We've all seen Crowd Songs. A crowd of random people spontaneously burst into a choreographed song and dance number. A pair of red fire trucks pull in from opposite ends of the street and start spraying arcs of water over the crowd to make a rainbow. A flock of animated sparrows flying overhead decide to drop down and whistle a melody. The Big Bad might even wander out of his lair to do a little number with a cute kid. But how is this possible? Spontaneous Choreography is the ability for fictional characters to tap into a pseudo-hive mind and perform amazing choreography with little to no practice.
It is not restricted to the Crowd Song either. Sometimes, the dance has been planned in advance, for instance in a school-sponsored dance competition, but the heroes have had no time to practice while on their adventure. No problem, just huddle up for a few seconds, and you have an instant dance routine.
It might not even be a dance. Ten seconds left in double overtime? No problem, let's go for that trick play we've only practiced once. It's bound to work. And it always does.
In short, this trope is for anything that has all the trappings of a crowd song, but without the crowd and not always with a song.
Compare Summon Backup Dancers, where the participants/dancers in question are called from out of sight.
This can be Truth in Television — ever heard of a "flash mob"? — but the illusion of spontaneity is simply that; an illusion. Though the outside observers may be surprised, the performers themselves already know their steps and when to meet.
- South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut: Big Gay Al is talked into doing a musical number by the crowd. Big Gay Al says "Oh, but we haven't rehearsed!". The "I Feel Super" number follows.
- The Lorax: the film begins with a musical number with the entire city. After they finish they go back to their regular routines, making it seem like they all stopped what they were doing to dance.
- The above quote is from Not Another Teen Movie, which parodies High School movies like She's All That where all the kids know how to dance really well at prom.
- This trope is actually subverted in She's All That by the DJ played by Usher. He specifically says "Right about now we're going to do that dance I taught you. And I know you've been practicing."
- Spider-Man 3: Peter's dance routine at the jazz bar
- Footloose where they do a similar whole school dance and everyone can dance despite being from a town/county where dancing is illegal.
- Grease pretty much runs on this
- Bollywood films generally have dance numbers that work like this trope. There are several in Bride and Prejudice.
- Animated example: In The Return of Hanuman musical sequence "Aasman Ko Chhukar", tourists, pirates, animals, even the Statue of Liberty dances.
- The opening of Hair features a Crowd Dance.
- In My Best Friend's Wedding, the song "I Say a Little Prayer" breaks out at the family-style seafood restaurant, starting with one guy at the busy table singing in answer to one question, and it grows steadily for almost five minutes, each time the song reaches the end of a verse or chorus, you think its over. But no, it just kicks off bigger and bigger, until the dancing lobsters join in near the end. It's a brilliant spot in a movie that had other problems, but it works so well, it is worth living with the other problems just to see it.
- In Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Ferris manages to get an entire street dancing to "Twist and Shout".
- Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You has this for pretty much all of its musical numbers (whether the dancers/singers be jewelry store clerks, hospital nurses or even ghosts), though the main singers are intentionally not the best singers in order to add a bit of realism to the numbers.
- In The Blues Brothers, the crowd outside the music store breaks out into spontaneous dance once Ray Charles starts up Shake A Tail Feather. But then, it's Ray Charles, so its sort of expected.
- Lampshaded in Enchanted, as Robert is the only one who finds it odd that everyone is spontaneously dancing and singing in the middle of Central Park. He is also confused by the fact that everybody in the park seems to know the song being performed, "That's How You Know," but he doesn't, even though he apparently follows popular music.
- Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel: After escaping Ian, the six chipmunks arrive at the singing competition. After a quick huddle, they break out into a perfectly choreographed dance routine that none of them had ever done before.
- Clerks II had one of these with that Jackson 5 song.
- Sister Act 2 also had one in that the kids had been practicing a big traditional choral presentation, but then at the last minute when faced up against a big-time school that did the same thing better than they could have, turn it into a mixed-style free-for-all version of the same basic song. Note that the accompanying music also keeps up with the different style changes, even though they just decided to do it this way a few minutes prior.
- In The Mask, the title character and Tina do a dance number together in the club without any practice. Justified because of the Mask's magical abilities. Not to mention a big dance number with a squad of police. At one point a woman doing a solo manages to express with her eyes that she's just as confused by this development as anyone else, and is rather freaked out by the fact that her body is doing this without her say-so.
