Cut Loose With These Secrets From the Set of Footloose

The classic musical film Footloose was released in 1984 and made Americans nationwide want to kick off their Sunday shoes and hit the dancefloor. The movie is about a teenage boy named Ren McCormack, played by Kevin Bacon, who moves to a backwoods town in the Southwest, where dancing and rock and roll music are banned.

Lori Singer, Kevin Bacon / Kevin Bacon / Lori Singer, Kevin Bacon / Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough.
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Ren gets in trouble with the town when he influences his fellow high school students, including the town preacher’s daughter, Ariel Moore, played by Lori Singer, to organize an illegal dance. When the film came out, most people were unaware that it was based on a real town called Elmore City in Oklahoma, where dancing was banned until 1980.

Let ‘Em Dance

The rural town of Elmore City, Oklahoma, set a ban on dancing upon its founding in 1898. The ban was meant to dissuade heavy drinking and impure behavior in the pre-prohibition U.S. However, almost a century later, in 1980, the town’s high school students requested to breach the law in order to hold a junior prom.

Kevin Bacon as Ren McCormack in a high school dance.
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Their request worried and angered some townsfolk, especially the Pentecostal reverend who believed “no good has ever come from a dance.” Nevertheless, after a vote by the school board, Elmore City’s high schoolers won their bid to have a dance when the president of the board, Raymond Lee, broke the tie and famously declared “Let ’em dance!”

One Thing Leads to Another

The reverend was upset, claiming, “if you have a dance, somebody will crash it, and they’ll be looking for only two things: women and booze.” He was convinced that “when boys and girls hold each other, they get sexually aroused. You can believe what you want, but one thing leads to another.” The Oklahoman town was the only place in America to have a dancing ban.

John Lithgow as Reverend Shaw Moore.
Source: YouTube

A year after the ban in Elmore City was lifted, the rural town of Lynden, Washington, passed a law banning dancing at locations and during events where alcohol was served. The ban gained the attention of the media, and just three years later, Footloose came to theaters. Coincidence? We think not.

Inspired by the Story

Oscar-winning lyricist Dean Pitchford, who wrote the title song for the musical film Fame, heard about Elmore City, Oklahoma, and felt compelled to visit the town. The townsfolks’ story inspired him, and within 22 drafts, he had written a screenplay about the incident. 20th Century Fox picked up the screenplay but eventually shelved it. In 1982, Paramount Pictures grabbed the script instead.

A portrait of Dean Pitchford.
Photo by Walter McBride/Corbis/Getty Images

Esteemed director Herbert Ross was Paramount’s first choice to direct the film, but he was initially unavailable. So, the production company approached Ron Howard to direct, but he chose to work on Splash instead. Finally, Michael Cimino was chosen as the director of the movie. However, he wouldn’t stay on to the end.

Cheek to Cheek

A month into filming, the production company fired Michael Cimino who was making impossible demands from the studio. Cimino wanted $250,000 more for the job than they’d agreed upon, and he wanted the film to be darker and more sinister. Paramount was afraid they’d go bankrupt because of Cimino, as United Artists had after his last film, Heaven’s Gate. Luckily, Herbert Ross agreed to take on the project.

Lori Singer and Kevin Bacon in Footloose.
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Before they settled on Footloose, the original title of the film was Cheek to Cheek. However, Pitchford wasn’t happy with the name and wouldn’t rest until he found a better one. Eventually, Pitchford chose Footloose; he thought it sounded cool and believed the word looked good on paper and would sell itself.

Where Does Footloose Take Place?

The screenplay may be based on towns in Oklahoma and Washington State, but in the movie, it is set in a fictional place called Bomont, a small town in the rural Southwest. The film was shot in various locations throughout the state of Utah.

Kevin Bacon in a still from the film.
Source: YouTube

Despite not being named in the film itself, the town of Elmore City now takes pride in its legacy. They hold a yearly Footloose festival with choreographed dances and other activities like a dancing competition and a 5K race. Nowadays, dancing is the town’s point of pride and joy, partially because of the film Footloose.

