Any smart dance movies out there?
October 13, 2006 5:55 PM   Subscribe

Looking for smart narrative dance movies in the vein of "Billy Elliot" or "Swing Kids." Those are the only ones I can think of-- please help!

Help me find an intelligent movie that follows a main character undergoing a personal transformation (due to dance,) but which also manages to be more than the standard "Save the Last Dance" or "Flashdance" type formulaic chick flick. (I've seen Altman's "The Company" and it's not what I'm looking for.)

I'm looking for something with a point beyond "let Dance bring out your true self" or some such banality.

I guess the fluffy "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights" semi-attempted to intertwine a political upheaval element to their otherwise formulaic "uptight-girl learns to loosen up with the help of a rebellious latin dancer" shtick, but I am looking for a film a few clicks beyond that. Not just entertaining but maybe something that inspires conversation. Controversial is good. Anything gritty is good.

Bonus points for narrative dance movies which are elevated by having some sort of socio-political commentary or intelligent discussion of sexual politics, and are directed in an original and edgy way.

Your suggestions would be much appreciated!
posted by np312 to Media & Arts (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Coincidentally, i just saw a movie today that is half in russian and half in hebrew, along the lines of what you're talking about: a young boy living in israel, son of a native israeli and a russian immigrant, is attracted to dancing. various racial and gender issues are raised. It's called סיפור חצי רוסי, which translates into "A Half-Russian Story". Playing the boy's father is famous israeli actor Avi Kushnir.
attaining a copy of it might be difficult, even through illegal downloading. but if you're into controversial dance movies, i definately recommend it if you've got the chance to see it.
posted by alon at 6:02 PM on October 13, 2006

PS: it may be a slightly superficially, jeniffer lopez-starring movie, but Shall We Dance is pretty cute, and the lead character, played by hollywood's charming richard gere, undergoes a personal transformation during the film.
posted by alon at 6:05 PM on October 13, 2006

Is Saturday Night Fever along the lines of what you're looking for? (Plot, with mild spoilers.)
posted by donpedro at 6:08 PM on October 13, 2006

WOW and sorry for the multiple posts, but I just remembered an outstanding documentary, Mad Hot Ballroom, about a program where instructors came to various New York elementary schools and taught children to dance. They worked towards the goal of winning the final inter-school competition, but the true story here is about these underpriveledged kids from various racial stereotypes whose attitudes and behaviours really change because of this program, and the dancing.
it's a definite must-see!
posted by alon at 6:08 PM on October 13, 2006

strictly ballroom?
posted by TonyRobots at 6:10 PM on October 13, 2006

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? isn't exactly what you would call uplifting, but the main characters' lives are definitely changed by dance, although they aren't professional dancers...they're contestants in a dance marathon during the depression.
posted by iconomy at 6:17 PM on October 13, 2006

That Mad Hot Ballroom doc that alona suggests is excellent. And I also second strictly ballroom.

And I'll throw in The Tango Lesson. The Japanese version of Shall We Dance? is pretty sweet also.
posted by dog food sugar at 6:21 PM on October 13, 2006

AKK! Please pardon that Tango Lesson link above!!! It's totally the wrong link! I'm so sorry.

here's the right one: Tango Lesson.

Good grief I'm so sorry. You can tell I was reading the blue earlier today.
posted by dog food sugar at 6:23 PM on October 13, 2006

I haven't seen White Nights in years, but perhaps it fits your bill?
posted by sueinnyc at 6:26 PM on October 13, 2006

this is that Half Russian Story i was talking about (Sipur Hatzi-Russi)
posted by alon at 6:28 PM on October 13, 2006

I second the Japanese version of Shall We Dance?, it is quite fun and is an interesting window on Japanese culture. The main character's relationship with his wife is especially well-written.
posted by vorfeed at 6:42 PM on October 13, 2006

I've never seen the American Shall We Dance? remake, but the Japanese original is one of my favorite movies. Maybe it doesn't have a deeper meaning than the aforementioned self-discovery, but it's still a sweet and romantic film. Very funny, too.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:49 PM on October 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

"an intelligent movie that follows a main character undergoing a personal transformation (due to dance)"

posted by ?! at 7:15 PM on October 13, 2006

Newsies. Directed by Kenny Ortega, who choreographed "Dirty Dancing", and "Xanadu" among many others.
posted by ColdChef at 7:40 PM on October 13, 2006

I'm rather fond of Forever Fever. YMMV.
posted by LeisureGuy at 7:57 PM on October 13, 2006

I see that the movie's also known as That's The Way I Like It.
posted by LeisureGuy at 8:03 PM on October 13, 2006

Hmmm. The Red Shoes (1948)? And The Turning Point (1977), I suppose, although the chickflickiness may be too much for you. Neither is expressly political, although gender issues play a significant role in both films.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:13 PM on October 13, 2006

I'm not sure I understand what you're going for, or whether or not you just want recent movies, but I swear I read your entire question and the first thing that occurred to me was The Gay Divorcee. If indeed that matches your criteria, you'd do well to check out other movies featuring Fred Astaire and, probably, Gene Kelly.
posted by trip and a half at 8:14 PM on October 13, 2006

I'm surprised no one has mentioned White Nights yet - it's almost exactly what you're looking for. It has amazing dancing by Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines, but also a serious, political plotline and is a well-regarded movie overall.
posted by deeparch at 8:34 PM on October 13, 2006

If you go on a Gene Kelly kick like trip and a half suggests, you've got to see It's Always Fair Weather just for the skates, Singing in the Rain because it's adorable, and American in Paris becuse the dance sequences are stunning.

LeisureGuy I just added that movie on my netflix - Thanks!
posted by dog food sugar at 9:11 PM on October 13, 2006

Just wanted to cast my vote for the Japanese version of Shall we Dance and also, for Strictly Ballroom. Both are fantastic foreign movies that satisfy all of your criteria.
posted by invisible ink at 9:39 PM on October 13, 2006

Save the last dance?
posted by legotech at 10:31 PM on October 13, 2006

Dancer in the Dark?
posted by pokermonk at 5:59 AM on October 14, 2006

posted by Tarrama at 6:03 AM on October 14, 2006

The original Dirty Dancing actually fits your bill pretty well actually. It's all about a girl becoming an adult, confronting class, and seperating from her father through dance.
posted by serazin at 9:07 AM on October 14, 2006

Center Stage
posted by Malla at 2:16 PM on October 14, 2006

Ettore Scola's Ballando Ballando, aka Le Bal.
posted by progosk at 2:38 PM on October 14, 2006

posted by antifuse at 2:58 AM on October 16, 2006

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