David Lynch is a filmmaker who holds a special place for dance in his movies. Images of dancers and outbreaks of aberrant movement abound in his work. In Eraserhead (1977), the Lady in the Radiator’s sly and squishy contraceptive shuffle fascinates and seduces a captivated Henry. In Wild at Heart (1990), Sailor and Lula use spontaneous dance breaks like drugs, as with their roadside mood adjustment that seeks to expel the hateful litany of talk radio’s relentless bullshit in an explosive desert mosh pit to Slaughterhouse’s “Powermad”. INLAND EMPIRE’s (2006) delirious “Sinnerman” and “Locomotion” sequences draw on a reservoir of pure joy emerging from seriality and automation, signs of the generosity and re-compositional force of dance across this work. Dance exists in an expanded field for Lynch, generating quirks in the narrative flow out of the eccentric movements of characters’ bodies and speech, where even the strange turns and extensions of words make micro-mouth-dances that double and derange the sensible communication of linguistic expression.

dance Twin Peaks

The Man from Another Planet’s (Michael J. Anderson) Zig Zag Dance in Twin Peaks

This paper traces outbursts of dancing movement in Twin Peaks in order to think otherwise about the series’ narrative sense-making, where dance doubles sense (as rational forms of knowledge such as causality) with sensation (how characters are seized by affects and physical expression in ways that exceed what they can rationally be said to know, sometimes even by emotions that do not properly belong to them). This doubling frequently produces a temporal stretching – which I will term in this essay “heterochronicity” – that exposes other modes of knowing and perceiving in the crime-solving series. In Twin Peaks, dancing bodies are events that figure an “alter-logic” to that of the revelation demanded by the show’s central mystery: who killed Laura Palmer? Dancing signals not only the contingency and instability of the media text in relation to the demands of diegesis, narrative and the progressive unfolding of knowledge, but also foregrounds Lynch’s propensity for time-shifting folds of sensation. What does it mean to make these aberrant movements central to how Twin Peaks makes sense, especially given the way that Lynch has increasingly used dance to frame his recent films (opening with the Jitterbug scene in Mulholland Drive, and ending with “Sinnerman” in INLAND EMPIRE,) through dancing bodies at once audio-visual and corporeal? In Twin Peaks, the singular quirks of dancing become less sites of personal eccentricity, and more the mark of the singularity of an event. Attention to dance in Twin Peaks requires that we move beyond an analytical methodology derived from cinematic models of dance as a managed deviation from the royal road of narrative. Instead, Twin Peaks’ dance moves help us to consider how in Lynch’s world, quirks or eccentricities of character are the very stuff of reality itself, relational rather than individual. Productively suspended between sense and sensation, dance in Twin Peaks gives us a pedagogy of perception that is distinct from the show’s procedural problem solving; that is to say, they suspend narrative unfolding to ask us to notice what else is happening, to teach us to see otherwise.1 Repeatedly, dance marks the place for “one way out between two worlds”, an anti-utopian affirmation of immanence: that everything we need is immediately at hand if we can only return to the stuff of life itself, as the open relationality of bodies in motion. In this way, dance speaks to a televisual modality that Lynch has repeatedly cited, in relation to both Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive, as the allure of working in the medium, that of a kind of limitless potential, one he likened to a “body with no head,” just “all these threads going out into the infinite.”2

Something is happening

Many of the iconic moments in the “quirky” allure of Lynch’s 1990-91 TV series Twin Peaks are found in dancing bodies that lift off from narrative explanation. The zig-zag shuffle of The Man from Another Place, Audrey Horne’s dreamy hover between the diegetic and non-diegetic in the suspended space-time generated by jukeboxes and record players, or Leland Palmer’s frenetic recorded possessions are all formalised dance sequences amidst a host of shuffles, twitches, circuits and gestures that, rather than constituting fully realised performances, ripple the bodies of humans and non-humans across the affective landscape of Twin Peaks. In the opening credits, a slow nonhuman choreography of the industrial saw mill is later echoed in the theme song’s remake from instrumental to song in Julee Cruise’s performance of “The World Spins” in the episode “Lonely Souls”, where the opening line is “dust is dancing in the space.” What, then, are we to make of Twin Peaks’ dance moves?

