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Dancing Is Serious Business

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Girl: I'm rich and you're poor, but let's dance together!
Guy: Society won't like it.
Girl: [grabbing him dramatically] I don't care!
Family Guy (parodying this trope)

Some media works feature people dancing. This makes a whole lot of sense when the scene is set in a nightclub, a prom, or even a concert. Other times, however, there is an elaborate plot going on upon which the story is concentrating, and there's no time for frivolity because serious business is afoot. And yet dancing has been shoved in there somewhere, even when it feels (or at least should feel) out of place.

Very common in music videos and in films that are about dancing. This trope does not generally apply to musicals (see the Musical World Hypotheses), but it could do if the dancing is diegetic and the plot revolves around it.

Naturally a Sub-Trope of Serious Business. May feature an Angry Dance.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Brave10, for the fourth of the Ueda Castle 10 Matches, reputed shrine maidens Isanami and Izumo no Okuni get into a dance-off before their fight as Isanami is absolutely determined to prove the latter is a pretender to the Izumo name.
  • Princess Tutu is made of this. Angry wili ghosts trying to take your boyfriend with them into death? Monster crows trying to destroy the city? Helpless baby birds falling out of their nests? Then it's time to dance your goddamn heart out.
  • In the third episode of Black Butler, Sebastian is dismayed to learn that Ciel doesn't know how to dance, and chides his young master for the oversight, as Ciel's position in society demands that he be able to perform appropriately at balls and gatherings. In fact, Ciel's fiancée is expecting him to dance with her that very night, so Sebastian insists upon teaching Ciel the basics of a waltz, over the young lord's frustrated objections. After all, what kind of butler would Sebastian be if he couldn't do that much?

    Fairy Tales 
  • Cinderella: Cinderella's salvation more or less comes from dancing at a ball.

