“Hey, They’re Playing Our Song”: A Personal Journey Through Cinematic School Dances

Dance like no one's watching-inspiredmommiedesignsCome on, admit it, when you were in school you loved the school dance.  You loved getting slightly dressed up, feeling even more awkward than usual, and spending all night debating whether you were going to ask your favorite girl to dance you, only to find yourself trying not to get aroused the moment she said yes.

Good times.

In that spirit, here are ten memorable school dances, as filtered through my own personal world-view.

napoleon-dynamite--large-msg-13043817141110. Napoleon Dynamite, dir. by Jared Hess

In high school I never really went to dances, because after attending one I decided I was far too cool for that sort of thing and they were basically a joke anyway.  I attended a second, just to confirm my findings.  Of course, I don’t count proms as dances, but if I had to, I went to four total dances – two normal, two proms.

The first prom I attended was my own, taking the girl I was dating at the time and who would shortly break up with me.  At the time it seemed awful, but in hind-sight, I can’t say I’m upset it happened.  That’s because I’m a big boy now, not some emotionally feeble 17 year-old.

Anyway, the second prom was actually another girlfriend’s prom and for me, that night played out almost exactly like the dance in Napoleon Dynamite.  Only not in the good waybecause instead of me being Napoleon and getting jerked around by some evil girl, I’m the evil date and it’s the girl I went with who’s the Napoleon.  Nothing like ruining a person’s prom wishing you were anywhere else but there, and with anybody else but her

Back-to-the-Future-Geogre-and-Larraine9. Back To The Future, dir. by Robert Zemeckis

Not until Arrested Development dropped Mother Boy XXX on the world did Hollywood manage to outdo the creep-tastic Enchantment Under The Sea Dance.  After all, when the central set-piece of a film involves a son traveling back in time and taking his super-horny mother to a dance in an effort to get her to bang his father, it really takes some doing to reach those discomforting heights.  Thank god Marvin Berry was there to distract us from thinking too hard about the scenario presented.

sixteen8. Sixteen Candles, dir. by John Hughes

Of all the films and scenes on this list, the dance in Sixteen Candle’s is one that speaks directly to me.  After all, as a young lad I thought I had more game than I did – like Farmer Ted – and lusted after far more girls than I could ever hope to win.  More than once I thought trying to woo the young ladies at some lame school dance would be the way to go, and not surprisingly I struck out.  Unfortunately, unlike Ted, I didn’t wind up with a cheerleader as a consolation prize: I wound up leaving alone.

Anyway, in some ways it’s hard not to envy the nerds in the film: they knew what they were and didn’t try to change themselves to please anybody.  Isn’t that the essence of happiness.

7.  Dazed and Confused, dir. by Richard Linklater

You might not remember it, but there was a sliver of a dance in this movie, the last one for the junior high kids before they make that big splash in high school, which they are sure is the Promised Land.  Right there in the middle of the film we get a glimpse of it, when two kids retrieve a third from a lip-lock from some girl and drag him out, despite his claims that he was “getting there.”

What does this dance have in common with my junior high dances?  Nothing.  Why not?  No girl kissed me.  No girl looked at me.  No girl even knew I was alive.

CheaperbytheDozen1950-Still1CR6. Cheaper By The Dozen, dir. by Walter Lang

When people pine for the good old days, in the absurd belief that somehow the simpler times were better times, they should remember that in the good old days there was no penicillin, there were flu epidemics, there was the cold war, and, oh yeah, if you wanted to take a girl to a dance, you had to deal with her Dad following along.  Talk about slowing my roll.

karate-kid-remake-25. Karate Kid, dir. by John G. Avildsen

New kid + hot girl + bully = 95% of my high school life, except, remove the hot girl and with maybe less of the bully.

Still, it sure felt that way.

american-graffiti-1973-ron-howard-cindy-williams-kathleen-quinlan-pic-44. American Graffiti, dir. by George Lucas

It’s amazing, how in high school, everybody thinks there will never be a more important time than what’s being lived at that moment, which is a sad thought, because by that assumption, every moment that comes after must be an excruciating downhill slide.  Watching American Graffiti, where Ron Howard and Cindy Williams dance and talk about their futures, like this is the most important moment ever, made me think of that couple from my high school still stuck in the time warp and together more than 15 years after graduation.  I wonder what’ll happen when they finally wake up and realize just how trivial high school was.

obf-80s-bellybuttons-phoebe-cates-fast-times-at-ridgemont-high-300x3003. Fast Times At Ridgemont High, dir. by Amy Heckerling

The dance at the finale of the movie doesn’t really add anything to the narrative – the film’s basically over by then, although seeing Sean Penn sing ‘Wooly Booly’ is fun.  But seeing the dorky teacher with the hot wife does give hope to dorky kids like me that, while jocks might be cool, it’s the nerds who inherit the earth.

Still, there really wasn’t much point trying to find a picture of the scene because when anybody of a certain generation – like mine – thinks of that movie, they think of just one thing…

12. It’s A Wonderful Life, dir. by Frank Capra

This is possibly my favorite movie of all time and everything charming and loveable about the film is right there on display, in the dance scene.

After reluctantly tagging along to his younger brother’s prom, George Bailey gets the first inkling that no matter how far you look for happiness, sometimes it’s right under your nose and the little girl you’ve basically ignored all your life is actually the woman of your dream.

And honestly, this scene has almost everything you could ask for: getting dumped in the drink by Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Schweitzer of The Little Rascals, the bit of zaniness with the old house and the broken window and Mary Bailey naked and hiding in the bush, plus the bittersweet reality that even love is not enough to stop the death of your hero – that would be George’s dad, Peter Bailey.

The only thing it doesn’t have?  A bucket of pig’s blood.

carr1.  Carrie, dir. by Brian DePalma

Nobody in the world is likely to have had the same prom experience as Carrie White, though I suppose if you looked at the sequence less-than-literally and more figuratively, this dance probably perfectly captures the vast majority of school dances.  You go into it thinking it will be amazing and romantic and true love – or at least, a little sex – will spring from it, only to have that vision of perfection rudely yanked out from under you when life drops pig’s blood on it.


Honorable Mention


It’s been years – literally a decade or more – since I’ve seen this film, and I hated it then, so I’m loathe to even mention it here.  But as the movie is about a town that outlawed dancing, it’s a travesty not to mention that climactic dance, even if the only reason to see the film is for the awesome game of tractor chicken and not all the stupid dancing at all.

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