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date: 10 July 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter seeks to recuperate the dance legacies in Saturday Night Fever (1977) through a choreographic and cinematographic analysis of the film’s dance sequences. The ways the camera centralizes racialized, dancing bodies offers a perhaps accidental acknowledgement of the debt owed to black dancers. Centered around John Travolta’s Italian-American character Tony Manero living in a homogeneous Brooklyn neighborhood—where blacks were (and continue to be) unwelcome—Saturday Night Fever paradoxically exposes and pays tribute to the black roots of the screendancing. Travolta’s training for the film uncovers a complex dance history that reflects significant interracial contact behind the scenes as well as between and within singular bodies. There was interracial mixing in the backgrounds of the film’s top-billed choreographer, Lester Wilson, and Travolta’s uncredited dance instructor, Deney Terrio, and the modern, jazz, and street dance roots of the choreography shifts the film into a history of American concert and commercial dance practice.

Keywords: Saturday Night Fever, John Travolta, screendance, choreography, interracial, Lester Wilson, Deney Terrio, street dance, commercial dance

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