Fantastic movie dance scenes
August 13, 2016 9:27 AM   Subscribe

What are your favourite dance scenes from the movies? Stuff that makes your jaw drop when you see it, because of the skill, technical excellence or the cleverness of the choreography. Scenes that give you renewed joy every time you watch them.

I'm looking for either dance scenes from non-musicals, or single scenes from musicals. Obvious ones are the Singin' in the Rain scene, for the skill and choroeography, or Solid Potato Salad. If it's Bollywood, what's a particularly extraordinary one?

Other examples like 500 Days of Summer, or the Jack Rabbit Slim scene from Pulp Fiction, are great because they're completely incongruous in the movie. The Magic Mike XXL scene in the shop isn't technical but it does spark joy.

Bonus point if you can say what makes it a great dance scene, or put it in historical perspective with precursors of successors. Triple-bonus points if you can call out any of the individual dance moves by name (I can spot the Twist and Batusi in Pulp Fiction) or point to any tutorials to learn them.
posted by nevan to Media & Arts (54 answers total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
Napolean Dynamite's dance scene.
The last dance in Dirty Dancing
posted by Sassyfras at 9:45 AM on August 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've always loved this dance scene from Psycho Beach Party. It's not jaw-dropping but it's joyful in spades and fun as hell, and tells a little story of a turf war.
posted by ejs at 9:55 AM on August 13, 2016

I like this scene from A Knight's Tale. It morphs from structured, medieval dancing into disco dancing to Bowie's Golden Years.
posted by bluloo at 10:11 AM on August 13, 2016 [8 favorites]

These are three of my very favorite dance scenes, each of which fills me with delight every time I see it:

Cheek to Cheek (Top Hat) Astaire has been trying to woo the (skeptical) Rogers, and this is the dance where he talks her into giving it a shot. It gives me chills every time. Oh, the restrained feeling! Oh, the floating feathers! Oh, the deep dip!

Pick Yourself Up (Swing Time) - Astaire has been pretending to be unable to dance in order to woo a dance teacher (Rogers). To save her job, he finally reveals what he can do. This number is just pure fun & joy & playful mastery.

Rich Man's Frug (Sweet Charity) - One my favorite single clips of Bob Fosse's choreography -- a total show-stopper, and rightly famous. Outrageously stylish and distinctively Fosse.
posted by ourobouros at 10:13 AM on August 13, 2016 [7 favorites]

I loved the musical number in The Coen Brothers' Hail Caesar!
posted by kitty teeth at 10:17 AM on August 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

From Stormy Weather, 1943. The Nicholas Brothers.

Warning: mindblowing.
posted by MrVisible at 10:34 AM on August 13, 2016 [11 favorites]

Hard-Knock Life - Annie (1982) - so many kids! so much stuff going on!

Easy Street - Annie (1982) - Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters, and Tim Curry being awesome

I liked the 2014 remake too, but the 1982 dance numbers can't be beat.
posted by candyland at 10:39 AM on August 13, 2016

Technical: Gene Kelly and a newspaper in Summer Stock. Amazing.

Joyful: A suddenly much thinner Judy Garland and a bunch of male accessories. Not much dancing by Judy. She actually "danced" more the first time she wore that outfit for a cut number from Easter Parade. Outtakes version!
posted by monopas at 11:33 AM on August 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

This is probably my favorite dance scene, Denis Lavant in Mauvais Sang, although it's not really joyous. I picked one with the setup intact, but if you just want to watch the very brief dancing part, it starts at about 2:30 in.

Here is Denis Lavant dancing again, this time with Juliette Binoche in Lovers on the Bridge.

Specific dance moves include smoking and punching yourself, and several variations on the drunken flail-running.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:37 AM on August 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Following up on what ourobouros posted, here's one more from Fred and Ginger. In this one, not only do we get Ginger in pants, but in a lot of ways, she's alternating between being the female dance partner and assuming the role of the male best friend who, in a lot of musicals, pairs off with the main male lead and does competition, I'll-best-you/I'll-challenge-you number. You may have to ignore the corny bantering at the start if that's not your style of movie dialogue.
posted by sardonyx at 11:52 AM on August 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

One of my favourite and super incongruous dance scenes that I've seen in a movie recently has to be this scene from Ex Machina
posted by twill at 11:54 AM on August 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