In the series, dance serves the critical function of shifting the emphasis from procedural forms of knowledge – what happened? – to the idea that underpins Lynch’s body of work as a whole: namely, that “something is happening.” This is the Giant’s message to a captivated but uncomprehending Dale Cooper at the Roadhouse, while Maddy Ferguson is being murdered across town (Episode 14 “Lonely Souls”). Two scenes are held suspended in what Richard Dyer terms “the space of a song”: at the Roadhouse, when Julee Cruise’s performance falters and pauses the unfolding of normative time to allow for the Giant’s visit from another dimension, and at Leland Palmer’s house, where Maddy’s murder unfolds horribly in the skip of a record and a violent parody of a daddy-daughter dance, the audibility of which falls outside of the music’s content part of the uncanniness released by the strange temporality of a song’s form.3 For Dyer, the repetition and redundancy of the song form (as a folding together of musical and frequently bodily expression) creates a sense of “temporal stasis”. This is especially related to the way that song and dance numbers amplify an affective dimension of experience at odds with “putative time”: “The fact that songs do often seem to be taking their time conveying what would be quite swiftly conveyed in non-singing narration does perhaps relate to the sense of time standing still or engulfing one that is characteristic (or thought or wished to be) of powerful or transcendent feelings.”4 When Lynch uses the aberrant movement of dance to burrow holes in this suspended temporality, he exploits the ability of the musical to generate heterochronicity – the simultaneity of different and even competing temporalities of which bodies and space-times are composed.5 This heterochronicity reworks bodies and audiovisual material by disrupting narrative norms of televisual and cinematic logic and by troubling stable relations between medium, media and performing bodies singing and dancing (for example, by staging “spontaneous” dance outbursts through bodies that are equally playback machines, in the way I will discuss Leland’s dance outbursts as a replay of his possession by BOB and being seized by a musical impulse).

Twin Peaks’ dance moves could be understood as “musical moments”, borrowing from the logic of classical film musicals, uncomfortably deviating from narrative sense in brief moments of spectacular attraction. In analyses of the Hollywood musical, these are often described as utopian outbursts that foreground the relation between number and narrative; for Dyer, for example, the utopianism of such sequences often relies, in a description all too applicable to Lynch, on a nostalgic appeal to the past.6 Dyer has recently revisited his own work to complicate this, asking which histories have made utopian expressivity possible, and to explore the normativity of utopian form in song and dance as an expansive and even imperial gesture unequally occupied by different performing bodies.7 When dance takes off from song, he notes, it allows for “a greater occupancy of space and bodily expression”, and in Twin Peaks, smooth and accomplished dancing becomes the hallmark of the increasing spiritual possession of Leland Palmer by the evil spirit BOB.8 Hence, on the one hand, song and dance sequences can serve to stabilize space and time; for example, Twin Peaks’ time-shifting propensities for 1950s song and dance forms are characteristic of Lynch’s oeuvre more broadly and often feel like a nostalgia for a golden past in the face of a strange and frightening present.

But nostalgia is never smooth in Lynch, and repetitions of the past are always rent with affective interruptions, glitches and skips like a record played one too many times. The other side of song and dance sequences tends less towards the glorious occupation of a non-quotidian or utopian space-time of unfettered possibility that is other than this world, and more towards the “something is happening” of a world-in-the-making, where forces normally unperceived become apparent. Thus what often feels like material outside of the narrative concerns of the show – namely eccentric outbursts of dance and strange movement – is actually how Lynch makes visible the heterochronicities that make up this emergent world, in immanence rather than a utopian elsewhere: “something is happening” as the promise and danger of an expanded now. Dance’s deviation from the norm in Twin Peaks is never simply a detour, but ripples throughout the series’ textual fabric as a whole, insisting on the here and now of emergent change.

In Twin Peaks, these strange movements of dance have often been critically recuperated (and their disruptive force diminished) through their affectionate/dismissive placement as the series’ “quirky” excess. In a Saturday Night Live (September 29, 1990) parody of the series with host Kyle McLachlan, a parade of characters appear before an “Agent Cooper” determined to ignore Leo’s confession of murder in order to linger in the weird and wonderful world of Twin Peaks. Each character appears as a singular tick, a stubborn display of strangeness that resists a common sense resolution of mystery and criminality. Leland Palmer, played by Phil Hartman, arrives and clutches at Cooper, in gratitude for his detective work, in a sharp parody of Leland’s intense histrionics, imploring him to “dance with me!” When Cooper dashes his hopes that the case is actually closed and the murder solved, Leland wails and begins a curious shuffle in place, his hands pressed to his forehead like antlers. Sherriff Truman reprimands Cooper, saying that Leland was just beginning to recover. “Don’t worry about Leland”, Cooper responds, “His dancing is actually getting quite good!” Like musical moments, character ticks tend to collapse back in on themselves and are affectively aligned with the delay of narrative resolution that the series exploited; here, they are just played for laughs. Leland’s painful dancing echoes the audience’s presumed annoyance and frustration with the series’ failure to move the plot forward.

However, more is happening with dance in Twin Peaks than simply a temporary deviation from the master narrative or a quirky but negligible excess. Dancing bodies, rather than the material expression of an interior state of emotion, or the synthesis of an individual subject’s corporeal mastery, mark the intensification of heterochronic processes in simultaneous but divergent relations of individuation, Gilbert Simondon’s term for the way that the process of becoming produces both individual and milieu.9 In other words, dancing bodies enact the becoming of the world of Twin Peaks. They stage potential itself, and rather than thinking of dancing as a break that can be recuperated into the narrative flow, we can consider dance as holding open the space of the something that is happening as a form of immanent utopia, the radical alterity of what is happening now. Through the intensely repetitive form of popular dance movements tied to pop music, Lynch intensifies pop’s propensity for repetition and replay in order to become more attentive to the minor breaks that fuel our desire to re-experience affective intensity as endlessly new.

