How to do the pulp fiction dance

Pulp Fiction Dance Scene — What Makes This Scene So Great?

Key story beats from Pulp Fiction 

The Pulp Fiction dance scene script 

In this memorable scene, Tarantino tied dynamic visuals to key story beats, all of it brought to life with quintessentially Tarantino dialogue. Pulp Fiction is a neo-noir crime drama set in 1990s Los Angeles and consists of 3 intertwining gangster narratives. In one story, mob boss Marcellus Wallace asks one of his "employees" named Vincent to take his wife Mia out while he is away. We know that Marcellus’ jealousy of another man might have led to a murderous outcome, so the request provokes a question: 

Will Vincent slip up and meet a similar fate?  

In the Pulp Fiction dance scene, Vincent and Mia go out for a bite to eat, have a flirtatious conversation, and dance “The Twist” for an impromptu dance competition. This scene is comparatively uneventful compared to the violence and gore of the rest of the film. But it is nonetheless filled with tension and drives the story forward in unexpected ways. 

With the script in StudioBinder’s screenwriting software, we can get a glimpse of how the Pulp Fiction dance scene script uses dialogue to make a comparatively long scene engaging. The minutiae of the characters’ interaction also subtly builds emotional tension. Click below to read the entire sequence as originally written. In another post, you can download the complete Pulp Fiction screenplay.

Tarantino-esque Dialogue  •  Read the Pulp Fiction Dance Scene

Now that we have our story beat identified, let’s look at how Tarantino’s directing style made this simple scene so impactful. 

Key Elements of the Pulp Fiction Dance Scene 

Let’s breakdown the elements

For the Pulp Fiction dance scene location, Vincent and Mia arrive at a retro diner called Jackrabbit Slim’s. Though this is a fictional restaurant, it was likely inspired by one of Tarantino’s favorite West Hollywood haunts, Barney’s Beanery. This is where Tarantino supposedly wrote much of the script.

Though you probably wouldn’t expect a Tarantino dance scene, Pulp Fiction is full of surprises. One of these nods is that this famous scene is a reference to one of Tarantino’s favorite films, Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande à part.

Watch that scene below.

Bande à part  •  Inspiration for the Pulp Fiction dance scene

In that film, there is also an unexpected dance scene in a restaurant setting. Paying homage to cinematic history is a hallmark of Tarantino’s style, which you can read more about in our post on Tarantino’s filmmaking tips. 

Tarantino repurposed that idea into the Pulp Fiction dance scene, juxtaposing the sweetness and friendliness of the dance. Thus creating a sharp contrast to the world that this gangster and gangster’s wife come from. 

Tarantino’s love of pop culture references permeates the film. Like Barney’s, at Jackrabbit Slim’s the staff are all dressed as old school Hollywood icons. The place is steeped in Route 66, vintage Americana nostalgia, “like a wax museum with a pulse,” Vincent observes. 

Their booth is made from a cut-up retro car, vintage movie posters line the walls, and there's a dance floor where patrons sock-hop to golden oldies. 

To pull off a scene like this with so many elements like props, costumes, and set dressing, a script breakdown is absolutely necessary. We used StudioBinder's script breakdown software to illustrate this process. Click below to see the entire Pulp Fiction dance scene breakdown.

Tarantino's Pop Culture Explosion  •  See the Complete Script Breakdown

After some pithy and dangerously flirtatious dialogue, another key element is the Pulp Fiction dance song. Though Mia and Vincent do “The Twist,” a dance craze from the '60s, it would be too obvious to have them dance to the song of the same name by Chubby Checker.

Instead, the Pulp Fiction dance scene song is Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell. ” Tarantino’s music choices are known for being off the beaten path and this is no exception. It can be hard to even remember the Pulp Fiction dance scene song name, as this is one of Berry’s lesser hits. But perhaps this tune appealed to Tarantino because it mentions a “cherry red souped up jitney.”

Pulp Fiction Dance Scene Song  •  You Never Can Tell by Chuck Berry

Part of what makes the Pulp Fiction dance scene song so memorable is that it is a song about a shotgun teenage wedding. That image recalls the vintage car aesthetic of the diner and the story of a delinquent teenage couple running off to get married.