The prologue of West Side Story
posted by bluedora at 12:09 PM on August 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've always loved the "Try a Little Tenderness" scene in Pretty In Pink.
posted by cakelite at 12:33 PM on August 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

By far my favorite is the Lindy Hop in Hellzapoppin', but American In Paris is a beautiful classic, too.
posted by rhizome at 12:34 PM on August 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

This Tango scene in "Take the Lead"

One of the things that makes it great is he is trying to teach dance to poor inner city kids and he cannot get them enthused. They resent it and grumble. Back at his studio, one of his frustrated students who is learning to dance because of parental pressure tells him "I wouldn't mind dancing if I could dance like her. It is like sex on hard wood." Thus, the above scene, to sell these inner city kids on learning ballroom dancing.

Bonus points: based on/inspired by a true story.
Extra bonus points: Antonio Banderas!
posted by Michele in California at 1:14 PM on August 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Follow-up to Gene Kelly: Drunk GIs dance with garbage can lids on their feet in It's Always Fair Weather.

And on roller skates.

Also, you may enjoy the That's Entertainment! series of films that came out in the 70s—they're basically documentary/clip shows of golden age musicals. You'll see a lot of the biggies (like numbers from Singin' in the Rain) but you'll also see bits from movies you probably haven't seen unless you're an afficianado of these things. I saw That's Entertainment! as a kid of 10 or 11 and it blew my mind and turned me into a lifelong fan of musicals.
posted by not that girl at 1:32 PM on August 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Steam Heat from The Pajama Game featuring the great Carol Haney. My dad used to always sing that song when I was a kid and when I finally looked it up one day I was surprised how much I enjoyed the dancing.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 1:34 PM on August 13, 2016

Dhoom Taana from Om Shanti Om most definitely gives me renewed joy every time I watch it! The first time I reached the 3:05 mark I could barely contain my delight. I haven't seen the entire movie, but part of the movie is set in the 70s and they're clearly poking fun at movies of the era here.
posted by Rora at 1:48 PM on August 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am a total sucker for the layer of hip hop over ballet in the audition scene in Save the Last Dance.
posted by vers at 2:12 PM on August 13, 2016 [7 favorites]

Perhaps it's cheating, but the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene from the gala in Center Stage - danced by Ethan Stiefel and Julie Kent, both principals with American Ballet Theater at the time - is my favorite.
posted by ChuraChura at 2:32 PM on August 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Fred Astaire was such a good dancer he could make any partner look good. (Which is why I'm not very impressed with Ginger Rogers.)

As proof of that, Astaire made a coat rack look good in this scene.

But George Burns and Gracie Allen didn't need his help to look good dancing with him.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:38 PM on August 13, 2016

Christopher Walken's tap dance strip tease from Pennies from Heaven (slightly NSFW).
posted by octothorpe at 2:39 PM on August 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

If it's spectacular expertise you want, the best is Barishnikov & Hines in White Nights

A totally neglected movie is Tap with Hines etc. Here's a fabulous clip from the movie showing how the rhythm of the street is danceable Street Tap
posted by MovableBookLady at 3:02 PM on August 13, 2016 [8 favorites]

The contrast between Marilyn Monroe as Lorelai Lee doing "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" and Jane Russell pretending to be Lorelai Lee doing the same song but being utterly Jane Russell throughout never fails to tickle me.
posted by padraigin at 3:50 PM on August 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

So much from All That Jazz, which is on the AFI 100 List. Just incredible choreography mirrored with cinemetography.

Opening Sequence
Take Off With Us
Bye Bye Life

And more Fosse
Mein Herr
I think one of the most incredibly shot dance sequences in part because Fosse is happy to cut off parts of the dancers' bodies in the frame and the angle of the camera puts you right in the audience of the "cabaret"
posted by brookeb at 4:25 PM on August 13, 2016 [8 favorites]

The dancing is really the best part of Saturday Night Fever. John Travolta apparently had them re-cut his solo dance scene because the original cut had mostly close-ups, and he wanted to show off his moves and hard-earned muscles. Also, since he's freestyling, you can't really tell that the moves don't match the beats (they got the song licensing secured after the film was shot). There's also the line dance scene, which is great (and the timing is a little better). The dance itself was created for the movie, but it's similar to other line dances of the era, such as the Electric Slide and the Bus Stop.
posted by radioamy at 4:27 PM on August 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

The penguin tap dance from Mary Poppins is so charming. Dick Van Dyke at his best.
posted by radioamy at 4:40 PM on August 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

The opening scene from West Side Story is also well known and regarded for having been shot on location on the west side of NYC and the city provides an amazing backdrop.