Dance delicately stages moments of what, writing about dance in INLAND EMPIRE and drawing on the work of Simondon, I call “phase shifts”, or the movement from the substantial to the potential, where already constituted forms live out their contingency; essentially, dance movement deranges established forms.10 In Lynch, phase shifts as robust and delicate moments of danger and opportunity charge existing entities and open them to emergent relations. The line between recomposition (as the potential for novelty) and decomposition (as the threat of failure or death) of forms and figures, such as human bodies or dance movements, is often unclear. While in motion, change is violent, affect is dangerous, but these are not essentially negative qualities. Dance in Lynch gives us a way to think of automatism as a site of positive potentiality, even as it so often goes terribly wrong; less confessional representation, dancing bodies as playback and recording mechanisms repeatedly reanimate potentiality through – rather in spite of – their link to repetition and crossings between worlds. Dance stages audiovisuality itself as an embodied practice of rhythm, making forces visible. Dance philosopher José Gil refers to this phenomenon as dance’s transformation of the regime of energy flow, akin to Simondon’s phase shifting. He writes: “A leap, a figure, may not constitute an event if they are coming from the same regime of energy. On the other hand, a gesture as simple as a turn of the head, or the lifting of an elbow, may testify to the irruption of decisive events on the choreographic path. Dance is composed of a succession of micro-events that ceaselessly transform the movement’s meaning”.11 For Gil, dance suspends meaning precisely by charging it with potential.

These changes of the energetic regime, Gil writes, correspondingly modify the body through “dilations and foldings in the same place, and not in objective extension”.12 In Lynch, this often plays out as shaking spasms. Moves coded as dance forms, such as Leland Palmer’s modified jitterbug, acquire a spastic glitchiness that highlights the repetition at work in performance. Even movement not explicitly coded as dance, such as walking, can become infected in this same way when the repetition of a habitual action becomes charged with an altered energy. Think of Bobby’s backwards lope of intensifying happiness in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, for example. As Angelo Badalamenti sings “In the distance, man / I see myself start to smile / I got a real indication of a laugh comin’ on,” the emotional exchange between Laura and Bobby loops between them but then goes beyond their form, and starts to expand into the whole world.13 Twin Peaks stages dance events that make sensible such transformations of the regime of energy flow. What this recharging of habitual repetitions of movement make visible is the fact that they do not belong to an individual, but are rather part of a socially composed affective fabric of energy. In other words, dance here does not belong to individual bodies, and is not about virtuosic performance that synthesises expression (as in the frequent use of dance in narrative television to stage and render public and legible private emotional states, such as falling in love). Rather, it stages relation itself through a making sensible of the flows that compose and derange bodies, ecologies and movements. Bobby’s dance stages a perceptual distancing that allows an ambiguous I (“In the distance […] I see myself”) to witness and feel the development of affect as the “something happening” of change itself. And in doing so, they frequently unmake extractable sense, returning us again and again to media and materialities. For Lynch, the ethical choreographies that dance traces across his work come back again and again to the question: how else can this be?

Two Modes of Mystery, or a Pedagogy of Perception

The beginning of Mulholland Drive, the salvaged remix of David Lynch’s “other” TV show, opens with a strange sequence. Upon the DVD release of the film, Lynch was compelled by the studio to offer “clues” as an insert to spectators to help them make sense of the film, and this opening was the first in a trail of breadcrumbs: “Pay attention to the beginning of the film; at least two clues are revealed before the credits”.14 To help us think through Twin Peaks, I want to read this not in terms of narrative coordinates for Mulholland Drive, but for what it can tell us about how dance functions in Lynch.

dance Twin Peaks

Mulholland Drive’s Opening Scene”

Mulholland Drive opens with a jitterbug dance sequence presented in a strange and unfamiliar manner. At first, flat back figures move in slow motion against a purple background. Suddenly, live action dancers appear in the foreground in regular speed, layering the image as the beat picks up. These live dancers are themselves doubled and discreet, not moving in the same layer but playing out the copy, cut and paste of the then newly normalized non-linear digital editing programs. Bodies creep between layers as they fill in the black holes of dancing bodies at the rear of the image. This scene stages both the content and the medium equally, inelegantly foregrounding the visual effect that allows characters to dance alongside themselves, building in the loopings and repetitions characteristic of digital editing. The mystery starts in slow motion, which is a forensic technique of analysis (a clue) but also an impossible embodiment typical of screendance, impossible to manifest offscreen.

