Dance, dance, dance! Toni Basil has all the right moves
By Gabriel Falcon
February 9, 2020
Oh, Mickey, you’re so fine
You’re so fine, you blow my mind
Hey Mickey! Hey Mickey!
“Mickey” was the cheer that climbed the charts in 1982. As a singer, Toni Basil may be a one-hit-wonder. But as a choreographer, she’s anything but.
Consider the people the 76-year-old has worked with over a six-decade career: Bette Midler, David Bowie, Tina Turner, David Byrne.
Show business is definitely in Basil’s blood. Her mother was part of a family dance troupe that appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and her father was an orchestra leader. “I think it was assumed by my mother and father, I would stand on the side of that stage, and they would have me do my chaines – my turns – for every act that came in: ‘Have the little girl turn onto the stage,'” she said.
At 19, Basil was in Hollywood as an extra and dancer, and in her screen debut was arm-in-arm with Frank Sinatra. Next, a brief but memorable moment from “Viva Las Vegas,” with Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret, as “the girl with the red dress on.” She was also the assistant choreographer for the film.
“We knew how he moved,” Basil said of Presley. “Ann was spectacular, also. But there was nothing like when you brought the two of them together.”
“Magic?” asked correspondent Kristine Johnson.
“Were there sparks?”
“Whoa, oh my God!” she laughed.
In 1964, she was also the assistant choreographer on “The TAMI Show,” a concert film featuring The Rolling Stones, the Supremes, and the godfather of soul, James Brown, whose moves electrified her.
Johnson asked, “What was it with James Brown, what did he have?”
“No one ever took their eyes off of him,” Basil said. “There was something in this surprise. And he organically would choreograph the band and the chart live as it was going on. This is what an audience feels.”
Basil has also been in some big films – “Easy Rider,” with Peter Fonda, and “Five Easy Pieces” with Jack Nicholson.
And her film credits don’t end there. You may be surprised to know Basil was the choreographer for “American Graffiti,” “Peggy Sue Got Married,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” and “Legally Blonde.”
And most recently, director Quentin Tarantino hired her to choreograph his Oscar-nominated film “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,” where she taught Leonardo DiCaprio the ’60s dance known as the Pony.
But it wasn’t the Pony that put Toni Basil on the map. It was “Mickey.”
Basil showed Johnson the sweater she wore in the music video: “They didn’t put anything in the budget,” she laughed. “I did everything myself. And this is the actual cheer sweater from Las Vegas High.”
She put Johnson, a former high school dancer member, through the paces of “Mickey”:
Looking back on her career, Basil said, “I actually go, ‘Wow! How lucky can a girl get?'”
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