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Theater & Dance

The Best Moves of 2015

The Best Moves of 2015

Drake Misty Copeland Channing Tatum

Dance, choreography & gestures that made an impact in 2015

Viral Move of the Year: Drake's Anti-Dance

In the video for "Hotline Bling," Drake's moves are about as cool as a dad's at a Bar Mitzvah. And that's what makes them great: the expression of an inner impulse that must manifest, paired with utter indifference as to how it looks. TMZ did us the favor of breaking down Drake's little boogie into distinct moves, capturing, among others, the mini-Egyptian, the Tweety Bird flaps, the prayer-like bow, and the "I'm crazy" wrist swivel at the temple, modified with cell-phone fingers.

Of course, it's not just the video we celebrate - it's all the memes and imitations spawned. From a light saber duel to pizza delivery to Tom Jones, the world once again proved its insatiable hunger to take the tastiest internet morsels and imaginatively regurgitate them. Tanisha Scott, a Toronto-based dancer and choreographer, worked with Drake on the video. While all of the moves were improvised ("I was just a coach," she said), Scott told the U.K. site Complex that Drake was well-aware of what he was unleashing on the world. "We were looking at playbacks, and he was like, 'This is totally going to be a meme,'" she said. "He's borderline brilliant."

Channing Tatum Commemorates a Vogueing Anniversary

Channing Tatum has long been Hollywood's premier dancing man (recall that his breakthrough was 2006's Step It Up.) In 2012, he had us drooling in Steven Soderbergh's Magic Mike, a fine example of raw male physicality. While promoting the sequel, Magic Mike XXL in July, Tatum showed off snippets of classic dance moves from various decades: the Pony, the Robot, the Funky Chicken, etc.

But the move that garnered the most notice was his artful impression of vogue, the dance style that developed in the 1980s in the Harlem ballroom scene. This year marked the 25th anniversary of vogueing's thrust into the popular culture mainstream, with Madonna's "Vogue" video and Jennie Livingston's documentary Paris is Burning. Tatum didn't pull those moves out of his G-string, though: Magic Mike XXL features voguing performed by veteran voguers Javier Ninja and Dashaun Wesley, who also taught Tatum the elements of vogue and, most importantly, the attitude required to sell it. He seems to have taken those lessons to heart.

Positive Policing - A D.C. Cop does the Nae Nae

A large part of the current national conversation on race has focused on the role of law enforcement, a profession whose public image has been stained. But in October, a dance-off between a Washington, D.C., cop and a young woman went viral and served as a reminder that creative engagement is possible, and that positive interactions do occur between those serving to protect and the communities they patrol.

The Washington Post reported that the cops arrived to break up a fight and were soon challenged by 17-year-old Aaliyah Taylor to a dance-off, which an unidentified officer gladly accepted. The officer - in her stiff uniform and gun belt - steals the show with smooth torso rolls, deep bounces and pumping arms. The competitors ultimately called it a draw, but the winner was the image of the American police officer. "I thought all cops were cruel because that's how I saw them," said Taylor, who said her six siblings have all at some point been arrested or detained for non-violent offenses. This experience offered an alternative perspective. "I've now seen there are good cops out there."

Of course, we must credit the young hip-hop artist Silento for providing such an inspirational dance -- and for teaching us so clearly how to follow along. Nearly half a billion people have watched his music video/tutorial for "Watch Me" which instructs us in the Nae Nae, the dance employed in the aforementioned duel. It goes as follows: Break your legs. Bop. Whip. Yule Superman. Duff. And repeat.

Amy Schumer's Cheerleader Dance: A Charming Trainwreck

Amy Schumer Trainwreck Cheerleader Dance Scene

The year in comedy belonged to Amy Schumer, who made the successful leap from spicy TV series to the cineplex with Trainwreck, which wrapped her biting brand of feminism in a palatable Judd Apatow package (I saw it with my parents: Mom thought it was "cute," Dad liked the sports cameos). The sketches on Inside Amy Schumer are sharper in their critique of gender norms and expectations, but Trainwreckstill subverted the romantic comedy genre in smart ways, too.

