Famous fantasy dance sequences

I didn’t set out to cover dance on film so much this week but one thing has led to another. Gene Kelly has always been my top-most favorite dancer but two other dancers have hit the top of many other peoples’ lists: Fred Astaire and Dick Van Dyke. Astaire’s film dance career was characterized by his willingness and ability to dance with just about anything, including a hat rack. But during the filming of the movie “Royal Wedding” he set out to outdo himself by dancing with an entire room. The famous “Dancing on the Ceiling” sequence became legendary, not the least because most people could not see how they pulled off the stunt. Decades later film veterans confirmed that a special rotating “room” set was constructed and Astaire simply danced from wall to wall as stage hands turned the box-like structure.

Lionel Ritchie filmed a tribute video for his song “Dancing on the Ceiling”. Some people have deconstructed the stunt in videos that show Astaire remaining upright as the room turns but I don’t like them. I think the original film sequence still works best. Pay close attention to the wooden chair, the coat, the hat, and the picture. They stay right where Fred puts them as the room turns — a special effect that would have wowed people back in the day, although we certainly know several methods of keeping things in place (such as very good editing between shots).

The following video is an amazing tribute to both Fred Astaire and Michael Jackson. Using very good editing, the video (by Abeja Mariposa, Jr.) shows Fred Astaire dancing to Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal”. I cannot imagine how much time it must have taken to make this video (and this is the second, updated version).

This one seems a bit sacrilegious but as it’s short I’ll share it anyway. This is an MTV animated spoof showing Dick Van Dyke dancing to Jackson’s “Billie Jean”.

One of the greatest musical fantasy movies of all time, in my opinion, had to be “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”. And since I was a sentimental lad when the movie came out, of all the great songs in the film the one that made the biggest impression on me was the “Doll on a music box/Truly Scrumptious” sequence, where Caractacus and Truly pretend to be dolls for the Baron’s birthday party. And this video shows you just how memorable that sequence was, as it continues to inspire new interpretations to today.

Okay, so maybe you were not expecting young ballerinas but you have to admit they were cute. But if you think I’m joking about the impact that sequence has had on modern art, you’re in for a real treat. Yes, I’m talking about the Anime video you see below. Play it. You’ll thank me.

Okay, if you’re not feeling sick from all the sweetness yet, I’ve saved the best for last. This is the original 5-minute-plus sequence from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, featuring Benny Hill as the Toymaker. Sally Ann Howes’ robotic choreography was perfect. She performed the sequence twice, and in 1968 that was about 5-6 years before I saw the “robot” on some Saturday afternoon dance show. Sally’s performance was better than any robot I’ve ever seen.

I could go on but not in this post, I think.


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