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Dance, Girls, Dance (Arzner, 1940) is a film that revolves around two dancers with starkly different personalities

and ambitions. Bubbles (Lucille Ball) is a confident woman in search of personal financial gain by any means necessary while Judy (Maureen OHara) searches for a space where she can practice her craft and be a real dancer. The film employs a variety of Classical Hollywood conventions. Arzner however utilizes these conventions in ways that seem both to subvert and criticize the patriarchal structure and the spectacle of femininity while still operating with and within those structural constraints. The characters of Judy and Bubbles are stereotypical in most ways including their names. Bubbles is vapid, self-obsessed, sexual and materialistic. However, she seems forever aware of the power her beauty has to demand attention and to get her the things she wants. Bubbles is aware of the dominant male social order and recognizes that in order to get what she wants she must always get her man. She more so than Judy is aware of the illusory nature of womens social identity (Cassella). In contrast Judy is soft spoken, innocent, noble and self-sacrificing. She lacks oomph and thus is unappealing to men and exists within Bubbles shadow. Their jobs are prototypical for the time period and Bubbles treatment of her job as more a job than a career highlights the temporary nature and the fact that the job was truly a means to an end. She accepts the social structure and seems willing to conform to abandoning her highly successful career and the independence that it brings in lieu of being married to Jimmie Harris (Louis Hayward). Yet the character of Judy treasures her job for its ability to allow her to do what she loves most. The characters stand in stark contrast to each other but due to the strength and charisma inherent to Balls acting one cannot help be endeared to Bubbles. Arzner does not a construct a space in which the women are strictly foils or antagonists. Bubbles pays the overdue rent payments with her money and requests that Judy never be informed. This simple act of generosity is uncharacteristic of the traditional vamp who generally cares only for themselves. Their personality differences mirrors itself in the way their professional relationship progresses. Judy is continuously mocked on stage by men reinforcing her innocent, virginal qualities whereas Bubbles is respected by the men surrounding her for her sexuality. Bubbles is aware of how dependent she is on male patronage and though she is the spectacle they watch, her choice of musical numbers mocks them and by extension the dominant social order. Yet in the end Judy usurps Bubbles by openly questioning the spectacle and the patriarchal order. She rigorously takes the men in the audience to task for their ridicule and the self-importance it provides them. The speech she makes is cutting and Arzner offsets the social commentary with the applause and the fight that comes after. We are not allowed to dwell on the empowered woman who stands in the face of the social order rather it is humorously brushed off with a cheap fight between two women. Their fight switches the films focus back onto women and the spectacle, reinforcing while criticizing the social order. The film is not revolutionary. In fact the ending itself seems very much prototypical for films of that era. Judys story ends with an allusion to a possible romance with Mr. Adams and Bubbles gets her comeuppance. She will now be taught everything they [we] know. After her scathing essentially taking the spectacle and patriarchal social order to task she is reduced to ceasing to be central to her universe but rather a periphery act in the life of Steve Adams. All the strife, struggles, growth in awareness and independence fades as she laughs over how simple things could have been. This can be seen as a regression but rather it can also be seen as characteristic of the times in which the character lived. Casella speaks of women embracing what was expected of them and this seems to reinforce that stance. Arzner chooses rather to make a greater impact utilizing characters that are prototypical yet aware instead of novel. Bubbles may not have ended up with a husband but there is again an allusion to the fact that she may gain financial security as a result. Similarly, Judys greatest dream to dance and to be an actual professional ballerina seems also to have been fulfilled. Arzners film still offers a lot to the contemporary audience. The womens involvement in creating and charting the course of their lives is more or less direct but still very much hinged on the periphery men in their lives. Our emotions are directly tied to the women and identify in them complex female characters working towards their own personal ambitions as opposed to women whose goals are

accessories to the main romantic plots. These women are fundamentally friends and are better-rounded that many of their contemporary counterparts in modern film. Arzners possible attempts to subvert while conforming create an accessible entertaining film that shows women to be capable of being more than romantic interests.

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