Schumer earns a spot on this list for the film's closing scene, a private performance by a team of professional NBA cheerleaders, in which Schumer partakes. It's both sweet and goofy - the perfect blend of earnestness and awkwardness that beg for more physical comedy from Schumer. It's also a comment on real women v. fantasy women (i.e., cheerleaders) and a jab at the rom-com convention of the "I-improved-myself-for-you-and-will-now-demonstrate-this-in-front-of-the-world" scene. The joke, of course, is that Schumer, huffing and puffing, can barely keep up. The dancing is honest, not glorified - just like her. Then there's the slam dunk attempt. I won't spoil the result here. But let's just say, taking the year as a whole, that Schumer scores.

The Polyswagg Girl Power of Justin Bieber's "Sorry" Video

Justin Bieber has plenty to apologize for, but the music video for his song "Sorry" deserves our thanks. For one thing, he stays out of it, allowing a crew of all-female dancers to own the space with abundant swagger. The concept and choreography belongs to the New Zealand artist Parris Goebel, who worked with her usual tribe of dancers in a style she calls "polyswagg." "It is very chill, and it is very fun and spontaneous," she told Rolling Stone, "like when you get comfortable with a group of people and you can just have fun."

A video by women, of women and for women. Though there's a bit of booty slapping, if feels more like the dancers are entertaining themselves rather than male onlookers - more slumber party than stripper pole, the latter of which we've come to expect from pop and hip-hop videos. Here, they show skin, sure, but it's not intended to titillate. You get the sense that they're in control - one part "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," one part "Single Ladies." And the moves themselves are stellar - alternatively smooth and crisp, a little bit suggestive, a little bit brash, with lots of expressive arms pumping the air, riding the pony, or slashing in front of the body with powerful nonchalance. Apology accepted, Justin.

An American in Paris Makes Dance Matter on Broadway Again

In the year that introduced the era-defining "Hamilton," you can't argue that Broadway is in a lull. But for years, dance on Broadway has been less than inspiring. There are still big dance breaks that inject a shot of theatrical caffeine into a show, but it no longer seems to be a main ingredient in the storytelling - as it was in the days of West Side Story and A Chorus Line.

Then came An American in Paris, an adaptation of the 1951 movie musical starring Gene Kelly. Producers boldly handed the reins to Christopher Wheeldon, an acclaimed ballet choreographer but a novice Broadway director. He, in turn, cast New York City Ballet star Robert Fairchild as his lead, a guy who can easily handle the steps but who had yet to prove his singing chops. It was a gamble, not just because of these debuts, but because it was a tale told through dance, featuring a nearly 15-minute ballet as its dramatic climax.

The results? Wheeldon took home the Tony for Best Choreography, the show itself is one of the few successes from last season that's still around, and dance has once again made itself vital to a Broadway show.

The Quiet Documentary Trumps the Salacious TV Show

Dancers always get excited when a TV show or film arrives depicting their profession, regardless of the portrayal. Any publicity is good publicity, right? But, those mainstream products often default to melodrama, cramming in a bunch of abuse, jealousy, psychological instability, and a generous dose of sleaze. The Starz miniseries Flesh and Bone fell into this trap, uncomfortably exposing its young, female stars (though somehow it managed to garner a few Golden Globe nominations).

RELATED | Justin Peck: Ballet's Quiet Storm

The portrayal of ballet that dancers were most excited about this year was Jody Lee Lipes' documentary Ballet 422, which followed 27-year choreographic wunderkind Justin Peck, a dancer and resident choreographer of New York City Ballet, as he creates a dance for his home company. There are no talking heads, no explanations or analysis, and few works from Peck or others. It's a quiet study in the art of moving bodies and Peck emerges as a compelling figure because of, not despite, his unnatural calm. Ballet 422 is confident enough in the inherent drama of dance to not resort to sex, drugs and ego. Instead, it's about the hard work of looking effortless.

Misty Copeland for the Win

Last year, we included the ballerina Misty Copeland on this list for breaking into the mainstream with a widely-viewed ad for Under Armour that addressed the issue of race in ballet, and for her quest to become the first black female principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre. In 2015, we're proud to say: Mission accomplished. Copeland was promoted to the rank of principal in June. That wasn't the only highlight of her year, though. This fall, a documentary about her life, A Ballerina's Tale, was released, she hit up talk shows, like the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, to chat about the lack of diversity in ballet, and she made her Broadway debut in the final weeks of On the Town.

Here's to breaking more barriers in 2016.

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