Dancicals! A Concept Whose Time Has Arrived

Last year on Amoeba Hollywood‘s mezzanine there was a serious debate about possible new sections:

Sports movies, Christian movies, Tween movies, Women’s Pictures, Edwardian Movies, Midwesterns, &c. Most were shot down as stupid, unattractive and inadvisable. One that didn’t get the official OK and yet sprang up anyway was “Dancicals.”

In musicals (dancicals’ aging sibling), singing and musical performance are interwoven into the plot. In backstage musicals, Dick Powell might be telling an audience about a new song he’s written, which soon evolves into some insane Busby Berkeley fever dream that would be impossible to stage except in outer space.

In other musicals, two sane, grown-ass men might seamlessly slip from dialog into snapping, then singing, dancing and jumping off walls, grabbing mannequins and other tomfoolery that leaves some viewers scratching their heads wandering, “What the heck was that?” The age old question of whether or not musical numbers are actually occurring within the diegesis can’t really be answered. You just have to not think about it.

With the onslaught of rock ‘n’ roll, musicals slipped in popularity in the 1960s. Interestingly, with the death of rock ‘n’ roll musicals have grown more popular again, with modern examples like Velvet Goldmine, Hedwig & the Angry Inch, Moulin Rouge!, Chicago, Sweeney Todd, &c.

Well, dancicals are similar. There are backstage dancicals where, usually, teenagers sweat and twist in preparation for some dance competition of some kind, whether it’s a street battle, a judged competition or stage performance.

Less often do characters in dancicals just “dance for dance’s sake,” but it does happen. A common theme of dancicals seems to be people from different backgrounds working together and overcoming their differences… and probably falling in love in the process. Maybe she’s a spoiled, classically-trained ballerina at a posh school and he’s a thug from across the tracks, bussed in and spotted stepping in the schoolyard by the school’s dance coach who sees potential underneath the baggy clothes and pairs him with the prima donna. At first they hate each other but, through dancing, rubbing, sweating and smelling each other, they fall in love and win first place at a big modern dance competition although the extremely sensual nature of their routine divides the judges.

Check out this British bread-making instructional where the narrative is seemingly broken in two but actually supported by a sweaty Norwegian in perfect conformity with the dancical genre.

At the time of this writing, Googling “dancical” gets 3,190 hits, up from 2,120 when I first started this blog entry — no, it doesn’t usually take me months to work on an entry. Honestly, when I started it last year I felt like “water boarding” had become such a hot term that trying to get “dancical” off the ground would have to been suicidal. At the time, I thought that I had coined the term. Well, I guess I did, but others had as well, it turned out. No matter, when I looked it up on dictionary.com it asks, mockingly, “Did you mean duncical? dandiacal?” The latter gives me an idea for a new section I’m going to argue for but not until the word dancical, when typed, isn’t underscored with tiny red dots. I think it’s only a matter of time. The market is there, the films are there, the concept is slowly solidifying, with studios gradually grasping what remains to them a still undefined genre.

Unlike musicals, which enjoy popularity, and a slew of documentaries about the genre as well as collections, Dancicals have one collection (and nowhere does it say “dancical” and there is no That’s Entertainment to celebrate the genre). Of course, it doesn’t help the cause when no one has ever asked where the dancical section is.

Body Rock, a fine example of a 1980s “backstage dancical”
Mac & Me‘s “dance for dance’s sake” dancical scene

So if you’re a fan of dancicals, can you please spread the magic? I like neologisms, so let’s lead this term into the limelight where we can dance the term to the stars. When I get asked for the dancicals by name, I’ll let you know!


Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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