A Modern Dance Analysis of the ‘Arrested Development’ Chicken Impressions
Curtains up on the Bluth family’s dusty plateau that overlooks tens of deserted acres of land. George Sr., the Bluth family patriarch, is a secretary-seducing money launderer who’s dabbled in commercial corn-balling and light treason, doing his best to stay in charge from behind the bars of a prison his Bluth company once built. As his family of freaks and never-nudes undermine one another and struggle to make a quick buck without Pop-Pop to provide, they do their darndest to redefine themselves, survive and come out on top.
The most paradigmatic Bluth power play takes the form of commanding and unswerving passes at The Chicken. Each dancer, her own energy. Each mover, his own provocative posture. Each shaker, their own battle cry. And each Bluth, their own attempt to put the chickens in their place.
“Oh, you can afford to do anything you want. You’re just a big chicken!”
Lucille: Lavish lush and Bluth family matriarch, Lucille, does her best to shimmy the wool over her audience’s eyes, masquerading the realm of high class in Chanel suits with vodka rocks for breakfast. She step-ball-changes in and out of the company headquarters, but when it comes time to exercise her power as a board member, Lucille steps on her son’s balls and his changes with her own interpretation of The Chicken. Chasseing into the room and perched in eleve at the head of the conference table, Lucille calls Michael’s potential business partner Cal Cullen a chicken due to his fear of winding up on Scandalmakers. With a brain soaked in booze, Lucille cocks her chin, holds her arms in second allongé and waves them up and down as though they were wings, teasing: “A-coodle-doodle-do! A-coodle-doodle-do! A-coodle-doodle-do!” The seductress may have tap danced “Downtown” with a shim sham shimmy to relieve Buster from the frontlines, but The Chicken does not take two to tango. Lucille’s fluid arm movements juxtapose her unwavering stance, showing that although she may be a pickled loosey-goosey, she ain’t no chicken.
“Because you’re a chicken! You’re a chicken!”
George Sr: Beginning his “Koo Koo Ka Chaw” cha-cha with a demi rond de jambe and his arms cutting the space with what begins as a port de bras, Pop-Pop quickly begins his own intricate improvisation of bras croisé, slides into second and so much more. George Sr. utilizes the tempo of his Chicken call to poke at his son’s lack of cajones while pivoting in place to change his position. Very en vogue! Of all the Bluth crew’s, George Sr.’s dance combination show the most variety and spatial awareness, as he uses a balancé de coté to incorporate a dining room chair into his routine. As a master of disguise and King of Kabuki, his Chicken demonstrates innovation while encapsulating an ability to go with the flow and, most importantly, his son’s inability to fly the coop and lay a hen.
“You’re the chicklet, not me!”
Gob: Gob’s stomping, clapping and stiff posture seen throughout the show are inspired by the total body articulation found in the long-dead, sub-Saharan dancing tradition of Jowb-U-Dewdol-Doo. It was first used to pass stories from one generation to the next. Then it re-emerged in 1927, in the threats of a lone Mexican cowboy sweeping through a two-horse town. One nervous opponent described the Jowb-U-Dewdol-Doo-esque movements as those of “un hombre que vive como una mujer” (a man who lives as a woman/homosexual/your call). Today, the magician’s signature fiery and fierce forward-bobs warn those who catch his gaze that they are not only chicken, but are in danger if they dare question him. These exact movements not only mimic the sub-Saharan thuds, prayer hands, bent knees, and kicking feet, but his short and piercing “Ko-Ka-Kouw” call similarly embraces techniques used hundreds of years prior – in an ancient, demon-cleansing birthing scream. What George Sr. pejoratively calls Gob’s “Tweety Bird dance,” we call a pas of fearlessness and timeless power.
“Okay, that’s a pretty good chicken!”
Lindsay: Lindsay, like her brother Gob, is no scaredy-cat when it comes to calling someone out. Mimicking the body language of a sturdy Russian folk dancer boasting strength and agility in the presence of blushing maids, Lindsay uses The Chicken to spotlight her brother Michael’s cowardice with the ladies. With the figure of a prima and posture of a drunk, Lindsay turns her carriage under, extending the foot to the side with a kick in attitude and jumping with a step-kick from one leg to the other, much like the oldest of the septuplets of the celebrated postmodern polka troupe Shiykon. Holding her hand high like chicken’s comb in petite pose, the dancer conveys her desire to be heard not with a cluck, but a crow: “Chaw! Che-chaw! Che-chaw!” Belittling her brother’s ineptitude to make any moves on the ladies, Lindsay’s jovial jumps à la seconde embody a celebration in the face of her brother’s shortcomings. With a boisterous banging on the ground and her hand in the air, Lindsay is no snake in the grass. She is rejoicing from the roof of the coop that her perfect brother is nothing but hen.
Nicole de Ayora is a former tech-startup gossip blogger turned tech-startup something-or-other living in San Francisco. She hosts backyard reading series, co-publishes zines, manages secret blogs and loves to do bad shit with her friends.