I wasn’t expecting, when Clementine and I set out to watch White Christmas this evening, that I’d find myself delivering an impromptu, barely comprehensible lecture on modern dance… I know that I’d seen the movie before, but I had absolutely no memory whatsoever of this incredibly out-of-place little scene featuring Danny Kaye and half a dozen painfully serious young women in drab, utilitarian dresses, who look as though they were plucked right off the streets of Leningrad.

I reminded Clementine of the Merce Cunningham videos that we’d watched at the Andy Warhol Museum, and tried to put the whole thing into historical context, but I think I did a pretty pathetic job of explaining why it is that, in 1954, Irving Berlin, and the people who made White Christmas, would want to divert from their storyline in order to critique modern dance. But, I made something up, and we paused the movie for a few minutes, so that Clementine could try out a few moves. And, just now, as I was putting her to bed, she told me that she thought she’d like to take a modern dance class. “The only thing is,” she said, “I don’t know if I could keep my face like Wednesday Addams for that long.” I told her that, during practice, you were probably allowed to smile, and that it was just during performances that you were required to look suicidal.

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  1. Posted December 9, 2012 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    Huh? The dancers are fine. But the song is awful, the orchestration cutesy and overbearing, and Danny Kaye so smarmy that my dinner may emigrate. Why show children this crap?

  2. Posted December 9, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Yeah, not a great movie by any stretch, Doug. I would have preferred to have shown her Holiday Inn, which is what I went to Netflix looking for, but this knock off was the closest thing that I could find.

    And, for what it’s worth, I wasn’t critiquing the modern dance itself, which I found interesting. The thing that struck me was the fact that the filmmakers had decided to critique modern dance here, in this way… by showing the “beautiful” woman in hot pink descending from above into this pit of drab, expressionless women. Personally, I lack the background to make sense of it, but I found it fascinating, and it made me wonder what was going on at the time to have pushed Berlin and the filmmakers to expend the energy. I told Clementine that I thought it spoke to the fact that there were warring factions within the theater community at the time. I suspect that I’m right, but I don’t know.

    Sorry you almost lost your dinner over it, old friend.

  3. Posted December 9, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Dinner is always endangered by Danny Kaye. I thought the dancers were lovely, actually. They didn’t seem painfully serious to me, just dancing without a lot of arch showboating.

    For a reminder of the beauty of deadpan, some Keaton!

  4. Posted December 9, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    White people can’t dance.

  5. Posted December 9, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    That’s a joke. Some white people can.

  6. Posted December 9, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    I can’t dance at all and I’m mostly white.

  7. Posted December 9, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    You should have an “I’m mostly white” button made the next time the Klan comes to town, Pete. I’m sure they’d love to have you join them on their side of the police barricade.

    And, yes, Doug, I think that Danny Kaye found himself vomited on my dinner companions quite often.

  8. Posted December 9, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    The Klan might just cut off my leg to make it official.

    My dancing would not suffer.

  9. Posted December 9, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    I love Holiday Inn too (although the black face scene does make me cringe). I read somewhere that Danny Kaye smoked like 5 packs of cigarettes a day yet could still shake his ass like that (not saying it’s *great* dancing but that it’s very active). I’ve never smoked and would have an asthma attack after about 10 seconds of hopping around like him.

  10. anonymous
    Posted December 9, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    No one likes a bragger, Peter “I’m Mostly White” Larson.

  11. Posted December 9, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Funny you should mention Keaton, Doug. I just introduced Alro to him for the first time a few days ago. We began watching Go West. He only made it about five minutes in, but that’s five minutes longer than he’s ever watched anything before.

  12. Posted December 9, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    I find dancing repulsive.

  13. atf
    Posted December 9, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    show her any of rosas danst rosas!
    even more utilitarian and powerful. I would very much encourage her to dance, the body positivity that comes from it is such a life saver.

  14. Posted December 9, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Linette has a story about choreographing and performing a modern dance in high school, in gym class or something, and being slapped by another girl in the class, who, I guess, found it offensive in some way. I’ll have to see if I can convince her to tell the story someday. And thanks for the link, ATF. I’ll check it out.

  15. Posted December 10, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    The Ypsilanti Public Library has Holiday Inn, though at this time of year you’ll be waiting a while for it.

  16. KKT
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    When I watched on Netflix, there was no blackface during the minstrel number. Did there used to be? Did they remove it with CGI?

  17. TeacherPatti
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    KKT, seriously? Interesting! It was during the Abe Lincoln song, right?

    Ah! A check of the Google says yes:

  18. Carrie
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 1:22 am | Permalink

    The “choreography ” number is poking fun at Martha Graham and her technique. The shapes and costume, are pulled right from Graham’s choreography. Watch Lamentation, Heretic and Celebration from her “long woo lens phase” and you will see it clearly.

  19. Karla
    Posted December 13, 2016 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    I’m laughing so hard at this whole post. We just watched
    “White Christmas ” I just laugh so hard at the choreography
    Dance. I was searching all over to find the name of
    the type of the dance or what it was called and stumbled
    on to this post. Thanks for the great stories and “go Clementine ”
    Dance to your hearts content !!
    And thanks for letting me find the name of the
    Dance “Modern Dance”

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