Grab your five-dollar milkshake and shake what your momma gave ya.
When Pulp Fiction debuted in 1994, it changed Hollywood forever. There were imitators, fans, and people who were just in awe that a non-linear, artistic narrative about gangsters in Los Angeles could break out and be a hit. Either way, the movie made Quentin Tarantino a household name, and I think it got every viewer to try to imitate that dance scene at least once in their lives.
It's true that the Pulp Fiction dance scene broke out in popular culture, with redos at awards shows, homages, and countless Halloween costumes from now until the end of time. But what made this scene so special? And how did Uma Thurman and John Travolta take it to the next level?
Today we're going to talk about the dancing scene from Pulp Fiction and look at how it defined the theme and tone and boosted the level of grandeur within the movie.
The Grandeur of the Pulp Fiction Dance Scene
There are so many great scenes inside the Pulp Fiction screenplay, but my personal favorite takes place inside Jackrabbit Slim's diner. It's when Vincent takes Mia on a date and they go into the retro diner.
Aside from ordering that famous $5 milkshake, the scene contains excellent characterization, tension, and flirtation. Let's dig into why.
Why Is the Dance Scene in Pulp Fiction so Famous?
Just what makes the dance inside the movie so famous? There are lots of reasons.
I think the comeback of John Travolta ranks near the top. Audiences hadn't seen him really dance in a movie since Saturday Night Fever, and his career had mostly disappeared. Believe it or not, the dance existed before Travolta was cast, with Tarantino saying, "Everybody thinks that I wrote this scene just to have John Travolta dancing. But the scene existed before John Travolta was cast.”
Tarantino intended to pay tribute to his favorite musical scenes which “have always been in Godard, because they just come out of nowhere. It’s so infectious, so friendly. And the fact that it’s not a musical, but he’s stopping the movie to have a musical sequence, makes it all the more sweet.”
This sexy scene with a star helped catapult him back into the limelight. I also think the scene sizzles with charisma. We're seeing two top actors flirt their way through forbidden territory. Then, because they know having sex would lead to both their deaths, they dance it out. This kind of titillation and uniqueness connected with people on a visceral level.
The Choreography of the Pulp Fiction Dance Scene
Another cool thing to point out here is the choreography within the scene. The dance these characters do feels expertly designed, not only to be an homage to older movies, but also older dance styles.
“The twist was made famous in the 60s,” scene choreographer Lauren Yalango-Grant said. “There were a lot of variations that came out of the twist that we do see in this scene.” Those include “the monkey,” “the swim,” and “the Batman,” better known as “the Batusi.”
As the characters move, so does the camera, giving us the feeling that we're right there with them, watching an intimate moment.
How Does the Pulp Fiction Dance Scene Embody the Theme of the Movie?
If the theme of Pulp Fiction is choosing to do what's right for humanity versus oneself, then the dance scene embodies that as well. As I mentioned above, Vincent knows just rubbing Mia Wallace's feet might get him tossed off a roof. So the dance is the conflagration of all the flirting and feelings.
This dancing also builds trust between the two characters, especially for what comes after this scene—the overdose and adrenaline needle. All of life is going to be a test to do the right thing.
For Mia and Vincent, they chose to keep an innocent 1950s night and are awarded a dance trophy. But as soon as drugs come into the mix, the night takes a turn toward the dangerous side.
That's just my interpretation, so let me know what you think in the comments.
Summing Up the Pulp Fiction Dance Scene
There are so many great scenes inside this movie, and it was really fun dissecting this one. Given the context and layers, you can see how easy it is to get absorbed in the world Tarantino builds and his fantastic writing and direction. When trying to emulate scenes like this one, spend time pulling the rug out from underneath the audience and circumventing expectations. When in doubt, emulate the movies of old that deeply influenced you.
And if you're having trouble breaking a scene, maybe take time to dance it out.
Let us know what you think in the comments.