POSTED July 17 2012

“Dancing is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire”

Uma Thurman and John Travolta grind in "Be Cool"

Fred Astaire liked to say that dancing is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire.  Who am I to disagree with the the Plato of the perpendicular?

But sometimes a dance is just a dance. There are movies like Be Cool (pictured) in which Uma Thurman and John Travolta advance the plot (and the characters’ agendas) by taking a turn on the floor while referencing the actors’ retro frug in Pulp Fiction.

And there are movies like Saturday Night Fever and Dirty Dancing where the dance is both an expression of horizontal desire as well as the vertical hope of social aspiration. Both of these movies feature blue-collar guys looking for acceptance from worldlier, better-off girls.

Been thinking about the politics of dancing because tomorrow night (Wednesday, July 18) I’m going to speak at the National Museum of American Jewish History about Dirty Dancing — which, incredibly, celebrates its silver anniversary this year — and show the movie at 7 pm.

Can you think of movies (not necessarily dance films) where dance has a non-sexual subtext? I was thinking about the great Bob Fosse-choreographed “Steam Heat” from The Pajama Game, in which three disgruntled union members (led by Carol Haney) vent their frustrations at management.  Alternatively, thoughts about Dirty Dancing?



  1. Hi Carrie,
    As a choreographer Fred Astaire, knew that dance itself build expressions of his character, so it was not always proxy sex. The line-dances in Hairspray were sexy, but they were just as much were communal & cultural rituals. Same with Strickly Ballroom which was all about romantic partnering, but just as instructive to rules of the social games. Jack Cole’s films which featured so much about women’s empowerment in many solos. Cole also made the acrobatic mens’ dance for Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. But maybe that was done for a different audience and would prove your point. Anyway, there are plenty of examples in films to men when there is just pure, joyous dance without a horizontal narrative. see you on the dancefloor. Lew

  2. Lew Whittington says:

    Just thought of another one- the primal dance screen by the bullied student in Napoleon Dynamite.

  3. Rick says:


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