My Favorite Dance Movies

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
Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights
Happy Feet
Save the Last Dance
Shall We Dance
Staying Alive
Step Up
Step Up 2: The Streets
Stomp the Yard
Strictly Ballroom
Take the Lead
That’s the Way I Like It
White Nights


– Sarah


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15 responses to “My Favorite Dance Movies

  1. What a great collection of movies! This just cries out for a party. And I’m tickled pink that Debbie Allen will be in the Fame remake!

    Leigh Anne

  2. Irene

    I can’t believe you called Flashdance “bad”! I’m pretty sure it’s the pinnacle of modern cinema. It’s also the reason I moved to Pittsburgh.

    Another dance movie I love (that the library also has!) is Center Stage– one of my favorites!

  3. The late film critic Gene Siskel considered “Saturday Night Fever” one of his favorite films of all time and would wax poetic about it constantly during the heyday of At The Movies with Roger Ebert. I have watched the film many times and and the BeeGee’s pulsing disco score really drives the story and dancing.

    My favorite dance film is (now this really shows my age) is Shall We Dance with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The George Gershwin songs and score showcase this classic dance partnership. Ginger matched Fred step for step and as they said ” except she did it backwards and in high heels.”

  4. Rebekah

    I also love “Shall We Dance,” and am partial to almost all of the MGM musicals with amazing dance sequences. I’m more in the Gene Kelly camp, however, and love “Singin’ in the Rain” and “An American in Paris.”

    Another interesting flick is, “Tap,” starring Gregory Hines:

    The film features some of the “old school” tap dancers including Sammy Davis, Jr. and Harold Nicholas.

  5. LLB

    Sarah, don’t forget the whole purpose of watching Flashdance is so that one can break out her legwarmers and make like a maniac! (Or is that just me?) :)

    Great post, thanks!


  6. Miranda

    Can I Hulu any of these to my desktop, um, like, right now?

    “Strictly Ballroom” has to be my fav fav favorite….I associate it with college and first boyfriends.

    Don’t forget the 2005 documentary, with some fancy young footwork.

    Thanks for the post!

  7. Hi Miranda! Didn’t find any of these at Hulu – probably a copyright/permissions thing? Thanks for the reminder about Mad Hot Ballroom – I’ll have to check that one out again, as the kids were so cute…


  8. Heidita

    I love Baryshnikov in bothThe Turning Point and White Nights. Another great Gregory Hines film that you forgot is The Cotton Club. The tap dancing in that film is beyond! Strictly Ballroom is genius and everyone who has ever cracked a joke about ballroom dancing should take a look. Also Mad Hot Ballroom which was the inspiration for Take the Lead is a great documentry on dance and how it can help you grow as a person and bring about change.

    Thanks for the post!

  9. Glad you liked it, Heidita! And thanks for the additional titles – I double-checked to make sure they’re available, in case somebody asks about them – and they’re in the catalog. Whew. :)


  10. Rosetta Sanborn

    Hey! I am a long time viewer, but am having an issue viewing your site in Opera today. Did you update something? Richard

  11. Sorry you’re having problems – I checked WordPress support, and they suggest using Firefox or Explorer rather than Opera (they describe Opera’s performance viewing WP as “iffy”).

    If, however, you really like your browser, they suggest clearing your cookies and cache, which should take care of most problems. You also have the option to sign up for e-mail delivery of our posts, in the upper right-hand corner.

    Hope that helps,

    Leigh Anne

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  14. Strictly Ballroom: both of them: simply the best. And then there is Singing in the Rain. And I don’t even like musicals. Great post.

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