Extras in Footloose

Among the locations in Utah County, Utah, where the film was shot, is the town of Payson and the local school, Payson High. The high school’s staff and students were paid to be extras in the film, much to their delight.

Kevin Bacon and Lori Singer in a scene from the school dance.
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Because of this, when the film came to theaters, the entire town went to see it−and themselves−on the big screen. The dance scene in the flour mill was filmed at Lehi Roller Mills, in Lehi, Utah, which was built in 1905 and is still in operation today as Lehi Mills.

Tom Cruise Almost Appeared as Ren

The studio pegged Tom Cruise for the part of Ren. They were impressed by his performance in Risky Business, especially by his underwear dance scene, and thought he would make a great lead. However, he was unavailable because he was already scheduled to shoot All the Right Moves.

A portrait of Tom Cruise.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Christopher Atkins, star of The Blue Lagoon, was cast instead of Cruise. However, he quickly lost the part after meeting up with the director and producers while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. After he was fired from the role, Atkins had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized.

Rob Lowe Has PTSD From His Audition

Rob Lowe also auditioned for the part of Ren, but his tryout ended in trauma. The Outsiders actor auditioned three times and, during his third audition, fell while dancing and blew out a ligament in his knee. Lowe needed to recuperate from his injury and had no choice but to turn down the role.

A picture of Rob Lowe.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Rob claims to “have post-traumatic stress with anything having to do with Footloose.” The talented dancer shared that Kenny Loggins asked him to sing a karaoke duet of the song Footloose at a party, and he answered, “I won’t do anything from that damn movie.”

Who Sings Footloose?

When Lowe told Loggins how he felt, the actor was surprised to find that the musician felt the same way. Kenny also hated the song Footloose and thought the lyrics were terrible. Ultimately, united by their mutual dislike, they sang the song anyway. How can the artist who sings Footloose dislike it?

Kenny Loggins during a press conference.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Kenny Loggins, the singer, and Dean Pitchford, the screenwriter, wrote the song together while heavily medicated on painkillers. Dean had strep throat, and Kenny had a broken rib, but the two powered through and took medicine so they could finish the track in time.

Best Original Song

Loggins was supposed to fly a few days later to Asia, so the incapacitated pair had no choice but to meet and medicate in order to please the studio. Pitchford shared, “I think it was two or three days we kept up this charade with him showing up on his painkillers and me on my painkillers.”

Students on a high school bench in a still from the film.
Source: YouTube

Despite their reservations, the song proved to be successful and was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Original Song. The tracks Footloose and I’m Free were written and sung by Loggins; both reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Madonna Almost Played Ariel

Madonna auditioned to play Footloose’s leading lady, Ariel Moore. The pop star was trying to make her foray into acting and wanted Footloose to be her first feature film. Instead, she starred in A Certain Sacrifice a year later. Before Lori Singer nailed the part of Ariel, many other actresses were considered.

A studio portrait of Madonna.
Photo by Fryderyk Gabowicz/picture alliance/Getty Images

Among those who auditioned were Elizabeth McGovern and Daryl Hannah, who both turned down the role. Brooke Shields, Meg Ryan, Lori Loughlin, Michelle Pfeiffer, Rosanna Arquette, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jamie Lee Curtis, Diane Lane, Heather Locklear, Jodie Foster, Melanie Griffith, and many more tried out for the part.

Sarah Jessica Parker Almost Didn’t Play Rusty

While writing the screenplay, Dean Pitchford had imagined that Tracy Nelson would play the part of Rusty as he had written the part for her. Nelson auditioned for the role, but the director, Herbert Ross’ wife, convinced him that she was a bad fit. Parker auditioned and was chosen instead.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Lori Singer in a movie still.
Source: YouTube

However, the future star of Sex and the City declined at first, after the studio told her she needed to dye her hair red and cut it short. Luckily, in the end, to get Sarah Jessica on board, the director relented and let her keep her long, natural hair.

