Not going backwards is advancement, of a sort. And man should learn to walk before he can dance – Alexander Pope.
Being two entirely separate artistic expressions, dance and film have more in common than one might think.
For one, many neophytes engage in dance classes, enter a conservatory or even dedicate their lives to dance after seeing an inspiring film about the wonders of dance. Drama, musicals, and adventure: there is a dance for every genre.
Discover now the fifteen must-see dance movies prior to signing up for your dance lessons.
Let your freestyle dance audition be as fiery as Alex’s in Flashdance! Source: Movie title
Director: Adrian Lynne
Synopsis: Working as a welder in a factory, Alex dances at night in a club called Mawby’s Bar. Stolidly refusing her boss, Nick’s advances, she dreams of entering a prestigious school of dance to establish herself as an artist.
Initially overwhelmed by the application process, Alex nevertheless finds herself with an audition. Realising that Nick has pulled those strings for her, she is furious – but auditions all the same.
Dance styles featured: ballet, in the initial audition sequence; contemporary dance, modern jazz dancing, and standard jazz.
Where to find it: the DVD can be had for just under £6 new, on Amazon
Directors: Anne Fletcher, John M. Chu, Scott Speer, Trish Sie and others
Synopsis: this film franchise follows the general lines of the previously discussed film.
The protagonist remains dubious of his talent and accomplishments in the face of everyone else’s pedigrees but ends up leading the dance troupe to victory in the end.
Whether for its line dancing or pairs dancing sequences, Step Up 2 remains the most popular of the franchise.
Featured dance styles: hip-hop, ballroom dancing, jazz dancing, and step dancing.
Where to find it: Currently, Step Up 4 – Miami Heat is streaming on Netflix. Other installments can be found on Amazon for a range of prices, depending on whether you want the whole series or just one film.
Does your Salsa dancing look quite so saucy? Source: movie title
Directed by: John Badham
Synopsis: in 1977, young New York dancer Tony Manero seeks to escape the boredom of Brooklyn life by hitting the dance floor every Saturday night at The Odyssey.
Envied by men and wanted by women throughout the disco, this smoke and mirrors artist must confront the tide of emotion that feeds his talent.
So impactful is this film that it has become an essential chapter in the history of dance!
Where you can find it: on Amazon, for £5.99.
It is important to find which style of dance calls to your soul, as in Billy Elliot Source: movie title
Director: Stephen Daldry
Synopsis: In 1984, 11-year old Billy Elliot shared his home in the North of England with his father, brother and ailing grandmother – who once dreamt of being a dancer.
One day, during his weekly boxing lessons – which he abhors, Billy finds himself sharing the room with ballet dancers.
Billy quickly realizes that dance is his true passion, running the risk of mockery and judgment of his family and townspeople.
If you love ballet, this one is not to be missed!
Dance Style: Ballet Dance (classical dance).
Where to find it: under £7 new on Amazon.
If you have a passion for ballet, have a read of our post on the most famous ballets.
Black Swan is a documentary-fiction about the rigours a ballet dancer must endure Source: movie title
Directed by: Darren Aronovsky
Synopsis: A ballerina with the New York Ballet, Nina learns that auditions for the main role of Swan Lake are open. The only problem is that although she is perfect as the White Swan, she cannot seem to represent the dark side of the Black Swan.
Because of the pressure of the role, Nina will eventually lose her mind and no longer know what is real…
Footnote: The real world’s best dance choreographers are far from being as harsh as Vincent Cassel!
Featured dance style: Classical dance.
Where you can find it: a new DVD, for under five pounds, on Amazon.
Directed by: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
Synopsis: In 1927, Don and Lina are the undisputed stars of silent cinema. However, the arrival of the talkies throws their bankability as movie stars into question, especially because, despite appearances, they hate each other in real life.
What’s more, Lina is cursed with an unpleasantly nasal voice! Don’s best friend, Cosmo, then has an idea: replace Lina with Kathy, of whom Don is enamored with.
Dance Styles: Tap dance, lyric dance, ballroom dance, jazz dance, Broadway dance.
Availability: £8 new, on Amazon.
Directed by Stephen Soderbergh
Synopsis: surviving on odd jobs, Mike, 30, rounds out his meager pay by performing in a strip club under the name Magic Mike. Although much appreciated by the female audience, Mike’s side job worries his sister, who warns him of the dangers of night work.