dance Twin Peaks

“The Arthur Murray Party” (15 February, 1954). 15

This opening calls to mind the very first “dance show” on American television, “The Arthur Murray Party,” whose run spanned the 1950s. The show was both interactive entertainment and extended commercial, as each week Murray and his wife Kathryn would perform a mystery dance, and a viewer who successfully guessed the form could win lessons at a local studio by writing in. This contest-like formula is repeated in Mulholland Drive in the main character Betty’s (Naomi Watts) story of winning a jitterbug dance contest that sweeps her away to Hollywood. But Mulholland Drive is silent on the question of how Betty’s dance moves serve her once she arrives, and, as the film unfolds in the long time it takes Betty/ Diane to die from a bullet to the head, we can also see the echoes of the dance marathons of the 1930s, also spectacular sites of the body’s affective labour. There, dance marathons were gruelling public spectacles, sometimes lasting for up to a week, where dancers would exhaust themselves in performances, partly for the promise of future riches and partly for the urgent need to be fed (dancers would receive food during the competition). In this 2001 film, meanwhile, can we also see Lynch’s take on the then-emergent genre of reality TV, home to so many contemporary dance marathons of mediated bodies and fickle spectatorial attention, where the glamour and ease of dancing bodies belies the labour of performance and self-staging. In staging a mystery, Lynch’s first impulse is to situate us in the middle of danced movement itself.

dance Twin Peaks

Lil the Dancer (Kimberly Anne Cole) in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

Rewind to ten years earlier, and we note how often dance figures in the world of Twin Peaks as an ambiguous embodiment that moves between worlds, a clue to that series’ mystery and enduring fascination. There, dance movement is characterised by a tenuous holding together of the world, moments resolutely immanent in a series full of possessions, revenants and alter (rather than other) worldliness. At almost the chronological beginning of Twin Peaks, in Fire Walk with Me (the 1992 prequel film made after the end of the TV series), we are again offered a danced pedagogy of perception that reroutes the impulses of detection itself. The first part of the film takes place in Deer Meadow, a kind of dour double of Twin Peaks, where a young woman, Teresa Banks, has been murdered. FBI director Gordon Cole (David Lynch) meets up with the agents assigned to the case, Special Agents Chet Desmond (Chris Isaak) and Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland) and briefs them on their assignment by introducing them to Lil the dancer (Kimberly Ann Cole). At an airfield, a woman in a red dress performs a small and strange dance for the agents, while Cole offers suggestive but obscure commentary (“she’s my mother’s sister’s girl!”) to a knowing Desmond and bewildered Stanley. In the very next scene, Desmond interprets what they (and we) have just seen for Stanley. He narrates, over slow-motion flashbacks of Lil’s dance, a litany of gestures and decodes them. Both eyes blinking mean trouble higher up, he explains. What did you notice about the dress, he asks Sam, who responds that it was altered to fit her. Tailored dresses are code for drugs, Desmond blandly notes.

We can read this scene in two ways. The first, in line with the detective procedural genre, is as a treasure trail of extractable information, part of a tactics of analysis that is pervasive in responses to Lynch’s work, such as the internet archives of fan interpretations reading for clues in every detail of the media text. This is particularly the case given that Twin Peaks was one of the first series to have an internet fan culture of interpretation and analysis.16 In this scene, we are presented with an immediate decoding of indirect speech that promises implicit action by the agents. But what this reading fails to address is why the film does not simply cut to the chase. Why bring in Lil the Dancer: why does sense have to pass through that body in a play of performance and perception, and then repeat itself immediately? Is this yet another parodic staging of Twin Peaks’ quirky allure, part of the film’s palpable anger that made it such a commercial flop on release?

A second reading allows us to understand this scene as a pedagogy of perception for viewers that doubles the explicative function of watching the detectives learn how to read. This pedagogy moves through dance sequences in Lynch, to see the generative force of mystery and its allure as the very material fabric of Lynch’s work. As with the folds of the red curtains that shroud Lynch’s films, the aim here is not to pull back the curtains in a revelatory gesture, but (as Agent Cooper does in the Black Lodge) to enter into the folds themselves. This scene immediately flashes back to what we just saw, in an excess of perception redundantly redoubled by the forensic technique of slow-motion. As such, it may seem to rein in the quirky excess of the past by pointing out and explaining what is important. But Lynch actually disrupts the economies of detection in favour of embodied modes of learning, a passing through the medium not simply to arrive at the answer but to be altered by the process itself. Desmond’s epistemological mastery does not save him from a mysterious fate. Lynch’s pedagogy of perception, like learning how to dance, entails a living in intensity, one reason why the boundaries between dance performance and everyday movement often fail to stabilise in his work.

Three things characterise the pedagogy of movement in Twin Peaks, which explains the potentialities of dance and its links to generative mystery in Lynch’s work. Firstly, dance is characterised by disjunctive corporealities and ambiguous embodiments, both of human bodies and of audiovisual mediums. Dance is a figural form of knowledge in Lynch, in the sense of an undecidable distinction between form and content. Dance redistributes affects and unhinges them from recognition or personal experience, travelling between bodies. This often takes place through the use of doubles, such as Leland’s series of disjunctive duets (with Catherine and Audrey, or during Maddy’s murder as he spins in a horrific waltz between Leland and Bob dancing between two worlds). Secondly, dance links the body and technology; both serve as means of getting lost in the medium in a way that renders the repetitions of recording productive. Dance’s playback retains a charge of uncertainty that confounds simple interpretation, often through affective crossed wires or foldings of space and time. Think of Audrey’s dances repeatedly moving between diegetic and non-diegetic music, or the relentless repetitions of the record player that Leland activates only to become subject to a kind of possession. Third, dance foregrounds the labour of affect, intensity and exhaustion in Lynch’s work. Dance is a key mode of ambiguous embodiment, a means of living a disjunctive corporeality that is a site of both horror and potential.

