Watch Prince Bust Some Eye-Popping Moves in Rehearsal Footage from 1984

Dance was as much a baked-in part of Prince’s allure, as his sug­ges­tive lyrics and mas­tery of mul­ti­ple instru­ments.

The pub­lic got its first taste of his affin­i­ty for the form at a John Hay ele­men­tary school tal­ent show to which he con­tributed a tap rou­tine, and again at a James Brown con­cert at the Min­neapo­lis Armory, when the 10-year-old  briefly hopped onstage to mash pota­to, an inci­dent he recalled in a 1985 inter­view with MTV.

He received for­mal train­ing at the Min­neso­ta Dance The­atre, as a teenaged par­tic­i­pant in the city’s Urban Arts Pro­gram, and rehearsed obses­sive­ly.

Chore­o­g­ra­ph­er Cat Glover, a fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tor, told Mpls. St. Paul Mag­a­zine:

He would push him­self to the lim­it all the time. He made it look easy, but every­thing that looked easy was three months’ rehearsal. It was nev­er easy.

The above rehearsal footage from the sum­mer of 1984 doesn’t show the sweat, but the chore­og­ra­phy is obvi­ous­ly demand­ing. Prince leaps, squats, pirou­ettes, throws him­self into James Brown splits, and exe­cutes a flur­ry of pre­ci­sion dance moves —  in wicked high heeled boots.

“He ruined his hips on those damn high heels he used to wear” accord­ing to Min­neapo­lis-area chore­o­g­ra­ph­er, John Com­mand, who worked with Prince and the cast of Pur­ple Rain, for near­ly a year before shoot­ing began:

We would do Broad­way stuff, Bob Fos­se, Jer­ry Rob­bins who did West Side Sto­ry. A lot of that is very dif­fi­cult stuff and he loved it.

Glover recalled how Prince would vis­it dance clubs to check par­ty­go­ers’ response to his music:

For one of his songs to get record­ed it had to come with every­thing. If your feet aren’t tap­ping, if your feet aren’t bop­ping, it’s not good enough. If you can’t dance with music then it’s no good.

In 1989, when he opened his Glam Slam night­club, he insist­ed on a res­i­dent dance troupe, and made them a pri­or­i­ty. Its chore­o­g­ra­ph­er, Kat Car­roll remem­bered how dancers were held to the same exact­ing stan­dards Prince set for him­self:

We worked very hard, and he treat­ed us very well and he paid us very well. But he also expect­ed us to be on top of things, just like his musi­cians. We worked long hours, many times dur­ing the week.

Prince kept up with the pro­fes­sion­al dance world, offer­ing to write a piece for Chicago’s Jof­frey Bal­let, and waiv­ing his roy­al­ties when they per­formed to it, a move that lift­ed the com­pa­ny from finan­cial dis­as­ter in the 90s and increased their audi­ence base.

He recruit­ed bal­le­ri­na Misty Copeland to tour with him begin­ning in 2009, six years before she made his­to­ry as the first Black prin­ci­pal dancer in the Amer­i­can Bal­let The­ater, anoth­er com­pa­ny to which he donat­ed gen­er­ous­ly.

He was a fan of avant-garde chore­o­g­ra­ph­er Moses Pendle­ton, founder of MOMIX and co-founder of Pilobo­lus Dance The­ater, but also the dance stylings of Paul “Pee-wee Her­man” Reubens.

As Copeland rem­i­nisced to GQ  short­ly after Prince’s death:

There was one Pee-wee Her­man movie that he was obsessed with. It was sil­ly, like him, and fun­ny, and quirky—watching Pee-wee Her­man dance he just thought was the fun­ni­est thing.


For those won­der­ing about the sound­track to the rehearsal footage at the top of the page, it’s Prince’s orig­i­nal stu­dio ver­sion of “Noth­ing Com­pares 2 U” record­ed in that same room, that same sum­mer. Six years lat­er, Sinead O’Connor’s cov­er became a glob­al hit.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Hear a 19-Year-Old Prince Crush­ing It on Every Instru­ment in an Ear­ly Jam Ses­sion (1977)

Prince’s First Tele­vi­sion Inter­view (1985)

Watch Prince Play Jazz Piano & Coach His Band Through George Gershwin’s “Sum­mer­time” in a Can­did, Behind-the-Scenes Moment (1990)

Read Prince’s First Inter­view, Print­ed in His High School News­pa­per (1976)

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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  • Valerie says:

    Can’t watch! Remem­ber this artist we Loved end­ed up liv­ing in total pain because of his enter­tain­ing us this way, and noth­ing could take away the pain and he’s dead. Let Prince, the man rest in Peace💫

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