If the film and its music to dance does not make you move your body, we’d be hard-pressed to say what could!
Dance styles featured: stripping, cabaret jazz, pole dancing.
Where to get it: for around £6 on Amazon.
Directed by: Herbert Ross
Synopsis: uprooted from his native Chicago, Ren finds himself stifled in the religious community his family relocated to. Even more, culture-shocking: the pastor – the most influential person in town, opposes music and dancing in any form, considering both immoral.
Ren rallies the community’s youth to protest for their senior prom, with one surprising ally taking the lead, in the uprising and in his heart.
Featured dance styles: freestyle, krumping, grooving.
Availability: £6 for a copy of the 1984 DVD version on Amazon. You can also purchase its 2011 remake for around the same price.
Will you too find Fame as a dancer? Source: movie title
Directed by: Alan Parker
Synopsis: the plot revolves around the adventures of several dancers seeking enrolment at the High School for Performing Arts in New York City. The audition process yields few entries.
For Coco, Lisa, Hilary and Montgomery, over time, the film reveals their dreams of fame, a pinnacle that only few ever achieve.
This film is a showcase of dance talent!
Featured dance styles: ballet, contemporary, modern and lyrical
Where to find it: On Amazon, for the low price of £3; or you could seek the updated 2009 version for just 40p more.
Follow this romantic story, set to a background of cabaret dancing Source: Movie title
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Synopsis: At the dawn of the 20th century, Christian, a young poet, decides to write a piece for the Cabaret du Moulin Rouge under the advice of Toulouse Lautrec. During his meeting with Satine, the protagonist of the dance show, Christian develops romantic feeling fo her despite her being coveted by the Duke of Monroth, a wealthy man wishing to acquire the Moulin Rouge.
Featured dance styles: cabaret, can-can.
Where to find it: a new DVD can be purchased for just under £4 on Amazon
Directed by: Emile Ardolino
Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey) spends the summer at a resort hotel in the Catskills with her mother, father and older sister Lisa where she embarks on a journey about love, responsibility, adulthood and, of course, dancing. Baby, who plans on joining the Peace Corps the following summer, stumble upon a closed party for hotel staff. After gaining entry by ‘carrying a watermelon’, Baby spots Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze) and is immediately struck by his presence and good looks. Believing that Johnny was in a romantic relationship with his dance partner Penny, Baby offends the handsome dancer by judging him in the same way that everyone else appears to. Baby realises her mistake and offers financial help to Penny who is keen to end her pregnancy for the sake of her career at the establishment. However, Penny is left in a terrible state following the procedure and Baby has to approach her doctor father for help, meanwhile revealing that she’d been spending time with the much older Johnny. Baby’s father is unimpressed by the man whom he believes to have got his dance partner in trouble and then moved onto his innocent young daughter. Johnny is later framed for a robbery in the grounds and is sent packing, much to Baby’s dismay. In the final scene of the surprise box office hit, Johnny returns to the hotel to do his kind of dancing. Mr Houseman becomes aware of his mistake and watches his daughter perform to the track that we all associate with the film – ‘Time Of My Life’ by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes.
Featured dance styles: Latin and Ballroom
Where to find it: Dirty Dancing the movie celebrated its 30th birthday in 2017 and since then various special edition DVDs have been released to stores across the UK. Buy the 30th Anniversary DVD or Blu-Ray from Amazon here.
Directed by: Thomas Carter
Synopsis: Sara (Julia Stiles) moves to Chicago to live with her dad after the death of her mother in a car accident. Sara blames herself for her mother’s accident as the crash took place whilst she was travelling to one of Sara’s ballet auditions. As a result, Sara puts away her dancing shoes and can’t face the stage again. Sara joins the local school as a white minority and falls for African American classmate (Sean Patrick Thomas) who has a very different background from her own. Her new love interest invites her into his world of Hip Hop and R n’ B music and teaches her to dance like him. She, meanwhile, falls in love with dancing again and the pair of them work together to help her prepare for an audition at the renowned Juilliard. Pushed by their shared love of dance and their love for each other, they face and tackle problems that come hand in hand with an interracial relationship.
