The Case of the 80s Dance Flick

It’s the final episode of June Tunes and we decided to focus on dance movies of the 1980s! You’ll notice, however, that we also included Saturday Night Fever in this episode even though it came out in 1977. We felt like we couldn’t talk about dance films without at least mentioning the iconic movie that essentially created a genre of film.

This episode is more relaxed than our previous music episodes, as we share our thoughts on a small list of famous dance movies! We thought this might be a fun way to close out the month of June.

65181376_500605703813759_6109083760102211584_n

Saturday Night Fever

  • This movie blended film and music in such a successful way, it inspired many movies to come
    • This film showed movie studios that they could more effectively capitalize on popular music of the time and paved the way for dance movies of the next 10 years
  • It shot John Travolta to superstardom in 1977, one year before Grease, although he had previously appeared on “Welcome Back, Kotter”
  • The soundtrack was filled with BeeGees songs, and it became unclear whether the movie was fueling the popularity of the music, or the other way around
    • The movie marks the rise and fall of Disco music, as it kept Disco in the spotlight for a few more years
  • The BeeGees wrote the songs for the movie AFTER the movie was shot, meaning all the dance scenes were shot with characters dancing to other music like Stevie Wonder and Boz Scaggs
    • They repurposed “Stayin’ Alive” which was just a demo at the time of filming, so it’s the only song that John Travolta was moving to while filming
  • Tony (John Travolta) is a paint store clerk who wants to break out of his everyday life
    • Dancing at the club helps him face the harsh realities of his life like his dead-end job and squabbling parents
  • The movie is based on the article: Tribal Rites of the new Saturday Night, which was a fabricated story by Nik Cohn
    • The article was meant to chronicle the disco dance scene, which Cohn was unfamiliar with, so he wrote a mostly fictional account on which the movie is based

Flashdance (1983)

  • “What a Feeling” by Irene Cara won an Oscar for best music/original score
    • It also hit #1 in the US for 6 weeks
    • In June the soundtrack released and stayed #1 for 2 weeks interrupting Michael Jackson’s Thriller which would come back to #1 only to be dethroned later by the Footloose album
    • In September, Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” also took #1
  • Based loosely around the life of real life welder and exotic dancer, Maureen Mauder, Paramount had her sign away the rights to her life story
  • The now famous off the shoulder big sweatshirt look was purely accidental because Jennifer Beals could not fit her head through her highschool sweatshirt. She decided to cut the collar off and wear it to the audition.  They liked it and added it to the movie
  •  It took 4 dancers for the iconic final dance scene by Alex Owens. One of the dancers was actually a man. Richard “Crazy Legs” Colón.  The famous leap was done by gymnast Sharon Shapiro
  • This was one of the first films that didn’t fit into the “musical”category because it did not center on the songs.  With MTV it became easier to bring pop songs into films. This led to the popular movies of Footloose and Dirty Dancing.

Footloose (1984)

  • Follows Ren, a boy from Chicago who moves to a rural town, where dancing to modern music is forbidden
  • This story is loosely based on true events!
    • In 1980, high school juniors in Elmore City, Oklahoma appealed to the town leaders and requested that a city-wide ban on dancing be lifted so they could hold a prom. When the decision to overturn the ban came to a 2-2 vote, the tie-breaking decision came from the school board president who reportedly said, “Let ’em dance.”
  • Tom Cruise and Rob Lowe were both slated to play the lead, but Cruise was tied up with another project, while Lowe sustained an injury and was unable to play the role.
  •  Melanie Griffith, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jamie Lee Curtis, Rosanna Arquette, Meg Tilly, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Heather Locklear, Meg Ryan, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jodie Foster, Phoebe Cates, Tatum O’Neal, Bridget Fonda, Lori Loughlin, Diane Lane and Brooke Shields were all considered for the role of Ariel
  • The movie also stars John Lithgow with an appearance from Sarah Jessica Parker
  • The soundtrack dethroned Michael Jackson’s Thriller album with titles such as: “Footloose,” “Sussudio,” “Let’s Hear it for the Boy,” and “I need a Hero”
    • Seriously, the soundtrack ROCKS

Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1985)

  • Came out in 1985 and inspired by the Cindy Lauper song of the same name
    • The story follows a young Army brat played by Sarah Jessica Parker who dreams of dancing on her favorite TV show. With a help of Helen Hunt, she attempts to win a spot on the show
  • The actual song isn’t used in the movie, a cover is used instead because of licensing restrictions
  • The movie starred Sarah Jessica Parker, Lee Montgomery, Morgan Woodward, Jonathan Silverman, Shannen Doherty, and Helen Hunt.
  • Parker was in Footloose one year earlier, though in this film she has the starring role

Dirty Dancing (1987) 

  • It stars Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze and takes place in the early 1960s
  • It is based in part on Elenor Bergstein’s childhood; She was a screenwriter for the project
    • She wrote a script for another film in 1980, and when an erotic dance scene was cut from the film, she was inspired to write this story with heavy influences from her childhood as a Doctor’s daughter that vacationed in the Catskills
    • For a choreographer, she chose Kenny Ortega!
    • For casting, she insisted on actors that could also dance
  • The scene where the couple are dancing and crawling on the floor wasn’t intended to be in the movie, it was a warm-up that the director loved so much that he put it in the film
  • The trees at the lake were spray-painted green for the scenes that took place in the woods and at the lake because the scenes were shot in the fall
  • In an interview with AFI, Swayze explained why he thought Dirty Dancing endured for so long. “It’s got so much heart, to me,” he said. “It’s not about the sensuality; it’s really about people trying to find themselves, this young dance instructor feeling like he’s nothing but a product, and this young girl trying to find out who she is in a society of restrictions when she has such an amazing take on things.”

Hairspray (1988)

  • This John Waters classic starred Rikki Lake as Tracy Turnblad, a “pleasantly plump” teenager who dreams of dancing on The Corny Collins Show in 1960s Baltimore
    • The movie had many other famous names like Jerry Stiller, Divine, and Sony Bono
    • The movie also uses segregation as a main plot point, as Tracy attempts to bring about an era of change by integrating The Corny Collins show. It highlights the harsh reality of the civil rights era while maintaining a goofy tone
  • The popularity of this movie spawned the stage musical of the same name that was then later re-made into a film in 2007
  • John Waters’ success with Hairspray paved the way for him to make “Crybaby” in 1990, starring Johnny Depp

Breakin’ (1984)

  • Also known as “Breakdance” in the UK and “Break Street ‘84” in other regions, this was a very popular movie of the mid-1980s! With more of a focus on break-dancing than plot, this is a fun dance movie that showcases incredibly talented dancers
  • Set in the hip hop club Radio-Tron in MacArthur Park, LA
    • The club is where many of the dancers spend time and have dance battles
    • This is where the main character Kelly meets Ozone and Turbo, the trio are the main characters of the films
  • Menahem Golan of Cannon Films was inspired to create this film after his daughter saw a breakdancer in California
  • By the end of its run, the film grossed $38,682,707 in the domestic box office

Breakin’ 2 Electric Boogaloo (1984)

  • This sequel to “Breakin'” focused even more on dancing, with extended dance sequences as the main focal part of the film
  • It follows the same trio as they try to save the local community center that serves children and teaches them dance and other art
  • We suggest that when you watch this film, try not to get too caught up in the plot, as the dancing is the real show!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s