Flashdance: That “Steel-Town Girl on a Saturday Night” Turns 25 Today

Kevin Kavendish let’s loose
What a feeling: Carlton Draught’s “Kevin Kavendish” gets footloose

Here’s the safest bet you can possibly make in your life: When director Adrian Lyne released Flashdance, on April 15, 1983, dollars-to-donuts that neither he nor the movie’s distributor, Paramount, was counting on anyone talking about it a quarter of a century later.

Flashdance had no stars, no budget, and a piffle of a plot: A Pittsburgh-based female welder/exotic dancer, Alexandra “Alex” Owens (Jennifer Beals), wants to get into a ultra-brow conservatory, so that she can train to become a professional hoofer. Wow: I’m so moved. The story had been done a million times since sound was added to movies, and has been done seemingly thousands of times since.

Flashdance posterBut will anyone be talking about Save the Last Dance in 2026? Flashdance seems less a movie than a moment, a bundle of carefully mixed and poured sequences—mini music videos—perfectly aligning it with the sensibilities of the then burgeoning “MTV generation.” (The channel had been launched less than 2 years earlier.)

Everybody had their favorite piece of the film. For me, it was the b-boying sequence (plus the corresponding backspin at the end of Alex’s audition). It came directly after the “I Love Rock ‘N Roll” weight-training bit (“Just call the dude! … I’m sure glad I ain’t no honky!”), and right before the twinkle-toed, traffic-directing cop. I know this, because I snuck into so many screenings of the movie, out at Massapequa Mall on Long Island, just to see this specific part of the film. I’d actually timed how many minutes after the movie started that part came up.

Powerfully shot in telephoto, to compress and focus the action, the explosive dance featured Rock Steady Crew members Norm-Ski, Mr. Freeze, Crazy Legs, and the late Wayne “Frosty Freeze” Frost, who died on April 3rd, at age 44. (His funeral was exactly a week ago, here in Harlem. I personally mentioned the irony of the then pending Flashdance anniversary to Legs, who noted it, but seemed, understandably, more touched, and distracted, by Frost’s all-too-soon passing.)

Legs gets biz-zeeIndeed, Flashdance‘s biggest legacy may be sparking “breakdancing” as an international craze, thus growing the audience for hip-hop culture. (At the same memorial, Legs told me that, by this date, he’d be in Uganda, doing a tutorial.) I didn’t even have to go back and look at the scene to recall it. What most overwhelmed me then was the elegant perfection of Freeze’s pantomimed walk-into-the-wind / moonwalk, the wild blur of Crazy Legs’s floor moves, and the startling abruptness of Frosty’s suicide drop, all done, in a rare touch of major movie authenticity, to the blue-hard, ghetto ferocity of Jimmy Castor Bunch’s “It’s Just Begun.”

Which enunciates one of the key reasons people still care about Flashdance: It didn’t slouch an iota on the music. Featuring songs that less got into your head than rewired neurons to accommodate them—the Oscar-winning “Flashdance…What a Feeling” and the blazingly kinetic “Maniac”—the movie then topped this with a heavy dose of romance, cool sartorial style (that sweatshirt and those leg warmers), and weighty teenage angst, turning Flashdance into 1983’s summer juggernaut.

Totally awesome…totally soakin’ wet….

Flashdance was so much of its time, so completely down with it, that it imprinted itself on the future. In 2008, its visage is so widely known around the world that one can merely reference its imagery to evoke still-fresh memories of the film, as Jennifer Lopez did in her David LaChappelle-directed video for 2003’s “I’m Glad.” (I’d argue, though, that Flashdance‘s earliest music video homage was Janet Jackson’s immaculate 1987 “The Pleasure Principle”, directed by Dominic Sena [Gone in 60 Seconds; Swordfish].)

Flash splashOf course, as seen in the opening photo for this post, Flashdance has been quoted in an Australian beer advertisement, not to mention a Spanish floor wax spot, a UK phone directory commercial, and, most recently, here in the U.S., a Kia car ad, right, which not only reproduced Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” and its corresponding choreography, but also bites the famous double-water splash from the strip-tease at Mawby’s, above, in the movie. Thankfully, the doughy dancing salesman removes not a stitch of his clothing. Still, given the movie’s resilience and longevity, something tells me that some poor production assistant is gonna be mopping up water around wet chairs for years to come.

One more note: This is MEDIA ASSASSIN’s 100th post. A warm, wonderful, Thank You! to everyone whose read, subscribed, linked, commented, passed along our URLs, and otherwise supported us so far. Believe me: You absolutely make this worth doing. Stay tuned: The best is yet to come!



#1 AaronM on 04.16.08 at 10:55 am

Happy 100th, Harry! Big milestone.

#2 dionne on 04.17.08 at 12:17 am

congratulations, happy 100th post!
it doesn’t even feel like i’ve read that many 🙂 – looking forward to the next 100!

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