In the double scene of Lil’s dancing, part of this pedagogy of movement is an uncertainty about which details are important, about what actually counts as part of the dance. Lil’s dress is not simply a static object, but an echo of a body becoming over time. In the TV series, an early episode provided another iconic instance of danced detection, Agent Cooper’s dream in Episode Two, known as “Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer”. This scene is often read as the most enduring legacy of Twin Peaks, replayed in a thousand parodies and remakes, but one in which the dwarf’s actual dancing seems incidental, merely another quirk. In the first part of Cooper’s dream (at the end of the episode) he has visions of BOB and other elements from the lived world of Twin Peaks. The scene cuts continuously back and forth between a restless Cooper in bed and a montage of other figures. But then the sequence settles into a singular scene, where Cooper finds himself aged and seated, and in the company of the Man from Another Place (Michael Anderson) and a woman who “looks like Laura Palmer”. After a brief and obscure conversation, the Man slides off his seat and as the lights begin to flicker, he begins to dance to a jazzy tune. What happens if we pass through the dancing body itself for what it teaches us via a pedagogy of movement? This might lead us to ask: what dances? When the Man from Another Place moves, the floor doubles his gestural zig-zag in a way that renders causality ambiguous. The flickering light also picks this up in another register, going off and on. Everything in the scene leads to more variations on the zig-zag movement in its contagion. Immersed in and inseparable from this dancing ecology is the suspension of the key revelation of the show: what Laura whispers is “my father killed me”, the key to the mystery and the ethical dilemma at the heart of the series. The delay is pure positivity itself, in the sense that it is generative of potential, launching from dance’s deranging force in the heterochronic space of the Red Room; dance suspends meaning not to resolve it at a later point but to keep it in play. The scene spills over itself; Cooper is still moving when he wakes up, carrying the dream with him. The world has been reordered as the dream plays on. Cooper calls Truman to tell him he knows who the killer is, but puts him off until breakfast: “no, it can wait”. He snaps his fingers, contagiously picking up Leland’s manic gesture in another register. Cooper is both a recording and playback machine, his snapping the small dance of incorporated alter-rhythms that fill him with secrets. Unusually, the closing credits return to the dancing dwarf, another spillover that like the “Sinnerman” credits after the “end” of INLAND EMPIRE, is a kind of testimony to a generous way that dance keeps moving, against the fixity of final identity. The dancing dwarf is fully part of the embodied wonderland of the radical changes of scale and non-normative embodiments of Twin Peaks. His movements seem to generate their own soundtrack, and he is like Cooper a kind of playback mechanism; he is “the arm” that synchronises impossible embodiments.

The Leland Shuffle

dance Twin Peaks

Catherine Martell (Piper Laurie) turns Leland’s (Ray Wise) grief into the latest dance craze in Twin Peaks

Cooper’s dream scene is immediately preceded by the first instance of Leland Palmer’s signature move, what actor Ray Wise called the “Leland Shuffle”. As such Cooper’s finger-snapping not only crosses the boundary between dream and waking life, but represents movements between characters, as he picks up Leland’s own frenetic finger-snapping, which had opened the previous scene. In Wise’s explanation of this movement in a 1990 interview, he testifies to the time-shifting, heterochronic nature of dancing with yourself.17 Initially, Leland self-soothes his grief by regressing to childhood memories of big-band music that “his father would play for him” 18 But this slides imperceptibly, through the time travel opened by the dancing body, into unstable memories of Leland as a father, dancing with Laura:

When he played these songs, he would naturally kind of do the dance of the     time, which was a kind of a modified jitterbug. He would vary it with some slower steps. If people were watching very closely, they would have seen that the imaginary partner that Leland was dancing with varied in height from time to time and that sometimes that person would get very small. That was little Laura, when she was a little girl. Leland taught her how to dance. She would stand on his feet, and he would take the steps for her. So all of these things were going through Leland’s mind at the time: the soothing music, dancing with his daughter. Then it would become too much for him and he would start to cry and to wail, and hold his head in his hands. That was the beginning of the Leland Shuffle – doing that modified jitterbug holding your head in your hands and wailing and crying, and dancing with yourself.19

