“You’re an angry dancer. I’m the same way.” Fred Astaire reportedly said those words to Michael Jackson in 1983 after he premiered his signature move, the moonwalk, at Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever. Dancing has long been used to convey emotion in television and film—love, sadness, that feeling when the dry cleaner gets the mustard out—but in the early ‘80s we were treated to a new kind of dance, the Angry Solo Dance. Spotting an ASD is easy enough. Watch for the intensity and speed of Michael Jackson mixed with the lyrical movements and technical skill of Fred Astaire. Throw in a dash of father-based angst and you’ve got a scene that gets to the bottom of a character’s true feelings, without all that boring soliloquizing.
Here now are the best Angry Solo Dances of the past 30 years.
Song: “Never” by Moving Pictures
It says something about this film (and this dance sequence) that it’s still the most well known example of a solid ASD. Ren McCormack, played by Kevin Bacon, is so angry that the town reverend won’t let anyone dance that he drives his little VW Beetle out to an abandoned warehouse and just lets (foot)loose. He starts the dance with a drag from his cigarette and a swig of beer (so you know how cool he is), and thinks about all the things that have made him angry since moving to the sad dance-less town of Elmore City, Oklahoma. The dance includes lots of intense moves, including some Olympic-level high bar action, which I suppose is why about five different actors were needed to play Ren in this scene.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Song: “I’m the Dude” by Keith Forsey
This instrumental song was made for an ASD. Andrew, played by a young Emilio Estevez, has just smoked some pot in the school library and naturally feels the high energy and excitability that goes along with flipping your high school the bird via recreational drug use. He dances around the top level of the library punching and kicking at, we can only assume, the invisible manifestations of his father’s disapproval. Being a teenager is super hard, you guys, and sometimes the best way to convey that is to scream with so much angst you destroy school property.
Billy Elliot (2000)
Song: “Town Called Malice” by The Jam
This entry on the list has the honour of being the only ASD to start on a toilet. Young Billy’s dad and older brother have firmly told him that he will not be continuing his dancing classes and he responds by running off to do some tap dancing in the loo. He eventually leaves the toilet and takes his anger out on some brick walls, stairs, and anything he can slam his tap shoes against in a rhythmic manner.
Billy Elliot, The Musical (2005)
Song: “Angry Dance” by Billy and Male Ensemble
For the stage musical version of Billy Elliot, the producers chose to use Billy’s angry dance (which they set to a song literally titled “Angry Dance”) to convey the anger and frustration felt by both Billy and the coal miners in his town. This is probably the most effective use of an Angry Solo Dance. ASDs are frequently unleashed by teenage boys, which in movies and on television means they are usually performed by an adult actor. But on stage, a young boy always plays Billy. It’s just more believable to watch a small child express his anger through dance than it is to watch a grown man do so. It makes the fancy-tantrum aspects of the choreography seem less out of place.
High School Musical 2 (2007) and High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2008)
Song: “Bet On It” by Zac Efron and “Scream” by Zac Efron
Ah, Zac Efron. The teen heartthrob (who, for the record, was born three years after Footloose came out) burst onto the scene with 2006’s High School Musical, but it wasn’t until the second and third installments of the series that we got to see Zac bust a move, ASD-style. High School Musical 2 includes a scene where Zac’s character Troy is so conflicted about what his friends think of him and who he is that the only way he can deal with his angst is to run out onto an empty golf course and angry dance it up. There are the requisite air punches and dramatic poses, and it all culminates at the bridge of the song where he sings at his reflection in a water hazard. So much feels.
In High School Musical 3: Senior Year it’s the next school year and it seems like young Troy is still full of inner dance-related turmoil. His dad wants him to be a basketball player, but all he wants to do is dance. He angrily dances from the basketball court, through the school hallways (as they spin around him) all the way to the school theatre. It’s the sort of hyper-literal interpretation of his inner conflict that we’ve come to expect from our ASDs.
Song: N/A: The song is in his soul
Jimmy Jr., or J-Ju, if you’re a terrible person Zeke, doesn’t even need a song to get his ASD on. In fact, Jimmy Jr.’s best dancing is usually done without music. Dance is a central part of Jimmy’s character but it isn’t until Jimmy finds himself in an abandoned warehouse (what is it with abandoned warehouses?) in the season two premiere that we finally get to see his angry dancing moves. And they are spectacular. Jimmy manages to end his first angry dance by screaming, “Don’t tell me not to dance, Dad!” And as the men on this list have proven, there’s nothing like an older man getting in your way to make you want to dance out your feelings.
Song: “Catch Hell Blues” by The White Stripes
27 years after the original Footloose was released, we were treated to the remake no one asked for. And you can’t remake Footloose and leave out the emotional heart of the whole movie. Truly Ren’s great love interest was never actually Ariel, but that more alluring mistress, dance. For the remake in 2011, the production sticks pretty close to the original. Ren drives the same yellow VW Beetle, wears the same light grey sweater and jeans combo, and even throws in some Olympic-level high bar moves just for good measure.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2016)
Song: “Angry Mad” by Vincent Rodriguez III
The most recent example of an ASD comes to us via the underappreciated CW show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Josh Chan is so full of emotion from finding out his best friend Greg and his ex-girlfriend Rebecca are possibly hooking up that he goes right to his martial arts dojo to let it out. His dance jumps back and forth between angry karate and angry dancing and the song really distills the ASD down with lyrics like: “Angry / feeling bad / why do I feel this way? / angry bad.”