Claire Marie Healy tells us about her new book On The Dance Floor – a visual and literary journey across the most iconic dance floors in cinema
Dance floors are mythologised, charged spaces riddled with contradictions. There can seem a certain artifice to dancing, but if it were a wholly performative act then why does it often feel so exposing?
Whether we’re supremely confident or painfully self-conscious, we can’t help but give ourselves away on the dance floor – the language of gesture and movement is discomfortingly eloquent, revealing our embarrassment, our latent desires, our hidden truths, or glimpses of our private interiors we might prefer to conceal.
When we encounter dance floors in films, they’re arenas primed for providing extra layers of meaning and symbolism to any story, acting as metaphors for the world at large, explicating characters’ unsayable intentions, enabling rituals, rites of passage, and revelations.
On The Dance Floor: Spinning Out On Screen (published by A24) is a visual and literary journey across the dance floors of cinema history. From famed film sequences to cult classics and more obscure movies, this compendium recalls seminal moments throughout cinema and includes literary excerpts, original writing, and archival photography alongside conversations with filmmakers and actors. Edited by Dazed’s former editor and AnOther contributing editor Claire Marie Healy, who worked with archival consultants Charlie Fox, Amy Sall (from SUNU journal) and Miss Rosen, among many other contributors and archives, On The Dance Floor consists of over 400 pages exploring myriad movies, texts and photographs, and features passages from the diary of Pulp Fiction’s Mia Wallace (as imagined by writer Charlie Fox), Cher’s firsthand memories of dancing at Studio 54, and Charli XCX’s dance floor dispatches.
“Why does going out dancing sometimes feel like you’re in a movie?” – Claire Marie Healy
“There are many tomes dedicated to the iconic clubs in their heyday, the point of difference with this book being, what does the dance floor mean to us?” explains Healy. “How have our responses been shaped by the movies we watch, the photographs we love, and the books that we read?”
In a conversation over Zoom, Healy describes the genesis of the epic project. “The choice of the topic was a matter of timing and there was a certain mood in the air when it was being put together,” she recalls. “Having come out of a series of lockdowns, there was a keen sense of not only getting back out onto the dance floor, but also of protecting those spaces and reflecting on what the dance floor actually means to us.”
Continuing to think about structure, Healy also considers the ways in which dance floors can serve as a magical space within the course of a film’s story: “In a film such as The Last Days of Disco (1998), as explored in the book, the dance floor actually becomes its own space that’s carved out in contrast to everything else that’s going on,” she says. “Or when we look at the Wong Kar-wai film Happy Together (1997), the characters are dancing in a shared kitchen and it’s so different to the rest of the film that it becomes its own moment in time and its own space in the film.”
In many films, just as in life, the dance floor can also feel like a sacred space, ordained by the ritual of dancing. On The Dance Floor is a fascinating and invaluable anthology, considering the potentiality of the dance floor as a space of resistance, self-expression, ritual, community, disharmony, and transcendence. In the immortal words of Cher, “There’s something special about a dance floor. It’s like a way to take yourself off this planet.”
Visit the gallery above for a closer look through the pages of On The Dance Floor.