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IttDMB: Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome

May 4th, 2008 (09:37 am)

(Note: For more information on the Invitation to the Dance Movie blogathon, see the original notice at the Ferdy on Films blog.)

© 2008
D. Gordon

Dance Movie? What's that?

An exact definite of "dance movie" is pretty hard to come by. A search of the web doesn't produce much of anything definitive, although all the usual suspects (Wikipedia, Britannica Online, etc) seem to agree that it's a subset of the musical. Filmsite.org provides a representative definition of musical / dance films as

"cinematic forms that emphasize and showcase full-scale song and dance routines in a significant way (usually with a musical or dance performance as part of the film narrative, or as an unrealistic 'eruption' within the film). Or they are films that are centered on combinations of music, dance, song or choreography. In traditional musicals, cast members are ones who sing. Musicals highlight various musical artists or dancing stars, with lyrics that support the story line, often with an alternative, escapist vision of reality - a search for love, success, wealth, and popularity. This genre has been considered the most escapist of all major film genres. Tremendous film choreography and orchestration often enhances musical numbers."

So: dance films are musicals with dance; sometimes the dance furthers the storyline, and sometimes it pauses it... a pretty broad definition.

And this doesn't include films that document dance performances, or films that include dance without centering on it or being a musical, films that don't feature stars, or films that use dance instead of language to tell the story. And what about dance films that aren't escapist? Maybe it's just too hard to encapsulate "dance film" in an easy definition; to paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, you can't define it, but you know it when you see it.

Fred AStaire and Ginger Rogers in Swing Time
from Wikipedia; used under the Fair Use doctrine

There are movies that are generally acknowledged to be dance films. Fred and Ginger dancing away the Depression, Gene Kelly singing in the rain, and Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr sweeping across the floor surrounded by yards of dress are universally recognized as iconic images in the category (and if there's a Golddigger hoofing it around the rings of Saturn, it's a safe bet that it's a dance movie). Many films developed from Broadway musicals, such as West Side Story and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, or Godspell and All That Jazz, are permanently listed in the annals of dance film.

But those aren't the only dance films. Dance is universal across cultures, and dance films span time, genres, and national borders, from something as simple as a record of a dance performance to a full-blown expression of emotion or action in the context of a plot. And they come up in the darnedest places. Think about all the times dance appears in a movie that isn't tagged as a musical, much less a dance film: the legendary dance contest in Pulp Fiction; the waltz across Grand Central Station in The Fisher King; the synchronized steps of the IDF soldiers at target practice in the very political Divine Intervention; and one of my favorites, Lady Wakasa'a dance of love and seduction for Genjuro in Ugetsu Monogatari.

So what makes a dance movie a dance movie? Is it the nimble tread of the feet of Fred Astaire - or, for that matter, Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred did, except backwards and in high heels? The joy of being on the town or at a clambake? Or something more? And how well does that "something" travel, how much can change and a movie still be considered dance? What do time and changing social perceptions do to that definition? This little corner of the Invitation to the Dance Blogathon will spend the next week peeking around some corners and turning over a few stones to look at dance in some out-of-the-way places. It'll be a chance to look from a different perspective, learn a few new things, and have some fun along the way.


Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: May 5th, 2008 12:18 am (UTC)

I can't wait to read your series. You're such a thoughtful and thorough movie viewer, and I'm thrilled you've joined in. Way to go, Lady W.


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