    Films — Animation 
  • Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses practically revolves around this trope. Genevieve dances across the tiles in the princess' room to unlock the entrance to a secret pavilion. When Rowena has the tiles destroyed to trap Genevieve and her sisters in the pavilion forever, Genevieve and her Love Interest Derek (who she knows because he makes the dancing shoes for her and her sisters) have to dance together to get out. At the end of the movie, Genevieve vanquishes Rowena once and for all by fanning back towards Rowena a spell the latter cast to make one dance for eternity.
  • Happy Feet pegs the survival of every Emperor Penguin on Earth on the penguin's ability to impress humans with their tap-dancing skills.
  • Leap!: Félicie, an orphan girl, dreams of becoming a ballerina. So she escapes from the orphanage, hops a train, and commits identity fraud to get into the Paris Opera's ballet school. Meanwhile, the school is auditioning for the part of Clara in The Nutcracker by holding a Survivor-type single-elimination contest; each week, the weakest student is permanently dismissed from the class with the last one standing getting the part. Naturally, Félicie and Camille (the girl whose place she took) wind up as the final two contestants, with the bonus that if she loses she'll not only be sent back to the orphanage, but The Mentor who has been training her on the side gets fired. It all leads up to an epic dance battle across the whole studio, with our heroine victorious and The Rival gracefully admitting defeat. But it doesn't end there! Camille's mom is so enraged that she coldly tries to murder a teenage girl just for besting her daughter. Even for a movie about ballet, that's pretty extreme.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Another Cinderella Story. It's a modern version of Cinderella (see above), so it actually makes sense to be about a dancer.
  • Billy Elliot qualifies as this at the point where the striking miner father almost becomes a scab for the money to send Billy to ballet school so the kid can have a better chance at life.
  • Black Swan is a Deconstruction of this, following a ballerina who basically destroys her life, body, and sanity in an obsessive quest to give the perfect performance in Swan Lake. The insanity of treating dancing so seriously is called out, as is the fact that doing so looks rather pathetic when seen from an outside view; at one point, Nina rambles about Swan Lake and ballet to two guys with her typical obsessiveness, and the two can’t even pretend to find it interesting.
  • The movie Breakin featured the classic "pinning of all hopes and dreams on a dance routine," but its strangely-titled sequel Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo ratcheted up the crazy by not only using breakdancing as a means to save the perpetually-imperiled youth center, but also as a form of combat. No, not like a Dance Battler, but rather two teams of enemies facing off, breakdancing, and then deciding — as a group — who won the battle. What, do you think we're kidding?
  • C Me Dance is about a girl whose faith in God is apparently dependent on her ability to dance. When she can't dance due to some rare blood disease, she loses faith. Her father prays that she returns to Christianity and regains the strength to fulfill her dream of dancing. God apparently not only obliges by making her better, He makes her gift of dance so great that people who see her dance apparently have religious epiphanies and convert to Christianity instantly! Satan, upset by her ability to bring people to God that easily, then aims all his evil energy at preventing her from dancing. It should be noted that this film is not a parody or a comedy; they were trying to be serious. Quite clearly, Dancing Is Serious Business.
  • In Dirty Dancing, much more is riding on Baby learning to dance than Johnny not being able to do a dance exhibition at another resort and thus suffering professional embarrassment.
  • Flashdance has Alex (played by Jennifer Beals) pining her own entire future on her audition for the Pittsburgh Conservatory.
  • In the middle of Footloose, Ren McCormick invades a train-yard just so he can work his dancing Angst out. And impress the girl, apparently.
  • In The Game Plan, Monique takes Joe through a series of ballet exercises to show him that ballet takes as much athletic ability as football.
  • In Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), with the fate of an entire planet at stake, Quill challenges Ronan the Accuser to a dance-off. It is a distraction. Ronan is extremely confused and temporarily stops his attempt to destroy the planet while he tries to figure out what is going on. This gives Rocket time to fix his BFG and destroy the source of Ronan's power.
  • In Midsommar, the cult/group the Harga choose the May Queen via a dance, which many young women are seen preparing for, as it is a highly honored position.
  • In Never Say Never Again, James Bond (Sean Connery) turns Domino (Kim Basinger) away from Maximillian Largo in an elaborate tango. The right to which he won by defeating Largo in a game.
  • The documentary Pina is about the late choreographer, Pina Bausch, and her dancers speak about her in awe as an artist the way a sculptor would speak about Michelangelo as they perform the dances she developed.
  • In Saturday Night Fever, Tony Manero (played by John Travolta) basically pins his entire future on winning a dance contest. Justified as Tony is from a poor, slightly abusive family, is stuck in a dead-end job, and is affected by gang violence. He has nothing else to enjoy and pin his hopes on nothing but dancing.
  • Baz Luhrmann's Strictly Ballroom takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to this trope by having everyone treat a professional dancing competition with the same level of seriousness most people reserve for wars, deaths in the family, and epidemics.
  • They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is a Deconstruction based on actual exploitative dance contests during the Great Depression. Dancing is serious business, but it's also not fun or quirky; it's brutal, gruelling, emotional and physical labor to the point where death is better.
  • White Nights has a serious setting, a USSR prison during the Cold War. A famous Russian ballet dancer who defected is in a terrible situation when he is recaptured by Soviets during a plane crash. The Soviets bring a supposedly loyal tap dancer to help teach this defector the error of his ways while pressuring him. These two dancers express their angst and conflict while dancing.
  • There was a rash of these in the '00s: Take the Lead and the Disney Channel movie Gotta Kick It Up! were Save Our Students stories; You Got Served, the Step Up movies and Save the Last Dance all involved gang violence wherein somebody got shot; Stomp the Yard (which also started with a murder) and How She Move had pulling-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps-and-the-magic-of-dance plots. In 2009 The Wayans brothers made a parody movie for MTV called Dance Flick. At least in the case of Take The Lead, it was Based on a True Story, though the real-life Pierre Dulaine wishes he looked like Antonio Banderas. And the real kids were in many cases younger (see Mad Hot Ballroom for the real program.)

  • Miss Price saves the children in Bedknob and Broomstick from a Cannibal Tribe by having a magic-infused dance-off against the tribe's shaman.
  • Abdul's salvation in The Kid. His interest in dance seems to be the only thing keeping him from spiraling into violence, mental illness, and addiction.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Bunheads dance, particularly ballet, is treated extremely seriously. Any of the main teenage girls possibly developing interests or friends outside of ballet is always treated as a major shock and betrayal. One of Michelle's major regrets is not having the discipline to continue her studies at American Ballet Theatre as a teenager.
  • Cited in the Cold Case episode "Shuffle, Ball Change'', about the murder of a young man who aspired to be a dancer. When Vera makes disparaging remarks about the profession to one of the suspects (the kid's rival), the guy hits back with a blistering description of how difficult dance is and the commitment it requires. Later, when they are interviewing another suspect (the kid's teacher), he gives a similar speech and a flashback shows that he gave yet another similar speech to the kid himself.
  • The Doctor Who episode named, appropriately, The Doctor Dances. In this case, the dancing subplot seems to be a veiled reference to sexuality.
  • Both seasons of Fi feature significant subplots related to Duru's dancing career and Deniz's work as a composer, director, and teacher.
    • Season one focuses on Duru's ambitions as a lead performer and Deniz's struggle to open a performing arts center for his students.
    • The second season brings Duru and Deniz together again for the production of Afife, a new musical.
  • Home Improvement. After Tim takes one of the boys to both the ballet and a basketball game, he later admits to Jill that he was genuinely impressed by the skill and athleticism demonstrated by the dancers.
  • Flight of the Conchords parodies Footloose with "Bret's Angry Dance." When the band breaks up, the only way to vent his frustrations is by dancing masculinely in a warehouse. Unlike Bacon, Bret McKenzie is a trained dancer, so he did the heavy lifting and heavier dancing himself.