The a-metricality of the dance, altered with some “slower steps”, fails to cohere into a single memory image of a discrete moment from the past, and instead produces an intensive, time-travelling experience. In Episode Five (“Cooper’s Dream”), Leland arrives alone at the Great Northern to take part in the seduction of the Norwegian investors at a gala party. When “Pennsylvania 6-5000” starts playing, he wails and doubles over in pain before rotely beginning his solo shuffle, dancing with himself in front of a bemused crowd. Leland obscenely displays his grief by holding the empty space of his arms open in dance that is both invitation and confession. Ben Horne, appalled, commands Catherine Martell to “dance with him”; she gamely kicks off her shoes and steps into the breach of his arms. Others join them on the dance floor. When Leland’s grief escalates and he starts clutching at his head, Catherine extracts the spectacular display and mimetically channels it, tapping her head lightly in what gets picked up by everyone around them as just another dance move. The crossing of affective wires is intense and appalling; we laugh despite ourselves as the camera tracks around to find a hidden witness who, like us, shares a different knowledge of the scene. Audrey Horne, the series’ other main dancer, hides in the shadows, weeping in witness. From her hidden position, she restages the privacy of Leland’s grief, rendered imperceptible in the mass contagion of his danced movement. Dance moves doubly across bodies, splitting into two emotive streams, suspending our ability to simply makes sense. Theresa Brennan notes that “we are peculiarly resistant to the idea that our emotions are not entirely our own”, and analyses the distribution of affect through the idea that “affects have an energetic dimension”; in other words, through the kind of phase shifts on display here. 20 We laugh and cry in the discomfort of being opened to an experience intensively felt but not understood as our own.

In this scene, which is prior to the reveal of Leland’s guilt, we witness the clichéd corporeal expression of a grieving father. Sense derails into sensations as emotions compete for priority and movements travel across bodies in a detachment from “proper sense”. Leland’s dance attempts to stabilize relations between bodies as a form of affective management, by holding open an image of pastness – a daddy-daughter dance – that produces a kind of affective contagion in the witnesses. In the wider context of the show, this both signals his possession by the evil entity BOB, and produces an irresistible call to participation by anyone who witnesses. Nobody (and no body) is as mutable as Leland’(s) in the first part of the show, expressed explicitly through dance. In Lynch, the contagious energetics of affect are felt explicitly in the world-crossings of the self’s emergent doubling. All re-compositions of a self through dance performance in Twin Peaks are also part of a remaking of the world, either through travel between dimensions, such as into the Red Room, or in the surrounding environment. Leland’s staging of a visible cliché of grief, activated by recorded music and a dance that hovers between spiritual possession and the irresistible impulse of popular culture, is also the site of his struggle with himself. It is no coincidence that Audrey’s tears at Leland’s bad job performance – at the very moment of the celebratory selling off of the Ghostwood estates in a neoliberal marketplace of globalisation and affective labour – are part of a long relational arc that sees her end up as an environmental activist.

dance Twin Peaks

Leland dances with Laura’s photo

In the very first instance of the Leland Shuffle, in episode 3, Leland is shown grimacing and standing over the record player in his living room, snapping his fingers in frustration as he puts a record on. His snapping is at once an automatic gesture of repetition, as with a musical beat, and also the attempt to spark something: a dance that is at once one of difference and repetition. As soon as the music begins, he sighs in relief and begins a long scene of spinning out across a drama of re-animation, as emotions travel intensively across his face and ripple across his body. He turns to seek a dance partner and, spying a photo of Laura (like all the photos of Laura, essentially a moving image in its affective ability to spark motion), picks it up and begins to turn with the photo in his arms. His movements echo the spinning record and he becomes part of the playback machine, all to a song that repeats multiple times, “Pennsylvania 6-5000”. The song takes its title from the switchboard of the Pennsylvania hotel in New York. It is positioned within the medium, a conduit of communication that takes on a life of its own. As with Lil the Dancer, the message cannot simply pass through. Characterised by relentless repetitions, it is an example of getting lost in the medium which signals Lynch’s commitment to the work of immanence. Here, Leland is both stuck in repetition and trying to dance his way out of it. Potential plays out in his body as his movement becomes more and more frenetic. When Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) finds him like this, he can only insist to her “we have to dance for Laura.” Sarah tries to reverse his course but only succeeds in forcing Leland to smash the picture in what seems like another coded confession, as his blood covers Laura’s face. But the movement pedagogy of Twin Peaks asks us, what else is there to see in this image, especially in retrospect, beyond Leland’s guilt? This dance sequence, horribly replayed yet again in Maddy’s murder in “Lonely Souls” (season two episode eight), is a moment not simply of foreshadowing, but of a potential phase shift in action. Maddy’s murder scene assembles Cooper’s dream, Leland’s shuffle and the indistinction of the live and the recorded, but fails to effectuate a phase shift. Thus, instead of a modification of the body that would signal the shift from the substantial into the potential resulting from a difference in the regime of energy flow, Leland settles back into his established form. From this point on, he will become more and more adept, or a better dancer, at a clichéd performance of the Leland Shuffle that is increasingly virtuosic and decreasingly potentialised. From this point on, Leland’s corporeal mastery signals his possession by Bob, and his inability to dance his way out through intensity: it stops being aberrant (potential) and becomes simply abhorrent as the mark of malice. Leland’s newly smooth embodiment is a skilful display that links him back into circuits of evil and sense-making.

