Things You'll Need
- Soft shoes
- "Canned Heat" by Jamiroquai
- Jeans or pants with front pockets
Fans of the 2004 film “Napoleon Dynamite” love Napoleon’s nerdy dance at the climactic school assembly. Actor Jon Heder improvised his groovy moves to three different songs, which the filmmakers edited together under one song interspersed with shots of the audience. Even though you can't watch the dance in the movie uninterrupted, you can still impress your friends by weaving together Napoleon's most recognizable moves with your own steps in his goofy style. Just keep your knees soft, your arms loose and your shoulders relaxed.
Face your audience with your hands in your front pockets, feet about hip-width apart, head bowed. As the music begins, nod your head to the beat for about four counts. Then shift your weight back and forth to swing your hips left and right four times in time with the beat of the music. Bring only your thighs and knees together, throw back your head, look up and jump your legs apart just as the song’s disco violins make their first dramatic note.
As the lyrics begin, keep your hands in your pockets and step wide side to side and forward and backward, bopping around in a circle until your back faces your audience. Take your hands out of your pockets and thrust your arms out at your sides at shoulder height in time for another strong note of violins, after the lyrics, “This boogie is for real.”
With palms facing the ceiling, raise your arms up and clap your hands over your head. Drop your arms back to sides. Leading with your left shoulder, whirl around to face the audience while bending slightly at the waist, arms hanging low, palms open. Cycle your arms along your sides in a jogging motion as you step back left, right, left, right.
Straighten up and walk forward in time to the beat—left, right, left, right, left—ending with feet hip-width apart. Pivot on the balls of your feet to turn your body right and punch your left arm across your body. Repeat on the other side with opposite arm. Repeat this movement left and right twice more at a slightly faster pace. On the last two punches, pivot your body so you face forward and point your index fingers at the floor.
Pivot about a quarter-turn counterclockwise so you face left, with your left foot in front of your right (as if you’re about to do a lunge) while raising your arms up above your head but out in front of you. Pull your arms down into your body as you shuffle your right foot in behind you, taking one step left. Raise arms back up and out. Repeat at least twice more. Pivot clockwise to face the audience. With both arms, do a little clockwise circle of your forearms alongside your hips. Slap your thighs. Crisscross your arms over your hips and shimmy your hips left, right, left, right.
In one move, uncross your arms, pivot a quarter-turn clockwise to face right and kick up your left knee. Take four steps backward, planting your left foot back first. At this point, you can pivot on your left foot to face left and take another few back steps, then bat your left arm forward as if swinging a tennis racket. Shrug your right shoulder and jut your right arm up and out at your side, with your wrist bent so your palm faces the floor. Take about three shuffling side steps right, shrugging your shoulders and bobbing your head as you go (around the lyrics, “You know I heard that boogie rhythm”). Slide your left foot in to bring your legs together, clap your left arm across your body so your hand lands on the right side of your chest. Swing your raised right arm forward from the shoulder while turning your right palm to face you. Pull your right arm down toward your chest in a fist, like you’re congratulating yourself. Touch your left fingertips to your right shoulder, then your right fingertips to your left shoulder. Repeat quickly.
Sweep your left arm out to your side, like a bird flapping a wing. Turn your head to face left and, in the same motion, bend left from the hips with your arms raised in a goalpost-like formation. Pump your arms left four times in time with the lyrics, “I had no choice but to get down, down, down, down.”
For the chorus, immediately face forward on the word, “Dance!” Arc your left arm up and over your head as you side step right. Flap both arms and bop your head like a jerky bird. Step back on your left foot, swing your arms behind your back, holding hands together, and take about three more steps back. Swing your right arm forward and slide it down your side. Lower into a squat with legs about hip-width apart and plunge both arms, with your palms together, straight toward the floor as if diving. Rest your left hand on your thigh, turn the right fingertips of your hand to point at the ceiling and swim your hand toward the ceiling, keeping your hand perpendicular to the floor. Jump legs together. Hitch thumbs into front pockets and take a couple of baby steps backward, ending up with your head and body facing right.
In one move, turn your head left to face your audience, raise your left knee, swing your left arm behind you on a diagonal and swing your right arm up and out in front of you on a diagonal. (Napoleon does this around the lyrics, “fantasy of lighting.”) Keeping your arms in position, step back on your left foot and walk backward about five steps, pivoting counterclockwise so your whole body faces forward. Bend your knees into a squat, raise your right arm in front of you at shoulder height and wiggle your hips and pelvis as you sweep your arm to the right to point at your fans. Step in your left foot, pull your extended arm in and down into another congratulatory fist. Repeat the fist motion with your left arm. Hitch your thumbs into your pockets again, or make jogging arms, while you scoot backward, bopping to the beat.
Bend your knees slightly and roll your shoulders back, left, right, left, right. With palms open facing you and fingers spread, cross arms in front of you at the wrists. Shimmy hips from side to side as you raise your hands in front of your face. Separate your hands and slide them in the air by your head, as if fixing your hair. Toss your head back and pull your hands down in front of you in fists. Jut one arm out at your side while you wiggle an open hand, palm facing you, in front of you at the waist as if playing air guitar.
Again in time for the chorus, roll your shoulders, bend your knees and step out side to side, alternately pointing at the floor between your legs.
Napoleon’s dance ends abruptly, so to make a big finish, start with your legs hip-width apart and pivot about a quarter-turn clockwise to face left, keeping your left foot in front of your right. Make five big circles with your right arm, bending your right knee whenever your hand swings to the floor and straightening your leg when your hand swings to the ceiling. Pivot counterclockwise to face forward. Leading with your right foot, step to the left and turn completely around. Crouch down to perform a somersault, pointing at the audience as you get to your feet.
Watch Napoleon dance and mime out the movements with him, gauging where you'd place each segment in time with the song. Try to at least keep certain movements (like Napoleon's side kicks during one of the choruses of "Dance!") where they fall in the movie. If you're not sure what to do next, follow Napoleon's lead and put your hands in your pockets and bob your head while you take tiny steps. He often looks like he's making this up as he goes along.
Don't be afraid to improvise. Nail the intro, and your audience will be along for the ride. Leave your self-conciousness off the dance floor. What makes Napoleon cool is his confidence, not his fancy footwork.
A Tampa resident, Valerie Kalfrin has more than 16 years of journalism experience, twice earning first-place reporting awards from the Florida Press Club. Her byline has appeared in "The Tampa Tribune," "Ladies' Home Journal," "Time Out New York" and "Word & Film." She has edited copy for "Ladies' Home Journal," "Vogue" and The College Board.