  • Men Without Hats's "Safety Dance":
    We can dance if we want to
    We can leave your friends behind
    'Cause your friends don't dance and if they don't dance
    Well, they're no friends of mine
  • In the video for Michael Jackson's "Beat It", Michael is able to Reconcile the Bitter Foes by intervening in their Mob War and getting both sides to join him in a dance in the street.
  • "Do the Strand", from Roxy Music's For Your Pleasure:
    There's a new sensation
    A fabulous creation
    A danceable solution
    To teenage revolution

    Music Videos 
  • Michael Jackson was the king of this trope. It started when he was still a part of The Jackson 5 with songs like "Dancing Machine", "Blame It On The Boogie" and "Shake Your Body Down To The Ground" and went on as an adult superstar on Off the Wall with tracks like "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough", "Off The Wall" and "Burn This Disco Out". You might think a Zombie Apocalypse horror movie might be the wrong time to suddenly break out into dance, but somehow he made it work in "Thriller". In "Beat It," he actually puts a stop to a gang-war through the power of dance. Think that's enough? The film for "Smooth Criminal" boasted fantastic cinematography that accentuated the dancing to the max.
  • Pat Benatar's "Love Is A Battlefield." Pat and the other taxi-dancers horse the sleazy pimp-like Guido who runs the dance hall to back off through the power of dance. Or something...
  • The video for Sophie Ellis-Bextor's "Murder On The Dance-Floor'' involves a dancing contest with an unscrupulously competitive contestant.
  • The video for "Dark Blue" by Jack's Mannequin features a dance marathon. It lasts over 47 days before couple 55 loses. And then they jump off the pier.

    Myths & Religion 
  • One of the most powerful and warlike gods in Hindu Mythology is Shiva, whose dancing is entropy personified. A common image of Shiva portrays him dancing in a circle of fire and ice to symbolize his mastery over all creation.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • ECW had a lot of dancing. The 1998 feud between the team of The Blue Meanie/Super Nova vs. the FBI (Tracy Smothers, Little Guido Maritato and "The Big Don" Tommy Rich) was centered around it. A typical match between the two teams would start like this: Smothers would "dance" poorly and get booed. Meanie would dance and get cheered. Repeat until the FBI attacks.
  • After the Meanie surprised everyone by defeating Jason "The Sexiest Man on Earth" at ECW Ultimate Jeopardy 97, "YMCA" started playing and the whole ECW Arena crowd, notorious for being tough to please, did the "YMCA" dance along with Meanie and Nova.
  • CHIKARA. Dance-offs between wrestlers could break out in the middle of matches, often started by The Osirian Portal. Sometimes it wasn't even to see who was better, it was just for fun.
  • At CZW Last Team Standing 2006 the crowd demanded to see a dance-off between Claudio Castagnoli and Human Tornado when Castagnoli and Chris Hero took on Tornado and Ruckus.
  • Before she managed to score victory in WSU, it was suggested Athena hadn't won yet because she wasn't doing spinaroonies like her school's namesake.
  • At the unauthorized ROH A Night Of Hoopla, Davey Richards expressed his frustration with a "pants off dance off" being held between the "Hoopla Hotties" Scarlett Bordeaux, Seleziya Sparx and Val Malone, talking about the promotion's efforts to present a quality wrestling product, before concluding the only proper way to defend the honor of all the great wrestlers that came before him was to enter the contest himself and out dance the House Of Truth's minions while leaving his pants on!
  • Shane Strickland vs ACH at the International Wrestling Cartel. More people seem to remember their dance-off than any match they had. Neither winning the 2013 Super Indy probably doesn't help.
  • Hana Kimura and Kris Wolf tried to pull out the teeth of Christi Jaynes in World Wonder Ring STARDOM for the crime of touching La Rosa Negra while trying to defeat the Oedo~tai dance.