Again, we see Tarantino’s penchant for sharp contrast. The song’s naïve delinquency juxtaposes the real criminality of the world Mia and Vincent come from. But in the Pulp Fiction dance scene, here they are, twisting in their socks in this sentimental retro milieu. 

But this mockery of America’s sentimental love of its own “glory days” also helps escalate the tension. Knowing that one slight misstep could result in him being thrown off a building like Tony Rocky Horror, Vincent should be on guard. However, in this saccharine, amusement park environment, he begins to relax. And the more Vincent relaxes, and the more flirtatious Mia becomes, the danger of the situation increases. 

Using Spontaneity to Build Drama 

Let the actors improvise 

Another element that helped escalate the emotional tension of the Pulp Fiction scene dance was that Tarantino supplied no choreography. The actors were asked to improvise and you can feel that spontaneous quality in the scene.

Many fans thought the John Travolta Pulp Fiction dance sequence must have been written with the actor in mind. However, Tarantino actually wrote the scene before Travolta was cast. 

Still, Travolta of course had some ideas on how to make “The Twist” a bit more compelling. He threw The Batman, The Swim, The Jerk, The Monkey, The Hitchhiker, and more into the mix. We can only imagine piling on even more vintage pop culture references must have delighted Tarantino.

In this clip, Travolta talks about all the dances of his formative years that shaped his interpretation of Tarantino’s script: 

John Travolta’s Dance Moves

It is also interesting to note that the iconic Uma Thurman Pulp Fiction dance illustrates the benefit of pushing an actor past their comfort zone. Initially, Thurman was terrified to dance, let alone improvise, and felt “big and awkward.” Putting the choreography in the hands of the actors hastened a more authentic, electrifying energy in this case.

The improvised nature forced the actors to respond to each other in the moment. Thus encouraging physical and emotional mirroring that makes their interpersonal dynamic all the more vivid. Check out the video below for the Pulp Fiction dance scene from a choreographer’s perspective: 

A Breakdown of Moves from the Pulp Fiction Dance Scene

As this scene was a fairly blatant homage to some of Tarantino’s favorite films, it could have felt too derivative. But asking Thurman and Travolta to respond to each other in the moment brought a special “twist” to the scene (wink wink).

Calling the Shots 

How shot choice strengthens the impact

Now that we have all our creative elements in place, let’s look at the shot list Tarantino used. This scene is an excellent example of how Tarantino’s shot choices, from wide shots to extreme closeups, make his scenes so distinctly “Tarantino-esque.” Tarantino’s shot list is minimal to keep our focus on the characters. This choice also helped elevate this scene from a mere dance sequence into a key part of the story development.

The intimacy and danger of the conversation between Mia and Vincent is escalated with close-up shots at the booth. The bright, jangly diner around them recedes into the background and our attention is pulled to the intricacies of their dialogue and the building energy between them.

Unbalanced camera framing for an awkward conversation

We are temporarily brought back into the larger setting by a few wide shots once the dance contest is announced. Mia and Vincent approach the stage, take off their shoes, and begin Twisting. 

A typical dance sequence uses multiple shots to create a sense of movement and intensity. For example, any of John Travolta’s previous iconic dance scenes from Saturday Night Fever or Grease).

But here, the purpose of the scene is not the athleticism of the dancing, or how well they dance compared to other contestants. It's all about what the dance reveals about the relationship between the two characters. 

Check out some key moments from the dance we brought into StudioBinder’s storyboarding software. You'll notice after the first wide shot, the shots stay locked in on Vincent and Mia — just as they are to each other.

Vincent and Mia in the Pulp Fiction Dance Scene  •  Click to view the shot list

After a few wide shots as the dance gets going, we see a shot of their feet. Although taking off their shoes is per dance contest rules, making sure to capture this shot is also a way to illustrate vulnerability of both characters. A gangster without their shoes on will have trouble running away should some unforeseen incident erupt. For example, say Marcellus shows up, or, someone sees Mia doing coke in the bathroom and calls the cops. 

We’re back to above the waist shots from there onward. We are drawn to the intense eye contact between the two characters using two-in-profile and close-ups. That's when feel a building, uncomfortable contrast between their fun, even silly dance moves, and their intensely focused stares. 

Despite how much fun they’re having, and despite the fact Vincent is fulfilling his duty to his boss by showing Mia a good time. Each moment escalates a building sense of danger.

