Some people seem made to move with grace and energy. Witness the young dancers from West Springfield High School in Fairfax and the University of Maryland's Gymkana Troupe. Both groups will compete on Tuesday in the semi-finals of TV's "America's Got Talent."
But, as "Dancing With the Stars" shows us, not everyone gets the dancing gene, and awkwardness and revelation hang in the balance with a famous non-dancer busts a move. Forget their Tweets and those paparazzi shots: For the real dish on celebrities, then, catch them on the dance floor. Wait, we're not used to seeing you like this! For example . . .
Tom Cruise in "Risky Business": This is otherwise known as Cruise's Underwear Dance, not exactly how you want your Fred Astaire moment carved into memory. Unfortunately, his Fruit of the Looms, apres Homer Simpson, make him look a tad broad in the beam; the costume designer gets a wet-noodle slap. Mind you, I write this as a certified Cruise connoisseur; I enjoy his fierce energy and physical command onscreen, and few can beat him in the looks department. But in this oft-imitated, skid-in-his-socks scene, I find way too much not to like, and it comes down to a lack of spontaneity. His dancing feels heavy. Wouldn't all the Chivas and Coke he chugged just before he caught the Bob Seger fever inspire looser moves? Underwear dancers of America, we can do better any night of the week, with or without the whiskey.
Kevin Bacon in "Footloose": Now this is an underwear dance to be proud of. When Bacon strips down to his A-shirt as he sprints, spins and cartwheels through that small-town warehouse fueled by nightfall and teen fury, it's a metaphor for freeing the beast within. Say hello to a universal reason to dance, expertly captured by director Herbert Ross (the ballet and Broadway choreographer also directed the dance films "The Turning Point," "Pennies From Heaven" and "Dancers.") But what moves us is Bacon's outlaw joy, his full-on embrace of the unstoppable dancing impulse. It's all in the way he dives into the music like a junkie hot for a fix. This freewheeling spree feels true, even if that wasn't really him on the high bar.
"No mistakes in the tango, Donna. Not like life." Whole cineplexes have been seduced by this scene, in which Pacino's character, a blind retiree, shows his reluctant partner, Gabrielle Anwar, that the tango is about what you feel, rather than what you do. Everything in the scene builds to this point: The seated restaurant guests who watch the couple but never enter their orbit, Pacino's broad-shouldered bulk that seems lighter than air when the music starts and the surging pulse of the band, underscoring the operatic emotions of Carlos Gardel's "Por una Cabeza." It's an unusual feat of acting: Pacino tells us what he's feeling not through his eyes but through his body, with every musical step.
Dancing suits Pacino; he approaches it as a natural offshoot of his powerful, full-body acting style. Take the unvarnished zest with which he whirls through the Greek folk dance in "Frankie and Johnny." I don't buy Michelle Pfeiffer's too-cute eye-rolling in this scene, but Pacino's artless strutting is grade-A happiness. It's a story told in movement by one of our era's master storytellers.
Uma Thurman in "Pulp Fiction," in a twist contest with John Travolta. Shoes off, id on. We know he can dance. But she's the stunner here. He's cool and mellow; she's intense, tightly wound. In doing the twist, she untwists, joint by joint: the ankles roll, releasing those long, fetish-worthy feet; knees splay, hips thrash, then it's all upper body. My favorite part is when she flutters her fingers in time with the music. Think of this gem of a scene as a prelude to Thurman's more brutally physical role in the "Kill Bill" series -- given a proper stage, the tall woman's stiffness melts away, and in its place is something intriguingly dark.
Radiohead's lead singer dances solo in the music video for this single from the group's album "The King of Limbs." Yorke's limbs are the focal point here, but whether his command of them is absolute is a matter of opinion. (In general, it's harsh: The video has inspired pages of parodies, from a "Black Swan" audition to a mambo overdub.) The dance was created by Wayne McGregor, an established talent who has made works for the Royal Ballet and other high-art troupes. Yes, those moves that seem to stem from a nerve disorder are minutely choreographed. I find this a case of narcissism gone wild.
One of the greatest music videos ever, and its enduring power to delight and surprise springs from how Walken moves in that suit. Like the impeccably tailored Cary Grant tearing through "North by Northwest," and Al Pacino in his gray three-piece "Scent of a Woman" (above), Walken turns the conservatively dressed, middle-age man into an alpha superhero. We know Walken best for the tight-lipped, hot-under-the-collar types he's played ("The Deer Hunter's" wrecked steelworker; another Vietnam vet in "Pulp Fiction"), but here he seems to have a musical comedy streaming in his mind. And like Pacino and Grant, Walken reveals that great actors are also physical risk-takers -- and, given some space, heart-stealing hot dogs.