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Dance Or Die (1987)

Directed by Richard W. Munchkin
City Lights VHS

If Lita Ford had a baby with Whitesnake’s jeggings, you’d get a song with a searing guitar solo and lyrics like this: “You’re reality is a nightmare, this is what it is, dance or die.” You’d also get people dancing sensually on a motorcycle and a kitchen scale filled with cocaine. In other words, you’d get Dance Or Die.

Warning: This movie contains stage fog. Also dancing.

Jason is a choreographer and he’s leading a rehearsal for a big “dance concert.” His dancers wear leotards, legwarmers, and short-shorts. Some of these dancers are men. One dancer looks out-of-place because she’s not particularly fit. She’s wearing an oversized T-shirt and sweats. She looks less like a dancer and more like someone who needs to do laundry. Jason teaches them how to pirouette. This brings up an important question: What is a male ballerina called? Is it ballerino? I have no clue; I thought maybe you’d know.

Jason comes home to find his roommate weighing coke in the kitchen. Alan’s dealing drugs just to piss his dad off. There are plenty of other ways to get back at your parents. For example, you can go into acting. But dealing drugs works too. Jason starts acting funny. Not because a pile of coke makes him nervous, but because he wants a line. You see, Jason is in recovery. He’s fighting his demons with the help of AA and his sponsor, Kay. He’s doing his best to stay strong and stay sober.

As Jason rehearses with his dancers, a garden party gets shot up. Burgers, fries, and a giant fish tank go everywhere. So does Alan. But the thugs aren’t just satisfied with bloodshed. They’re after something specific. What is it? I don’t know. Nor does Jason. But he needs to figure it out quick. “Unless you give it to me, you’re gonna get your dick nailed to the floor.”

This sparks 90 magnificent minutes filled with sashays, a motorcycle chase, a psychic named Hasbro, an endless pursuit through a baseball stadium, and something about a turtle tattoo. Then at some point, Jason cleans the swimming pool and makes popcorn. Then comes an extended scene that cuts between a tender lovemaking session and dancers writhing on a motorcycle. If that doesn’t get you in the mood, then something else will. There’s also a dream sequence where dancers in pink wigs prance around while Jason swings from the ceiling in a strait jacket. I can’t say I relate to that dream, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. The entire movie is nonstop, riveting entertainment. There’s virtually no padding, though there’s plenty of stiff dialogue. When Jason tries to pick up a girl at the supermarket, she sizes him up. “Stay away from the ground beef. It’s not fresh.” OH SHIT. SHUT IT DOWN. I would hang out in the meat section of Stop n’ Shop just so I could bust out this sweet burn.

It’s hard to say if Dance Or Die is a movie with a dance performance, or a dance performance with a movie in it. Either way, it’s a winner. A true joy. A tour de force with tights. Director/writer Richard W. Munchkin (who actually changed his named to Munchkin, from Jacobs) set out to combine a thriller with interpretive dance. And he nailed it. There’s some waxing about addiction and God and the resilience of the human spirit, and all of that is expressed through dance and hair metal. But the dance scenes never get repetitive or stale, even though we’ve all seen better dancers in a subway station. The big showdown is literally a dance performance. There are guns. Fake blood. Also, sunglasses. But the best part of the movie — and there are many good parts — might be the final scene. It’s a slap to the forehead that will make you yell triumphantly and pump your fists, and then maybe dance in your living room and knock over a bottle of (non-alcoholic) beer in the process.

If I have a choice to dance or die, then I choose dance.