Twenty years ago, Seinfeld’s Elaine Benes danced like no one was watching. Except millions were watching as she displayed her unique moves in the episode named after her singular style, “The Little Kicks,” which debuted on Oct. 10, 1996. In this excerpt from Jennifer Keishin Armstrong’s bestseller Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything, we learn for the first time the famous, real-life inspiration for those moves.
Because of Seinfeld’s preoccupation with real-life inspiration, New York stories were at a premium in the writers’ offices, and Spike Feresten showed up with a suitcase full of them.
He came to the show after five years on staff for David Letterman’s late-night shows — first at NBC, then CBS. But he’d started his career in the office at Saturday Night Live. He had countless stories from two of New York’s TV institutions and the Midtown neighborhood where both were based.
Among the ideas he pitched in his first season was one based on his time as a receptionist at Saturday Night Live. During his first year in show business, the legendary SNL creator Lorne Michaels was his boss. Feresten had idolized Michaels, and now he found himself down the hall from the man. Michaels needed only glance in Feresten’s direction, and Feresten would flush.
Feresten found that aside from answering the main phone line in the office, another of his duties was to man the door at the Saturday Night Live afterparties. As he stood at the door late one Saturday, he spotted his boss dancing. What he saw, as he later told me, was Lorne Michaels dancing as if he’d never seen another human dance before. The man heaved and gyrated to a rhythm only he could feel. As Feresten recalls it, Michaels may have even been dancing with Sinéad O’Connor that night — if so, this would have likely been her first appearance on the show, in 1990, not her controversial 1992 performance in which she ripped up a picture of the pope on live television.
At that moment, Feresten realized Michaels was just another nerdy guy. It endeared Feresten’s idol to him and allowed him to look his boss in the eye with confidence.
In Feresten’s eighth-season Seinfeld episode “The Little Kicks,” the dance has more disastrous effects for Elaine: Her staff at J. Peterman, after seeing her dance the same way, loses respect for her. When Jerry and Kramer tell her she “stinks” at dancing, she videotapes herself to see — and wrecks the bootlegged movie Jerry was working on. Feresten even got to give Louis-Dreyfus a little dance lesson during production, schooling her in the singular Michaels method.
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