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Deranged Dance

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Dancing can signify many things, be it love, desperation or hopelessness, anger, or even happiness. It can even convey insanity — which is the scope of this trope.

A character performing a Deranged Dance usually signifies his/her failing sanity, if it hasn't been compromised entirely before. Their dancing will usually be erratic and/or uncoordinated, and may involve screaming, crying, frightening stoicism, or any combination thereof.

While playing this trope seriously or for drama is more common, hilarious examples do exist — for example, having the character dance naked or in their underwear.

Compare and contrast Dance of Despair — with which the trope has a strong overlap, especially if desperation is the cause of the insanity. Expect Dancing with Myself, as it's a rare occurrence that someone else sees the character, at least openly. Compare also Tuneless Song of Madnesssinging as a sign of failing sanity — which sometimes overlaps with this trope. If the mad dancing resembles (or is) ballet, it may fall under Creepy Ballet as well. Similarly uncoordinated to I Can't Dance, but that trope is because the character can't dance in the first place. If it's unplanned in addition to the above, it also falls under Involuntary Dance. Due to its nature, is heavily intertwined with Sanity Slippage. May be paired with a Sanity Slippage Song.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • In this Perfume Commercial for Kenzo World, a young woman, played by Margaret Qualley, walks out of a fancy gala and performs a frenzied dance while threshing through the building that hosts the gala.

    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • In Batman: No Man's Land, there is Alvin Kothers, AKA the Death Dancer, who is a Serial Killer who does a little tap dance in front of his victims right before "liberating" them from their suffering via knife to the throat. He tries to do a dance before killing his next victim, but ends up being flattened when the victim turns out to be Batgirl/Oracle.
  • In the biographical comicbook Stitches by David Small, the author's grandmother was dancing in the street after burning down her house with her husband trapped inside. The event was a sign of dementia due to old age, and she was sent to a mental institution.
  • In Wonder Woman Vol 2 #97, Wonder Woman is infected by a powerful variant of Joker Venom during a fight with the Joker. Her solution is to invoke the Mad God Pan to "teach her how to dance in Chaos" and thus gains Insanity Immunity through a special dance tied to the concept of a chaotic atypical mind.
  • The story Thulsa Doom: The Serpent's Den from Savage Tales issue #5. In a flashback, the sorceress Thalia is shown dancing with demented glee after being corrupted by dark magic.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Joker (2019) has Arthur Fleck dancing in the bathroom after killing the three men who assaulted him in the subway, dancing down a long stair path, and dancing on top of a car in the midst of a riot, all as a sign of his descent into madness.
  • The Silence of the Lambs features serial killer Buffalo Bill dancing in the buff and in makeup to "Goodbye Horses" in his disorganized basement, a scene that highlights his Psychopathic Manchild and Sissy Villain traits.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) it's Played for Laughs. Dr. Robotnik dances to "Where Evil Grows" at one point. While he feels confident in his ability to catch Sonic at the moment, and his dancing is pretty smooth, his chase for the hedgehog is slowly taking a toll on his sanity, and it's telling how he openly (if silently) acknowledges that he's evil in this moment. And then he gets startled out of the dance by his lackey, Stone, showing up to offer him a latte.
  • In Black Swan, Nina's final dance as the Black Swan shows her as being truly Driven to Madness, but for that, it's noted as being "perfect". Made even more so by how she stabbed herself, maybe to death, just before it.
  • A rare example when the dance doesn't involve the protagonist dancing (necessarily; it's at least ambiguous) in Mulholland Dr.. Betty's journey into Hollywood begins with an intercut of people dancing the jitterbug while she watches. When the film cuts back to what may be reality, Betty's doppelgänger Diane is increasingly menaced by dancing people and visions of sinister people dancing. One theory for this is that one of Diane's few accomplishments is winning a jitterbug contest, perhaps while her Abusive Parents or grandparents watched.
  • In Us, rather than trying to defend herself actively when Adelaide aka the real Red comes at her with a sword, Red aka the original, real Adelaide simply dances away from her and avoids the blade. The closer Adelaide/Red gets, however, the more deranged Red's movements become, especially as it's intercut by Red's Involuntary Dance for the other Tethered.
  • Towards the end of Alps, as Monte Rosa's sanity declines, she bursts into a dance class and forces one of the patrons to dance with her.
  • In Climax, the dance troupe grows more and more insane as they continue drinking the LSD-laced sangria and their dances become more demented and horrifying in turn.
  • In Kingsman: The Golden Circle, one of the main symptoms caused by the toxin Poppy has added to her widespread drugs is uncontrollable and disturbingly erratic dancing before the victim starts completely losing their minds.
  • Nellie LaRoy in Babylon dances wildly and confidently during the opening party scene, which gets her noticed by some executives and gets hired on the spot as a replacement for an actress who overdosed at the party. Way later in the movie, she dances away into the night after having second thoughts about leaving Los Angeles with Manny.

