What’s your favorite movie dance scene? Is it from West Side Story? Saturday Night Fever? Dirty Dancing?
Recently, a video titled “The Greatest Movie Dance Scenes Ever” circulated on FaceBook, leading some friends and me, over lunch, to name a few favorite dance sequences that had been left out of the mix. Notably absent were some memorable dance scenes from romantic comedies.
Below, my friend and guest blogger, Clark Baxter, writes about how dance scenes often mark a pivotal moment in a romantic comedy. He recalls the great dance scene in 1990’s My Blue Heaven, an utterly charming romantic comedy by screenwriter Nora Ephron. Check out the link to that scene below.
“What do women want?” asked Sigmund Freud, who really ought to have figured this out.
John Updike once suggested that what women want is to dance. And Hollywood seems to agree.
Romantic comedies work in any setting, every era, most cultures, and among all sorts of characters. The plot, however, is as unvarying as the “plot” of a football game: a man and a woman (so far; but this is changing) meet. They dismiss each other. They meet again and their acquaintance soon deepens into distrust and loathing.
After as many amusing catastrophes as the studio’s production budget allows, two things suddenly happen: a change in the musical score music alerts the audience to stop texting: the characters are about to “discover” the attraction that everyone but they themselves noticed near the end of the opening credits.
More important, the characters do in fact discover this attraction! And nine times out of ten, when they discover it, they’re dancing.
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers set the template for these transitions from disinterest to attraction—from loathing to
love—80 years ago. However it still works exactly as they created it, at least in the movies. Here’s a more recent take on the form, from My Blue Heaven.
Rick Moranis is an FBI agent responsible for keeping mobster Vinnie Antonelli (Steve Martin) under wraps in a witness protection program. (Bill Irwin, also featured in the dance sequence, is Moranis’s FBI colleague.) Joan Cusack is a San Diego DA trying to clamp down on the recent crime spree that has followed Vinnie to San Diego. Both of these “law-enforcement types,” as Vinnie calls them, are straight-arrows whose partners left them because they were boring. Their mutual distrust grows, of course, as they spar over Martin.
Moranis learned how to merengue (and to loosen up) from Martin in an earlier sequence, and here he asks a most reluctant Cusack to dance at a law-enforcement picnic. The emotional transition from 0.01 to 0:42 compares favorably with any Rogers/Astaire sequence. As they switch locales over several hours their deepening attraction rivals that of Ginger and Fred in Top Hat or Swing Time. Check it out:
Step 1: Leave the house.
Step 2: Meet someone.
Step 3: Hit the dance floor
Step 4: Call a caterer; buy a mini-van; look for babysitters.