Dancing requires strength, speed, and flexibility. For instance, most fast-paced tap dancing requires precise muscle movement, otherwise your feet make the wrong sounds, even if the rhythm of your body feels exact. Tap moves also stack and accelerate while stacking, calling for more focus and precision, which can be frustrating if you’re having trouble trying to nail just one move consecutively, like a Maxie Ford. This isn’t limited to tap. Shaking of the hips, like in Polynesian dancing, requires a lot of strength and flexibility right at the start, and any dancing that requires the body to move onto and off of the floor is going to utilize almost every active muscle area, from legs to upper body. For dancers, strength equates to endurance. The stronger a dancer is, the longer they can repeat their actions with precision and speed.
Replace the word “dancer” in the previous sentence with “swordsman” or “fighter” and the statement remains no less true. So much so that dancing and superior fighting skills have become a common trope in genre fiction. It looks cool to see (or read) a fighter weave around their stronger opponents attacks, and it makes battles more interesting.
Here are a few noteworthy examples of this battle dancing as depicted in sci-fi/fantasy!
Blademasters (Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time)
The Swallow Takes Flight met Parting the Silk. Moon on the Water met The Wood Grouse Dances. Ribbon in the Air met Stones Falling From the Cliff. They moved about the room as in a dance, and their music was steel against steel. (The Great Hunt).
In Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy series The Wheel of Time there is a distinct difference between a soldier who wields a sword and a true Blademaster. Blademasters handle a sword in perfect harmony with their body and their form is so precise, reactive, and fluid that their movements appear as more of a dance than an aggressive action. That style of movement, along with their distinctively marked heron swords, are how the laymen in the series can tell that they are in the presence of a Blademaster and not just another swordsman. Superior swordsmanship are often depicted as dancers in genre fiction, but Jordan’s Wheel of Time, in providing names and classifications for a Blademaster’s movements, provides an exceptionally clear written depiction of this trope.
Killer Bee (Naruto)
Killer Bee (the one in white with all the swords) is a rapping man, continuously pumping out rhythms even in the midst of battle. His love of rapping seeps into his movements (or vice versa), making them resemble a cross between real-life dance-fighting style capoeira and ceremonially demonstrative muay thai. If his opponent becomes accustomed to his dance-fighting style, then Killer Bee will purposefully break his rhythm to make his movements more erratic and unpredictable, effectively using someone else’s sense of rhythm against them!
Rock Lee (Naruto)
A master of taijutsu (think martial arts with chakra-enhanced strikes and movements), Lee is already formidable. A lightweight when it comes to alcohol, after a drink or two, his natural talent for the unpredictable and fluid drunken boxing technique comes to the forefront. The switch to drunken boxing gets rid of the direct style in which Lee normally fights, replacing it with what looks like a dancing parody of martial arts with real strikes thrown in. There are numerous examples of the Drunken Fist being used in both film and comics, most often against psychic or precognitive opponents to confuse them. Those not familiar with anime may recognize the fighting style from the films of Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan.
The Dancing Dragon (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
The Dancing Dragon is a firebending form found by Zuko and Aang after searching old Sun Warrior ruins. This is the most blatant form of battle dancing in the series, although bending in general is very dance-like, and could easily be mistaken for a ritualistic dance if the show did not include visuals portraying the bending of the elements involved. There is also a scene in the episode “The Crossroads of Destiny,” one of my favorites, where Sokka dances out of the way of May’s strikes like a ballerina.
River Tam (Serenity)
When describing River Tam, her brother Simon recalls “River was more than gifted. She was a gift. Everything she did, music, math, theoretical physics—even dance—there was nothing that didn’t come as naturally to her as breathing does to us.” This talent for dance comes into play when her unstable psyche is triggered in a bar by a commercial. (And if you know what commercial this is, then I’m sorry for putting it in your head for the next five hours.) The trigger makes her treat everyone in the bar as a threat, and she lays waste to its clientele with a graceful mixture of kickboxing and wushu. While impressive, it is nothing compared to the ballet-style combat grace that River exhibits in the film’s climax.
Siegfried (Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple)
Kenichi’s Siegfried will defeat you in prestissimo! The opera that continually runs through his head may have something to do with the fluid, dance-like style of fighting he employs. He bends and pretends to be hit, then uses the force of the blow to swing around with counterstrike. He moves and sings to the opera he creates as he fights, allowing him to confuse and scare his opponents.
Arya and Syrio (A Song of Ice and Fire)
In A Game of Thrones the young Arya Stark wants to do nothing but fight and, begrudgingly, her father lets her, enlisting the help of master swordsman Syrio Forel to teach her. Instead of teaching her in the same manner as a guard or regular soldier, Syrio instructs her in the fencing style of Braavos, his home city. The style relies more on body movement, thrust-strikes, speed, and finesse, than it does on brute force, making it ideal for the small-framed Arya Stark. So far, the style has served her very well indeed.
T.K. (Angel Beats)
Angel Beat‘s T. K. likes to dance, that much is evident, and in the final fight of the show, T.K. makes his entrance to the fight by breakdancing down the stairs of a nearby building. He continues to dance as he fights, earning him the title “Dance Battler.”
There’s so many more that I haven’t mentioned, but to do would make this article endless.
But…dance-fighting…doesn’t it look like fun?