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Napoleon Dynamite Dance Scene

Napoleon Dynamite Dance Scene

One of the most famous contemporary movie choreography sequences is the Napoleon Dynamite dance scene. Aside from being a comedic hit, that particular sequence is a testament to the power of authenticity.

The Story of the Napoleon Dynamite Dance Scene

The dance sequence of this movie (easily found in many places on YouTube) is a mini-story in and of itself. It takes place at the school presidential debate at a small midwestern high school, and the candidates are a perky blonde girl named "Summer" ("Vote for me, it'll be summer all year long!") and Pedro Sanchez, the best friend of the title character. Pedro and Napoleon are quintessential high school outcasts, and throughout the movie it is only their loyalty and support for each other that get them through the many cruel taunts and harassment of the "in crowd".

The Happy Hands Dance

At the end of Summer's speech, the principal announces a "short skit" by the school's glee club, "Happy Hands". This is one of the first places where the movie takes a step away from the usual movie dance sequences - where professional dancers play high schoolers and dance much more adeptly than kids that age normally do.

Instead, the blue-spandex-clad dancers are more realistic - some of them just going through the motions, doing unison choreography just a little off from each other, all of them doing the steps that have been created for them and rehearsed to the point that they no longer have any meaning. Even at the end, when they do their closing bow to the polite applause of the students in the auditorium, it is a half-hearted acknowledgement of a pretty tepid dance.

There is something both sad and poignant about that - both the depressingly lackluster effort put on by the kids and the joy that they wanted to do the dance at all. Even though their moves may not be smooth like Usher's dance moves, and they are only "good enough" to not stand out from each other, done with no focus or real energy, their faces show that they are happy to be performing. This is as much as some glee clubs ever get - and it is more than many.

Napoleon to the Rescue

Meanwhile, Pedro is aghast - aside from already being nervous about the speech; he and Napoleon had no idea a "skit" was expected. From a high-school nerd's perspective, having to speak in front of the student body is bad enough - but having to compete with a dance by the most popular girls in school is horrifying! Resigned, Pedro slumps out to the podium, and delivers a short, mumbled speech, which ends with the promise, pulled out of thin air, that "...if you vote for me, all of your wildest dreams will come true".

Meanwhile, Napoleon has pulled a tape out of his walkman and given it to the sound man, so that when the skit is announced, he is ready. He stands center stage, no backdrop, jeans and a "Vote for Pedro" t-shirt. It's almost the exact opposite of the glittery blue spandex that preceded him, but from the start there is a power to that kind of vulnerability, and the Napoleon Dynamite dance scene commences.

When the music starts, he doesn't seem to have much "choreography" to do - but at the same time, it is as if the music gradually takes over his body, and he goes from a head-bobbing sway into full-body stage-crossing moves. Unlike the "Happy Hands" group, Napoleon's disco-like moves are full of energy, full extensions and complete commitment to all of his moves. Rather than being a "here's my dance for you" kind of piece, it is a "here is my dance; watch it if you want" feeling.

Happily Ever After

Of course, the heartfelt authenticity of the dance wins over the crowd, who gives Napoleon (and by association, Pedro) a standing ovation. The moral of the story is that having the courage to express your full self - whether in a speech or in a dance - is both the scariest thing and the most wonderful thing in the world. The popularity of the dance within the movie proves its wide-ranging appeal.

Napoleon Dynamite Dance Scene