Two upcoming movie releases, the DVD release of Dance Flick (Oct. 6) and the theatrical release of an updated Fame (Sept. 25), got me thinking about my favorite dance movies.
In the category of “good” dance films (those that actually have good storylines and good acting) I’ll start with All That Jazz (1979). This movie, based on the life of legendary choreographer Bob Fosse, is filled with plenty of his signature-style choreography. Then there is the original Fame (1980). Not strictly a dance film, Fame follows the drama and trauma of students at a performing arts high school in New York. I recently re-watched this film and had forgotten just how unresolved, and in some ways unsatisfying, the various storylines are, but I still think it’s great. The film inspired a TV series in the early 80s and the upcoming remake with a stellar cast.
It seems that most of the other dance films I’d label as “good” revolve around ballet. They include Billy Elliot (2000), whose title character is the son of a miner who stumbles on a ballet class on his way to boxing practice. This movie argues it’s okay for boys to dance! Then there is The Company (2003), a very realistic portrayal of the world inside a professional dance company, directed by Robert Altman and starring Neve Campbell, who, unlike many actor leads in dance films, has some actual talent (she trained as a ballet dancer before injuries pushed her towards acting). The film features the actual dancers of the Joffrey Ballet in beautiful pieces that you’ll want to see live. And, of course, there’s The Turning Point (1977), starring Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft as old ballet friends who have taken different paths, each one jealous of the other. One became a famous ballerina, the other a mother and dance teacher whose daughter is now pursuing her own career in dance. Mikhail Baryshnikov stars as one of the male leads, and some of the best dancers of the time serve as guest artists, so the dancing is fantastic. It was also nominated for 11 Oscars, including pretty much all the major categories.
In the category of “bad” dance movies (those that have ridiculous storylines and/or laughable acting), I have to start with Flashdance (1983). Not only is it set in Pittsburgh, it’s got a sexy female welder, romance, an underdog takes on the establishment story line, and it made the off-the-shoulder sweatshirt hot fashion. Follow that up with Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1984), a quintessential 80’s movie starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt. SJP plays a Catholic school girl who loves to dance. Her rebellious friend (Hunt) connives a way to get her out of her military dad’s house and to the audition for the hottest dance show on TV. Can they pull it off? Plenty of big hair, bad clothes, and very jazzy dance routines. I can’t quite decide whether Saturday Night Fever belongs in the “good” or “bad” category, because it’s surprisingly good for a disco movie, but mostly I love it because it is so iconic. Plus, I’d really love to learn some of the complete routines to try out the next time I go dancing.
Here’s a list of a few other dance movies, all of which I have enjoyed at least once. You can decide which ones are “good” versus “bad”:
Breakin’ 2 Electric Boogaloo
A Chorus Line
Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights
Save the Last Dance
Shall We Dance
Step Up 2: The Streets
Stomp the Yard
Take the Lead
That’s the Way I Like It