Disney World goes feet first into new dance parties

'Lion King' character Timon dances with Animal Kingdom guests during the Hakuna Matata Dance Time Party. This event alternates a DJ with live musicians.

Packing a pair of dancing shoes isn’t a crazy thought these days at Walt Disney World. The resort features a growing number of dance-party offerings, including the new Hakuna Matata Dance Time Party at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park and the Disney Junior Dance Party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

There’s a certain sameness to these events: recorded pop music meets line dancing, fronted by a hyped DJ, flanked by familiar Disney characters. It could be mistaken for an extremely casual wedding reception if it weren’t for the furries.

But if you take in a Disney dance party, you’ll see wide smiles on the faces of families participating together. They look like escapees from a taping of a Disney “If you haven’t been, it’s new to you” commercial.

The Hakuna Matata Dance Time Party, which debuted in mid-January, has unusual traits, including a live band with vocalists on scene. When the group is on stage, there’s a “Lion King” slant to the playlist, although the arrangements sport an islands vibe. Somehow it works out with mellow-yet-moving versions of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” and others from the film. (Disney is marking the 25th anniversary of the film this year.)

Disney’s Animal Kingdom visitors line up for the ‘Cuban Shuffle’ dance. (Dewayne Bevil / Orlando Sentinel;)

“Lion King” characters Timon and Rafiki mingle and boogie with park guests. They are joined by other Disney-flick wildlife such as Baloo (“The Jungle Book”) and Terk (“Tarzan”), a surprisingly swivel-hipped performer.

Between band sets, a DJ keeps momentum going. One long segment last week was essentially a sampler of dance trends and moves through the years. We’re looking at bits of everything from swing to floss with stops for “Greased Lightning,” BeeGees and “Macarena”-ing. I may not be able to forget Timon channeling his inner Beyonce for “Single Ladies.”

The Hakuna Matata Dance Time Party takes place at Discovery Island Stage, across from the Flame Tree Barbecue place. It’s pretty much constant from late morning to late afternoon.

The scene is different over at Hollywood Studios’ Disney Junior Dance Party. It is more regimented, with start times and FastPasses available. And it’s indoors, an advantage for rainy and/or stifling-hot days.

Inside, kids sit with their grown-ups on the floor before an elevated stage. Segments hosted by two youthful performers (identified as DJ Deejay and Finn Fiesta) set up live appearances by Disney Junior TV characters such as Doc McStuffins and Vampirina, who are magically summoned off a big screen by a twirling motion and incantation of sorts by participants.

This is aimed at the youngest of Disney fans. A clue is that the attraction is “presented by Pull-Ups.”

The party’s lights and visuals are entertaining, and kids love when stuff – bubbles, streamers and so forth – falls from the ceiling. They also like to see themselves on the big screens when the hosts bring a camera into the crowd.

The biggest crowd reaction during the catchy “Zuka Zama Zum Zum” song tied to Timon and “The Lion Guard.” In my experience, there are fewer adults dancing at the Disney Junior party. Fewer kids are moving too. Seems like there are more youngsters clinging to their parents here, but that could be an age thing or the show’s focused format.

On the other hand, there are enthusiastic kids who won’t stop moving during this show. Somebody needed a nap afterward: Me.

Disney Junior Dance Party is held in the park’s Animation Courtyard about 10 times a day.

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