Shake A Tail Feather: Top Ten Dance Moments in the Movies

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Ah, the sweet sound of success! Even more relevant in this movie article is the sweet movement of success. Thus, Shake A Tail Feather: Top Ten Dance Moments in the Movies will highlight some of the top-notch dance steps where moving your feet to the music is essential. Now this does not have to necessary be exclusive to musical-oriented films or dance-related flicks but hey…it could not hurt either, right?

Nevertheless folks, how about we take a free-wheeling look at some of the selections that were memorable (some more than others) spotlighted here in Shake A Tail Feather: Top Ten Dance Moments in the Movies were your finger-snapping, feet-stomping urges overcome you. Perhaps you have your brand of acceptable dance moments not included in this group? Well, let your thoughts be known if you feel compelled to do so. In the meantime, sit back and check out some of the featured films here that offered a pleasurable dance moment where you felt compelled to get out of you seat and shake your money-changer without visiting the ATM.

The selections for Shake A Tail Feather: Top Ten Dance Moments in the Movies are (in alphabetical order):

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1.) The Blues Brothers (1980) 

Who in their right mind would question the infectious three-plus minute dance sequence showcasing everyone from the Blues Bothers Jake and Elwood (John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd) to the hoard of extras in the Chicago streets enthusiastically dancing to the legendary Ray Charles’s popping tune where he instructs everybody to “twist and shake” within his confining music shop? When Brother Ray starts soulfully wailing his dancing minions to do “The Twist”, “The Fly”, “The Swim”, “The Bird”, “The Duck”, “The Monkey”, “The Watusi”, “The Mashed Potato”, “The Boog-a-loo” and “The Pony Maroney” one cannot help but get submissive to the funky rhythms of the celebrated musical master. Robust, rebellious and rollicking, The Blues Brothers with the late great Ray Charles at the vocalized helm made the whole world move uncontrollably. C’mon…shake that stinking tail feather!

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2.) Dirty Dancing (1987)

The romanticism of dance definitely fueled the flames for the frenzied footsteps of Patrick Swayze’s Johnny Castle and Jennifer Grey’s Frances “Baby” Houseman in Emile Ardolino’s dance foot drama Dirty Dancing. While the premise of a vacationing Baby relaxing at a summer resort with her family until she meets the hunky dance instructor Johnny that would capture her imagination on the dance floor as well in each other’s arms did not quite spell sexy the end results say otherwise. The imaginative and suggestive choreographed dance moves and emotionally-moving soundtrack (Eric Carmen’s “Hungry Eyes”, Swayze’s “She’s Like the Wind” and the Bill Medley/Jennifer Warnes collaborative tune “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” for instance) elevated the provocative dancing duo therefore igniting the box office magic that gave birth to the sensual movement of song and dance.

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3.) The Little Colonel (1935)

There are plenty of dancing collaborations that Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Shirley Temple demonstrated on the big screen in the golden age of Hollywood’s “sensitive times”. Of course by “sensitive times” we mean a euphemism concerning racial hysteria where it was taboo for a black man to touch a white woman in any manner whether in the make believe world or real life. But Bojangles Robinson was considered the safe “smiling Uncle Tom” type that was not threatening in his cinematic association with a white cute little mop top Shirley Temple. Sadly, Robinson was handcuffed by his stereotypical skin color restrictions as he had to be subservient to the perky tiny Temple. However, the prideful black showman’s elegance in dance execution with the spry Shirley in the stairwell dance sequence of 1935’s The Little Colonel showed the talent and grace that the crafty Bojangles possessed with artistic decency and dignity. Say what you will but the resilient Bill “Bojangles” Robinson can dance and nobody can deny him that showbiz skill set despite any amount of bias or reservation.

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4.) Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

The film Napoleon Dynamite spent most of its deliciously dry and awkward humor preaching the catchphrase “Vote for Pedro”. Well, the important vote should be attributed to Jon Heder’s Napoleon for his geeky yet hypnotic jerky dancing in the climatic high school scene as he attempts to put his pal Pedro over in the talent portion for the top spot in running for class president as an astonished gymnasium look on. The truth is that the bespectacled Napoleon Dynamite was ironically cool and fearless in his dance club energetic gyrations that contradicted an otherwise reserved, clumsy oddball. Just watching the nutty Napoleon dancing feverishly to Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” was something surreal yet strangely inspired. If poor Napoleon was not a chick magnet before his spastic dance brilliance in front of his high school peers he certainly proved quite the contrary, right ladies? Oh yeah…Napoleon’s brush with the grooving beat of his feet ultimately paid off for his elected buddy in the long run. Remember people, vote Napoleon and Pedro!

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5.) On the Town (1949)

In the musical film On the Town we find the combination of song and dance quite dazzling as three sailors on shore leave are left to their fun-loving devices in New York City as they paint the town looking for female fun and frolic. Gene Kelly is his usual dapper dancing self but surprisingly crooner Frank Sinatra holds his own as his dance steps are just as delightfully flowing and frenetic as Kelly’s colorful choreography. Sure New York, New York is a wonderful town but watching Kelly and Sinatra shine as they get down in their uniform whites lends On the Town its undeniable impish spark.

