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The Grease Dance Number That Was More Intense For The Cast Than You Thought

Premiering in theaters on June 16, 1978, the movie musical "Grease" — adapted from the Broadway sensation of the same name — still has its legion of fans, giving the cast a perfect reason to reunite for landmark anniversaries as the film ages. Set in 1959 at the fictional Rydell High School in California, "Grease" tells the story of how Danny Zuko (John Travolta), a greaser from a gang of troublemakers called the T-Birds, tries to navigate a tricky romance with the straight-laced Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John), whom he met after she moved from Australia to the U.S. the summer before their senior year. Sandy tries to conform by joining the T-Birds' counterparts The Pink Ladies but struggles to find her place amid the pressure from her new peers.

Also starring Stockard Channing, Jeff Conaway, Frankie Avalon, and Didi Conn, "Grease," naturally, is loaded with dance numbers, set to such songs as "Summer Nights," "Beauty School Dropout," "Look at Me I'm Sandra Dee," "Greased Lightning," and "You're the One that I Want." Also included in the film is a massive dance sequence in the Rydell High School gym, where Johnny Casino and the Gamblers (played by the '50s-inspired band Sha Na Na) perform at a dance contest that is being nationally televised. For many in the cast, the epic scene generated so much heat that they're still talking about it years later.

The dance contest was filmed over five days during a heat wave

According to the cast, the elaborate dance contest sequence ended up being a lot more physically taxing than anticipated. During the scene, Johnny Casino and the Gamblers played such classics as "Rock and Roll are Here to Stay," "Hound Dog," and "Born to Hand Jive" as Rydell teachers and administrators weeded through oodles of couples to eventually find their winner.

Perhaps the most intense factor for the actors was the heat in the real high school gym where the scene was shot, as Didi Conn recalled for Entertainment Tonight in an interview before a special "Sing-along" screening of "Grease" in 2020. "John [Travolta] said that the pain ratio for numbers definitely [happened with] the dance contest in the gym ..." Conn said. "Oh, God, it was so hot. What were people thinking?"

"It was really hot in that gym," John Travolta also recalled for ET, while Olivia Newton-John added, "But we really had a lot of fun the whole movie. For me, it was like going to high school. I never went to high school like that."

According to Smithsonian Magazine, the dance contest scene took five days to film during a California heat wave. Making matters worse, the gym where the scene was filmed, at Huntington Park High School in Los Angeles, didn't have air conditioning — which enhanced the heat and smells around the cast and crew. "It was so, so hot and there was an abattoir nearby — a slaughterhouse — and the sweat and the smell was mingling," Newton-John told Smithsonian Magazine, laughing.

"Grease" went on to make $396 million at the worldwide box office, according to Box Office Mojo. The film's domestic tally — $190 million — $705.3 million in today's dollars adjusted for inflation, places it at No. 28 on the publication's list of the highest-grossing films of all time in North America.