Friday, September 21, 2012

Dancing With the (Classic TV) Stars

 While most of my TV viewing time is devoted to shows that aired their last episode anywhere from 30-60 years ago, I do make time for some current series. One of them is Dancing With the Stars.

I’ve been a fan since the first season and have never missed an episode. It’s a beautiful show to watch in HD, with the elegant ballroom set and colorful costumes. And host Tom Bergeron is the best in the business – he has perfect live TV instincts and knows exactly how much to add to a moment while always keeping the focus on the performers.

The celebrities are ostensibly the primary draw, to see if they take to the samba like seasoned pros or get dragged around the floor like a wet sack of potatoes. But like many fans I am drawn more to their professional partners, who represent the apex of the species, and would easily sail past the cutline if eugenics ever made a comeback.

Ultimately, I am a fan because dancing is a beautiful thing to watch, especially when it is done well. It is an art form that elevates the spirit.

Of course, long before Dancing With the Stars there were memorable dance moments on television, dating back to Arthur Murray’s Dance Party in the 1950s.

These are a few of my favorites:

Happy Days (“They Shoot Fonzies, Don’t They?”)
This is the dance marathon episode, where Fonzie partners with Joanie even though he’s exhausted from pushing his bike 12 miles. At the climax, the Fonz performs a Russian folk dance called the Kazatsky with an athletic, showstopping virtuosity that is completely unexpected from the character or from Henry Winkler. Who else was shocked at how good he was? Plus you also get Charlene Tilton as a snotty cheerleader, so this is a win-win all around. 

 I Love Lucy (“Lucy Does the Tango”)
In its final season, I Love Lucy was still capable of comedy greatness. The scene in which Lucy and Ricky dance the tango, while Lucy has dozens of eggs hidden under her shirt, generates the longest sustained laugh in the series’ history – longer than the chocolate factory assembly line, Vitametavegamin or the grape stomping in Italy. 

The Monkees (“Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik”)
This is my favorite Monkees scene. It’s an ideal showcase for Davy Jones’ English dance hall panache, and it comes off as both polished and silly at the same time. The girl, by the way, is Anita Mann, an Emmy-winning choreographer who has worked on everything from Sesame Street to Solid Gold

Star Trek: The Next Generation (“Data’s Day”)
Dr. Crusher teaches Data how to tap dance. While the scene is mostly played for laughs, it is obvious that both Brent Spiner and Gates McFadden know what they’re doing.

Taxi (“Fantasy Borough: Part 2”)
I was never a big Taxi fan, to be honest, but even if it never quite connected with my personal taste I can certainly recognize its outstanding writing and remarkable cast. The series’ second season concluded with a big Broadway number performed to “Lullaby of Broadway.” Maybe the dancing here isn’t so precise, except for Broadway vet Marilu Henner, but the scene wins you over on enthusiasm alone. You can’t watch this and not smile. 

The Honeymooners (“Young At Heart”)
Jackie Gleason was a big guy who was remarkably light on his feet. Along with the golf lesson (“Hellooooo, ball!”) Ed Norton teaching Ralph to dance “The Hucklebuck” certainly ranks among the best moments in the classic 39. 

Frasier (“Moon Dance”)
Niles’ unrequited love for Daphne had percolated for more than a season, before the duo danced a sizzling tango that brought his hidden feelings to the surface – and crushed them moments later. Still, Daphne in that devastating red dress was a sight to behold.

Friends (“The One With the Routine”)
Siblings Ross and Monica get on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, and introduce their “famous” brother-sister dance routine to a nationwide audience. It was a toss-up between this and Elaine’s dancing on Seinfeld for a best-of-the-worst dance moment. Friends rates the edge for the performance’s go-for-broke gusto, and for inspiring years of tributes at proms and weddings. 

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