One time, in a state of delirium, I thought it would be a great idea to watch dance movies from the 80s. Apparently, dancing was all the rage in the 80s. There were exactly 15,335 dance movies made between the years 1980-1989. So in my state of delirium I watched Flashdance (incomprehensible), Footloose (“When I get angry I just have to dance!”), and Dirty Dancing (The Swayze). All of these movies are terrible. Even though I was delirious I could still tell they were terrible. They are so bad they are likely to replace waterboarding as the next form of government-sanctioned
A lot of times movies will be derided for having “no plot.” Usually this is a slight exaggeration because even movies with “no plot” somehow get from Point A to Point B. Very little may happen, but most times there is at least some minuscule semblance of a storyline. Flashdance, however, truly has no plot. Absolutely nothing of consequence happens in this movie. It’s provisionally “about” a young, beautiful female steel welder (I can’t tell you how many hot lady steel welders I’ve met in my life) who aspires to be a ballet dancer. The best way she knows to achieve this goal is to go to a dive bar at night and “flash dance.” Flash dancing is kind of like stripping/spazzing-out on-stage, but not actually getting naked. The audience seems to really get into it. Apparently, having attacks of epilepsy on-stage is super erotic. At one point, she pulls a cord and water drops all over her body. Eventually, she auditions for a ballet school, but runs away, realizing she has no talent. That’s right. That bitch has no talent as a dancer at all. Watching her thrash around on-stage for 50 minutes of the 95 minute runtime was excruciating. It’s like this movie is just a bunch of music videos strung together with the most paper-thin character imaginable. They should have just made a movie out of a bunch of music videos. That would have at least made sense. In the end we don’t learn if she gets into the ballet school or not. It’s not important. It doesn’t matter because there is no plot. This movie is an abortion of storytelling coherence.
Footloose fared a little better than Flashdance, but not much. At least this time around they decided to have some actual characters and a storyline. This movie features the exploits of Chicago-born ruffian Kevin Bacon as he moves to Hickville, U.S.A. It turns out that Bacon loves to dance. He just can’t dance enough! But wait a second, there’s a problem. Dancing has been outlawed in his new town! That fancy Rock ‘n Roll music and lascivious body gyrations are the work of the Devil! When is this movie supposed to take place, the 1950s? Nope, it’s present day, 1984. I figured the evils of Rock ‘n Roll had been pacified by this time in U.S. history, but apparently not. So, the movie features Bacon trying to navigate the social waters of his new town. When shit doesn’t go his way, he gets really angry, and he’s JUST GOTTA DANCE to let off some steam. Footloose features the most interesting “dancing” I’ve ever seen. Mostly, it is Bacon running, then pausing a moment to shake his head and butt around, and then back to running. This is something I like to call “run dancing.” And it is totally awesome. I haven’t seen the 2011 Footloose remake, but if it doesn’t have run dancing, then it automatically fails. At least this movie has a basic plot and characters with motivations. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t unwatchable.
Moving along, I next watched Dirty Dancing. This is probably the most popular of all the 80s dance movies, especially with the ladies. If you are on a date with a girl and you watch Dirty Dancing, and her panties don’t get extremely moist, then she’s probably a dude. The Swayze is irresistable to women of all ages. The bulging biceps, the Texas accent, the giant mullet. Everything about him oozes sex appeal. The only other person that even comes close to matching him is Michael F. Assbender, but not even he can outdo The Swayze’s unbridled masculinity. The plot here is also incomprehensible. By this point, I realized that dance movies don’t waste time on plots. They come up with a bunch of dance numbers and think of the most bare-bones way imaginable to string them together. Dirty Dancing tries to have a story, and when you’re watching it, it makes sense. But afterwards, if you try and explain what happened, you realize you have no goddamn clue. The movie makes no sense. The most I can understand is that some teenager named Baby (I’m sure that name is going to keep her in therapy for the rest of her life) goes to summer camp for rich kids, and she is supposed to learn how to dance. The dancing is stiff and boring. She later sees all the dance instructors grinding on each other, so naturally she asks The Swayze to teach her to dance like that. The movie ends with the two of them dancing with each other. Surprisingly, this movie takes place in 1963, and everyone is pretty OK with dancing. It seems like a normal thing for people to do. Looking back, it seems like the timelines for Dirty Dancing and Footloose should have been switched. Dirty Dancing should have taken place in the present day (the 1980s) and Footloose in the 1960s. That would have made a lot more sense. But things don’t have to make sense in dance movies. THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS IS DANCING!
