Everybody Dance Now: How Dancing on TV Fixes Everything


If there is one thing I’ve learned from TV it’s that dancing fixes everything (at least temporarily). There is something irresistible about watching your favorite characters let loose and break into uninhibited dance parties!

One of my favorite scenes from Freaks and Geeks is the high school dance which caps the pilot episode. Lindsay and Sam Weir have had a tough first week of high school. In their struggle to be prove how grown up they are by establishing their places in the high school hierarchy it is interesting that they seem most at ease and in place when they let themselves be kids again. The scene is established by the melodic opening to Styx’ “Come Sail Away.” Lindsay looks out of place and judgmental as Millie sways beside her at the refreshment table. The music builds as Sam enters and spots his super-crush Cindy. He claims his promised dance and leads her to the dance floor with a look of panic and anticipation that only John Francis Daley could pull off so effortlessly. He takes his time to find the perfect dancing spot. After all most of his life (or at least the past week) has been building up to this moment and everything has to be just right. The walk seems to take forever as the songs tempo builds. When he finally decides on a location he freezes. As a character who isn’t used to getting what he wants, Sam is unsure of how to proceed now that his perfect moment has arrived. This dance means everything, fitting in, actually touching the girl of his dreams and taking another step closer to adulthood. However in that frozen moment the songs tempo shifts up to a much faster beat and Cindy steps back to rock out. Again, Daley finds a sublime balance of dread and relief in his reaction. At Cindy’s insistence Sam grabs his bearings and joins her, shedding all the tension and worry of the past week and releasing himself to easy joy as he jumps around with his perfect dance partner. Sam’s joy is contagious as Lindsay looks on. Her face opens up with delight and she impulsively approaches Eli to claim her own dance. As the music swells Lindsay sheds her over-sized coat, letting go of all the baggage of high school and existential crisis and her and Eli give themselves over to childlike fun. As the camera pulls pack we see most of the school temporarily united as they jump around like the kids they seem so determined to distance themselves from.

My all-time favorite episode of Community is Remedial Chaos Theory from Season 3. Only Community could offer up such a brilliant study of character and heart from a Sci-Fi send up. In the episode, six different timelines of the same evening are explored each time a set of dice are rolled. In these timelines we see how the characters interact, connect and argue with each other in different combinations. Every time the dice are rolled a different member of the group is removed to go get pizza. The dance party breaks out during Jeff’s turn and plays heavily on Community’s strongest theme of letting your guard down to let others in. During each of the timelines Britta attempts to break into singing when the song Roxanne plays and each time Jeff shuts this down immediately. It’s a funny gag of Jeff thwarting another awkward Britta moment. However, when Jeff leaves the room Britta is encouraged by the other members of the group. Just like in Freaks and Geeks Britta’s joy is contagious and everyone breaks out into dancing. With Jeff gone the group forgets about their inhibitions and are able to let go and share in a moment of friendship. Shirley abandons her cooking addiction, Peirce throws away the evil Troll doll meant to scare Troy and Abed invites Annie to move in. All these grown up choices are made by allowing themselves to be kids again, leaving behind their insecurities.

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