We’re fashionably late honoring one of the greatest dance movies of all time, Footloose! (Yes, Footloose is a classic and anyone who doesn’t think that can take it up with Kristen.) The Kevin Bacon-starring movie about a small town that isn’t allowed to dance turned 35 in February and the Dames decided to honor it by examining our favorite dances in film and television. Feel free to include your favorites in the comments below.
I’ve actually written a fair bit on my adoration of dance sequences. In fact, I wrote a series of articles for Karen’s website, Awards Circuit, looking at both classic and modern musical moments, so be sure to check those out, because paring this down to five was all but impossible. The five I picked can’t be considered my favorite of all time, but are ones I’ll goofily smile over as I watch them.
“Easy Lover” from The Assassination of Gianni Versace (2018)
I can’t find video of this but suffice it to say this moment is probably one of my favorite television sequences to come around in awhile. Full disclosure, I have a not-so secret crush on Darren Criss – I went and saw Glee in Sacramento because of him – and so this show was already my jam. But add on all the singing and dancing he does and it was like American Psycho had transitioned to Miami. No scene is better than this one, wherein Criss’s Andrew Cunanan dances to Phil Collins’s “Easy Lover,” in his underwear no less, all the while a man is suffocating to death on the bed behind him. It’s a moment of serious horror contrasted by his jubilant dancing. Yep, I like my dancing creepy as hell!
“Cry to Me” from The Man From U.N.C.L.E (2015)
I know many would have expected me to pick another dance sequence with a man I love, but this moment from The Man From U.N.C.L.E will always get me. A drunk Alicia Vikander kicks things off and has been my birthday gif every year since. From her sunglasses to her twirling, it’s just so damn cute. The way she baits Armie Hammer’s Illya is fantastic too. I wanted to put Call Me By Your Name on here but A) I’ve talked about that scene to death and B) this came first. He tries so hard to have rhythm and it so awkwardly doesn’t work. Watching him get slapped not once but twice just reminds me why I love this couple. Sequel now, dammit!
The Ballet Finale from Center Stage (2000)
Not enough people have seen Center Stage and that’s a travesty to me. In the 2000s there was no movie that got my attention more than the spate of “dance school” movies we got, from Take the Lead (2006) to Save the Last Dance (2000). I watched all of them and they were amazing. But Center Stage was different! It took place in a ballet school! The kids had problems (white problems…but problems!). Hell, the entire third act is just a fifteen-minute dance sequence and that sealed the deal. The music selection in this final ballet is just :chef’s kiss:, the different dance styles are phenomenal, and there’s a ballet sex scene….you heard me right!
The Time Warp from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
I remember the first time I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show. My best friend Nell showed it to me (one of many things she opened my world to, forever being labeled my “bad influence” friend) and I fell in love with its Transylvanian weirdness. I immediately became obsessed with learning the Time Warp – says the whole “jump to the left” and “step to the right.” At my freshman dance, Nell and I actually demanded the DJ play it, only to be the only two in the room dancing….they refused to play it again despite our requests at future events. But who doesn’t love a dance with instructions included?
“Conga” from Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)
This brief dance sequence from Drop Dead Gorgeous is hilarious in its accuracy. If you’ve ever watched or been a part of a beauty pageant, sloppily choreographed dances are a staple, and they always employ props. In this case, the step ladders the ladies are using have been painted, and thus the dance becomes both dated and silly, on top of incredibly messy. It’s fantastic.
“The Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing (1987)
My co-Dames may try to argue with me, but there is no more iconic dance scene in all of the movies than when Johnny and Baby share their final dance in Dirty Dancing. It is perfectly choreographed with a great original song. But it also provides perfect conclusions to several of the film’s key plots, resolving lingering stories along the way. Plus, it is romantic and sexy as hell.
“Old Time Rock and Rock” from Risky Business (1984)
If you didn’t know this was coming, you don’t know me at all. Top Gun may have turned Tom Cruise into an international superstar, but I would argue this scene right here is where he broke through as a leading man. It’s such a silly moment, but one we can all relate to. That first time your parents left you home alone, what else would do you besides crank up the stereo and enjoy the pure bliss of no one to yell at you to put some pants on?
“El tango de Roxanne” from Moulin Rouge! (2001)
The sensuality of the Argentine Tango combines perfectly with the jealousy of a lovesick fool. The editing and cinematography is jarring for some people, but the quick work adds to the frenetic nature of the dance and really draws the audience in to layers of passion and despair.
High School Dance from It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Fun fact: this is Beverly Hills High School and the pool is still there. I love this scene because it’s funny, but also because this is where the film’s momentum completely shifts and it starts to become the movie it is supposed to be.
“Jai Ho” end credits sequence, Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
It’s not technically part of the movie, because this happens during the closing credits and is not in any way attached to the story. But this dance sequence is a joyful homage to Bollywood. Like many dance numbers in Bollywood films, it doesn’t have much to do with the actual movie, but it’s lively, lovely, and so much fun.
I actually love dance sequences, to the degree that I’m a bit of snob about them. I don’t have any dance training myself – beyond a few years of tap and jazz when I was an adolescent – but I love watching great dancers cutting it up on screen. I’m also picky – I think Gene Kelly is boring and egotistical, and I can’t stand ballet. I think I made some good choices.
