handed to them by Caesar’s break-dancing, nunchuk-wielding, hair-flinging group of inner city misfits. Yeahhhh.

The main choreographer of the Ohio group flips his shit at this outcome and figures that since they’ll be playing to a New York crowd, maybe they should learn some new moves beyond the quasi-contemporary stuff they learned from watching TV. So they all learn some hipper dance moves (compared to what they were doing, anyway) and then go back to the club and challenge Caesar again. And they win!

Unintentionally funny parts

* 0:05 That long-haired chick in the leopard print from Caesar’s crew? Doriana Sanchez. I told you she was everywhere.
*0:24 When the girl in the blue and black stripes does that weird lean to the left, it looks like the exact same thing my mom does when she has to burp.
*1:30 Caesar’s girls really are a hot mess — all I see is frantic posing and messing up of hair.
*1:43 The girl in the white jumpsuit from the Ohio group is the most ungainly, graceless dancer I have ever laid my eyes on.
*2:28 When they spin while waving their hands overhead like that, all I hear is “Yoo-hoo!” in a kind of cartoon voice.
*3:21 What is that, mime? Why didn’t Caesar just punch him in the mouth, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do to mimes?

Again, the group has to overcome great obstacles in order to perform in the big show. But they make it, and they win by singing and dancing and showing these New York assholes that innovation combined with technique is an unstoppable force. Also, white leotards and little black jackets are super stylish.

Unintentionally funny parts

*I don’t have time to explain the old lady with spiked hair, just watch the movie.
*Is it just me, or do the white leotards, due to the short little jackets, have the appearance of granny panties?
*The girls are also wearing little white lace gloves with the fingers cut off. I just wanted to point that out.
*2:26 Well, that’s a way to kill time, everyone stand in a line and switch places. It’s like the dance equivalent of not having a verse for a song, going “la la la” and then forgetting to write a new line before it’s time to record.
*3:05 Ahoy!
*3:29 Woo! I just did the robot for 3 whole seconds! Time to hyperextend in celebration!
*3:38 Well, yes, that is a head spin. But her little legs all akimbo crack me up every single time I watch it.

Honorable Mentions include White Nights (1985) and Sing (1989).

MyySharona is a grad student in Austin, TX who dances around her kitchen and in her car whenever she has the chance. You can read her rantings at The Functional Weirdo.

This post is part of Paheeba Day 2009. An explanation of Paheeba Day can be found in the Pajiba Dictionary.

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