The Director Wanted Kevin Bacon

Thankfully Parker accepted the role of Rusty; she played her so well that she was nominated for Best Young Supporting Actress at the Youth in Film Awards. Kevin Bacon also almost turned down the part of Ren; he’d just been offered to play the lead in the Stephen King movie Christine.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Kevin Bacon’s dancing scene.
Source: YouTube

Kevin had yet to accept the role when he was asked to audition for Footloose. The actor agreed to a screen test, keeping his options open, and it paid off. The director had seen Bacon’s film, Diner, and wanted him for Footloose so much that he convinced the studio.

Bacon Went to Great Lengths for the Role

Kevin Bacon could barely remember how high school felt, so in order to prepare for his role in Footloose, he convinced the studio to let him go undercover in Payson, Utah, as a high school student. Bacon posed as Ren McCormack, a new student transferring from Philly.

Kevin Bacon attends the movie premiere.
Photo by Barry King/WireImage/Getty Images

The only people who knew his real identity were the principal and guidance counselor of the school. Despite being 23 years old at the time, Kevin was nervous and scared. He ended up being bullied and made fun of (as Ren is treated in the film) and left after one day.

Bacon Worked the Skin off His Hands

When Kevin Bacon accepted the role of Ren, he underestimated what he was getting himself into. According to him, the script “didn’t really indicate” how professional of a dancer he needed to be. He had no clue that he would need training and a choreographer to be good enough for the film.

Kevin Bacon dances in a still from the film.
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The actor had to train for three weeks with dance choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett. Furthermore, for the gym and the steel mill scenes, Bacon had to improve his gymnastics skills. He claimed to have “worked the skin off his hands” training.

The Actors Used Stunt Doubles

After training so long and hard, Kevin was dismayed when he was told that he would have a stunt double. For the complicated gymnastics shots, the gymnast Chuck Gaylord, whose brother is the Olympic gymnast Mitch Gaylord, acted as Bacon’s stunt double. The actor also had a dance double, Peter Tramm, who’d danced in Staying Alive.

A close-up on Kevin Bacon’s shoes as he dances.
Source: YouTube

Kevin admitted being “furious.” He felt like the “starting pitcher getting taken out of a game.” The actor also refused to agree to the producer’s request that he not tell the media about using stunt doubles. Instead, Bacon revealed that he had four doubles.

Bacon Broke Out in Hives During One Scene

While shooting the town council meeting scene, in which Ren steps up to the podium to advocate for dancing, Kevin Bacon broke out in hives. The actor has an actual fear of public speaking and got a rash across his ribs from the stress.

Kevin Bacon in a still from the scene.
Source: YouTube

The crew gave him half a valium to calm down, and he managed to finish the scene successfully. His real-life fear actually contributed to the believability of his acting in the scene. Indeed, his character was meant to be nervous as well; publicly going head-to-head with his oppressors, his fear in the scene is palpable.

Extra Skinny Jeans

The jeans that Ren wears in Footloose are extra tight. The reason for this wasn’t only influenced by ’80s fashion. Kevin Bacon reminisced, “I remember having these pants on that were unbelievably tight already but weren’t quite tight enough for some of the shots.”

Kevin Bacon as Ren McCormack on the set of Footloose.
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The actor explained that “it wasn’t so much about sexiness as it was… to make the [dance moves] look powerful.” The costume crew “would take them and pin them from behind so they were really skintight.” Nowadays, we are used to extra skinny jeans, but back in 1984, audiences were not.

Chris Penn Had No Dancing Experience

Kevin Bacon wasn’t the only actor who needed dance training. His costar Chris Penn, who played Willard, joined the cast of Footloose with no previous dance experience or skills. The dance trainer Lynne Taylor-Corbett could only convince him to dance after comparing it to wrestling, which Penn loved.

Chris Penn in a still from the film.
Source: YouTube

Bacon’s favorite dance scene in the film is when Ren teaches Willard how to dance. At first, the scene was set to the song Somebody’s Eyes by Karla Bonoff, but the director thought it wasn’t working and had Pitchford and Tom Snow write a whole new track.

