Dance Movies: Our Staff’s Favorite Classics and Guilty Pleasures
As the temps cool down, it’s time to settle in for a dance movie night! Slip on your Infinity or Performance Shocks after class and sit back and enjoy one of our staff’s favorite dance movies. We’ve compiled a list of universally-loved classics as well as our most-watched guilty pleasure movies.
West Side Story (1961)
“Director, choreographer and idea-man Jerome Robbins has put together, and then blasted apart, the most savage, restless, electrifying dance patterns we've been exposed to in a dozen seasons.”
Walter Kerr, New York Herald Tribune review of the original Broadway production of West Side Story, September 27,1957
When West Side Story debuted on Broadway, the modern take on Romeo and Juliet with a mix of dance and theater was a new concept for audiences. The 1961 film includes Robbins’ original choreography and preserves the theatricality through dramatic production design and camera angles. This film continues to resonate with modern audiences - the social issues driving the plot are still relevant in 2020.
Although we don’t condone the film’s message that changing absolutely everything about yourself is worth it to please a man, we were born to hand jive. In the age of #MeToo, some of the dialogue hasn’t aged well and many of the “high schoolers” were pushing 30 when the film was made, but Grease still holds up as a kitschy high school romance across cliques.
Dirty Dancing (1987)
This coming-of-age movie is a classic because it is chock-full of iconic moments and one-liners. Many have tried Patrick Swayzee and Jennifer Grey’s unforgettable lift but few have succeeded. Far from fluff, Dirty Dancing taught us to avoid judging others until we have all the facts and that everyone deserves to shine because “no one puts Baby in a corner.”
A town where dancing is outlawed? Sure, why not! The original 1984 film is so beloved that it inspired a 2011 remake. The movie flip-flops between surprisingly dark scenes and ridiculous moments (a tractor fight and a rage-fueled gymnastics montage in an abandoned warehouse) but in the end, the right to dance prevails with one of the best high school dance scenes of all time.
Center Stage (2000)
The 2000s ushered in a new era of dance films - suddenly coming of age stories and teen-centric plots included unbelievable routines and conflicts were solved through dance. This quintessential ballet film just celebrated its 20th anniversary, which means it’s officially a classic and we are officially old. With a cast filled with professional dancers, a bad boy/nice guy love triangle, and a killer finale with a motorcycle AND tearaway tutu, it’s one of our go-to faves. Check out Vulture.com’s An Oral History of Center Stage to learn about the challenges of casting the roles and see tons of behind the scenes photos.
The Guilty Pleasures
Step Up (2006)
With six films and a tv series, Step Up is the Fast and the Furious franchise of dance flicks. While all the films feature unbelievable dance routines, our favorite is the original 2006 film. Not only did it introduce the world to Channing Tatum’s dance moves, but we adore the sweet love story between Tatum and Jenna Dewan (married a few years after the film, now divorced).
High School Musical 1, 2, and 3
Another bonafide franchise, the High School Musical films are the film equivalent of cotton candy. Director Kenny Ortega’s choreography and catchy tunes about togetherness and being true to yourself are hard to resist. The sports-themed musical numbers are especially worth a giggle: HSM 2’s “Bet On It” features an angsty Zac Efron aggressively dancing on a golf course.
Dance Academy (2010)
Dance Academy is an Australian teen drama about a group of students at Sydney’s National Dance Academy. We may have binge-watched all three seasons while reliving the highs and lows of our own teen years but with Australian accents and endless dance montages. Fans of the original series rejoiced when Dance Academy: The Movie completed the story in 2017.
Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1985)
This movie is just a cheesy good time. A true time capsule of 80s fashion, hair, and dance moves, this movie stars a young Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt as best friends. Plenty of hijinks ensue as they audition for DanceTV in downtown Chicago.
This musical about the New York City newsboy strike of 1899 was a theatrical flop, but became a bit of a cult favorite over the years. When young newspaper sellers are exploited by their bosses, they strike to enact change while dancing and singing. Also directed by Kenny Ortega, Christian Bale’s angry cowboy-themed dance may have inspired the HSM 2 golf course dance. A story about the ruthlessness of big businesses and the power in numbers when it comes to protesting for worker’s rights - what could be more timely than that?
The following films aren’t quite classics or guilty pleasures but they deserve a viewing on one of your next dance movie nights:
First Position (2011)
The lone documentary on this list, First Position follows six young dancers as they prepare for the Youth America Grand Prix, one of the most prestigious ballet competitions in the world. A window into the level of dedication it takes to pursue excellence, the film features a pint-size Aran Bell (now a much taller dancer at ABT) and Michaela DePrince (now with the Dutch National Ballet) whose incredible story is chronicled in the memoir Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina.
By 2020, the story of “two dancers from different backgrounds meet, dislike each other, and then find common ground by fusing two styles of dance” has become its own movie trope. Back in 1984’s Breakin’, combining dance genres was still a novel concept: this film’s plot is clunky, but it’s worth a watch for the street dancing, “blink or you’ll miss them” appearances by Ice-T and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Breakin’ also inspired greatest sequel title in history: Breakin’ 2: Electric Bugaloo.
Tap-legend Gregory Hines plays Max who was just released from prison after serving time for burglary. When his old associates pressure him to help pull off a big-time jewel heist, Max must choose between pursuing his love of dance or returning to a life of crime. Although the plot is simple, the film excels at creating a nostalgic feel and the cast is made up of some of the greatest tap dancers of all time: Sandman Sims, Bunny Briggs, Steve Condos, Jimmy Slyde, Pat Rico, Arthur Duncan, Harold Nicholas, Sammy Davis Jr., and a teenage Savion Glover.