Movies about dance have fascinated us almost since the invention of film. Once you didn’t have to rely on live performance to see dance, a world of storytelling possibilities opened up. Beginning with people like Fred Astaire and Donald O’Connor, to the modern hip hop stylings of people like Channing Tatum, dance on film has made an indelible mark on our culture. The range of stories told run the gamut, and we’ve compiled a list of some of the best to get you through this year’s drought of dance movies in the Academy Award running!
“Footloose” is a classic ’80s movie, starring a Kevin Bacon who was just entering his prime, a young Sarah Jessica Parker and lots of teenage angst. It came out in 1984 and was nominated for an Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe award. However, this movie was less about dancing and more about fighting a dance ban, so there wasn’t as much of it as we would have liked!
This movie was a huge blockbuster, back when blockbusters were a new thing. It spawned several popular sequels, and it jump-started the careers of several stars, including Channing Tatum. It won a Teen Choice Award in the category of dance movies and was nominated for two more Teen Choice Awards and a Young Artist Award. And the stars’ sweet moves on set sparked real life chemistry — Tatum and Jenna Dewan began dating after the film and were married in 2009!
This movie won the most awards of any on this list. With 13 awards won and six additional nominations, “Dirty Dancing” is a truly iconic piece of pop culture. It came out just three years after “Footloose,” and featured Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in compelling lead roles. Their characters struggle against pressure from parents and society in general, but their final dance revue proved that, at least in movies, the power of dance can overcome anything!
“Mad Hot Ballroom”
This movie is an exciting, emotional documentary about a couple of New York City elementary schools that started ballroom dance teams and competed in a city-wide dance competition. The ups and downs of learning, practicing and competing in salsa dance are intense, especially when viewed from the perspective of children. Their hard work and belief in themselves is inspiring, and while the students start with different levels of skill, they become very good by the end. “Mad Hot Ballroom” won eight awards and was nominated for nine more.
“Singin’ In The Rain”
This film was one of the first of its kind, but its success basically ensured the future of dance movies. “Singin’ In The Rain” is the story of a film production company making the difficult transition to movies with sound, while struggling to keep its embattled stars from killing each other behind the scenes. The actors struggled off-screen as well, because Gene Kelly would insult Debbie Reynolds for not being a good dancer, and Donald O’Connor’s four-pack-a-day smoking habit forced him to take a weeklong break from filming. The work paid off, however, when the movie won a Golden Globe for Best Actor for Donald O’Connor’s performance and was selected for four additional awards and nominated for nine others. “Singin’ In The Rain” is 10th on the list of top 100 movies of all time produced by the American Film Institute.
You didn’t think we’d leave out Fred, did you? Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were a dynamite duo who starred in 10 films together. No other actress was able to dance as in sync with Astaire as Rogers, so even though they never had an off-screen romance, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking they’d been together for years. This segment is widely recognized as the best routine from one of the best movies Astaire and Rogers ever made together. This movie was even inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”
So while this list was very subjective, we stand behind our picks as some of the most inspiring, beautiful and culturally relevant dance movies. There’s a long list of movies that deserve at least an honorable mention, if only we had the space to list them all! But take some time before the Oscars to watch these, and enjoy some incredible dancing!