John Lithgow Almost Sinned for the Role

Bacon wasn’t the only actor to take desperate measures to channel his character. To better understand Reverend Shaw, John Lithgow almost sinned. He went as far as to deceive an Assembly of God minister whom he found in the Utah Yellow Pages.

John Lithgow attends an event.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Lithgow told the minister he was feeling lonely while filming far from home and requested to speak with him about God and Jesus. John thought it was an “incredibly valuable thing to do.” He shared, “I did feel like a total hypocrite… [but] that’s what I needed to play that part and deliver those sermons.”

The Prom Scene Was Shot Twice

The director was a perfectionist and wanted everything in the film to be just so. Ross even had the prom scene shot twice because he was unsatisfied. He had first envisioned the prom dance scene at the end in slow motion, but when the film was fully edited, it didn’t work well.

Lori Singer and Kevin Bacon in the prom scene.
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The second shooting was done just six weeks before the film’s premiere and cost 250,000 dollars. Producers scouted talent in dance clubs on New Year’s Eve in Los Angeles to make the scene better. The new dancers contributed to the scene, adding moves like popping-and-locking and breakdance.

Not Everything Adds Up

The final cut may be fun, but it isn’t as perfect as Ross wanted. Some mistakes appear, like when someone throws a brick into Ren’s house, it is seen from the outside flying through the front, first-floor window. But then the scene cuts to the brick going through the girls’ second-floor bedroom window.

The scene where Lori Singer moves from a car to a truck.
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Similarly, in the scene when Ariel moves from her friend’s car to Chuck’s truck mid-drive, the stereo seen in the window of Chuck’s truck disappears and reappears depending on the shot. Likewise, the railroad crossing viewed in the distance never appears when they get closer.

Too Close for Comfort

The age differences between the actors who play the teenagers and those who play their parents are too close for comfort. The actress who plays Ariel, Lori Singer, is only twelve years younger than Reverend Shaw Moore, her on-screen dad, played by John Lithgow, and eleven years younger than Vi, her on-screen mom, played by Dianne Wiest.

John Lithgow and Lori Singer pose behind the scenes.
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Frances Lee McCain, the actress who plays Ren McCormack’s mother, is actually only fifteen years older than Kevin Bacon in real life. Nevertheless, they all convincingly manage to pull off their respective roles as teens and their overbearing parents.

Doing the Devil’s Work

Despite playing conservative townsfolk, the cast and crew of Footloose managed to upset the locals of the Utah county where they were shooting because of their excessive partying. Bacon shared, “I don’t think we were completely trusted… a lot of people thought we were doing the devil’s work.”

A view of Lehi Roller Mills, a Footloose film location in Utah.
Source: Wikimedia

According to the star, “There were reports of skinny-dipping in the hotel pool, illicit sex, and drugs – all of which were true – but the community was really uncomfortable with us.” Elizabeth Gorcey, who played Ariel’s friend, claimed that “somebody lost their virginity on set. Not myself! But one of the other actresses.”

Told to Behave Themselves

Even Lithgow and Wiest, who played Ariel’s God-fearing parents, partied on the set of Footloose. According to John, he and Dianne were worried they’d be left out of the fun, being older than the rest of the cast, so they went wild during the set parties to prove that they were fun.

Lithgow is Lori Singer’s father and reverend in Footloose.
Source: YouTube

Lithgow shared that he and his on-screen wife “took off [their] clothes and swam in the pool” at their hotel during one party. Lori Singer, who played their daughter, jumped in and joined them. The next day the whole cast and crew received memos that said, “behave yourselves.”

Bacon Bribes DJs so They Don’t Play Footloose

The film’s star, Kevin Bacon, admitted that he pays wedding DJs not to play the song Footloose. He feels that often people expect him to dance every time the song comes on, “like a trained monkey,” and he’s sick of it. Since appearing in Footloose, Bacon has acted in many Hollywood hits, including Apollo 13, Mystic River, and Wild Things.

A portrait of Kevin Bacon.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Bacon has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and is married to fellow actress Kyra Sedgewick, whom he met on the set of Lemon Sky in 1988. Kevin and Kyra have two children together and live in Manhattan.