And while it's not a movie, do watch this clip from Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk from the Tony Awards
posted by brookeb at 5:01 PM on August 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Speaking of tango, this segment of Sally Potter's The Tango Lesson is wonderful in many ways. Wikipedia and Roger Ebert for details on the film.
posted by vers at 5:13 PM on August 13, 2016

Several good ones in Hairspray, but I especially like Run and Tell That.
posted by candyland at 5:16 PM on August 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding "West Side Story", plus "Make ‘em Laugh" from "Singin' in the Rain".
posted by Rash at 5:25 PM on August 13, 2016

The dance festival ending of Takeshi Kitano's "Zatoichi" is a Japanese take on big, flashy, choreographed tap numbers. And it's awesome!
posted by Tuba Toothpaste at 5:42 PM on August 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Meringue scene from My Blue Heaven always fills me with happy.

Also, Radha on the Dance Floor, since Bollywood is on the floor, so to speak.
posted by JohnFromGR at 5:47 PM on August 13, 2016

I am honestly shocked the thread has this many answers and no one has mentioned the barn raising from Seven Brides For Seven Brothers

Less shocked, but happy to be first to mention the learning to dance sequence from Footloose, though it's more fun than amazingly choreographed.
posted by Mchelly at 6:13 PM on August 13, 2016 [7 favorites]

You mention Magic Mike and I gotta say, what about Tatum's breakthrough role in Step it Up? It even recreates the lift and they actually got married, which is like a real life Dirty Dancing story!
I want to second twill's suggestion of Ex Machina. That dance scene is so brief, but surprising and compelling and Oscar Isaac has cool moves - that scene could have been much longer!
The most incongruous dance sequence I can think of is Amy Schumer at the end of Train Wreck. It's a nod to random dance scenes in rom coms, and I thought she nailed her part.
As I was typing that, I remembered the Thriller re-enactment in "Thirteen Going on Thirty," which is a great dance scene and probably an example of the type of Rom com dance Schumer was poking fun at.
posted by areaperson at 7:42 PM on August 13, 2016

My two-year-old who loves watching clips from dance movies on YouTube thanks you all for your contributions to this thread!

"Abraham" from "White Christmas"
"You Can't Stop the Beat" from "Hairspray"
"Fascinatin' Rhythm" from "Lady Be Good"

Also, if you can find it, "That's Dancing," which is just like the "That's Entertainment" movies above but with a dance focus.
posted by timestep at 8:05 PM on August 13, 2016

If you like the building musical number in 500 Days, you'll probably also like That's How You Know from Enchanted, which is a gem of a sweet-hearted Disney parody. Done by Disney. ;)
posted by clerestory at 8:10 PM on August 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Another tango, this from Tango Bar (a not very good but still interesting film), with Raúl Juliá and Valeria Lynch. Not flashy, but the footwork is beautiful and the camera spends good time there.
posted by rtha at 8:25 PM on August 13, 2016

I'm also a crazy huge fan of the interpretative / ballet dance sequence in Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion
posted by Mchelly at 8:43 PM on August 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I could take or leave Little Miss Sunshine as a film, but that dance scene is a killer.
posted by she's not there at 8:52 PM on August 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also on the lighter side is the "Age of Aquarius" number at the end of 40 Year Old Virgin.
posted by rhizome at 9:39 PM on August 13, 2016

Natasha and Andrei's waltz in Bondarchuk's War and Peace.
posted by stargell at 9:41 PM on August 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


"He who walks in the shadow of love will have paradise beneath his feet" (even better on a train rolling along through some Indian countryside)
posted by Mister Bijou at 1:20 AM on August 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

YES to Mauvais Sang's Modern Love and Hairspray's Can't Stop the Beat.

