25 of the Best Dance Numbers in TV History


Amy Sherman-Palladino’s Bunheads is having one of those freshman seasons where everything is struggling just a little bit to come together. But since this isn’t an uncommon attribute of other shows we’ve come to love (Parks and Recreation, for starters) and because we are really enjoying the show’s ballet numbers (which are surprisingly seldom), we’re sticking it out. Having found ourselves unexpectedly enthralled with the dance aspect of the show, we’ve decided to highlight our favorite performance so far (an environmental allegory!) as well as the other dance sequences in TV history that have left us amazed, amused, and flat-out inspired to get up and move our legs in time. Have a favorite we missed? Let us know in the comments!

Bunheads: “Paper or Plastic”

You would expect an environmental dance number on an ABC family show to be didactic and boring. Not this one. In this performance’s surprise twist ending, the canvas bag ballerina — a proxy for nature in all its entirety — is killed off. How can you not appreciate fatalism when it’s packaged like this?

Flight of the Conchords: Bret’s Angry Dance

When Bret gets kicked out of the band he chooses to express his anger the way any normal person would: via dance, in a deserted warehouse, where a steamy saxophone player happens to reside.

Moonlighting: The most elaborate sex dream in all of TV history

In one of the show’s many great musical numbers, David’s past enters Maddie’s dreams in the form of a six minute dance sequence set to the tune of Billy Joel’s “Big Man on Mulberry Street.” And that’s just the foreplay (Maddie wakes up just as her and David start to kiss).

Saturday Night Live: “Les Jeunes de Paris”

Things started out a little rough with Zooey Deschanel’s French, but once The Artist’s Jean Dujardin came into the picture, we entered a state of pure delight. You can learn more about the inspiration behind this much lauded skit in an interview with Taran Killam over at Slate .

The Cosby Show: The parents and kids unite in an impromptu dance party

The Huxtables were always turning their living room into some sort of performance space (also see their infamous lip synch performances). In this particular episode the old folks interrupted Denise’s breakdance party to show the young kids some moves, and as you might guess the generational clash turned into a raucous good time.

Happy Days: Fonz’ comeback at the dance marathon

Fonz’ dance moves are just as memorable as the lines in this scene:

“Now Fonzie didn’t want you to know this, but he pushed his motorcycle 12 miles, just to get to this dance on time. For you.” -Mr. Cunningham to Joanie

“Crew cut! Crew cut? Hey, you’re talking about my hair here.” -Fonz to evil pom-pom captain Jill Higgins

The Gregory Hines Show:The unconscious strikes via dance sequence again

Dancing wasn’t an integral part of the tap icon’s late ’90s sitcom, but near the end of the series it was worked into the episode “Per Chance to Dance” as a reoccurring dream in which Hines’ character worked out his deep-seated fear of vacationing alone. After the show was canceled Will & Grace brought him on for a guest-role that was really just an excuse for us to gawk at this man’s incredible skill once more.

Will and Grace: Jack teaches Grace the “Oops!…I Did It Again” dance

Speaking of Will and Grace, remember when Grace and Jack started hanging out all of the time, and Will was totally jealous? Admittedly, doing a Britney Spears dance routine with another man was a pretty low blow.

Family Guy: Stewie Griffin and Gene Kelly dance

In one of its now classic (and wonderful) musical homages, Family Guy superimposed Stewie over Jerry Mouse’s iconic performance in the 1945 film Anchors Aweigh . For another Gene Kelly inspired number, check out the show’s rendition of “Good Morning to You.”

New Girl: The slomo chicken dance

In the TV land of overwrought and cheesy weddings, we expected this episode to follow suit. But when the roommates brought this reception party staple down a few cadences, we admit we were pleasantly moved.

I Love Lucy: Turns out the woman can dance

With all of Lucy Ricardo’s failed attempts to break into the biz, it’s easy to forget that she wasn’t completely without talent. Take this memorable scene for instance, in which Lucy displayed her newfound Jitterbug skills (thanks to a lesson from actual jitterbug champion Arthur Walsh). Having just discussed New Girl, the word “adorkable” comes to mind when trying to put this scene into words.