Finally, the last 80s dance movie I bore witness to was Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. It left me utterly speechless…
Oh, who am I kidding? I have plenty to say about it.
My initial fear was that since I hadn’t seen the original Breakin’, I would be totally lost. Would I know who the characters were? Would I understand their motivations? Would the storyline carry over from the previous film? Had I missed an incredible performance by Jean-Claude Van Damme as Background Dancing Spectator? I just knew I was going to be totally lost!
The movie starts right in the middle of the action with the main character, Kelly, getting into an argument with her parents about boys. They ask her, “Why didn’t you marry that lawyer?” To which she deftly replies, “He’s a nerd!” Oh man, just listen to the snappy, witty dialog. It’s like something out of a Billy Wilder movie. And yep, I was right. I was totally lost already. Who was the lawyer? Why didn’t she marry him? I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS!
Immediately after that, the movie jumps to a dance number. We get to see breakdancing cops, breakdancing gardners, breakdancing mailmen, and breakdancing, well, everyone. Eventually, all the breakdancing leads us to the ghetto where we find a gaudy technicolor house, which apparently is the Community Rec Center. Outside the house, and within, we see more breakdancers: kids, boxers, and even mimes. I had no idea that breakdancing was so popular in the 80s. I mean, I knew it was hot, but I didn’t realize that fucking everybody knew how to do it back then. I guess the plot of the original Breakin’ must have been spreading breakdancing techniques to the masses. That’s the only reasonable explanation for all this breakdancing.
Somebody makes a reference to the Rec Center and says, “When we first found this place it was a dump. We fixed it up.” I’m sorry, but this is fixed up? This delapidated, shithole, deathtrap of a house is fixed up? It looks like they just found a random condemned building, threw a few buckets of paint at it and called it a day. I’d hate to see their idea of a place that is run down.
Next, we get to the real meat of the movie: the plot. An old, evil, rich white guy decides that he is going to build a new shopping mall, and the perfect place is exactly where the Rec Center currently stands. Well, sure that sounds like a reasonable idea to me. I can’t tell you the number of times I went shopping and chose a mall in the middle of the ghetto. There’s nothing like making a few purchases and then getting robbed and carjacked to make for a satisfying day.
When discussing tearing down the Rec Center to make way for his mall, someone questions his plan by asking what the building’s intended for. He nonchalantly (and villainously replies) that it’s “Designed to keep kids off the streets.” Someone then asks, “But where will all those kids go?” He fires back, “They’ve got their club, Radiotron.” Goddamn, is he ever right. FUCK THAT REC CENTER! Those kids have plenty of other options, like a dance club. As soon as you get out of school, just go down to a place that’s dark and filled with booze. That will definitely keep people on the straight and narrow. The main characters soon learn that they will need to raise $200,000 to save the Rec Center from condemned status, and prevent the Old Guy from tearing it down to build his mall. This plot point is immediately forgotten.
The movie clips along at a breathtaking pace, with a dance sequence occurring every 2 to 5 minutes. One thing I can tell you about this film, is that I certainly never got tired of seeing so many dance sequences!
Some more inexplicable stuff happens (which must have been carried over from the first movie), and tensions get high. The main characters find themselves getting hassled by a gang of thugs. The gang, the frighteningly named “Electrorock,” wants to have a dance off with the main characters. That shit can be deadly, so naturally the main characters want nothing to do with it. Tempers flare and nasty words are thrown back and forth. This eventually leads to an exciting hand slapping match! Electrorock continues to hassle the main characters throughout the film, which culminates in a climactic dance off. The dancing here mostly consists of walking toward each other, flailing arms around, and generally spazzing out. I’m glad that Hollywood continues to educate us on what it’s really like to be in a gang. It’s not about shoot-outs and murder. Breakin’ 2 and West Side Story reveal that gang warfare typically revolves around heated dance-offs. It’s nice to finally see the truth in a film. Why don’t more movies show us what it’s really like to be in a gang? I guess it’s not glamorous enough for Hollywood.
Random line that was totally rad: “Girls are whacked!” They sure are.