Highbrow-Brilliant: Il Sacre de Printemps in Pina (are dance docus cheating?)
Lowbrow-Despicable: when Hugh Grant dances to Jump in Love Actually
Lowbrow-Brilliant: the dance scene from the Breakfast Club
posted by athirstforsalt at 7:14 AM on August 14, 2016

The dancing isn't spectacular in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's Settle for Me number, but as an homage to classic muscials with the show's typical edge, it's perfectly brilliant.
posted by sardonyx at 8:31 AM on August 14, 2016

You should search on You Tube for the Nicholas Brothers.
posted by Rash at 9:23 AM on August 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

(1) Fred Astaire dancing on the walls and the ceiling in 'Royal Wedding' (1951)

This was a major technological accomplishment (done via a rotating room), but it also is one of the best representatives of Astaire's style. He does relatively simple but beautifully clean moves with elegant percussiveness and unique fluidity -- managing also to convey a huge and lovely emotion at the same time.

(2) A member of the Joffrey Ballet performing 'The World Spins' in 'The Company' (2003) (NB: audio very quiet on the yt link)

Heart-stopping choreography, beautifully danced, and filmed by one of the best directors of our time (Robert Altman). The shots that frame the dancer's feet are my favorite - such lightness, beauty and expression.

(3) Rain dance from Step Up 2 (2008)

Not a huge fan of the direction here - it's kinda chaotic and there are too many reaction shots that obscure the choreography. But the choreography itself is stunning - some top-notch partnering and very innovative moves. This was a mainstream 'breakthrough' moment for hip-hop.
posted by deeparch at 11:18 AM on August 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Seeing this thread again, it occurs to me that I missed something really important. I missed telling you that Alice Guy (Blache) probably invented film musicals. She also probably made the first narrative film. Georges Melies is normally given credit for that, and Alice Guy has been called the "first female director," but it's pretty likely she actually beat him to it. And she did it on her lunch hour when she was working as a secretary for the Lumiere Brothers. She invented so many things it's kind of mind blowing.

And she's very relevant to your question, because she made a lot of music and dance videos.

Pierret's Escapades
, from 1900. She hand tinted that, but the music was added recently.

And this is a personal favorite, Le piano irresistible, from I think 1906. Obviously, it probably would have shown with different music, due to the unfortunate dearth of Ray Charles in 1906. But it fits perfectly. (There are also silent versions on YouTube, but I like this one best.)

There is a ton more on YouTube since people have been working on finding and restoring some of her lost work. Search on Alice Guy (Blache) and add dance or music to your search terms.
posted by ernielundquist at 3:07 PM on August 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ha ha, I am back to say some more stuff about historical significance.

This seems really obvious now, but when film was new, people really didn't have the sort of language to convey things like scene switching and movement within the story. So if you cut to a new location, it was just a lot more discombobulating. People would lose the narrative and not really be able to fill in things like how different locations related to each other or what the flow of the movement was from one location to the next without some sort of explicit explanation that someone went up the stairs or out the window and things like that.

So watch Le piano irresistible with that in mind. Watch how, in each scene, the people hearing the music point and gesture in the direction the music is coming from, then exit that room and are seen either entering or already in the room with the pianist, having followed the music.

Again, I know it seems really obvious, but this sort of visual vocabulary didn't come naturally to early filmmakers or audiences. That sort of user friendly, easily translated visual language was a significant innovation.
posted by ernielundquist at 3:33 PM on August 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by alms at 6:44 PM on August 14, 2016

Thirding the force of nature that is Denis Lavant, and adding to the above his closing scene/credits in Beau Travail. Visceral, rooted in character, utterly without vanity and with total commitment. He has a background in circus skills and physical theatre, and it shows.

And seconding Channing Tatum in Step Up 2, particularly the battle scene. Briana Evigan is great too but the last bit after he comes off the DJ podium is so incredibly fluid I don't quite believe it's not CGI, and much more... impressive than anything he's done with his kit off.

Also seconding the West Side Story prologue, as being the thing that first made me realise how choreography can express character, narrative etc.
posted by runincircles at 2:56 AM on August 15, 2016

One of my all-time favorites: CHALLENGE!
And, I'm totally bookmarking this thread.
posted by hessie at 6:55 AM on August 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Not strictly dance, but the Clovers' final number in Bring it On is pure, propulsive, athletic joy.

I also have a soft spot for the dance numbers from Newsies.
posted by lunasol at 12:22 AM on August 17, 2016

Unless it's the plot aspect that adds to the Bring It On scene, there's a whole rabbit-hole waiting for you.
posted by rhizome at 12:49 AM on August 17, 2016

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