Shall we blame Dirty Dancing — the godmother of all dance flicks — for this inexplicable occurrence? Let's think back to the moment Johnny defiantly declares, "Nobody puts Baby in the corner," takes her by the hand and then leads her to the stage. While it's true they had practiced and pulled off the routine several times before, they had never landed the insanely cool lift at the end... until that moment, when they hadn't had the chance to practice it and when all eyes were on them. It's happened in a slew of movies since then, but it doesn't bother us. We like our movies with happy endings. What's so wrong with believing things can actually go right when you need them to?
How come everyone already knows the choreography to spontaneous dances? Flash mob–like situations transpire in 500 Days of Summer (not a dance movie, per se, but still has one of the best dance scenes ever), Slumdog Millionaire, Step Up: The Streets and more: One person starts dancing and everyone else follows suit. We can only draw one conclusion from such spontaneous synchronization — dancers are telepathic. Or aliens. OK, that was two. But you know why we forgive this lapse in realism? Because these group numbers are amazing, and we know they'd be much less so if everyone were just bumbling around bumping into each other like in real life.
Along those same lines, there's always that one person, the Kevin Bacon à la Footloose of the group, whose random dancing somehow sways everyone to join in. It's the pied piper of rhymthic people, that's what it is. Can you imagine if you're sitting on the subway and some dude starts singing and dancing? That could land you a quick trip to the local precinct or facility for mental wellness. Still, it's one of our favorite dance flick stereotypes, because — let's face it — we all dream of being able to soundtrack and choreograph our lives out loud like reality's version of Disney characters.
In dance flicks, the redemptive dance is the crescendo — it's the pinnacle of the movie. While many movies have happy endings, dance movie happy endings always come through dance. In Grease, it's the moment Sandy and Danny find common ground via new perspectives and a hand jiving, after which they ride off into the sky (still trying to figure that one out). In Center Stage, it's the moment Jody breaks free from her insecurities and wows the stiff-lipped dance academy crowd with her wild and flawless routine to Cooper's choreography. In Stomp the Yard, it's when DJ channels his late brother and wins the step competition. C'mon... everyone loves to see the underdog come out on top.
In dance movies, there's always a central crisis. And that central crisis is often rife with the theme of acceptance or lack thereof. In Flashdance, it's the city kid trying to adjust to life in the country. In Honey, it's the good-hearted girl from the Bronx trying to find her way in the cutthroat world of rap videos. In Save the Last Dance, it's a naïve white girl struggling to adapt to her new inner-city school. Yet, miraculously, dance always brings everyone together by movie's end. Wouldn't it be nice if it really worked that way? Imagine if all the discord in the world could simply be solved by breaking out the Cupid Shuffle. What a lovely thought.
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