Positive Season: Dr. Roboto or; How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Boogie

Unlikely Oscar contender Silver Linings Playbook recently reminded the world of the restorative power of dancing.  Audiences swooned as its dysfunctional romantic leads did a dance and forgot they were previously mentally ill.  Subscriptions to dance-classes went up abit” overnight and there was even talk in Parliament of allowing dancing in public. 

So can it really be just 495 years since the Dancing plague of 1518 (google it) claimed “several” lives in Strasbourg?  Are we really ready for more dancing?  Is it the devil’s work or can doing dancing, or just “dancing” as the experts call it, truly play a positive role in society?

You might be able to find serious answers to these questions elsewhere but I’ve only got 700 words so I’m gonna use the majority to tell lies about John Travolta…

The 1997 blockbuster Face/Off was originally intended as a direct sequel to the Travolta classic, Saturday Night Fever.

“Dance/Off” was to focus on his character’s time as an elite dance instructor, working alongside the CIA to develop “disco-disorientation warfare”.  Plot and title only changed when Nicholas Cage came on board.  Fresh from Con-Air and The Rock, two hugely successful, bombastic action movies, Cage was looking to defy audience expectations by starring in something a little more intimate… noone expected it to be John Travolta’s body.

Despite the latter’s fierce protestations, he was overruled by director John Woo and for the duration of the shoot, forced to swap faces with Cage. The surgical procedure shown in the film was later revealed to have actually taken place and it was years before Travolta spoke about the experience, describing it in a 2005 interview as “deeply uncomfortable”.

Abandoning its original premise, Face/Off evolved into another hugely successful, bombastic action movie, underscoring the irony that Cage was in fact only granted his rewrites upon destroying Travolta in a Woo-refereed dance-off.  According to Cage on the DVD commentary, “If you can do the worm, the other guy’s fucked – simple as that.” 

Incidentally, Travolta’s claims that it was in fact Cage, once more wearing his face, who molested all those dudes (GOOGLE IT!!), were dismissed by Cage, who simply said, “I like chicks”.

Dance/Off/Face/Off-gate is one of the most famous historical examples of a dance-off result dictating that a movie’s storyline actually shifted away from dancing….in this case, to the much more grounded idea of two men swapping faces.  Since its release, it’s been pored over by critics and scholars far smarter than me and they mostly agree on two things: 1) On this occasion, dancing played a pivotal role in its own demise, suggesting perplexing wider implications for society at large, and 2) The bit where the speedboat flips and they go flying, that doesn’t look fucking anything like Nicholas Cage or John Travolta, even if they’re supposed to have swapped heads or whatever….

So we’ve seen how dancing can do whatever it was I just said it did, but what about when dancing does whatever the next few paragraphs are about? What then?

In 1997, The Full Monty made it socially acceptable for drunk, middle-aged men to suddenly expose themselves in public, provided a Tom Jones tune was playing in the vicinity – the subsequent rise in portable speaker and rain-mac sales was small comfort to those who witnessed a stranger’s ball-bag outside Woolworths.

I’ve not seen it, but I’m told Billy Elliot (2000) was a deeply affecting, life-affirming tale which used the inherent joy of dance to smash ignorant preconceptions and regressive social stereotypes, but it was also about a little gay northern kid doing ballet (probably gay – ed.)

But it’s not just the big screen infecting us with the dancing bug. Introduced in 2009, Dance for Comic Relief has seen some of the nation’s favourite celebrities and performers gyrating live on television to raise funds for charitable efforts both at home and abroad.  Despite some questionable talent on the floor, the positive philanthropic effects of their actions cannot be overstated – Figures show a 32% global decrease in Bono in the last 6 months alone, and no-one’s seen Bob Geldof in fucking ages.

That’s good enough for me… DANCING STAYS!

Words: Ian Greenland

Illustration: Daniel James Leznoff