- The Fisher King starring Robin Williams: As Parry, Williams's character, loses himself in a romantic reverie, the buzzling crowd in New York Central Station turns into a grand ballroom party. Justified as it's an Imagine Spot.
- Monty Python's The Meaning of Life justifies this (not outrightly though) with the, er, abundance of sons and daughters.
- Tank Girl. During the "Let's Do It" Crowd Song number in Liquid Silver, all of the prostitutes suddenly start dancing.
- Parodied in Shaolin Soccer, when Sing leads the customers at a rice cake stand in a spontaneous and wholly incongruous homage to Thriller. Before the singing can begin, the shop owner screams at them, and they instantly return to their seats and continue eating as if nothing had happened.
- 13 Going on 30: Jenna starts dancing to Thriller, and everyone at the party remembers and executes the choreography perfectly.
- In (500) Days of Summer, after Tom sleeps with Summer he initiates such a sequence.
- The most egregious example most likely can be found during the 10 minute dance number at McDonald's in Mac and Me.
- Beetlejuice - the Maitlands' ghostly powers make the Deetze's dinner party get up and dance to Harry Belafonte's " Banana Boat Song". Justified of course, since it was supernatural forces at work
- In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, the climactic fight spills into a club where Vanilla Ice is performing. After a brief chat with his backup dancers, he launches into what's apparently an entire improvised rap with perfectly matched dancing about the fight.
- In the original Step Up Tyler and Nora go to a party and Nora's entire class breaks into Spontaneous Choreography.
- The Muppets: Pops up as Gary and Walter walk to the school to pick up Mary, then as the three walk to the bus stop. Evidently this is exhausting in-universe. When Mary looks out the window at Walter after saying it is fine that he's coming to LA you can see the townspeople who danced along with them lying around, exhausted. Then once they leave town, everyone collapses.
- There's an inversion in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: when Caractacus Potts (Dick Van Dyke) is at the fair, he stumbles into a song-and-dance routine ("Me Old Bamboo"). The inversion is that the rest of the performers have presumably trained together for the number, but Potts manages to not only carry off the dance routine but also does most of the solo singing.
- The Eddie and the Cruisers sequel, Eddie and the Cruisers 2: Eddie Lives!, includes a performance at a retro Sixties school dance where it becomes increasingly apparent that the students at this ordinary liberal arts college seem to know a lot of complicated dance choreography. The funny part is this actually has an impact on the plot when one of the hoofers starts dancing up a storm with the hotheaded protagonist's comely girlfriend.
- Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. During the opening titles Austin is chased through the streets of London in 1967. At one point he and his pursuers start dancing to the music.
- Sunday School Musical plays it completely straight, not only when the protagonists break into song, pulling people into the song, but also in how they pull together an elaborate dance number in the course of a week despite the majority of the Crossroads kids appearing completely clueless on how to dance before then
- Encino Man. Partly subverted when Link's friends join him in his wild dance at the school prom and they aren't very well co-ordinated. Then the rest of the crowd pitch in and begin flawlessly executing choreographed moves that weren't even part of the original routine.
- Lampshaded in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. Specifically, Captain Carrot is the kind of heroic protagonist with such charisma that, in his girlfriend's words, if he chose to start singing some sort of song like "My town" half the people in the street would join in and dance with him despite not possibly being able to know the dance steps.
- Characters in Glee seem to pull this off from time to time. Most of their numbers are rehearsed, but sometimes, as in sectionals, one character get the others to follow their lead and everything goes perfectly.
- The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Once More with Feeling". A Demon Did It.
- The "Nothing Suits Me Like A Suit" routine from How I Met Your Mother. Justified as it's a Dream Sequence / Imagine Spot. Also in the seventh season premiere, during Barney and Robin's passionate dance. This one isn't a character's Imagine Spot like "Nothing Suits Me Like A Suit," but since the entire show is made up of Future!Ted's first- and second-hand memories, it could be explained as his Imagine Spot.
- Crosses over with a Crowd Song in Mongrels with Everyone Loves A Lesbian''.
- In Community episode "Interpretive Dance" Britta and Troy are able to pull off an improved dance duet seamlessly.
