Ever since “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” touched down at the Cannes Film Festival, much has been made over Margot Robbie’s lack of dialogue as Sharon Tate. Robbie’s low word count prompted TIME magazine this week to count every word ever spoken by Tarantino’s female characters, much to the annoyance of Tarantino fans and surely the moviegoers sitting next to that reporter. As IndieWire’s Kate Erbland has explained, Robbie’s lack of dialogue does not diminish Tate’s overwhelming presence in “Hollywood.” One of Robbie’s most spirited moments occurs when Tate attends a party at the Playboy Mansion, her infectious dancing doing more to showcase her lively optimism and spirit than any dialogue could.
Writing for The New York Times, dance critic Debra Levine recently spoke with Toni Basil, the 1960s dancing “it” girl Tarantino hired to choreograph the massive Playboy Mansion party. Basil knew Sharon Tate personally and has worked closely with Bette Midler and David Bowie throughout her career. The dancer choreographed two sequences in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” the first being Leonardo DiCaprio’s “sexy smooth mischievous” twist when his character, Rick Dalton, appears on “Hullabaloo” and the second being the Playboy party.
Basil told Levine for The Times she was confident Robbie would pick up the dance moves with ease after seeing the actress’ physically-demanding role as Tonya Harding in “I, Tonya,” for which Robbie earned her first Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Basil and Robbie hung out for three days straight practicing go-go dancing. The choreographer said that was all the time Robbie needed to master the dance moves.
“Margot could freestyle in any situation in any scene,” Basil said. “She knew the 60s left and right. Since Quentin knew all the step names, he’d guide her.”
The Playboy Mansion party required Basil to oversee a cast of 240 extras, all of whom were given Basil’s dance training video “Popular Dance Crazes of the ’60s” to study. The extras “who could twist, who could jerk, and who could pony” were chosen to be featured more prominently in the scene.
“I auditioned some heavy hip-hop people — they couldn’t handle it,” Basil said. “The ’60s was leather soles and a wooden floor. That’s why the twist, the simplest dance, was such a sensation. Everyone could do it. They just swivel their feet and the upper body fell naturally in the opposite direction.”
Anyone paying attention to Robbie’s dancing will notice how individualistic it is during the scene. Sharon Tate is seen vibrantly dancing in her own image and not associated with any men, which only stands out more when Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis) tells a partygoer about Tate’s romantic history. Basil said that dancing “was partnering, it was jitterbug” before the 1960s, but during the counterculture era it became “freedom — what the ’60s were about.” With dancers no longer holding hands, the “arms started to dance.” Such was the foundation of creating Robbie’s Playboy Mansion dance moves.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is now playing in theaters. Head over to The New York Times website to read Levine’s interview with Basil in its entirety.