pulp fiction


Once, to make up for a childhood deprived of the dance lessons, I enrolled myself in the nearest dance studio at age twenty-two. There I was, mastering heel digs and jazz hands with a dozen eleven-year-olds, living the dream. Mind you, I was 5’10 and all limbs, and when I wasn’t triggering a little-kid pile up I was working with the instructor on arm positioning to affect grace instead of sailor knots. It was a short-lived venture, but now I’m thinking I went about it the wrong way. Maybe all I needed were a few cinematic examples. So to usher in 2013 with the right moves, I’ve rounded up some of cinema’s most badass dance scenes in one handy playlist. Just to make things interesting, my rules were: no musicals (like Singing in the Rain) and no movies about dancing (like Footloose). And away we go:


Ocean’s Twelve
“Thé à la Menthe”
La Caution

By way of explaining the badass allure of this clip, I’d like to quote the intro to Elizabeth Day’s 2012 interview with Vincent Cassel from The Guardian: “Vincent Cassel is very charming. He knows it. I know it. Everyone in the room – the photographer, her assistant, the make-up artist, the fashion team – knows it, too. When he speaks, his every witticism is greeted with a tinkling outburst of communal laughter. When he moves his leg ever so slightly to alter his pose, the photographer becomes breathless with admiration: ‘Perfect. That’s perfect.’ It’s only a matter of time until we all break into a round of applause and throw long-stemmed roses at his feet.” Without further ado …




Pretty in Pink
“Try a Little Tenderness”
Otis Redding

My biggest problem with this film has always been that Andie ends up with the sullen, preppie kid named after a major appliance instead of this guy. I mean, check out these badass moves (and that bolo tie):




Love Actually
“Jump (For My Love)”
The Pointer Sisters

I hate to break it to Jon Stewart, but there isn’t a single tale of evil divadom that can take Hugh Grant down … because this exists:




Pulp Fiction
“You Never Can Tell”
Chuck Berry

“I do believe Marsellus Wallace, my husband, your boss, told you to take me out and do whatever I wanted. Now I wanna dance. I wanna win. I want that trophy, so dance good.” Don’t mess with Uma. She’s badass.




Pee-wee’s Big Adventure
The Champs

How to win over a gang of badass ruffians in a biker bar? Dance on tiptoes in platform shoes to “Tequila,” of course.




Simple Men
“Kool Thing”
Sonic Youth

This scene’s a bit of a non sequitur in Hal Hartley’s film, but what a glorious, fist-pumping non sequitur it is:




Napoleon Dynamite
“Canned Heat”

You think it’s going to be awful … and then it’s not … and then it kinda is … and then the music cuts out … and then Napoleon, in mouth-breather, wet-noodle-arm mode, bolts off the stage. Classic with a dash of badass.




And God Created Woman

Brigitte Bardot doing the mambo. You’re welcome.




Young Frankenstein
“Puttin’ on the Ritz”
Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle

Confession: I created this list just so I could include this clip in a post again. Reasons it’s badass? It’s a song and dance featuring my kid crush Gene Wilder (I know) and some moves with the late, great Peter Boyle that even I can master.




13 Going on 30
Michael Jackson

Okay, not the best of the old/young body swap films, but when thirteen-year-old Jennifer Garner in thirty-year-old Jennifer Garner’s body wants to get this party started with the only badass dance she knows back from nineteen-eighty-whatever the result is (slightly-awkward) “Thriller” goodness.




Slumdog Millionaire
“Jai Ho”
AR Rahman

Cheating a little because this badass contender appears during the end credits, but tell me when the Slumdog cast dance to AR Rahman’s “Jai Ho” rolled you didn’t stay all the way up to the filming location “thank yous.”




Risky Business
“Old Time Rock and Roll”
Bob Seger

Socks, check. Dress-shirt, check.  Underwear, check.  Take us on home, Tom Cruise.



But, wait! One more for good measure:



Note: If you’d rather strut, maybe revisit The Playlist of Cinematic Badass Walking.

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TNB Arts and Culture Editor CYNTHIA HAWKINS teaches creative writing at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Most of what she thinks she knows comes from movies, including how to tango, how to take someone down with a ballpoint pen, how to curse in French, and how to catch a moving train. Her work, on movies and otherwise, has appeared in literary journals and magazines such as ESPN the Magazine, Parent:Wise Magazine, The Good Men Project, New World Writing, Strange Horizons, and numerous alternative weeklies and anthologies. You can find Cynthia on Twitter and at cynthiahawkins.net.

14 responses to “The Playlist of Cinematic Badass Dancing”

  1. Monty Johnston says:

    Well, yes, certainly. Thank you. But know, please, that if you look around you can find dance classes, not just ballroom dancing, or even just Contra dances, for adults.

    Happy feet to you,
    Monty Johnston

  2. Liz says:

    I’m very sad that the ease of iPad/iPhone video did not exist when you were in dance classes because oh, the way to end a post could have been…

    I appreciate the full range of badassery dancing here, especially the Tropic Thunder mambo. I do wish, however, that you’d included The Time Warp from Rocky Horror. Come on. Tim Curry? Susan Sarandon? Underwear?

    And Love Actually? Why yes. Yes indeed. Happy New Year’s Eve to you too!

    • See, this is how I get outta that one: I remind you my rules stated “no musicals.” Why? Because there are toooooo many fabulous ones and I’d have to exclude beloved scenes and then I’d have to fight with people in the comment threads and you’re making me fight anyway and I am taping off the square, Liz, taping off the square, I say! XOXO!

  3. Liz says:

    Time Warp smack down, left hook, foot sweep. It’s not a musical! It’s just awesome!

  4. Joe Daly says:

    I hardly ever find time to comment here anymore, but this was was another great piece from my favorite movie maven. Great idea for a feature, and as usual, superbly executed. Keep ’em coming in 2013, CH!

  5. jmblaine says:

    Just the other night
    I was watching Urban Cowboy,
    Travolta doing the Cotton-Eyed Joe,
    Winger & her buddy off to the side two-stepping.

    • Though Gilley’s burned down, I’d like to think that somewhere, out there, two little license plates with names “Bud” and “Sissy” are forever leaning against the back glass of a pickup.

  6. jmblaine says:

    Gilley’s actually lives on, in part — as Billy Bob’s.
    It all looks a lot the same in there.
    I know what you mean though.
    I hope somewhere
    Bud & Sissy roll on.

  7. D.R. Haney says:

    Okay, well, I can understand how you could forget, or choose to forget, this:


    But I don’t understand how you forgot this!:


    Yeah, I followed an exclamation point with a colon! And I’ll do it again!:

    • Ah! The scene in which Tarantino’s foot fetish and Rodriguez’s Salma fetish converge. Did you happen to catch Stone’s Savages? Godawful film (sometimes I have discerning tastes!), but Salma as the villain is divine. That second clip, oof, gross oversight on my part! Which is the trouble with lists ….

      • D.R. Haney says:

        Well, you sort of covered it with the Hal Hartley clip. But I was just surprised because you did, after all, once go as Anna Karina to a Halloween party, which I’ve never forgotten because I hated to hear that no one knew who you were. We’re past the point, alas, when hipster girls are using Anna Karina as a style model, as they did for a long time. They’ve been going for a “Fritz the Cat” hooker look, as I call it, for the last few years.

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