the dropout

Did Elizabeth Holmes Really Dance Like That?

Photo: Hulu

I already had a million questions about Elizabeth Holmes, but The Dropout, Hulu’s retelling of the Silicon Valley scammer’s rise and fall, has only left me with more. Such as: Are Walgreens execs really this clueless? Why haven’t I listened to Passion Pit recently? And, most pressingly: Did Elizabeth Holmes really dance like that?

 If The Dropout is to be believed, Holmes (played by Amanda Seyfried) really loves to dance. In the show, she dances in her childhood bedroom, doing some sort of sweaty worship choreography in front of a Steve Jobs poster; she shimmies around the early Theranos office wired into a first-generation iPod; she vigorously flails her arms while wearing a creepy mask of her own face.

But there’s one scene that really haunts me: Holmes attempting to woo her boyfriend and business partner Sunny Balwani by dancing to Lil Wayne’s “How to Love.”

Let me try to describe it. Holmes, eager to make amends after pulling rank on Sunny during a workplace argument about how her technology doesn’t work, puts on this 2011 ballad and sashays into his adjacent office, lowering the blinds for privacy. Then comes a succession of confusing movements that I can only describe as dance moves from another universe. With what she clearly intends to be a seductive smile, she mimes what looks like a robot losing its balance; next comes a little jump with one knee lifted, followed by some sort of rhythmic shrugging.

Maybe you should just watch it yourself:

Has a dance scene ever been so unsettling? Was Elizabeth Holmes really like this?! Believe it or not, there is some evidence suggesting the real-life Holmes’s dancing was also quite strange. In an infamous clip from HBO’s documentary The Inventor, she struts into the Theranos HQ on the heels of a big FDA approval to the tune of MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This,” bopping around awkwardly in her black puffer vest.

In the podcast that inspired the show, Ana Arriola, the product designer Holmes poached from Apple to help design her machines, recalled witnessing Holmes’s dance moves. “Often I’d come into work really early,” they said. “We sometimes would pull up in the parking lot together. She was rocking and slamming her head to hip-hop music, just fully rocking out. I was like, Huh. I don’t think I was meant to see that.”

I don’t think I was meant to see that is exactly how I feel anytime Seyfried channels Holmes’s chaotic dancing. Show creator Liz Merriweather says The Dropout’s dance scenes were inspired by the image of the real-life Holmes headbanging in her car, which prompted her to imagine “what Elizabeth Holmes is like when nobody’s watching her.” Seyfried executes it brilliantly: The scenes, which she has said were unchoreographed, feel like tiny, spastic character studies. Holmes is known for her profoundly surreal attributes: the voice, the blinking, the misplaced intensity. Even in her most private moments on the show, she moves like she’s trying unsuccessfully to mimic human behavior. The movements themselves look wildly unnatural, but you get the feeling that somehow, this is Holmes at her most authentic.

Merriweather, who pointed out that the real Holmes went to Burning Man in the final days of Theranos’s collapse, theorizes that Holmes turned to dancing to process her emotions. And it does feel like, in these moments, the fictional Holmes is able to briefly ignore the rapidly deteriorating house of cards she’s trapped herself in. It might actually be the most relatable thing about her. At the end of the day, aren’t we all Elizabeth Holmes, dancing like an absolute freak while the world burns around us?

Did Elizabeth Holmes Really Dance Like That?