- Justified in Kamen Rider Den-O, where making people spontaneously start breakdancing is explicitly stated to be one of Ryutaros' powers. He got it from the Big Bad, who can also do it.
- Norm MacDonald lampshades this in a Saturday Night Live sketch.
Gangleader: Whoa, whoa, whoa! What the hell is this? imitates "Cobra" hand motion What are you doing?Colin: We're being Cobras.Gangleader: Ah, that's it! What is up with you guys?Mark: What? He started singing, then he started singing, then he started singing, so I started singing. It happens.Gangleader: No, it does not happen. This was clearly choreographed.Dan: No. He was dancin', and I saw what his legs were doin', so I kinda copied it, like this...
- Subverted in the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode "High School Reunion, Part 2". The gang decide to wow all their former classmates with a dance routine, with perfect choreography and every boy band music video trope you can think of, and they pull it off, instantly becoming the most popular people at the party... and then we see what's actually going on: five very drunk people stumbling aimlessly around a dance floor, sweating like pigs, while the audience cringes in open-mouthed embarrassment.
- Featured in the game "Show Stopping Number" on Whose Line Is It Anyway?
- The Carol Burnett Show did a wild version of this early in its run. Carol came out and addressed the audience in front of a plain curtain as she often did. She said they wanted to feature a song by her co-star, Vikki Lawrence. (This was long before she had a hit with the song "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia".) Carol continued by saying a lot of the people on the show were pulling for Vikki to do well and they had done all they could to make this special, so if their enthusiasm overtook their judgement she hoped the audience would understand. Vikki is introduced, she comes out in front of the plain curtain and begins to sing her number. Gradually, of course, the curtain pulls back and the choreography and stuff begins, and keeps building and topping itself, each time. By the end the whole stage is covered with dancers, acrobats, animals, fireworks and confetti. If that wasn't bad enough, the song she performed was a version of "Look What They've Done to My Song".
- Though it stops short of a song-and-dance number, every Toku hero has a series of poses he or she goes through before battle. Teams will do it in unison. Even when the By the Power of Grayskull! phrase is taught to them, the dance they do before never is and it's really unclear how it came to them or why they would. (Super Sentai and several but not all Power Rangers series even have the 'roll call,' where everyone does a unique dance and In the Name of the Moon phrase. You're taught a couple words... and spontaneously do this.) It's especially visible in Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger, where the pre-more pose is more of a pre-morph samba.
- Sanctuary's Kali, Part 2 plays with this: there's a scene where one of the main characters, trying to find Kali, remembers that she told him to dance earlier and starts dancing in the middle of a street in Mumbai. It looks like everyone else in the street has joined in, in a textbook example of this trope... until we cut away from his point of view, at which point it turns out that he's hallucinating the whole thing and everyone else there is staring at him like he's gone insane.
- In the Legends of Tomorrow episode "Séance & Sensibility", Zari uses Kamadeva's powers to start a Bollywood musical number in Regency England.
- SCP Foundation, SCP-630-J ("A Song In Their Heart"). When SCP-630-J activates it causes all sentient beings (even animals such as house cats) within range and all sentient beings that watch the performance live to start performing complex dance routines. It also alters the local environment to provide special effects that would be expected in a theatrical production.
- Things Mr. Welch Is No Longer Allowed to Do in an RPG has Mr. Welch looking for an excuse to break out into song or dance.
762. Fighter can't put points in Perform just so he can hammer dance after each fatal critical hit.940. I will not abuse the Exemplary virtue to set up highly choreographed dance routines with random crowds.1120. Even if Im in charge I cant order the Assault Lance to perform West Side Story dance routines.
- The Pianist Zombie from Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time. When at least one on the battlefield and not stunned/frozen, they'll play a catchy piano music. All the basic cowboy zombies will burst into a dance, and periodically all of them will switch to a different lane at the same time.
- Did Marten and Dora just have sex?
- In Bad Machinery Lottie tries to do this, but despite the Mass Hypnosis of the student body, finds that no one joins in.
HEY I thought everyone was going to start singing! I hate you all.
- One holds up traffic in downtown Homestead for at least three hours in Rhapsodies.
- Muppet Viral Videos: Apparently, the Muppets' rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody resulted from an otherwise unrelated video-chat conference.
