An exemplary and entertaining history of a crucial decade in North American social dancing, roughly from the time of Arthur Murray ballroom lessons and the lindy hop in Harlem (both circa 1953) to freestyle dancing and the arrival of the Beatles in the U.S. in 1964. Ron Mann–the Canadian documentarist whose former features include investigations into free jazz (Imagine the Sound), poetry (Poetry in Motion), and comic books (Comic Book Confidential)–combines a collector’s zeal for exhaustive inventories (all the ephemeral dance steps are duly noted) with a sharp sense of social history, so apart from the pleasure of watching all sorts of 50s and 60s film and TV clips and recent interviews with major participants (dancers as well as singers), one gets a sense of how dance styles developed and were merchanidised. Among the provocative highlights are a white couple explaining how for their appearance on American Bandstand as teenagers they were coached to claim credit for the Strand, a dance developed by blacks, and an interview with Marshall McLuhan, who expounds on the twist being “like conversation without words.” A dry-cleaned version of this film has shown on the Disney Channel, shorn of certain lurid steps and ideological points; you owe it to yourself to see it on the big screen without cuts (1992). Music Box, Friday through Thursday, August 27 through September 2.

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