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The Adventures Of Pete And Pete: “Dance Fever”

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“Dance Fever” (season 3, episode 5; originally aired 11/05/1995)

Is organized dancing—especially in a group of strangers—ever not awkward? Sure, for some professional dancers and free spirits, it’s no big deal, but for most of us, it’s an exercise in “Who am I afraid is looking at me now?”

It’s no wonder, then, that Little Pete is afraid of dancing. He might be the strongest, most brazen little guy in the world, but everyone’s got an Achilles’ heel. Dance Fever” is all about that fear or, rather, the extent to which someone will go to avoid feeling uncomfortable. Nona, for example, doesn’t want to dance with her pop. Big Pete keeps trying to look cool in front of the brown-haired guitar player in Luscious Jackson. Even Pit Stain’s attempts to destroy Little Pete are meant to demean the guy who’s made him feel cruddy. It’s that idea of pushing someone down to pick yourself up a little. That doesn’t work, of course, because villains never really win on any kids show, let alone The Adventures Of Pete And Pete, but it’s a noble effort all the same.

“Dance Fever” is also about managing expectations, or rather, managing disappointments. Nona’s dad is upset, ultimately, that she doesn’t want to dance with him even after he croons her a very special tune. He gets over it by dancing with some awkward girl whose mom had previously shoved her off on Big Pete. Wayne is upset that Monica doesn’t give him the time of day, but he gets by just being allowed to dance next to her as she goes for her ethnic dance merit badge. The brown-haired girl from Luscious Jackson is disappointed—maybe—that Big Pete appears to have a girlfriend, but gets over it by awkwardly asking him what the deal is and then, again, awkwardly, dancing with him before disappearing into the TV night never to be seen again—like all of Pete’s other love interests this season.

It’s because of fear and disappointment that “Dance Fever” succeeds. Sure, watching everyone dance like total spazzes is fun, but this episode is also a bittersweet turn. This could be me projecting, but “Dance Fever” reminded me that, sometimes, being a kid is just about getting through—in junior high especially. It’s about sucking it up and paying $1.25 for that Rice Krispie treat because them’s the breaks. It’s about not getting to dance with that boy or girl you like because everyone just cares too much about what everyone else thinks. If Nona is anything like I was, she spent way too much time at home picking out her special vintage casual dance shirt, hoping to look cool but really consciously constructing her visual persona.

Sometimes adolescence can totally blow. It’s fun being able to dance like a maniac with your friends, but to get to those moments, you have to go through all the rest of the dreck. You have to coat yourself in floor wax and face down a teacher before you get to groove out. “Dance Fever” might look like it’s all cool tunes, strobe lights, and streamers, but what really fuels this episode—beyond Iggy Pop’s ill-advised blond bangs—is that teen angst. All that pimple cream really makes the world go round.


Stray observations

  • As a member of the church of Sixteen Candles, I really like the scenes of Little Pete and his “gutfludge.” Classic “Farmer Ted in the bathroom” material.
  • This episode features a cameo by The Secret World Of Alex Mack star Larisa Oleynik,  as a nurse in the hospital that Little Pete goes to after he drinks 15 gallons of creamed corn. Savvy eyes will note she was also in the recent Mad Men season première, playing Ken’s wife.
  • Mom’s explanation of dancing to Pete (“You just close your eyes and wiggle”) is hopefully not also how she’ll explain sex to him when the time comes.
  • I really, really liked Luscious Jackson’s debut record, Natural Ingredients. The band recently reunited, even. Wonder if they’d be available to play a Chicago-based Pete And Pete reunion.
  • Petunia “knows 25 sacred dances including the Leningrad Slide.”
  • It bothers me that Pitstain’s hatred for Pete needs to be explained in every episode. We just know that Endless Mike is a nemesis. We don’t need to hear why every time.
  • Wayne, clad in a very sharp blazer, calls Monica “folkadelic” in her ethnic dance outfit.
  • Little Pete insult of the week: “Suck a glue gun, chunk head.”
  • Any film nerds or Pete crew want to shed light on how they filmed the scenes with Pete and Pitstain sliding on the floor? I didn’t really notice anything below them when we see the long shots of them sliding. The close-ups, I imagine they were holding on to a rig, but the others are still a little mystifying to me.