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6.) Pulp Fiction (1994)

One wouldn’t want to tangle with hitman Vincent Vega (John Travolta) or crime boss wife Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) away from the dance floor. However, you would not mind if they slayed you on the dance floor in Pulp Fiction’s noted nostalgic dance off where the tandem swing their hips and twist their feet to 50’s rocker Chuck Berry’s bouncy tune “You Never Can Tell”.  The dancing moment between these shady characters in Quentin Tarantino’s off-kilter but intoxicating crime saga seemed out of place and caught moviegoers off guard because this criminal couple let their hair down and showed a softer and free-spirited side to their edgy personalities. Both Travolta and Thurman sold this stimulating dancing moment as something feisty and festive within the perverse playground of Tarantino’s sordid imagination.

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7.) Saturday Night Fever (1977)

Must we even provide a description as to what the iconic dancing moments were in Saturday Night Fever? What is there to really recap? In a nutshell, here is the scoop: Tony Manero’s (John Travolta) swerving hips and dips, a revved up Bee Gees soundtrack armed with the musical groups high-powered signature hits during the polyester period of disco and dance and the urban blue-collar escapism provided by dance clubs across the country. Saturday Night Fever was the epitome of the times when disco dancing was the ultimate state of mind and identity when one wanted to escape the drudgery of their working-class lives and leave all the malaise behind on the florescent flashing squared dance floor. Without a damaging dance step or trademark white Tony Manero three-piece suit to strut your stuff in the late seventies pop culture scene you would be criminally out of place. Just ask your parents, youngsters.

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8.) Singing in the Rain (1952)

There is no reason to challenge the inclusion of Gene Kelly’s Don Lockwood from Singing in the Rain as one of cinema’s best song-and-dance moves ever to be constructed on screen. Kelly’s athletic and show-stopping moves with umbrella in hand as the rain pours down on his high-spirited choreography captures the exuberance and essence of the plethora of well-balanced musical feature films so prevalent in the 1950’s. Kelly, along with the adorable Debbie Reynolds and spunky Donald O’Connor, provided challenging dance moves that were kinetically colorful as a trio. But an isolated Kelly twisting and turning in the splashing raindrops remain the memorable dance sequence that reigns supreme.

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9.) Stormy Weather (1943)

When one thinks about 1943’s African-American fronted Hollywood film musical Stormy Weather they might recall the lovely Lena Horn or charismatic Bill “Bojangles” Robinson or even the smooth and slick presence of Cab Calloway and his Cotton Club Orchestra. But who should also spring into mind is the acrobatic, polished wild dance moves of Fayard and Harold as contributing dancers in the musical drama. Naturally we know the frantic-footed siblings as The Nicholas Brothers. The anticipated artistic spice and surge that the Nicholas Brothers bring to Stormy Weather with their dynamic stunt dancing is truly incredible and a sight for the eyes to behold with amazement. There are other films where Fayard and Harold put their rubbery bodies to the test that produce the spectacular dance moves to no point of return. Stormy Weather is the vehicle that pits the relatively dancing unknowns against the bigger established stars while giving them a run for their money with dazzling and dizzy choreography.  The innovative Nicholas Brothers were the forefathers of demonstrative dance long before the 80’s break dancers from Electric Boogaloo. Just saying… 

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10.) The Wiz (1978)

Barry Gordy and Motown Productions were the backing behind a much hipper version of The Wizard of Oz four decades into the future when 1978’s The Wiz popped up on the big screen in hopes of bringing a more contemporary, soulful update to the yesteryear classic. Motown “royalty” in the likes of Diana Ross (as Judy Garland’s Dorothy) and Michael Jackson (as Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow) were the key draws to bring their long-time fans into the seats. As a late 70’s facelift in style or substance did nothing to make anyone miss the 1939 original at least a little bit it still had its star power in both Ross and Jackson to bring in the contagious singing and dancing that The Wiz excelled at with bombastic breeziness. When The Wiz’s band of comrades (along with little Toto of course) urged audiences to get funky and “Ease on down the road” you wanted to do just that while twitching joyously in your aisle seats.

HONORABLE MENTION:

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Swing Time (1936)

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Tap (1989)  

–Frank Ochieng

4 Comments
  1. Frank Ochieng says

    Not to put you on the spot Tam but if I were to bet the farm would it be safe to say that the sole dance moment you did not approve of has moon boots and wears a political slogan on his signature T-shirt? (smile) Yeah, the older pictures do have that sense of elegance and style when it comes to inventive dancing. And you certainly cannot go wrong with favoring THE BLUES BROTHERS dance segment with the late great Ray Charles tickling the keyboards, Tam! Great comments!

  2. Tam says

    I like all these films except one of them and it brings back memories to the point I want to see them again. As good as the new films are you can’t beat the oldies when it comes to dance routines. I have to admit I do love the Blues Brothers though.

  3. Frank Ochieng says

    Once again Ted your feedback and insights are very appreciated and much obliged for the heads up regarding the SWING TIME typo (I must be having a bad hair day while typing up this particular article…LOL). Glad you approved of these dance-related moments in the movies. Nice tidbit about Gene Kelly/The Nicholas Brothers/The Pirate dynamic. Thanks Ted for your noteworthy info that is an education to us all!

  4. Ted says

    I’m glad these were in alphabetical order. They’re all good scenes and good dancers but the Nicholas Brother number is jaw droppinlyg stunning. As was most of their routines. Perhaps apocryphal but I read Gene Kelly actually had a couple of their numbers removed in ‘The Pirate’ because they were stealing the picture. On the other hand, sadly it was very common in those days to cut scenes with black performers or some states in the South wouldn’t show the films. Nice list.

    Oh, and I apologize for being a killjoy again but there’s a typo on ‘Swing Time’

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