    Literature 
  • In Heralds of Valdemar, Lan jigging in savage joy over the deaths of enemy soldiers — when only an hour earlier he had felt extreme revulsion at the idea of killing anybody — is a sign that he's been Driven to Madness.
  • Invoked in Shogun; Toranaga is travelling in disguise, and in order to prevent his identity from being revealed Blackthorne feigns madness and dances a hornpipe to distract everyone.
  • In Lords and Ladies, the people of Lancre are subjected to an Elven invasion. The Lancre Morrismen are surrounded by elves as they rehearse. They are terrified, but it occurs to Jason Ogg that humans can cast a counter-enchantment on Elves: they can dance and sing. Dancing buys the Morrismen time to fight to safety: the Elves are compelled to watch and the humans realize they have no choice but to keep up the dancing, singing and music . For hours. Without rest. (Every so often, an Elf gets close enough to kick or fell with a wooden staff).

    Live-Action TV 
  • A perfect example would be The Swede aka Thor Gunderson from Hell on Wheels, in which the Hell on Wheels settlement burns to the ground thanks to an Indian raid caused by the Swede, who's by now become a crazed murderer and gleefully dances with himself while the town burns down around him. note 
  • In Twin Peaks, Leland Palmer begins sporadically dancing with no one at inappropriate moments as his sanity dissolves after the brutal death of his daughter Laura and his worsening possession by BOB.
  • A-Yan in The Untamed after having her soul restored after it was forcibly taken is mentally and spiritually damaged from the experience. She would occasionally start dancing much to the distress of her surviving family and attendant. It actually was a sign that she was possessed by the Dancing Goddess statue but they didn't know that so they just though she was deranged.

    Music 
  • The Peter Gabriel song "Moribund the Burgermeister" is told from the point of view of a Medieval magistrate observing the crazed dancing of his town's people, possibly a symptom of ergotism.

    Mythology And Religion 
  • Greek Mythology features Eris, the infamous goddess of discord and conflict, who often danced in the ruins of burning cities like Troy while wearing hair decorations dripping with human blood. Thus, this trope is Older Than Feudalism.
  • Also the infamous Maenads of Greek Mythology, the female followers of the God of Merriment and Madness Dionysis, who were known for roaming mountains and forests performing frenzied, ecstatic dances and were believed to be possessed by the god. While under his influence they were supposed to have unusual strength, including the ability to tear animals or people to pieces when encountered, with the mythical hero Orpheus being a famous victim of that practice.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms, the Menzoberranzan boxed set has Menzoberranzan, an underground city of the drow (dark elves). One of its prominent merchants is the halfling Myrip Minstrelwish, who is considered half-mad by the drow because he dances and sings while he works.
  • Werewolf: The Apocalypse has the Black Spiral Dancers. Their initiation involves dancing across a seemingly innocuous spiral shaped pattern on the ground. But doing this brings you face-to-face with the madness of the Wyrm. And you do not want to be face-to-face with the Wyrm.

    Theatre 
  • Perhaps the most famous example in the Western literary canon is Ophelia dancing and strewing flowers all the way through her Sanity Slippage Song in Hamlet.
  • Be More Chill: At the end of the song Halloween, Rich's dancing becomes more and more erratic as he fights the SQUIP.
  • In Elektra by Richard Strauss, Elektra goes completely insane in the finale, after learning that Klytaemnestra, Aegisthus and their followers were massacred by Orestes, and starts dancing wildly. Then she drops dead mid-dance.
  • In the Takarazuka Revue musical Nijinsky, Vaslavís nervous breakdown is rendered as a wild dance.

    Video Games 
  • Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course: While the Bishop sends his floating head (or heads) to attack you, his body dances frantically to the fast-paced battle music.

    Web Videos 
  • In The Cry of Mann, Courtney's Dance of Despair occurs while she's undergoing Sanity Slippage and sinking into a deep state of existential depression. She asks her callers for different dance moves she can perform and staggers around trying to do them, before collapsing on her bed, her mood taking a downward spiral. This is one of the first signs that something is very wrong with her, before she eventually covers her face in rhinestones trying to look beautiful.
  • In the short film 2 AM: The Smiling Man, an adaptation of the similarly-named creepypasta, the protagonist encounters what appears to be a madman with a strange rictus grin, dancing on the sidewalk in the middle of the night. Then the man stops dancing and chases after him...

    Real Life 
  • Dancing Mania, which are cases of mass dance hysteria occuring in Europe between the 14th and 17th Centuries. In these cases, people danced until they collapsed from exhaustion. Even though theories have been proposed as to why these freakish events happened (one of the theories states that people broke into mass-dance hysteria to release pent-up stress from the poor living conditions in those eras), little progress of understanding them have been made and the phenomenon is a mystery even today.
  • A propaganda video from World War II showed a delighted Adolf Hitler dancing a ridiculous jig in delight at the surrender of France. It was used throughout the war to emphasize that the Allies' foremost enemy was a ridiculous but dangerous lunatic, and the film circulated worldwide as part of the British propaganda effort. It was only after the war that it was revealed that the Hitler Jig had never happened — a sequence of his walking normally had been copied backwards and forwards on a recurring loop to give the impression of Hitler dancing madly.

 
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Once in a Lifetime

During an intense performance of 'Once in a Lifetime', David Byrne breaks out into a dance that appears more like violent convulsing, in keeping with the song's depiction of a unhinged preacher.

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