The Pulp Fiction dance scene is a prime example of Tarantino’s penchant for slowly building understated dramatic elements. By looking at his use of key story beats, a creative approach to elements, and an intentional use of shot choices helps us illuminate the choices Tarantino made. A great reminder of how any great scene is put together: shot by shot. 


How to write dialogue like Tarantino

Of course, a large part of what made the Pulp Fiction dance scene so memorable was the darting, suggestive banter between Mia and Vincent. As dialogue is one of the elements Tarantino is known for, it is worth digging into how he wields conversation to make even exceptionally long scenes engaging. Though dialogue is often not thought to have much ability to hold viewer’s attention, it can be an opportunity to reveal characters’ motives, make action all the more surprising, and build tension in a scene. Let’s see how Tarantino uses his dialogues as set pieces of their own. 

Up Next: Writing dialogue Tarantino style → 

The Power of Pulp Fiction’s Dance Scene, Explained by Choreographers and Even John Travolta Himself

in Dance, Film | December 29th, 2020 4 Comments

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All the great movies have a few memorable scenes; Pulp Fiction is made of nothing but. More than a quarter-century ago, that film’s release turned a young video-store clerk-turned-auteur called Quentin Tarantino into a household name. Cinephiles today still argue about which is the most memorable among its scenes, and only the most contrarian could fail to consider the dance. It comes early in the film, when the hitman Vincent Vega takes his boss’ wife out to dinner, the absent kingpin having ordered him to do so. The two eat at an elaborately 1950s-themed diner and on a whim enter its twist contest. They walk off the dance floor with a trophy — as well as a couple decades’ influence on popular culture.

“The twist was made famous in the 60s,” explains choreographer Lauren Yalango-Grant in the Vanity Fair video just above. “There were a lot of variations that came out of the twist that we do see in this scene,” such as “the monkey,” “the swim,” and “the Batman,” better known as “the Batusi.”

As busted by John Tavolta and Uma Thurman, all these moves come out in an improvisational fashion, each in response to the last: “If John starts to do the Batman, then Uma’s going to ‘yes-and’ it with not only a Batman but an open palm, her own version of this move,” adds choreographer Christopher Grant. Their movements give the scene a great deal of its impact, but so does those movements’ incongruity with their expressions, which Yalango-Grant calls “the juxtaposition of their seriousness and the lack of play on their faces versus the play in their bodies.

Though now cinematically iconic in its own right, Pulp Fiction‘s dance scene pays homage to a host of older films. The most obvious is Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande à part, with what Yalango-Grant calls its “amazing dance sequence in a cafe. It’s totally out of context, of nowhere.” Never shy to admit his acts of artistic “theft,” Tarantino once complained that too few picked up this one: “Everybody thinks that I wrote this scene just to have John Travolta dancing. But the scene existed before John Travolta was cast.” The director’s intention, rather, was to pay tribute to his favorite musical sequences, which “have always been in Godard, because they just come out of nowhere. It’s so infectious, so friendly. And the fact that it’s not a musical, but he’s stopping the movie to have a musical sequence, makes it all the more sweet.

The casting of Travolta (Tarantino’s “strong, strong, strong second choice” for Vincent Vega) proved fortuitous. The very image of the man dancing made for yet another chapter of pop culture from which the film could draw, but without his real-life dancing skills and instincts, the scene wouldn’t have been as memorable as it is. “Quentin was dead-set on both of us doing the twist, which is a very fun dance, but it’s limited in how long one wants to watch someone do the twist,” Travolta remembers on a recent appearance on The Late Late Show with James Corden. So he told the director, “When I was growing up, there were novelty dances. There were dances like the swim and the Batman and the hitchhiker and the tighten up. Maybe we should widen the spectrum on this. ” Tarantino’s unwillingness to compromise his ambitions and obsessions has made him perhaps the most acclaimed filmmaker of his generation, but so has knowing when to defer to the star of Saturday Night Fever.

