Shall We Dance?

This post is about some of the great and inspirational dances that we must watch on the movie screen.    I have placed few video clips as examples for your audio-visual experience. These videos and the stories behind have made my life interesting. I have picked some  statistics from the Web and especially from WikiPedia and edited to provide you some fascinating information.

Don’t read this blog in a hurry. You must take time to immerse in these videos and appreciate the dances.

Sit with a glass of your favorite drink and sip along while you enjoy this post, watching the videos as they appear.

A little longish post but I hope you will have a wonderful time!


One of the most influencing movies that hit the style of disco dancing was Saturday Night Fever. The movie was released in 1977. I was in the 4th year of BTech at IIT Bombay then. The movie was directed by John Badham. It starred John Travolta as Tony Manero, a working-class young man who spends his weekends dancing and drinking at a local Brooklyn discothèque. While in the disco, Tony was the champion dancer and ruled the dance floor. His circle of friends and weekend dancing helped him to cope with the harsh realities of his life. He had clashes with his unsupportive and squabbling parents and there were racial tensions in the local community. The movie had thus a very interesting social dimension apart from watching John Travolta perform.

A huge commercial success, the film significantly helped to popularize disco music around the world and made Travolta, a household name. The Saturday Night Fever sound track, featured disco songs by the famous Bee Gees and that made a huge difference. In 2010, Saturday Night Fever was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Film critic Gene Siskel said “Travolta on the dance floor is like a peacock on amphetamines. He struts like crazy.” Siskel even bought Travolta’s famous white suit from the film at a charity auction. “You Should be Dancing” is a video clip that shows Travolta’s amazing talent.


Year of 1983 was the release of the Flash Dance featuring Jennifer Beals (Alex in the movie) who was shown as an eighteen-year-old welder at a steel mill in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in a converted warehouse. Although she aspired to become a professional dancer, she had no formal dance training, and worked as an “exotic dancer” by night at the nearby Mawby’s bar.

After seeking counsel from her mentor, a retired ballerina, Alex attempts to apply to the Pittsburgh Conservatory of Dance and Repertory. She however gets intimidated by the scope of the application process, which includes listing all prior dance experience and education, and she leaves without applying.

Later she gains the courage to apply for entrance to the Conservatory and gets an opportunity for an audition with the Arts Council. At the audition, Alex initially falters, but begins again, and successfully completes a dance number composed of various aspects of dance she has studied and practiced, including break-dancing which she has seen on the streets of Pittsburgh. The board responds favorably, and Alex is seen joyously emerging from the Conservatory. Feel the pace in this video and the beats that will race your heart.

After the success of the Flash Dance, one of the most popular dance piece that everybody enjoyed was the Time of Life in the movie Dirty Dancing.

“(I’ve had) The Time of My Life” was a 1987 song composed by Franke Previte, John DeNicola, and Donald Markowitz. This song won a number of awards, including an Academy Award for “Best Original Song”, a Golden Globe Award for “Best Original Song”, and a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

Director Ardolino was adamant that he chooses dancers who could also act, as he did not want to use the “stand-in” method that had been used earlier with Flash dance. Jennifer Beals was not an Actor. For the female lead Ardolino chose the 26-year-old Jennifer Grey, daughter of the Oscar-winning actor and dancer Joel Grey, who, like her father, was a trained dancer. He then sought a male lead and after checking with a few, choice was 34-year-old Patrick Swayze, a seasoned dancer, with experience from the Joffrey Ballet. In the beginning Jennifer and Patrick did not get along very well.

Filming started on September 5, 1986 but was plagued by not so friendly weather, that ranged from pouring rain to sweltering heat. Patrick Swayze required a hospital visit; as he was insisting on doing his own stunts. See in the video the “balancing” scene with Grey. Patrick repeatedly fell off while balancing and injured his knee so badly that he had to have fluid drained from the swelling. The shooting was wrapped on October 27, 1986, both on-time and on-budget.

After the initial “not so great impression”, the film drew adult audiences instead of the teens, with viewers rating the film highly. The film’s popularity continued to grow after its initial release. It was the number one video rental of 1988 and became the first film to sell a million copies on video. When the film was re-released in 1997, ten years after its original release, Swayze received his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame,

A May 2007 survey by Britain’s Sky Movies listed Dirty Dancing as number one on “Women’s most-watched films”, above the Star Wars trilogy, Grease, The Sound of Music, and Pretty Woman. Of course, the film’s music has also had considerable impact. The closing song, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”, took the glory.