Lori Singer Is a Musical Prodigy

Lori Singer was born to a musical family. Her father is conductor Jacques Christi, and Lori is considered to be a musical prodigy. She began playing cello with the Oregon Symphony at age thirteen. The same year, she was accepted to study at Julliard, where she became the youngest graduate of the prestigious institute.

A studio portrait of Lori Singer.
Photo by Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

Before appearing in Footloose, Lori starred in the TV series Fame. Since 1984, Singer has acted in various films, including the 1993 Robert Altman movie Short Cuts. She has also continued to play the cello, performing with talents like Yo-Yo Ma and playing at Carnegie Hall.

Sarah Jessica Parker’s Move to Film

Before acting in Footloose, Sarah Jessica Parker was mainly a Broadway actress, known for her performance in Annie. Before Footloose, Parker had appeared in a few TV roles, namely the role of Patty Greene in Square Pegs. In 1984, Ross chose her to play Rusty and star alongside Singer, Penn, and Bacon.

A younger Sarah Jessica Parker attends an event.
Photo by Barry King/WireImage/Getty Images

After Footloose, Sarah’s career really kicked off. She is best known for her role as Carrie in Sex and the City and has acted in films such as The Family Stone and Failure to Launch. Parker is married to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off star Matthew Broderick.

Elizabeth Gorcey Wanted to Play Ariel

Elizabeth Gorcey, who played the supporting role of Wendy Jo in Footloose, revealed that she’d auditioned first for the part of Ariel. She was called back five times to audition for Ariel before Singer was chosen for the lead, and Gorcey was offered the part of Wendy Jo.

A portrait of Elizabeth Gorcey.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

At first, Elizabeth was upset and didn’t want to accept the minor role, but her agent convinced her it was the right call. After Footloose, Gorcey went on to star in Teen Wolf alongside Michael J. Fox. Since then, Gorcey has acted sporadically, focusing on projects that have personal significance for her.

John Lithgow Hails From a Thespian Family

John Lithgow was born into a thespian family and had a privileged upbringing. He was given his first job working for his father in the theater; however, the aspiring actor wanted to make it on his own and moved to New York to pursue a career on Broadway. Lithgow started acting in films and TV in the late ’70s.

John Lithgow attends an event.
Photo by John Li/Stringer/Getty Images

John has been nominated for Oscars for his performances in The World According to Garp and Terms of Endearment. He is known for his role of Arthur Mitchell in the series Dexter and his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Netflix’s The Crown.

Dianne Wiest Won Two Academy Awards

Dianne Wiest played Ariel’s kindhearted mother, Vi, in Footloose. She won her first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in the Woody Allen drama Hannah and Her Sisters two years later. Dianne’s second Oscar was in the same category, for her role in the Woody Allen film Bullets over Broadway.

Dianne Wiest in a still from the film.
Source: YouTube

Wiest’s career has been highly successful; throughout the ’80s and ’90s, she starred in films like Edward Scissorhands and The Lost Boys. In recent years, Wiest appeared in the series Life in Pieces, the HBO film Let Them Talk, and the movie I Care a Lot.

John Laughlin Still Watches Footloose

John Laughlin played Ren and Willard’s friend and protector, Woody, in Footloose and recently shared that he still enjoys watching the 1984 hit from time to time. John also shared stories from the set of Footloose; the first time he met Penn, his costar was grilling steaks in his hotel room.

A studio portrait of John Laughlin.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

They shared the steaks and later were reprimanded when the hotel room had to be redone because of the smoke and smell. Before appearing in Footloose, Laughlin had a part in the film An Officer and a Gentleman. Later he starred as the lead in the movie Crimes of Passion.

Chris Penn Was Sean Penn’s Brother

Chris Penn was born into a family of actors. His parents are Eileen Ryan and Leo Penn, and his brother is Sean Penn. Chris started acting at a young age and appeared in Rumble Fish and All the Right Moves before starring in Footloose. Two years later, he starred alongside his mom and brother in At Close Range.