- Parodied in asdfmovie.
"EVERYBODY DO THE FLOP!" *everyone in the room faceplants in unison*
- In RWBY episode "Dance Dance Infiltration", Jaune leads team JNPR into one of these. RWBY Chibi episode 23 jokes about that scene with the revelation that Ren forced the team to drill for the number.
- Parodied in the finale Bad Lip Reading's High School Musical parody:
- Used and lampshaded in Futurama. During Fry's holophoner concert, the Robot Devil interrupts and takes the musical on an entirely different course. Nevertheless, everyone, even the crowd, is able to stay perfectly in tune. Lampshaded when Zoidberg sings, in tune with the beat no less, "I can't believe everybody's just ad libbing!"
- Takes a more realistic turn in Total Drama World Tour. While they don't dance in every song, the times that they do it's very simple and predictable so the other contestants would be able to catch on(like Alejandro holding Bridgette's hand in 'Before We Die' prompted everyone to make a big circle by holding hands,) or in songs like Leshawna's 'Sisters' the other two dancers aren't in-time with each other so it looks more real. TDWT does do this quite well. There are even times where you can see the contestants looking at each other so they can suddenly think of moves (like Lindsay and Bridgette in 'Come Fly with Us.' Other times, in 'What's Not to Love?' Courtney said before the song started that she was going to dance in the song, so Owen, D.J., and Leshawna just took after her.
- The Simpsons
- Played with in "Marge vs. the Monorail", where the whole town joined in on a salesman's song about the benefits of having a monorail. Homer sang on after the song ended, and immediately realised his mistake.
- This happens again in "Homer and Apu" where the Simpsons sing about the Kwik-E-Mart with Apu. Each family member (plus Apu) sing lines that ends in a rhyme with "Kwik-E-Mart," but Homer accidentally begins with it and interrupts it mid-line with his trademark grunt.
- And again in "Bart After Dark" with those who are gathered to tear down the burlesque house and people sing 'We Put the Spring in Sprinfield' ... except Marge who was out renting the bulldozer. She asks if they can sing it again but Ned Flanders tells her it really was one of those spur-of-the-moment type things.
- Subverted in "Special Edna", where Homer starts singing a song about a pie, complete with musical-style choreography... which takes him out of shot, and the camera holds on the rest of the family, who don't move a muscle.
Edna: Should we follow him?Marge: I'm on vacation.
- Home Movies - facing a performance in a class show with no preparation, Brendon has Melissa and Jason just follow his lead, and they go into a haphazard interpretive dance number while scat-singing about rice.
- Phineas and Ferb do it at least Once per Episode. Taken Up to Eleven in Rollercoaster: The Musical, which features this in just about every other scene, and is naturally lampshaded.
- Rocko's Modern Life had a Musical Episode where everyone broke out in song and dance numbers. When Rocko questions it, Heffer remarks that they had rehearsals, which Rocko has apparently been missing.
- Family Guy does this a lot, particularly the numbers "Shipoopi" (taken directly from The Music Man, and just as bizarre there), "A Bag of Weed" (a parody of "Me Old Bamboo" from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), and "Mr. Booze" (from the Rat Pack musical Robin and the Seven Hoods).
- In Batman: The Brave and the Bold, The Music Meister's powers are only given as singing-based Mind Control, but this and spontaneous wardrobe changes seem to fall under his Required Secondary Powers. In another episode Huntress, Catwoman and Black Canary are sneaking backstage at the biggest hoodlum hangout in Gotham when the curtain goes up. They pretend to be the entertainment and launch into a risqué song about superheroes with spontaneous choreography and perfect unrehearsed harmony with both the house band and each other. The villains love it.
- A few songs in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic feature this, like "At the Gala" from "The Best Night Ever" and "The Smile Song" from "A Friend in Deed".
- Lampshaded by Rainbow Dash in "Rarity Takes Manehattan". She remarks that she's not normally into musicals, saying "ponies bursting into song at the drop of a hat" is unrealistic. Then Rarity breaks into song.
- Some fanworks have run with the idea that this is actually a documented natural phenomenon in Equestria, which makes at least as much sense as a manually operated day-night cycle and seasons that have to be changed by hoof.