  • Spokane area radio personalities C. Foster Kane and Jim Arnold (the "Radio Men") often reduce summaries of upcoming movies to the conflict being resolved via a "secret underground dance competition".

    Tabletop Games 
  • Exalted:
    • Some Solar Exalted can dance so well that onlookers are brainwashed.
    • Ligier, the monstrous Green Sun who rules the realm of demons, loves to dance. (The many demons whose houses are crushed by the power of his dancing are less enthused.) One of the best ways to negotiate with him is to offer him a dance; the process will be extremely exhausting and difficult for whoever his partner is, but if Ligier is satisfied, he will grant almost any request they make.
    • There is a species of demon who exist solely to dance when called upon. Presumably their creators were into Conspicuous Consumption.
  • Forgotten Realms has the spelldancers, who use dance-based magic rituals. In the 2nd Edition AD&D version, they are variant wizards unable to use Invocation/Evocation or Necromancy spells, but who are not bound by the Vancian rules that control all other magic in D&D. (This means such characters aren't much use in a dungeon crawl, but otherwise tend to be overpowered). In 3rd Edition, any spellcaster (arcane or divine) can become one, and they only use the dance to amplify the spells they can cast normally.
  • Warhammer Fantasy battles have Woodelf Wardancers.
  • Warhammer 40,000 has Eldar Harlequins that use acrobatic dances amplified by mystical technology. They use this during wars as well.

  • The basic premise of A Chorus Line is dancers auditioning to be in the chorus of a new Broadway musical, so dancing is key to the livelihoods of all the characters. As we later find out dance was also the way many of the characters were able to cope with or leave their dysfunctional home lives.

    Video Games 
  • Ghost Trick:
    • When trouble strikes (such as a prison-wide blackout), prison guard Bailey is compelled to do the Panic Dance as passed down in his family for generations. Why? Because someone has to.
    • Inspector Cabanela also has a fondness for dancing everywhere, including up and down stairs. One of the officers is shown in the credits trying to copy that dance, in an attempt to get his power.
  • Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan and its American counterpart Elite Beat Agents. In EBA, only dancing can cure a sick athlete and stop an alien invasion.
  • Space Channel 5 is all about a reporter fighting aliens with the power of dance. In fact, the entire galaxy is powered by dance.
  • In Brain Dead 13, Lance has to do this to "stay alive" while dodging a hail of bullets that Trigger-Happy Fritz shoots at both our hero and Neurosis. And it all takes place entirely in the darkness, where the only tiny pillars of light are used as a disco dance floor.
  • Exaggerated in one of the Alternate Universes in Portal 2's Perpetual Testing Initiative, where the law apparently mandates dancing constantly.
  • Final Fantasy XIV: The Vanu Vanu Bird People treat dance as a sacred matter of life and death. Their trademark dance in particular, the Sundrop Dance, is treated with with the utmost importance. The Sundrop Dance is a dance performed before battle that is a measure of the dancer's strength and can cow weaker opponents without any violence. To that end, the Vanu Vanu Beast Tribe questline involves getting the two tribes you're working with to do a Sundrop Dance against the more powerful and hostile Vundu tribe. It almost fails until the Warrior of Light steps in and joins in the dance, at which point the dancers develop a Battle Aura and send the Vundu scurrying for their lives. The Allied Beast Tribe quest has one Linu Vali developing a new dance, later named the Moonlift Dance, that gets used against opponents who have been forced into an Unstoppable Rage. It stops their enraged charge in its tracks with an even stronger Battle Aura.
  • In Unison on PS2, dancing has been outlawed by Emperor Ducker. Doctor Dance puts together a performance group comprised of three girls to hijack television broadcasts of Ducker's own singing to show Unison dancing, inspiring the people of Twin Ships to take back their right to dance.
  • Dance Central 3's plot is to save the world through dancing. There's even DCI, a CIA-esque agency to protect the world from dance crimes.
  • Playing DanceDanceRevolution might make you feel this way, especially with its oh-so-enthusiastic announcer.
    "Everybody's waiting for you!"
  • If the Investigation Team in Persona 4: Dancing All Night does not express their emotions through dance adequately, they will be defenseless against the Shadows.
  • In Sid Meier's Pirates!, formal balls are an integral component of the Romance Sidequest with Governors' daughters, and the player character needs to perform adequately on the dance floor in order to impress the daughter enough to develop their relationship.
  • In Cultist Simulator, Heart-aspect cults are all about dancing. Dancing to the eldritch, unceasing, sanity-destroying rhythm of the Thunderheart, to be precise. Even moreso in the Dancer DLC and its "Change" desire, which sets the player on the path to becoming an immortal Humanoid Abomination via a path of ancient, mystic dances.
  • In Octopath Traveler, Primrose's attack spells are named things like "Moonlight Waltz" or "Night Ode". Apparently in Orsterra you can summon darkness to kill your enemies just by dancing real good.