Chris Penn as Willard Hewitt.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Paramount Pictures

Penn is best known for his roles in Reservoir Dogs and True Romance in the ’90s. He also appeared with Lori Singer in Short Cuts. Sadly, in 2006, when Chris was just forty years old, he died of heart disease.

Paramount Rebooted Footloose

In 2011, Paramount Pictures rebooted Footloose. The remake was directed by Craig Brewer and starred Julianne Hough, Kenny Wormald, Andie MacDowell, Miles Teller, and Dennis Quaid. Dean Pitchford co-wrote the new screenplay along with Brewer. The reboot was filmed in Georgia.

Kenny Wormald as Ren McCormack.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Paramount Pictures

Zac Efron and Chace Crawford were both announced to be playing Ren before dropping out; eventually, Kenny Wormald scored the role. Miley Cyrus, Amanda Bynes, and Hayden Panettiere were all considered for the role of Ariel before Julianne Hough was recruited. Blake Shelton covered Kenny Loggins’ title song, giving the track a little “Southern grit.”

The Broadway Show Came After the Film

Unlike many Broadway musicals, the Footloose show came after the film and not the other way around. The musical premiered in 1998 and had many songs from the film as well as some originals. The show is like the film but has some minor differences in the plot and characters.

The cast from Footloose: The Musical on stage.
Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The original Broadway production of Footloose ran until 2000 and was directed by Walter Bobbie. The show didn’t receive very good reviews. However, people did love the cast and the music. Despite its general reception, the Broadway version of Footloose was nominated for four Tony Awards.

The Movie Was Censored in England

When Footloose premiered in the U.K., it was cut down almost three minutes by the BBFC so that it could be rated PG13. The censored scenes include some fights when Ariel gets beaten up by Chuck when Ren is offered a joint, and even some lines, like Ariel’s “I’m not a virgin” proclamation.

Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough arrive at the movie premiere.
Photo by Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic/Getty Images

In the U.S., the film was also altered to earn a PG13 rating. Ross cut out all-male nudity and axed the “go f*** yourself,” changing it to “go flack yourself.” For the 1987 television premiere on CBS, ten whole minutes were cut out of the film.

The Soundtrack Was a Teaser for the Film

Footloose’s soundtrack was released before the movie hit theaters as a teaser for the movie. The soundtrack essentially advertised the film and acquainted audiences with the songs. The director and crew believed that viewers would enjoy the film more if they knew the music, since knowing a song produces a more emotional reaction.

Kevin Bacon as Ren McCormack.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Paramount Pictures

The first two tracks are by Kenny Loggins: Footloose and I’m Free. The soundtrack also includes the songs Girl Gets Around by Sammy Hagar, Holding Out for a Hero by Bonnie Tyler, Let’s Hear It for the Boy by Deniece Williams, and many more.

The Danger of Banning Dancing

Still today, some religious cultures believe dancing is sinful and can lead to inappropriate, lustful behavior. Likewise, some relatively liberal cultures shun certain kinds of dancing they deem inappropriate, like lap dancing. The film Footloose eloquently portrays the dangers inherent in banning dance.

Kevin Bacon in a still from the film.
Source: YouTube

In the film, the townsfolk become progressively more extreme in their convictions against dancing and at one point even begin burning library books, claiming that the books are influencing the teens to dance. Burning books is essentially un-American, as it breaks the First Amendment and contradicts the values of liberty and freedom the country was founded upon.

A Time to Dance

In the end, the Oklahoman town of Elmore City and the imaginary town of Bomont both decided that there is a time for everything−even, or especially, for dance. Kevin Bacon told the director Herbert Ross, “I gotta dance; I wanna get footloose,” thus inspiring the film’s title.

Kevin Bacon dances in a still from the film.
Source: YouTube

The story of Footloose will continue to inspire generations to come to uphold the first amendment, think for themselves, and kick off their Sunday shoes and cut loose. There is no better way to lose the blues than by dancing, which stimulates dopamine and makes people happy.

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