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We Now Know Why Joaquin's Joker Dances So Much

Arthur Fleck is afflicted with an uncontrollable urge to laugh, but it's clear he also has a penchant for cutting a rug. 

As seen in director Todd Phillips' Joker, Joaquin Phoenix's iteration of the Clown Prince of Crime dances quite frequently, primarily as a means of self-expression. A man who struggles with mental health issues, fails at turning his love of making other people laugh into a legitimate career, and is often the target of attacks from strangers, Arthur mostly keeps to himself. But when he's alone, he's free to move his feet and wave his arms as he pleases. In Joker, audiences watched Arthur dancing alone in a bathroom and swaying his hips in the comfort of his run-down apartment, and after he made his harrowing transformation into the Joker, they watched him dance down a set of stairs in Gotham City. 

So, why all the dancing in Joker? Phillips recently spoke about how that aspect of Arthur's physicality came to fruition, and why it's important in the film. 

Chatting with Collider, Phillips explained that he and Phoenix identified a certain quality in Arthur Fleck very early on — that being that he "had music in him," which manifested itself through the character's dancing. The filmmaker elaborated, "It just existed in him. Some people that you might know personally have that feeling, and I always thought that about Arthur, but it was sort of kept in and trapped. And there was something about that evolving."

The conversations about Arthur's characterization that Phillips and Phoenix had during production of Joker had a big impact on the final product, as Phillips revealed that a lot of the dancing in the film wasn't planned out in the script. Originally, the Joker script only included Arthur performing something close to a dance while working as a sign-spinner as seen in the movie's opening sequence, and later shimmying down the stairs in his clown makeup and Joker suit. 

According to Phillips, the dancing was "something that kind of evolved" to show how the music within Arthur was "fighting to get out." When it does, each dance marks an important point along Arthur's narrative journey. He dances when he feels good about himself and is totally comfortable with embracing who he is; when he brings that out into the real world, his dancing becomes not only a form of self-expression, but also a way to make himself a more menacing public figure. 

"The only dancing in the script was the dancing obviously as a clown in the beginning, which isn't really much of a dance. It's a performance, but the dancing on the stairs was there. Other than that, we didn't do it," explained Phillips. "But when we started talking about Arthur, we started talking about music and having music in him and that kind of thing."

The director later admitted that he thinks Joker should have had even more dancing, as he absolutely loved it in the movie. 

How did Joaquin Phoenix prepare for all that Joker dancing?

Though it wouldn't take a Juilliard graduate or a professional ballerina to execute the dance moves Arthur Fleck did in the film, Joker star Joaquin Phoenix still had to do some prep work to get his character's movements just right. As he revealed to Collider, his dancing prep approach was split into two parts: working with choreographer Michael Arnold (who also worked with former Joker producer Martin Scorsese on his film The Wolf of Wall Street), and turning to YouTube to study people's movements.

"I worked with this choreographer for that," Phoenix said of the striking scene in which the costumed Arthur struts down the steps. "After working with him — Michael Arnold was his name — I just started watching a lot of videos of people dancing." 

He later shared with The Associated Press that he was particularly inspired by Ray Bolger, an actor, dancer, Broadway performer, and vaudevillian popular in the 1930s. Specifically, Phoenix drew inspiration from Bolger's performance of "The Old Soft Shoe" and the "odd arrogance" he displayed through his dancing. Arnold had shown Phoenix that video, which was a huge part in helping the actor perfect Arthur's unique manner of moving. 

"Really, I completely just stole it from [Bolger]. He does this thing of turning his chin up. This choreographer Michael Arnold showed me that and tons of videos and I zeroed in on that one," said Phoenix. "That was Joker, right? There's an arrogance to him, really. That was probably the greatest influence."

Another genre of dance that heavily influenced the dancing in Joker? Disco, though the jury's still out on whether Phoenix ever tried to emulate John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever while preparing for the film's dance sequences. 

If you've yet to catch Joker in theaters, bunny-hop to it and discover why some critics are calling it Oscar-worthy.