The Dance Scene [Pulp Fiction]

Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega are so stinkin’ cool.

I mean, completely bombed out on cocaine, and sometimes barely above perceptible levels of functionality. 

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But the dialogue… the swagger. 

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And there is no point in Pulp Fiction where this is more evident than at Jackrabbit Slim’s.

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And inside of Jackrabbit Slim’s, there is no better moment than when they enter the twist contest.

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So what is it about that scene that leaves its indelible mark on all our minds? Why is it so iconic? Arguably- in the most Tarantino sense- it is bizarre, unnecessary, and melodramatic. But we aren’t turned off by those traits, we lean into them. And there may be a few reasons why.

For one, this ‘not-a-date’ with Mia and Vega is doomed to be successful. They are trapped in their own connection. They have a chemistry- aided by the cocaine- that is obvious from the moment they get out of their convertible car to sit in their convertible booth. On the right side there is Mia’s intensity and thoughtfulness, leaning into the table, making intense eye contact, ever the temptress, and on the left side there is Vega, prone to fits of spacing out, eyes wandering everywhere. Mia is supposed to be shown a good time by Vega, but not too good a time or he might end up like Tony “Rocky Horror,” thrown out of a four-story window by the boss, Marcellus Wallace. So before they ever kick off their shoes and let the music play, Mia and Vega are locked in a dance, and it is beautiful to watch. 

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The dialogue is a push-pull of interaction. Vega tries to please and participate. Mia carries the weight of topic selection and content and often serves as the antagonist, knowing Vega’s unenviable position, having done this before. The conversation that precedes the dance is always at arms-length. Neither want to fully embrace the interaction because they aren’t supposed to. It’s the forbidden fruit. She starts off by asking Vega what he thinks of Jackrabbit Slim’s, out of which the wonderful dialogue starts flowing, “I think it’s like a wax museum with a pulse.” But things get fun when she orders that fi’ dolla’ shake.

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Vega confirms it is just milk and ice cream, they “don’t put bourbon in it or nothing.” And the banter begins. Everything remains professional and in line but it is cut with a playfulness like, for example, when Mia asks Vega to roll him a joint, “Could you roll one of those for me cowboy?” and as Vega tries to get Mia to tell her joke from her pilot episode for Fox Force Five.

There was also pleasure. As Mia explains the cancelled show to him, she loses her cool and implacable façade and seems like an excited young girl.

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And Vega seems genuine about his desire to hear the joke and sad when he thinks he isn’t going to.

There was sexual energy as Vega asked to try her fi’ dolla’ milk shake…

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Mia: “You can use my straw, I don’t have cooties.”

Vega: “Yeah but maybe I do.”

Mia: “Cooties I can handle.”

…and as the guitar strums chords in the background while Vega sips his vanilla coke and Mia sucks on a cherry. “Don’t you hate that?…. Comfortable silences? Why do we feel it is necessary to yak about bullshit in order to be comfortable… 

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When you can just shut the fuck up for a minute and comfortably share silence.”

But Vega senses the danger in where this is headed and pulls back, “I don’t think we’re quite there yet, but don’t feel bad, we just met each other.” And their date gets put back into its proper perspective as the conversation turns to whether or not Marcellus Wallace actually threw Tony “Rocky Horror” out a four-story window for giving Mia a foot massage. And by extension, the tension behind these carefree demeanors.

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This night can go well, it just can’t go great.

So by the time Mia declares that she wants to enter the Jackrabbit Slim twist competition…

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These two have already shown us their ability to partner up and dance. The competition just becomes the culmination of their back and forth. 

Therefore, we are primed for the moment as they line up across from each other. Will Vega be able to dance as high as he is? Taking off those shoes seemed to be mighty difficult… Should these two be dancing together at all? And when Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” starts to play, and Mia and Vega start to dance, right on cue, they seem symbiotic. 

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But they don’t dance together at first. They dance at the same time, just like the date thus far. Travolta twisting in his dress socks, and Mia in her bare feet, no eye contact, separate dance movies. It’s still good, but two people on a dance floor are not two people dancing. 

Then then the music overcomes their wariness, even the reticent Vega. And when Vega drops back into a knee waggle, thrusting his hips forward, Mia twists forward into his open knees…

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…and as she twists away, and does a modified sprinkler back towards him, they make eye contact, they dance together, and their connection finally culminates with a good old-fashioned swim move. 

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They go from polite conversation, to playful banter, to meaningful conversation.

They go from dancing on the same stage, to dancing with each other, to doing the same moves.

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And as the intensity in their dancing grows, the inhibitions that were telling Vega to keep Mia at arm’s length fade away, and the night before them becomes ever more dangerous (just probably not in the way they are expecting).

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The dance is so powerful because it tells a story. The dialogue is about nothing, but it is about everything. The dance is out-of-nowhere but takes us from a man doing a favor for his boss by showing his wife a good time, to a danger zone where anything can happen. We watch tensions rise and the plot thicken in the most mundane of ways, a conversation over dinner. And when the bizarre dancing occurs, it breaks us into a realm of new storyline possibilities that can be equally as bizarre because we spent so much time connecting to the characters while the story was being told. It’s what makes Tarantino special. His ability to tell a story by means that seem totally unrelated. He shows us people interacting in an interesting and often tense situation, and everything else just kind of happens.

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