dance Twin Peaks

Leland and the Horne Brothers (Richard Beymer and David Patrick Kelly) dance to “Mairzy Doats”

In the debut episode of season two, “May the Giant Be With You”, Leland is marked by the murder of Jacques Renault; his hair turns a dapper white. In his first appearance, he soft-shoes his way into the living room, where Sarah and Maddy stare in amazement while wrapped in bathrobes. As with the episode where Cooper first dreams of the Red Room, Leland’s dancing triggers a movement between worlds; when he leaves, Maddy’s staring at the floor manifests her dream from the night before, which emerges into daylight as the carpet is suddenly covered in a spreading stain. Again, a pedagogy of perception deranges relations of reading and causality. Leland goes straight from the cosy domesticity of his recomposed family unit to his workplace. His voice announces him before his body can be seen, as he presents himself to Ben and Jerry Horne. Leland’s nonsense lyrics to a vintage novelty song (“Mairzy Doats”) are as follows: “Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey / A kiddley divey too / Wooden shoe!”21 These lyrics must pass eccentrically through one’s eye, mouth and ear to make “sense” as recognisable words. But for once Leland’s song and dance moves do not bother the Horne brothers. The brothers and bosses know instantly how to move: when Leland enters the room, Ben and Jerry are already dancing in anticipation, smoothly riding the heterochronicity to wicked effect as Leland is folded back into the workplace without missing a beat. Ben leaps onto a table top and tap dances, while Jerry drops to the floor to do the Worm. Such spatio-temporal disturbances fluidly echo the utopian deviations of the film musical, and lose all the force of a shift in the energetic regime. Indeed, Leland announces at the end of the song, “I’m back!” Eventually, Ben at least will pass into insanity from this encounter, slipping back into the past in his Civil War madness, and then exposed to a murderous blow as he tries to catch up to his own past by claiming his place as Donna’s father. But Leland’s technically “good” dancing is where dance initially fails as a phase shift – in other words, to mark a qualitative shift of potential – in the ease with which it syncs up the bodies of capitalism and puts him back to work as a lawyer and eventually as a murderer (as in Mulholland Drive, where dance as a stepping stone to a Hollywood career is where things go wrong). Dance’s potential is heterochronic – destabalising, decentring and full of false continuities – that can sometimes only be perceived across the arc of the series as a whole.

dance Twin Peaks

Dell Mibler’s (Ed Wright) aged shuffle delaying the end of Twin Peaks in “Beyond Life and Death”

Twin Peaks’ dance moves spectacularly stage the work of mystery in the series not as a “to be resolved” but as the mystery of becoming itself, the something that is happening rather than the drive of the “what happened”. They do this through making apparent the heterochronicities that always compose our everyday life, a regime of speed and slowness that is usually resolved in the presumed continuity of identities and the stability of the environment around us. By the end of Twin Peaks, we should be well trained in a pedagogy of perception that pushes back against a logic of revelation and information, one that is grounded in the potential of the replay itself and the intensive repetition of dance training and pop songs. At the very end of the television series, we are given an episode in which dance is unhinged from the space of a song, where the entire episode exists in the suspensive potential of dance’s “something happening”. The last episode of Twin Peaks, “Beyond Life and Death” is fully infected with the quirks of danced movement extending to every instance of everyday life, retaining their urgency but no longer knowing how to activate a phase shift of altered potential. The episode lingers at every turn, frustrating, through a deliberate slowness and delay of narrative resolution, the need to wrap up the show’s loose threads. When Cooper enters the Black Lodge, we watch the Man from Another Place slowly dance across the entire room, only to linger on static characters terrifyingly animated in their stillness by arrhythmically flashing lights. An enormous amount of time in that final episode is spent simply watching people walk and eventually run, in what is basically a form of contemporary dance. Essentially, we are asked to look at the non-virtuosic body in everyday movement. At the very centre of the episode, Audrey chooses stillness by chaining herself to the bank vault; in a five-minute scene we spend at least three minutes simply watching an unknown character, Del the Banker, tentatively criss-cross the space in a silent delicate dance of aged embodiment, fetching a glass of water for Audrey. In the Black Lodge, Cooper stalks the space, eventually running as he seeks to find a way to move in a world that closes in on him. The series closes on Cooper repeating “How’s Annie?” like a skipping record. What is there to see here, beyond the revelation of BOB as a mirror image of Cooper? Lynch’s pedagogy of perception, training viewers through the aberrant movement of dance performance, invites us into this moment to resist the closure and finality of the series’ end. It remains to be seen which of Twin Peaks’ dance moves can still function as Lynch prepares the reanimation of this world in the new season of the show, scheduled to debut in 2017. At the moment of greatest danger, dance’s repetition holds open, however faintly, the potential to move in a different way, to keep the promise of one way out between two worlds.