Featured dance styles: Ballet and Hip Hop
Where to find it: On Amazon (available on Prime), here.
Directed by: Eric Warin, Eric Summer
Synopsis: This may be an animated movie, but for kids and adults alike the characters and dancing scenes are inspirational and warming. Felicie is an orphan from Brittany, France, who dreams of becoming a famous dancer. Along with her best friend Victor, also from the orphanage and with his own dream of becoming an inventor, the two escape and make their way to Paris where Felicie befriends the caretaker at a prestigious dance school and becomes her live-in assistant. Meanwhile, Felicie grabs the opportunity to dance in a ballet class, pretending to be someone else and deceiving her new mother-figure. Her friend learns the truth but believes in Felicie enough to train her and help her reach the top of the class in her own right. Can Felicie’s wildest dream come true and could she be the next best prima ballerina to grace the stage of the opera?
Featured dance styles: Ballet
Where to find it: Currently available to stream on Netflix.
Directed by: Michael Gracey
Synopsis: Inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman is a musical that celebrates the birth of show business and tells the story of a visionary who rose from nothing to become a worldwide sensation. But when is enough for Phineas Barnum? The son of a poor tailor, Phineas grows tired of his life on the streets and vows to create a life for he and his sweetheart, Charity. The rich girl leaves home to set out on a journey of discovery with the dreamer, and together they build a happy life in the city with two daughters. Phineas finds success selling tickets for his show featuring unique performers, but he isn’t content and wants to break into the world of the upper-class. He recruits Philip (Zac Efron) who is respected within this community and they take on opera singer Jenny Lind, who helps them to reach out to a wider audience. P.T. Barnum travels the continent with Miss Lind, until he realises that his unhealthy obsession with chasing fame is damaging his family life. He returns home to find his venue in trouble and must ask himself what is important in life. Meanwhile, Philip faces his own personal battles, after he falls in love with a mixed-race trapeze artist whom his parents don’t approve of.
Featured dance styles: Broadway, classic, modern, contemporary fusion
Where to find it: This movies is available to buy and keep on Amazon Fire Stick.
Christina Aguilera is the star of Burlesque with Cher. Photo credit: jonnessa on Visual hunt / CC BY
Directed by: Steve Antin
Synopsis: In Chistina Aguilera’s film debut, she performs as Ali, a small-town singer who winds up playing as burlesque singer/dancer in a Los Angeles nightclub. The old theatre is run by none other than Cher, and it is reputed to breed singing and dancing sensations. Ali is hired as a cocktail waitress but decides to work hard on making a good impression. One of the dancers takes her under her wing but Ali soon realises that not everyone is as nice as her friend in this city. She takes a leap into performing on stage, encouraged by stage manager Stanley Tucci, and soon becomes the star attraction of The Burlesque Lounge, attracting crowds of spectators.
Featured dance styles: Broadway, burlesque
Where to find it: Available to rent or buy with Amazon Prime.
Whether beginner level, intermediate level or advanced level: you will invariably find a feature film adapted to your abilities and aspirations for dance; your desires and your artistic tastes. And unlike our movie inspiration above, you can dance like no one is watching (until you hit the big stage, that is!).
You don’t have to aspire to be a famous dancer to learn though, many people get lots of satisfaction from dancing with no other motive other than to learn the art and enjoy themselves on the dancefloor. And, with the new series of Strictly Come Dancing on the horizon, now couldn’t be a better time for a novice to start dancing! With their support week by week, you too could get your dancing shoes on and attempt a range of new dances.
Should you be preparing for a performance in dance, a dancing party or even a ball, there are dozens of films to inspire your dance moves. We’ve covered just a few of the famous films, but don’t forget that there are a hundred more films that can offer you inspiration in the area of dance. When searching for a film, remember that it doesn’t necessarily have to be centred around life on the dancefloor, some films may only have one or two dancing scenes but these could be sensational and the biggest inspiration to a keen dancer. As Johnny from Dirty Dancing says, you feel the music when you dance so remember that it as much about the way it makes you feel as it is about the way it looks!
Since we didn’t have time to mention all of the best dance movies, here’s another few that we think deserve an honourable mention for their services to dance:
Enough talk about dancing; to your leotards… or unitards, as you prefer!
If you enjoyed this article, why not take a look at our blog on famous quotations about dance?