Today Patrick Swayze is no more. In mid-January 2008, he was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer and he died on September 14, 2009 at age 57 after fighting 20 months after his cancer diagnosis. His wife Lisa Niemi Swayze wrote a book on his life along with him, aptly called “Time of My Life” – a book I will recommend all of you to read.

Let us go back a bit in time or rewind. You must have watched the movie Fiddler on the Roof. Fiddler on the Roof was a 1971 American musical comedy-drama film. The movie featured the famous “Bottle Dance”. This dance is not a traditional Jewish folk dance but creation of director-choreographer Jerome Robbins. Robbins did “field research” for Fiddler by attending Orthodox Jewish weddings and festivals where he was thrilled with the men’s dancing.  He  elaborated this experience and got four dancers performing precise and electrifying moves. This famous bottle dance got re-planted in the United States and today there are amazing bottle dancers who burst into special events (especially weddings) and perform the sensational “bottle dance”. For a grand finale, they lead the whole crowd into frenzy.  I just love the amazing synchronous moves of the dancers while balancing the bottles on their heads.

In 2004, move “Shall We Dance” was produced that featured Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere.  In the movie there is a very sensuous dance with the song “Santa Maria (del Buen Ayre)” from the album La Revancha del Tango played by the Gotan Project.

The movie shows life of John Clark who is a lawyer with a charming wife, Beverly. He feels that something is missing in his life as he makes his way every day through the city by a train. He gets hooked to idea of learning dancing while following Paulina (Jenifer Lopez) who is a dancer. As his lessons continue, John falls in love with dancing. Keeping his new obsession from his family and co-workers, John feverishly trains for Chicago’s biggest dance competition. He loses and quits dancing, to everyone’s dismay after an argument with his wife Beverly. The dance with the song Santa Maria is simply haunting. A must to watch.

Now let us watch something more contemporary like Bachata.

Bachata, is essentially a slow style of dancing that emerged in the ’60s. Bachata is performed only in closed position, like the bolero, often in close embrace and the basic steps are confined within a small square. The hand placement in Bachata can vary according to the position of the dances, which can range from very close to open to completely open.

The authentic version is still danced today in the Caribbean and all over the world. It is increasingly danced now to faster music, adding more footwork, with soft hip movements and a tap or syncopation. Yet, it follows simple turns and rhythmic free-styling and with alternation between close (romantic) and open position. Watching a good bachata dance can be mesmerizing.

Tanja La Alemana is one of the best-known Bachata dancer. She and her partner Ataca Jorgie performed a sexy Bachata routine by Xtreme “Te Extraño” at DWF in Singapore. I thought of presenting this video to you.

I was working on writing a textbook on Air Pollution for UNESCO with several contributing authors. An authors meet was called in Barcelona that was hosted by Professor Valentina of the Technical University of Catalonia. Valentina was an established expert in numerical modelling of air pollution but was a talented artist (oil paintings) and a dancer of repute, especially the Salsa.

When she spoke to me about her interest in dance during one of dinners we had, I told her how much I love to watch dancing and narrated some of the great dances that one must follow– and highlighted a few just like I did in this blog. I elaborated on the Bachata and the subtle differences with Salsa.

“Oh Prasad, great to know that you love dancing. You seem to be really knowledgeable”  Valentina exclaimed. “Do come with me tomorrow at  the Mojito Club to watch the Salsa, Bachata and listen to some Latin music.

When we arrived, the place was crowded. The music was spinning and so was the crowd. We took a place to sit as the discs were to change. There were many folks waiting for the next chance to get on to the floor and dance.

The music stopped, and neon signs flashed with the words “Now Bachata”. “Wow, Valentina said – “What a timing Prasad, Shall We Dance?” She passed her hand to me and stood up with a charming smile.

I froze. I said sheepishly “Valentina, I only know the theory but don’t know how to dance”. I wished I could be like Ataca Jorgie, Tanja’s Partner (you probably just watched). And I wished some Angel did this instant transformation, just for me, today and right now!)

“Oh, don’t worry Prasad”, Valentina said while gyrating her hips “I see that you are a typical Professor, Most Professors know only the theory and not the practice and you are not an exception!”

I think Valentina  was absolutely right!! She was clearly an exception.

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