“Never Gonna Dance” from Swing Time (1936)
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers had some spectacular dance routines over the course of their ten films togethers, and really almost any one of them could be on my list. But I’ll stick with one that made a huge impression on me when I first saw it: “Never Gonna Dance,” in Swing Time. Part of it is where the song comes in – realizing that they might be forever divided, Astaire’s character Lucky sings about how he’s never going to dance again since he can’t dance with her. The pair dance together one last time, in a gorgeously fluid sequence that is all about longing and loss and expresses just how incredibly perfect they are together. The sequence is so intense that the rest of the film, which does give them a happy ending, feels almost perfunctory. How can they ever follow that up?
“Don’t Let it Bother You” from The Gay Divorcee (1934)
OK, so I like Fred Astaire, and I especially like Fred Astaire in the Astaire/Rogers films. The Gay Divorcee is my favorite of theirs, and the opening tap solo one of my favorites of his. Half of the dance is just Astaire tapping, sans music, which showcases what a brilliant dancer he was. There’s no acrobatics here. The dancing is speedy and apparently effortless, and the camera makes certain to keep Astaire’s entire body in view, so that we can see how he moves. It’s just a fantastic sequence.
(gif courtesy of An Unconventional Lady)
The Tango from Monkey Business (1931)
I wanted to include at least one humorous dance sequence, and this one from the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business is short but sweet, as Groucho and Thelma Todd perform a hilarious tango after the famous closet routine. Groucho was a very gifted physical comedian, but Todd gets horribly underrated as a comedienne, someone who can match him point for point and gag for gag without wholly playing the straight (wo)man the way that Margaret Dumont did. The tango is the culmination of the whole sequence, and it’s spectacular the way that they flow into it, with Groucho actually crawling on the ground at one point, and Todd matching his rhythm and humor without missing a beat.
“America” from West Side Story (1961)
West Side Story is full of spectacular dance sequences, but my favorite is still Rita Moreno and George Chakiris’s fabulous dance battle to “America,” a sharp, occasionally nasty take on racism and the promise of America. Moreno is so amazing to watch on One Day at a Time that it’s worth going back to some of her greatest hits and remembering that Abuelita is one hell of a dancer.
“The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” from White Christmas (1954)
After Astaire, Danny Kaye is my favorite of classic Hollywood dancers. While Kaye doesn’t get as much credit as a dancer as Donald O’Connor or Gene Kelly, who were arguably “better,” he’s still fantastic. His dances are often humorous, ones that he puts his whole body into, but my favorite is him and Vera Ellen dancing in White Christmas. It’s romantic and flirtatious and fluid, and carries with it the exuberance of early attraction.
“I Won’t Dance” from Lovely to Look At (1952)
I first watched Lovely to Look At one night at a sleepover. Yup, we were nerdy kids. The movie is utterly adorable, but I soon found myself head-over-heels in love with more than simply the musical. Gower Champion! Yes, you heard that right. I had a lengthy Gower Champion phase in middle school. In my old age, I respect Marge a heck of a lot more. She’s totally fierce. The vocals throughout are solid from both, and the (then) married couple shows a physical chemistry that few (with the exception of Fred and Ginger) can match. This music number is an absolute delight to watch, and I never get tired of flipping it on.
“The Continental” from The Gay Divorcee (1934)
We might see a few Fred and Ginger numbers on this list so I’m going to pick an unconventional one. “The Continental” comes from their first official pairing (I don’t count Flying Down to Rio). The number comes late in the film and very much serves as the final set-piece. The music is dramatic, the set-up is flawless, and in the physically demanding number, Fred and Ginger feel like they’ve been partnered their whole lives.
Stay tuned to the 3:15 mark as Fred and Ginger dance down a set of stairs. It’s one of the most gorgeous moments ever captured on film and still manages to floor me after years of rewatches.
“Moses Supposes” from Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Like I mentioned, I was a nerdy child. Video footage likely exists somewhere of me (and some equally nerdy neighbor girls) staging an in-depth remake of Singin’ in the Rain. I was Don Lockwood, of course. I needed to include at least one thing from my favorite musical of all time, and I found myself torn between this and “Make ‘Em Laugh”. The number is absolutely delightful, showing stars Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor at their peak (and in sweater vests!!). The two are perfectly in-synch and play off each other incredibly well. While Donald O’Connor isn’t a name as familiar to the filmic lay person as Gene Kelly, the number shows O’Connor matching his legendary co-star step for step. O’Connor (and Singin’ in the Rain, for that matter) is a joy to watch. Get familiar, if you haven’t.
“The Broadway Melody Ballet” from Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Okay. Fine! two numbers from the best musical ever made needed to make it on this list. In terms of female dancers, Cyd Charisse is probably one of the best to pair on-screen with Gene Kelly. The two are perfectly matched and absolutely shine in this nostalgic number incorporating a number of different styles. I’m not normally a fan of the ballets from the mid-fifties musicals, but this is one I’m able to watch again and again. This is poetry on celluloid.
“Got a Lot of Livin’ To Do” from Bye Bye Birdie (1963)
My fondness for Singin’ in the Rain is well recorded for posterity; however, Bye Bye Birdie is probably the first musical I truly fell in love with. Ann-Margret was huuuuuuggggge in the Pierce household. While the actress is probably best known as a dynamic dancer, she surprisingly doesn’t do much dancing in Bye Bye Birdie (with the exception of this number). “Got a Lot of Livin’ To Do” showcases flashy and unconventional choreography from the legendary Ona White. The number is fun, colorful, dynamic and gives both Ann-Margret and Bobby Rydell an opportunity to shine.