Next, Kelly get entangled with the lawyer again. He’s sooo nerdy, and she hates him. (I guess tolerance of those who are different wasn’t a message the filmmakers thought was important.) Why she even agrees to see him is anyone’s guess. They decide to have dinner together, but Kelly invites her two best friends along: Ozone and Turbo. To say that Breakin’ 2 has great character names would be an understatement. If I wasn’t already planning on naming my first born child “Thunderleg,” then I would definitely name them Turbo or Ozone instead.
Turbo dresses up for dinner by wearing his Michael Jackson marching band uniform. While there, people hurl accusations at Turbo and Ozone, such as, “You spend money on drugs, fancy clothes, and cars.” This was particularly hurtful because we have been given no evidence whatsoever that anyone in this movie ever wears fancy clothes. Dinner goes badly. Kelly’s mom is currently a student at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute, and of course the food she cooks is REALLY GROSS! Turbo and Ozone feed their meals to the cat. Oh man, I can’t tell you how many restaurants I walked out of because the chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu. How that place manages to even stay in business is anyone’s guess.
The characters go through the rest of the movie dancing, using dummies to practice dating, dancing, having a good time, dancing, and of course dancing. The dancing in this film is truly powerful. In one scene we see breakdancing doctors and nurses bring a dead patient back to life! Why don’t they teach everyone how to do that in medical school? It seems like it would bring down medical costs a lot.
Anyway, when there’s maybe 15 minutes left, the movie finally realizes that it has to wrap things up. The characters remember they have to raise $200,000 to save the Rec Center, and only have a couple of days to do it. Meanwhile, Kelly achieves her dream of being accepted to a dance school in Paris (she’s apparently a great dancer, a lot better than the welder chick in Flashdance), but if she goes, she won’t be able to stick around to save their dilapidated nightmare. They try all sorts of things, but nothing works. The Rec Center is going to face certain annihilation.
Suddenly, there is a ray of light. It turns out that Kelly’s father is rich, and he agrees to pay the $200,000 to save the Rec Center if she agrees to go to the dance school in Paris. Hooray! Kelly gets to fulfill her lifelong dream, and the Rec Center is saved! It’s win-win! Movie over! Oh wait, it’s not? Nope. Kelly turns him down, thinking that asking for a hand-out wouldn’t be the right thing to do. YOU GOTTA EARN THINGS IN LIFE YOU CAN’T JUST EXPECT PEOPLE TO HELP YOU OUT! By turning him down, she not only gives up her dream, but dooms the Rec Center.
The fateful day finally arrives. The Old Guy’s bulldozers arrive to tear down the Rec Center. It’s probably for the best. That thing was a deathtrap anyway. Keeping it around would only teach children it’s OK to hang out inside condemned buildings. The kids all jump in front of the bulldozers (another life lesson of what not to do), and start dancing their hearts out. They dance and dance. Harder and harder. Faster and faster. With more and more spirit. Suddenly, people from all over town start calling them and donating money. And just when things look to be at their worst, they DANCE EVEN MORE and they suddenly achieve the $200,000! They did it! They saved the Rec Center! THE END! Roll the credits, motherfucker! Other pesky things like the love triangle subplot, Electrorock gang-war subplot, and Kelly’s dream subplot are never resolved. Who cares? They were only around to fill the running time anyway.
I like that Breakin’ 2 was such an influential movie. It pretty much started the entire genre of: Save the Rec Center. Maybe it’s not always a Rec Center, but you know what I’m talking about. Without that genre, where would Hollywood be? Breakin’ 2 features incredible acting. You know when you hire dancers to fill every role in your film, you are going to have awesome acting. A particularly great performance came from Ice-T who played Rap Talker.
The bright clashing colors, the horrible Frankensteinian-patchwork-costumes, the line delivery, the unresolved plots, the overly-enthusiastic dancing, the fact that every character has a stupid grin a mile wide on their face throughout the entire movie, and of course the 80s music are all reasons why this movie is a phenomenon. It can’t be beat. You can’t watch this movie and not love it. The culmination of all these horrible things, make it a classic.
Having seen the above movies, I realized nothing else can top them. I shall henceforth refer to them as The Holy Tetralogy of Dance Movies. Be sure to watch them all.
Flashdance – Shitty
Footloose – Bad
Dirty Dancing – Average
Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo – Awesomely Shitty