This article has been peer-reviewed.



  1. The term “pedagogy of perception” is indebted to Deleuze’s use of that term, or more frequently, “pedagogy of the image”, as with his discussion of Godard and the creation of lectosigns (images suspended between the readable and the seeable) in Cinema 2 in the chapter “The Components of the Image” and in the conclusion. Deleuze develops this concept in dialogue with the work of Serge Daney, and the two of them frequently do so through an engagement with the televisual image. For a discussion of this concept as it travels through their work, see Garin Dowd, “Pedagogies of the image between Daney and Deleuze” New Review of Film and Television Studies, 8.1 (2010): pp. 41-56, One of the critical aspects of the pedagogy of perception is that it resists the force of communication and the control society, it delays utility and functionality in its ability to “go beyond information” (Deleuze, Cinema 2, 258). In developing this concept in relation to dance, I have chosen to emphasise perception rather than the image to stress the corporeal and affective qualities of dance movement on screen and in spectatorial responsiveness (onscreen and off). See Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989).
  2. “The ABC of Going from the Big Screen to the Small”, Movieline, August 1 1999. http://movieline.com/1999/08/01/david-lynch-the-abc-of-going-from-the-big-screen-to-the-small/ (Retrieved May 17, 2016).
  3. Richard Dyer, In the Space of a Song (New York: Routledge, 2011).
  4. Ibid., 24.
  5. In Cinema 2, Deleuze links aberrant movement to a direct experience of time. “If normal movement subordinates the time of which it gives us an indirect representation, aberrant movement speaks up for an anteriority of time that it presents to us directly, on the basis of the disproportion of scales, the dissipation of centres and the false continuity of the images themselves.” (p. 37) These qualities – disproportion, decentring and false continuity – characterise the experience of heterochronicity as played out in Twin Peaks.
  6. Richard Dyer, “Entertainment and Utopia” in Steven Cohen, Hollywood Musicals: The Film Reader (New York: Routledge, 2002), pp. 19-30.
  7. Dyer, 2011, 31.
  8. Ibid., p. 27.
  9. Gilbert Simondon, “The Genesis of the Individual”, in J. Crary and S. Kwinter (eds.), Incorporations (New York: Zone Books, 1992), pp. 297-319.
  10. Alanna Thain, “Rabbit Ears: Locomotion in Lynch’s Inland Empire”, in David Lynch in Theory, François Xavier-Gleyzon, ed., (Prague: Litteraria Pragensia, 2010), pp. 86-100.
  11. José Gil, “The Paradoxical Body”, TDR: The Drama Review 50:4 (Winter 2006). p. 29.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch, “A Real Indication”, Twin Peaks – Fire Walk With Me (Music From The Motion Picture Soundtrack), Warner Bros. Records, 9362-45019-2, 1992, Compact Disc.
  14. These clues were first published as part of a contest in the Guardian/Observer in collaboration with Lynch and Canal + in January 2002, before the April 2002 DVD release from Universal, which included the clues on a DVD insert. For the Guardian article, see “Follow David Lynch’s clues and win a trip to the real Mulholland Drive”, The Guardian, Sunday 20 January 2002, http://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2002/jan/20/features.review97, (Retrieved May 17, 2016). The initial release on DVD was Mulholland Drive, directed by David Lynch, Los Angeles: Universal Studios Home Entertainment, April 9, 2002.
  15. Screengrab of “The Arthur Murray Party – 15 February 1954,” YouTube video, 14:35, Episode of TV Series “The Arthur Murray Party”, posted by MatttheSaiyan, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Rgy4wTu73c (Retrieved May 17, 2016).
  16. See, for example, Henry Jenkins, “‘Do You Enjoy Making the Rest of Us Feel Stupid?’: alt.tv.twinpeaks, the Trickster Author, and Viewer Mastery” in David Lavery (ed.), Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995), pp. 51-69.
  17. Terry Gross, “Interview with Ray Wise”, Fresh Air, NPR, 12 December 1990. A transcript of the interview is available at the fan produced Twin Peaks archive website Sheep Productions, “Interview with Ray Wise”, Twin Peaks Studios. http://www.sheepproductions.com/tps/people/rwinterv.txt (Retrieved May 17, 2016).
  18. Ibid.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Theresa Brennan, The Transmission of Affect (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2014), p. 2
  21. Merry Macs, “Mairzy Doats and Dozy Doats”, Decca, 18588A, 1944, LP.

About The Author

Alanna Thain is associate professor of World Cinemas and Cultural Studies at McGill University, Montreal, Canada. She directs the Moving Image Research Laboratory, dedicated to the study of the body in moving image media, and home to Cinema Out of the Box, a bicycle powered mobile cinema staging guerrilla screenings in the urban ecology of Montreal. She is also director of the Institute for Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies. Her research focuses on time and embodiment in cinema, media and performance. Her book Bodies in Time: Suspense, Affect and Cinema is forthcoming from University of Minnesota Press in 2016.

Related Posts