Genres Collide at the Clone Dance Party

Curator's Note

One of the most popular Orphan Black scenes is the “clone dance party” from the season two finale, perhaps because it provides a rare moment of celebration and unity for the four main clones and their ally, Felix. It showcases both Tatiana Maslany's performances and the technical work of the production team (who join the party at the end of this “making-of” clip). The dance party has captured the imagination of fans who have hosted live cosplay dances at cons and posted numerous video recreations, featuring everything from live dancers to Lego figurines to a puppy.

The show has been praised for creating characters who are simultaneously clones and highly differentiated individuals. While much of this can be attributed to Maslany and the special effects, the show's structure also helps to emphasize the differences among the clones, as each seems to represent a different genre.

Although clearly an “ensemble” piece, the narrative center is Sarah Manning, who inhabits an action thriller filled with drug deals, a radical underground movement, and stolen identities. Sarah pretends to be Beth Childs, who represents the police procedural. Allison's cheery, suburban ruthlessness places her in a dark comedy. Helena, who goes from being caged like an animal to striding around in a bloody wedding dress, gives us Gothic horror. While not present at the party, Rachel and the threat she represents cast a shadow over everyone. At first, Rachel seems to share the thriller genre with Sarah, providing an elegant, wealthy Bond villain to challenge Sarah's grittier, Bourne-like hero. However, on closer examination, Rachel's story arc is one of abandonment, longing, and, perhaps, madness—she is melodrama. Also missing is trans clone Tony, a sympathetic, working-class anti-hero of the modern heist genre.

Cosima is key because she represents science fiction with a twist on the Frankenstein myth—now the monster has her own lab. As an artsy lesbian entangled in a complicated affair, she also suggests indie dramedy. More than Sarah, Cosima is responsible for holding disparate elements together: heart and head, good guys and bad guys, and the “two cultures” of art and science. The dance begins with her.

Much of Orphan Black's appeal is in how boundaries are challenged. The dance party is especially popular because it toys with this in a fun way, bringing several characters and storylines together for one cross-genre mashup.


Great piece! I'm glad to see others thinking and writing about Orphan Black's rootedness in Shelly's Frankenstein. I've often thought it odd that the show so heavily references The Island of Dr. Moreau instead of Frankenstein, which seems more in keeping with the show's feminist meditations on gendered embodiment. Your points have me thinking about how OB's assemblage of genre mimics the body of the Frankensteinian "monster," made of disparate parts sewn together. The show itself also has this monstrous structure, which does indeed hinge on Cosima as the "monster" turned scientist-creator. The other text I work with that has this "queer" structure of the monster seizing medical authority and scientific power is Rocky Horror Picture Show--also a pastiche and also heavily influenced by the Gothic. So, what do you make of Tony being missing in the clone dance party scene? Does this have more to do with genre, or with gender?

Thanks, I'm enjoying keeping an eye on the annotated copy of The Island of Doctor Moreau that is waiting “on the mantelpiece,” but I do find myself thinking more about Frankenstein, especially regarding the development of Cosima as both scientist and tragic monster. And yes: A patched-together Frankenstein of genre is a great descriptor for the show overall! When this episode first aired, I fully expected Tony to show up and I was quite disappointed that he didn't join the rest of the clones for the dance. However, the expansive interpretation in your wonderful post on “Orphan Black's Transgender Genealogy” helps by showing that a genderqueer reading of the clones does not depend on Tony's presence in a particular scene. I don't think his absence has to do with genre, as Tony does contribute something new to the genre assemblage. I can't think of a reason for Tony's exclusion that doesn't sound like an excuse to me, but given those two choices I would say gender, not genre.

Great post! I'm glad that you wrote here about the dance scene. It's such a key moment in the series. I like it so much because it seems to be a moment in which the creators and Maslany are putting all of their cards on the table. It seems like they're saying, "okay, here's what we're doing, we want to officially invite viewers into the fun and the joke of the show." It's so fantastic because the scene seems to do two things at once. It seems to prompt immersion, to encourage us to experience the fun and lightness of the scene and appreciate the love and bond between the characters. On the other hand, it's very existence asks us to think about the scene more critically with distance and ask how it was created. By putting all four clones together in one scene, it also explicitly calls attention to some of the things that fans love so much--the genre mash up, Maslany's acting styles, and the way both of these are embodied within and across the clones.

There's so much to unpack in the dance scene, but I've never actually considered it through genre collision! It's a wonderful idea. I'm particularly interested in how there might be a broader genre collision at work here - the genre of the 'dance film', or 'dance scene', itself. Dance is something that encompasses a huge range of genres, often within a single performance. It's also something that can incorporate a variety of individual styles into a unified whole. Consequently, it's perfect for Staci's great point about the way the scene calls attention to all of the best attributes of the series. In this sense, I can't help but think that the genre mash-up wouldn't have worked so well if it didn't occur across the medium of dance.

Thanks for these insights! I also think that part of the appeal of this scene (as it was aired in the show itself) is the fact that it strikes a good balance between promoting emotional engagement with the characters and “showing off” the technical aspects of the show. Even this making-of clip, which emphasizes the production angle, also keeps the characters front-and-center. Although this a behind-the-scenes video, we do not see Maslany out of character. The backstage elements emphasized are about blocking and compositing, not her work as an actor. Perhaps the choice of dance is effective because it gives us a chance to see each character relaxing—another “backstage” view, but one within the narrative.

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