Julia Louis-Dreyfus Still Winces When She Watches the Elaine Dance

The irony: Louis-Dreyfus fancies herself a pretty good party dancer
Julia Louis-Dreyfus Still Winces When She Watches the Elaine Dance

Julia Louis-Dreyfus “absolutely loves to dance,” she reveals on this week’s Wiser Than Me podcast. “Dancing is the most joyful thing to do.” The irony, of course, is that Louis-Dreyfus is a famously terrible dancer — or at least, her character Elaine on Seinfeld ranks up there among the worst. Here’s how a comic who’s “a good party dancer” developed the world’s dorkiest dance moves.

It all started in the mid-1990s when Seinfeld scribe Spike Feresten wrote an episode based on someone he knew. (Who was it? JLD knows, but she ain’t telling.) The person in question was well-respected and admired in their workplace, or at least they used to be. That all changed at a work party when this person cut loose on the dance floor. “All of that respect and admiration instantly vanished,” says Louis-Dreyfus, “because this person's dancing ability was so God awful, like non-existent.”

Feresten turned the debacle into the classic Seinfeld episode “Little Kicks,” penning a script that described Elaine’s boogie style as a series of, well, little kicks. “I remember the night before rehearsals began,” she says. “I stood in front of a mirror and I tried to come up with moves that were weird and didn't resemble anything graceful or rhythmic. I came up with a couple of options and I went downstairs where my mom, who happened to be staying with us at the time, and my husband were in the kitchen.” With Mom and husband Brad Hall as the arbiters of bad taste, Louis-Dreyfus demonstrated two awkward dances she’d invented. Both picked the same one as the absolute worst. 

“It's what people now call the Elaine dance,” she says. But she came up with a way to make it even worse.

When the cast rehearsed the scene, a music track played to give the actors something to move to. But Louis-Dreyfus found it difficult to block out the rhythm. She knew the weird kicks and thumb twerks would look bad no matter what, but they’d look a lot worse if they weren’t in sync with the beat. “And I really wanted it to be bad,” she says. “So I had them turn off the music so that I would dance with no beat at all. And then they put the music in later so that my very erratic, herky-jerky movements wouldn't have any sense of rhythm whatsoever.” 

Now imagine being Louis-Dreyfus anytime she’s at a wedding or any occasion where she might be inclined to dance for real. “I can feel people watch me because obviously they're expecting me to dance that horrible dance, the Elaine dance,” she says. “If I actually stumble on that episode on TV, I can't even watch it because it's just so God-awful ugly. It just makes me wince. But you know, it did do the trick in terms of getting the laugh.” 

The dance has become one of the iconic moves in screen history, earning a choreographed tribute when JLD won the Mark Twain Award. There’s nothing left to say except Sweet Fancy Moses!


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