Dance, Girl, Dance

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Dorothy Arzner has this tendency to redirect the characters in her films away from the Romantic. The people who inhabit the worlds Arzner puts on film are just a little more real than those in most other classic Hollywood films. This approach in Dance, Girl, Dance (1940) helps to subvert the genre mechanics of the film without ever breaking away from the genre itself.

Dance, Girl, Dance follows a similar “climb to fame” structure as half a dozen other films at least but what Arzner does is side step cliche and reclaim the idea of female identity from this genre of film. The melodrama about a dancer’s rise to the top is almost always a film by men targeted at men with just a little consideration for the woman spectator.

Neither Judy (Maureen O’Hara) or Bubbles (Lucille Ball) actually follow a romantic arc where love and marriage is the end goal. Bubbles desires the financial independence to afford total autonomy while Judy only sought a temporary distraction from a career that had slightly faltered. Never once do these women consider what is best for their male counterparts which is a striking departure from the social norms of Hollywood pre-WWII. Usually during the resolution of the narrative the heroine would realize that it is far more noble to serve a husband than to contribute to society as an independent being. As preposterous or upsetting as that sounds it was the norm and, lucky for us, Dorothy Arzner throws those notions out of the window with Dance, Girl, Dance.

By denying the romance and love triangle plots and refocusing the story on the relationship between Judy, Bubbles and their careers Arzner is essentially able to outline the fundamental machinations in the narratives of Nora Ephron and other woman filmmakers of the latter twentieth century. The legacy of Dorothy Arzner and her film Dance, Girl, Dance is wholly important to the development of Hollywood cinema and it’s about time this film got its due.