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air: Carlton backflips off the stage of Soul Train

When Philip and Vivian were invited to a very special Soul Train reunion, we all knew there was only one way the episode was going to end: Carlton, bringing down the house, this time in a rare infusion of acrobatics, tap dance, and MJ inspired moves.

Third Rock From the Sun: John Lithgow and Wayne Knight lead an impromptu Riverdance

Your eyes don’t deceive you. Yes, they worked in a Riverdance number. And yes, John Lithgow peeled off his shirt. Our only wish is that the whole thing had been a little bit longer. Such an under-appreciated art form!

That ’70s Show: “That Disco Episode”

Revisiting this scene quelled our doubts about the plausibility of Jackie and Fez ending up together, because dang, these two had chemistry.

Freaks and Geeks: “Discos and Dragons”

We can not reiterate enough how much we loved that this series went out on a Nick Andopolis disco number/Dungeons and Dragons sequence.

Community: Troy saves Britta and brings new life to “Tea for Two”

We’ll let Pierce’s commentary from the peanut gallery speak to Troy and Britta’s dance recital performance: “Culturally, it’s unacceptable, but it’s theatrical dynamite!” (Skip to the 15:30 mark for the dancing.)

The Drew Carey Show: Five O’Clock World (Season 2 opener)

It’s a tough call between this wacky number and Cleveland Rocks! , but our vote for the show’s best opener goes to “Five O’Clock World” — because where else in the world are you going to find an entire dance sequence about going to work that is this fun and uplifting?

Mad Men: Trudy and Pete do the Charleston

This impressive performance at Roger’s Derby party was not only an unexpected surprise, but further evidence that everyone on this show is multifaceted and never what they seem. As we learned here, Pete not only dances, but practices too (cuz, c’mon, there’s no way they didn’t work on that for months).

Scrubs: Hospital rivalries reimagined Sharks and Jets style

J.D. explaining the animosity between surgical and medical interns via a West Side Story inspired snapping gangs face-off beats out Meredith Grey’s voiceover any day.

Happy Endings: Penny leads the gang in Jazz-Kwon-Do

Equal parts work-out and dance, this wonderful bit (like many numbers on this list) was over too soon, and we hope the show will consider more ensemble numbers in future. In the meantime: for more tiny hat action.

The Office: Jim and Pam’s wedding entrance

Yes it was ripped off YouTube, but that’s OK because Michael’s earnest and good-intentioned, “Did you see this? It was on YouTube?” to Pam beforehand was all it took to stop our rolling eyes. We have to confess, the Dunder Mifflin employees’ impassioned (and largely awful) dance moves left us more choked up than anything else this much anticipated wedding episode.

My So-Called Life: Delia and Rickie own the “World Happiness Dance”

Remember how Brian Krakow was supposed to take Delia Fisher to the “World Happiness Dance,” but then he totally threw her over for not being Angela Chase? Later in the episode, when Delia and Rickie nervously shuffle onto the dance floor together, they both feel like outsiders; by the time “What Is Love?” is over, they’ve shown everyone in that gym that they’ve got some serious moves — and at least in that moment, could care less what anyone else thinks of them.

The Golden Girls: The Dance-a-thon

If you’ve never understood America’s obsession with Betty White, the clip above might help explain it. How were Dorothy and Blanche supposed to compete against Rose’s cartwheels, shimmies, and splits?

Full House: “She’s Dancing, She’s Stephanie Tanner”

“You know your teacher thinks you’re the most promising student in her class. I might not have made it as a high jumper, but you, you could wind up as a star on Broadway.” Danny Tanner was totally a Mama Rose when it came to Stephanie’s future as a dancer. Remember how she screwed up on purpose to try and get kicked out of the intense dance program? (Click on the image to load the clip; see also: Stephanie dancing to “Motown Philly.”)

Seinfeld: The Elaine Dance

You had to know that we were going to end it here.