Whether it lies in wait for the right song to come along or tucks itself away into the closing credits, the dance scene can still work as one of cinema’s greatest surprises. Listed below are ten of the finest examples ever to have sprung, shuffled or shimmied out of nowhere.
TOM CRUISE in RISKY BUSINESS
Imagine, for a moment, that you are Joel Goodson (Tom Cruise). You’re a teenage boy. You’re home alone. This means, of course, that you’re free to do whatever you want. And so, like any red-blooded male would, you raid the liquour cabinet, whip off your trousers and slide across the floor. All the while lip-syncing to Bob Seger’s ‘Old Time Rock and Roll’.
That the above scene, at just over a minute long, has become the film’s most famous (parodied in everything from The Simpsons to Arrested Development) is surprising enough, but even more incredible is the fact that it was entirely improvised. The script merely required Goodson to ”dance to rock music”. But Cruise had a better idea: in waxing the floor and popping on a pair of socks, he made the leap from preppy teen to the world’s biggest movie star a very smooth move indeed.
UMA THURMAN and JOHN TRAVOLTA in PULP FICTION
Keeping with quick-footed contract killers, we jump back to one of Pulp Fiction’s most iconic scenes. More specifically, the scene set inside the ’50s themed restaurant Jack Rabbit Slim’s. Upon hearing the announcement of a twist competition, Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) excitedly asks Vincent Vega (John Travolta), the man tasked with ensuring her safety, if he’d care to join her on the dancefloor. At first, he’s reluctant but then Mia reminds him of the fine print: ”I do believe Marsellus Wallace, my husband, your boss, told you to take me out and do whatever I wanted. Now I wanna dance, and I wanna win.”
And so a-dancing they must go. Vega may give the impression that he’d rather be anywhere else and yet, as he slowly removes his shoes, we get the feeling that perhaps he’s no stranger to a disco, after all. Sure enough, as Chuck Berry’s ‘You Never Can Tell’ pipes from the jukebox, Travolta proves that Tony Manero hasn’t quite left him yet.
JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT in (500) DAYS OF SUMMER
If “The 40 Year Old Virgin” has taught us one thing (other than a shirtless Seth Rogen answers once for all whatever happened to Mr. Tumnus), it’s that no life-defining conquest is complete without an impromptu dance routine. And so Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), having spent the night with the girl of his dreams, Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel), has every reason to have more than a little spring in his step the following morning.
Perhaps the only sequence to make ‘You Make My Dreams Come True’ by Hall and Oates sound even remotely cool, the following two minutes show just how Tom’s sunny stroll to work becomes a little less ordinary. Namely, with strangers offering handshakes, high-fives and broad smiles at every turn. He even gets the blessing of Han Solo (sort of).
Hear that? That’s the sound of the world giving a man a pat on the back. And Tom, looking to the camera and sighing the most satisfied sigh you’ve ever heard, is loving every minute of it. Why wouldn’t he be? He’s got backing dancers, marching bands and even a cartoon bluebird to accompany him. If only real life were more like a movie, eh? That way, people would be much friendlier, the morning commute would be a daily parade of (surprisingly well-choreographed) camaraderie, and uh… everyone would know whether or not you got lucky last night.
ABIGAIL BRESLIN, STEVE CARELL, PAUL DANO, GREG KINNEAR, and TONI COLLETTE in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
”I’d like to dedicate this to my grandpa, who showed me these moves.”
So far, so sweet as seven-year-old Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin) takes to the stage at California’s Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. Her family, who had travelled all the way from New Mexico – except Grandpa Edwin (Alan Arkin) who had died of a heroin overdose around halfway there – had frantically rushed her into the show only to arrive four minutes late. There, they realize to their horror that every other contestant is a spray-tanned, sexualized stripper-in-waiting and that Olive, with her gawky glasses and pale complexion, will surely be the laughing stock.
At first they consider withdrawing Olive from the contest. But then they argue that she hasn’t travelled all this way only to be disappointed. And so, with the above introduction, the plucky underdog gives it her all. Her outfit: a jacket, tie, top hat and trousers. Her backing track: ‘Super Freak’ by Rick James. Her act: an unbelievably inappropriate burlesque dance that leaves her family, the audience and us utterly speechless. She tears off her trousers, throws her top hat at the announcer and looks to be having the time of her life.
In some ways, the dance serves as a punchline to what is essentially a ninety-minute-long joke, as Olive and Edwin have been heard discussing the routine dozens of times but, of course, not a step is revealed until the big finale. And what a finale it is.
JON HEDER in NAPOLEON DYNAMITE
Well, it had to be this one, didn’t it?
It’s a story as old as time: the Mexican boy who runs for class president and the maladjusted nerd who saves him from public humiliation. Pedro Sánchez (Efren Ramirez) may promise to solve Preston High School’s problems but when pitted against the impossibly popular Summer Wheatley (Haylie Duff), his political aspirations appear to be short-lived. When giving his speech, he’s a bumbling bag of nerves. Fortunately, his friend Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder), who is waiting in the wings, has a trick up his sleeve.
He hands a tape to the sound engineer. And then, before the entire school, he steps into the spotlight. With his hands in his pockets and his trademark sneer, you’ve never seen a less enthusiastic performer. But then, just as Jamiroquai’s ‘Canned Heat’ fills the air, this gangly, geeky loser suddenly morphs into an unstoppable dancing machine.
It’s a strangely intoxicating spectacle, watching Mr. Dynamite put so much effort into his work and yet still keep that bored expression permanently fixed on his face. When the music stops, and he makes his rather ungainly exit, he leaves a school hall reeling in wide-eyed disbelief. And who can blame them? Is this the most absurd, hilarious, and altogether awesome dance scene ever? Heck yes, it is!
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What are some of your favorite dance scenes/moments in film, ONTD?