Quantum Leap – Private Dancer [3.14]

Sam leaps into Rod “the Bod” McCarty, a Chippendales dancer who becomes connected to a deaf waitress and dancing hopeful named Diana. Diana is fated to get into prostitution and die of AIDS. Al believes Sam’s job is to get her to return home to Wyoming, but Sam is convinced he is there to help her become a successful dancer in spite of her disability. In the end, Sam is able to help Diana get hired as part of a dance company.

Written by Paul Brown. Directed by Debbie Allen.

Previous Episode: Future Boy Next Episode: Piano Man

Private Dancer starts off with Sam at the end of a Chippendales dance routine, being swarmed by a throng of sex-crazed women. It’s the sort of funny “fish out of water” scenario that made the best of Sam’s leap-ins what they were, but of course it’s incredibly awkward. Fortunately, the story quickly moves on from there, and never really brings us back–instead moving into some pretty surprising territory. The main plot has to do with Diana, a beautiful and talented dancer who happens to be deaf. From there, the story plays like a strange blend of Children of a Lesser God and Flashdance, with a sprinkle of A Chorus Line tossed in.

Like many episodes of Quantum Leap, Private Dancer runs the risk of coming across a bit parochial…with Sam playing something of a savior (white, male, not disabled, etc) in Diana’s life. It’s a pitfall of the whole series, of course, when viewed it through modern eyes. But it’s not that Diana’s struggles are unrealistic–its just that it is not the modern sensibility to show someone like her so dependent on a character like Sam.

But what makes it all work is the earnestness of the performances. Scott Bakula is of course always reliable with the emotions and humanity of Sam’s experiences. And Debbie Allen helps to anchor things as well with her grounded performance as choreographer Joanna Chapman, a character who could have been a non-entity but was instead portrayed with a refreshing amount of sympathy.

But the story is really about Rhondee Beriault as Diana, and she gives it her all in the role. Beriault she has a natural believability which keeps things from just be over-sentimental. No doubt this is supported by the fact that she is deaf in real life, but it’s also nice that she’s a legitimately talented dancer. I’m not an aficionado of the art, but there is something genuinely lovely about the routine she dances at the end, and it’s nice that the episode spends the time on it that it does.

Cast Notes:
• Debbie Allen, who both plays Joanna Chapman and directed this episode, starred in the TV show Fame (and appeared in the movie it was based on), and was a dance consultant and choreographer for that show as well. She also choreographed this episode, and has directed lots of television episodes including one more Quantum Leap episode and some episodes of Fame.

• Heidi Swedberg (Valerie Nevsky) was in Galaxy Quest as Brandon’s mother. She also appeared in an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Profit and Loss).

• Marguerite Pomerhn Derricks (Female Dancer) was in lots of episodes of Fame as well, as a dancer. She’s also been a choreographer on lots of other projects, including Spider-Man 3–does that mean she choreographed Peter Parker’s embarrassing emo-dance?

• Henry Woronicz (Martin) appeared in episodes of Star Trek Next Generation (The Drumhead) and Voyager (Distant Origin and Living Witness)

• Charles Emmett (Officer Arden) also appeared in an episode of Star Trek Voyager (Warlord).

Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Sam is Rod “the Bod” McCarty, a male stripper, in New York City from October 6 – 9, 1979.

What does Sam have to do?
Sam has to help deaf waitress and dancer Diana Quinna to succeed as a dancer by getting her a successful audition with local choreographer Joanna Chapman (thus preventing her getting into prostitution and dying of AIDS).

What do we learn about Sam Beckett?
There’s not really anything new this time around.

What do we know about Al?
There’s nothing new about Al except for the reference to the girl he knew and liked at MIT (see The Many Loves of Al Calavicci below).

What about the experiment?
No knew information is given this time around.

“Driven by and unknown force…” (God or Time or Something)
No references this episode.

“Oh Boy”
The catchphrase is heard twice–both shortly after he Sam arrives at the start of the episode, and again at the end after he has leapt into the next next story.

Sam’s Complicated Love Life
Sam is swarmed by sex-crazed female fans as he leaps into Rod shortly after a dance routine, and he’s definitely kissed by someone. His relationship with Diana becomes very close but never becomes romantic.

The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
Al tells the story of a deaf girl he had a thing for while at MIT, but she actually did not sleep with him.

Other Observations
• This episode is really going for it in terms of issues that it is addressing: prostitution, deafness, AIDS…

• The boss says about using Diana as a stripper, “Hey, hirin’ her makes me an equal-opportunity employer.” I like Sam’s response, “It also makes you a pimp.”

• Diana’s monologue about being deaf and dancing and hearing music is a bit cornball, but she pulls it off: “When I look around, I see music everywhere.” But the exchange shortly after: “What if I’m not good enough?” / “What if you are?”–is not.

• Sam is quite a good dancer, unless he is picking up skills from having leapt into Rod. He is quite confident dancing both with Joanna and Diana.

• Diana’s audition is cringe-worthy because you know it’s going to go badly. But I think it’s a powerful moment when the sound briefly cuts out.

• Music from the a dance routine is used as the end theme

Sam Leaps To
Piano Man

Favorite Dialogue
I like the way Sam implores to Diana:

You said that your senses were sharper. That you see things others don’t. Well, I see things, too. And right now I can see that you’re at a turning point in your life. You can pick a road that goes up or a road that goes down.”

He always has to find some way to give people the benefit of his future knowledge.

Special thanks, by the way, to this site for the episode transcriptions.

The Best Moment
Right after Diana dances, just before Sam leaps. Sam and Diana communicating by sign language “Thank you,” to each other, and Sam and Al sign “Quantum Leap”.

Previous Episode: Future Boy Next Episode: Piano Man

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