    Visual Novels 
  • On Becca’s romantic path in Melody, the protagonist takes Becca on a date to an Italian restaurant that (a pizza parlor, not a really nice place), he and Becca are having serious rapport-building talk, and he invites Becca to dance to a song that just came on.

  • In Bronze Skin Inc. the client Dandara starts dancing wildly while listening to the legendary playlist while being tanned by Dante and Julia. It wouldn't be a problem if Dandara wasn't a giantess.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 

  • South Park parodied this in "You got F'd in the A!". The adults act like "getting served" by a dance crew like is a horribly traumatic event or a serious injury while the boys are just confused as to what everyone's talking about.
  • Parodied in a Robot Chicken sketch that was a pastiche of "dance movies".
  • The We Bare Bears short "Panda's Dream" features a series of increasingly bizarre daydreams by Panda about dealing with a guy who cut in line at the game store, which culminates in a K-Pop dance-off.
  • In the Wander over Yonder episode "The Party Animal", Emperor Awesome tries to literally party a planet to pieces, but gives up on his scheme when he's bested in a dance-off by Wander.

    Real Life 
  • Many cultures' ritual dances were this because they were, well, ritual dances. To make a mistake was to show disrespect, incur the wrath of The Powers That Be, etc.
    • This is why, for example, novice hula dancers were secluded until they learned the moves correctly and could perform the ritual dances perfectly.
    • In a modern version, the New Zealand national rugby team performs a Maori haka dance before each of their games. Don't tell them that they look silly. Also, because it looks as intimidating as hell.
    • The Fiji and Samoan teams also have their own, based on their respective tribal dances: the Cibi and the Siva Tau respectively. See this video for a comparison of the three.
    • During the 2005 Lions tour, Brian O'Driscoll was believed to have disrespected the haka by picking up a blade of grass and throwing it away. He was spear tackled in the 90 seconds of play, rushed to hospital with a dislocated shoulder, and didn't play again for five months. Much controversy ensued in rugby circles, but suffice it to say that the haka is taken very seriously.
  • Male animals (such as certain birds) that use a mating dance to woo a female. She's judging the way he dances; if he does it right, she will allow him to mate with her. But if she doesn't like what she sees (for whatever reason), she will judge him as unsuitable. In certain species of spiders, failing to dance impressively enough is grounds for being eaten by the female.
  • The Wagah border ceremony on the India/Pakistan border is a daily military practice which involves dance-like aggressive walks from both sides, almost like a dance battle. It was so aggressive that in 2010 Major General Yaqub Ali Khan of the Pakistan Rangers decided that the aggressive aspect of the ceremonial theatrics should be toned down. It was described by Michael Palin as "carefully choreographed contempt."
  • After a terrible Philadelphia Eagles game, a Facebook member snidely commented that "the Eagles played like they were wearing tutus." Incensed at this, a member of the Pennsylvania Ballet offered up a blistering editorial that described how difficult the life of a ballerina was and suggested that the comment was an insult to the dancers rather than the football players, capping it off with this gem: "So no, the Eagles have not played like they were wearing tutus. If they had, Chip Kelly would still be a head coach and we'd all be looking forward to the playoffs."
  • The Norwegian folk dance movement is rigidly working for the preservation of the "correct" traditional dance modes, including details like when and where to "bounce" in a 3/4 dance (often called a "springar" or "pols"). Woe betide those who screw this up. The fact that the dancers enter a number of contests each year may heaten this tension many notches. To list a couple of examples: Early in The New '10s, a fistfight nearly broke out over which dancer should have won the traditional male dance "halling". In 1992, an entire valley ended up in a severe Flame War over how to dance the 3/4 dance correctly. It involved, among other things, exclusion, threatening letters, a lot of mental bruises, and a number of performers just up and quitting for years. Norwegian folk dancing is definitely serious business.
  • Legend has it that as a young ballet trainee in The Netherlands during World War II, Audrey Hepburn, danced in silent performances to raise money for the Dutch Resistance effort.


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