Related Content:

Quentin Tarantino Gives Sneak Peek of Pulp Fiction to Jon Stewart in 1994

Quentin Tarantino’s Original Wish List for the Cast of Pulp Fiction

The Music in Quentin Tarantino’s Films: Hear a 5-Hour, 100-Song Playlist

An Analysis of Quentin Tarantino’s Films Narrated (Mostly) by Quentin Tarantino

How Anna Karina (RIP) Became the Mesmerizing Face of the French New Wave

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.



how the iconic Pulp Fiction dance came to be

John Travolta and Uma Thurman's dance at the Jack Rabbit retro restaurant was one of the most difficult scenes in the entire Pulp Fiction filming process. It took 13 hours, not including the time to set up the dance itself. All movements for this iconic scene were developed by Tarantino and Travolta together. John Travolta is a great dancer, if you didn't know, he has been dancing since childhood. It was thanks to dancing that Travolta became famous after the role of a dancer in the movie Saturday Night Fever. nine0003

Now imagine that 25 years have passed since that moment. We tell the best stories that have developed around the filming of Pulp Fiction.

True connoisseurs of cinema will immediately notice the similarity with the scene from the film "8½" by Federico Fellini. But if Fellini is just a passing frame, then in Pulp Fiction Tarantino and Travolta created one of the best dance numbers in world cinema based on twist, swim and other types of dance.

An interesting fact, but it was not the choreographer who worked with Uma Thurman, but also Travolta (and it was not easy). The actress quickly memorized all the movements, but it was impossible to achieve the desired ease. Sama Uma sample 19At 94, she was very timid and constrained, and when she realized the importance of this episode, she began to get even more nervous. The actress recalled: “Oh, I was so awkward, so embarrassed and so shy!”.

And despite all the attempts (or torture...), the scene still turned out to be forced. Then Tarantino showed the actors a frame from Godard's film, in which the characters danced desperately in a similar restaurant. Travolta recalled the moment: “Look how they dance,” Tarantino said. - They are not professional dancers, but they dance just great just because they dance for themselves, for their own pleasure. They don't care if those who look at them like their dance. Now they live in music, they immersed themselves in it, move with it. That is what I want from you." nine0003

Travolta also says that at that moment Tarantino looked like a 13-year-old boy: “But with all this, he was so direct and sincere that it was impossible not to admire him. By his example, he not only liberated us, but provoked us to the most unexpected inventions and improvisations. And the result exceeded all expectations! 13 hours of continuous filming, during which the actors could not even really sit down or rest.

Who hasn't had problems with shyness and self-expression is the director. A small behind-the-scenes video from the filming of one of the takes has been preserved. And we can watch as Quentin Tarantino dances incendiary during the filming of this memorable number! nine0003

And 7 more interesting facts about Pulp Fiction

1. The word "fuck" and all its derivatives are heard about 270 times in the film! In 1994, no movie even came close to Pulp Fiction in terms of swearing.

2. The director himself selected the musical accompaniment at the stage of writing the script and said that it "defines the individuality of the film." And the single “Let’s twist again” will forever remain the hallmark of Pulp Fiction.

3. Quite an interesting pattern: every time Vincent goes to the toilet, something bad happens! nine0003

4. Tarantino himself really wanted to play in this film, but was torn between two roles: Jimmy and Lance. In the end, he had to choose Jimmy, as Mia's adrenaline shot required the director to be behind the camera.

5. By the way, one of the most spectacular and memorable scenes of the film (an adrenaline shot) is shown in reverse. That is, Travolta did not stick the needle, but took it out!

6. Tarantino's assistant Linda Chen asked Quentin to look after her pet rabbit, Honey Bunny, instead of paying her while she was at work. But the director treated the request with disdain, and the rabbit died after a while. To make amends, Tarantino decided to immortalize the name of the unfortunate pet and gave his nickname to one of the characters. It was a kind of apology to the assistant. nine0003

7. The mystery of the contents of Marsellus Wallace's briefcase has been a mystery since 1994. Almost as curious is the patch on the back of Wallace's head. Some still assume that the briefcase contains his soul, extracted from a hole in the back of his head, and the plaster should cover this wound. Pretty weird and creepy. However, as is often the case, fiction is more frightening than reality. As it turned out, actor Vin Rhames simply cut himself while shaving. Tarantino believed that this captivating visual detail would make Wallace's scenes even more compelling, given that the viewer spends a lot of time staring at the back of Ving Rhames' head. nine0003

Ana Lipartia.

He also dances – Style – Kommersant

Kommersant Style finds out why modern men prefer tap shoes to barbells and boogie-woogie to powerlifting.

John Travolta and Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction directed by Quentin Tarantino, 1994.

