Five Best Film Dance Scenes

Rebecca Varidel
17th Jan 2017

New musical movie La La Land opens without foreplay to a grand and spectacular dance scene on top of and around cars in a freeway traffic jam. This month the evolutionary musical shuffled off with a record seven Golden Globes, including wins for each of the leads Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. It's been a while since a musical movie has been so awarded. Acclaimed West Side Story, with its ground-breaking outdoor dance scenes in the Brooklyn streets and playgrounds, won three before heading on to win ten Academy Awards including Best Picture. We are already holding our breath to see what happens at The Oscars this year with La La Land.

So. Inspired by the renaissance of the musical, and in celebration of the dance, we took a long look at its history in film. In fact we watched and re-watched more than 500 iconic scenes. Finally we came up with this list.

The Five Best Film Dance Scenes

Yes we know. There have been super duper heart throbbing foot stomping entertainment most recently in Step Up, Take The Lead, Dance Flick and Save The Last Dance. Our hearts melted in Dirty Dancing, Footloose, Flash Dance and with the slow disco dance in Staying Alive. Then of course there is the dance contest in Pulp Fiction, Shake A Tail Feather in The Blues Brothers, and Time Warp in Rocky Horror Picture Show. But take a look at these videos from 50 years and more ago. They represent not only the most fabulous fabulous dancing but also excitement and innovation in the dance and in the film making.

1. The Nicholas Brothers and Cab Calloway-Jumpin' Jive- Stormy Weather (1943)

The legendary dancer Fred Astaire once told the Nicholas Brothers that this dance number was the greatest movie musical sequence he had ever seen. Ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov once called them the most amazing dancers he had ever seen in his life. And we whole heartedly agree.

We love to dance but we couldn't even walk up those gigantic steps let alone dance up them. And, make sure to stay tuned until the end. Take a look at those splits! Man that's gotta hurt.

2. Cool - West Side Story (1961)

The angst of misunderstood youth fresh in immediate grief brings us this carpark dance. Most often cited as best dance from the most awarded movie musical to date is the street scenes and gang fights of the Jets and the Sharks in the Prologue. Then there is the Dance At The Gym Mambo, and the rooftop America. It's a hard call between them all.

Yet we are putting our hand up to state this finger clicking underground cool is even more potent and takes more risks.

3. The Broadway Melody Ballet - Singin' In The Rain (1952)

There are many truly wonderful dance scenes in the fabulous musical movie Singin' In The Rain. Most often it's the title number as Gene Kelly splashes along the sidewalks of the Hollywood set that hits the hearts and charts of critics. The ménage à trois of Kelly with Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds tapping away in Good Morning is also hard to beat. And its also hard to go past side the splitting laughs of O'Connor in Make 'Em Laugh.

But we have chosen this piece. It marks the start of ballet telling a story within a story in the movie. And as an added bonus features the luscious legs of the lovely Cyd Charrise.

4. Pick Yourself Up - Swing Time (1936)

No dance list in the history of the movie musical would be complete without a number from the most esteemed King and Queen of dance on film - Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. There are so many iconic numbers to choose from with them. Perhaps there are even too many for a list of their own.

Arguably at their best in the Barclays of Broadway, we chose this piece at the dance school in Swing Time because it shows a more light-hearted pair.

5. Barn Raising Dance - Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954)

At first appearances, this Jane Powell and Howard Keel flick could look a tad cutesy. Outdated even. But it is a timeless story and this incredible sequence is an amazing testament to choreographer Michael Kidd. Kidd said that he "had to find a way to have these backwoods men dance without looking ridiculous. I had to base it all around activities you would accept from such people - it couldn't look like ballet. And it could only have been done by superbly trained dancers." 

Six of the brothers and six big town rivals compete through this dance for six girls. Enough said. Take a gander at this log tumbling wonder.

Honourable Mentions

Dance in the movies, just like song harks back to the beginning of sound on film.

One early dance pieces that really tugs the heart strings is from The Little Colonel (1935) when Bill "Bojangles" Robinson teaches the tiny Shirley Temple his signature stair dance.

Later came the start of the ballet movies. Black Swan is a stunning recent example. And the story of a ballerina is set to hit the screens again this year with Dance Academy the movie. But way back when Australian superstar dancer Sir Robert Helpmann makes a dance appearance with diva ballerina Moira Sheara in The Red Shoes (1948).

Movies for children often feature fantastic dance scenes and our top kids flick dance is the fun loving chimney sweep song and dance Step In Time from Mary Poppins (1964).

Dance changed when choreographer Bob Fosse got to show his talents on film. From his extensive body of work we are most moved by the slow sensual tease of Big Spender from Sweet Charity (1969).

And as a last word we return to dancing in the streets in the movie and title song and dance number Fame (1980). This time it's the dancing that stops the traffic.