Photo: East News

John Travolta and Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction directed by Quentin Tarantino, 1994 year.

Photo: East News

According to the analytical platform Data Usa, in 2020 alone, the number of men involved in dancing increased by 17%. And numerous surveys (for example, by the British University of Northumbria) show that 80% of women would like their husband or boyfriend to be able to dance. In Russia, the situation is the same: men suddenly turned their attention to the dance floor, and in this case it is not a club term. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, the social media boom: the dancing guys from TikTok and Instagram show that flexibility and plasticity are not just for girls. Tens of millions of subscribers are waiting with bated breath for new videos from dance bloggers Michael Lee, Brent Rivera and James Charles. And Zumba dancer Celuko ​​Fernandez posts videos of simple and effective moves for men on his Instagram. The second reason why guys are ready to trade the bar for ballet flats is that the fashion for grotesque jocks has passed. The ideal of the new masculinity is the elegant and graceful Timothée Chalome. “The body of a dancer, be it hip-hop or salsa, is flexibility, beautiful elongated muscles and impeccable posture,” explains body ballet instructor Alexander Korolik. Dance adepts claim that fitness does not provide such a versatile load - if you change the usual “hardware” for sports ballroom dancing, the form will only improve. Trainers confirm that dancing is excellent cardio (just as good as running!), It strengthens the muscular frame and increases endurance. And, as various studies show, dancing improves cognitive functions: remembering new movements and choreography, our brain also trains. By the way, this does not happen when lifting the hardware. Dancing is also a great way to diversify your social life and a healthy alternative to "tanks" and pubs with friends. One of the most secular styles is Lindy Hop, a peppy dance originally from New York 1920s. A nice bonus in addition to new acquaintances is 500 calories burned per hour.

John Travolta and Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction directed by Quentin Tarantino, 1994.

Photo: East News

John Travolta and Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, directed by Quentin Tarantino, 1994.

Photo: East News

What do men dance? In the new era, there are no forbidden styles for them. Hip-hop, flamenco, merengue, reggaeton and even ballet - the stigma around him disappeared. This was greatly facilitated by the soloists of the Bolshoi, Mikhailovsky and Mariinsky, who broke into Instagram. For example, Bolshoi Theater Premier Artem Ovcharenko diligently uploaded videos of his home stretch during the lockdown. Of course, social pair dances are especially popular - those that help to communicate and get to know each other. Valentina Ustinova, founder of Casa del Tango, the first tango school in Moscow, claims that this year, for the first time, there were not enough partners at the milongas (the so-called tango parties), although the gender pendulum has always swung the other way. At the famous salsa open airs under the Andreevsky Bridge this summer, one could also observe an unusual picture: men literally stand in line to invite not so many girls to bachata. nine0003

Finally, the third and perhaps the main reason why men choose dancing is that it is a legal way to relieve stress and show emotions. With the latter, the representatives of the stronger sex, as you know, have big problems. “In the post-Soviet space, men, in principle, were not taught to perceive life emotionally. He must be calm and imperturbable, like a rock. But emotions do not go away, men suppress them, and this leads to various dysfunctions,” explains Pavel Rasner, PhD, urologist at the K + 31 clinic. Dancing magically helps to turn off the head, relax and distract. Vadim Savko, founder of the Hustle dance school, says that among his students there are many top managers of large corporations who live in a state of constant stress. “I often see how in the hall such a person with a gray, tired face gradually thaws and begins to smile,” Savko rejoices. nine0003

John Travolta and Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction directed by Quentin Tarantino, 1994.

Photo: East News

John Travolta and Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, directed by Quentin Tarantino, 1994.

Photo: East News

Individual dance classes are also gaining momentum among men - they are replacing the classic personal fitness classes. For example, entrepreneur Dmitry Khanarin, founder of the wellness start-up Valby, is engaged in contemporary dance (free choreography, modern dance) with a coach. “For me, this is about contact with my own body, self-manifestation,” Khanarin explains. “What is inside can and should be reflected and lived through the body. Plus, dancing is a very interesting load, not comparable to the hall. Deep muscles are being worked out, natural stretching occurs. ” Dmitry knows what he is talking about: his Valby project helps fight burnout and improve the quality of life. By the way, practice shows that the ability to dance is as important a social skill for a top manager as knowledge of elite whiskey varieties.

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