Cinema has featured dance since the early days of movie-making, with many amazing performances by Hollywood's biggest stars. Old or new, there is much great dancing on film that every aspiring dancer should know intimately. The following are seven must-see dance movies.
Singing in the Rain
This 1952 classic, one of the best movies ever made and certainly one of the best dance movies, starred Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O'Connor. Singing in the Rain featured several wonderful numbers, including the namesake dance sequence where Kelley sings the title song, spins an umbrella, and dominates the stage with his unique athletic style.
Step Up actually encompasses five movies, each loaded with the best contemporary dancing. Released by Touchstone Pictures in 2006, the original Step Up starred Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan. Expect lots of romantic tension and sensual dancing with a bad boy does good storyline.
West Side Story
Another ageless classic, Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story musical adapted for film won ten Oscar nominations, including Best Picture in 1961. Starring Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno, Richard Beymer, and George Chakiris, West Side Story featured several fabulous dance sequences choreographed by Jerome Robbins, including the famous Mambo scene between the rival Jets and Sharks gangs.
In The Heights
Though a comparatively new release (June 2021) In The Heights is one of the great dance movies. An adaptation from the Tony Award-winning Broadway sensation by Lin-Manuel Miranda, In The Heights is Miranda's love letter to the Latino neighborhood where he grew up and showcases the very best of contemporary street dancing.
Released in 1943, Stormy Weather was one of the first major studio movies to showcase a predominantly African American cast. Starring Lena Horne, Bill 'Bojangles" Robinson, and with notable appearances by Cab Calloway and Fats Waller, Stormy Weather is perhaps best remembered for the "jumpin' Jive" dance by the Nicholas Brothers, described by Fred Astaire as the "greatest movie musical number he had ever seen."
A reflection of the big hair eighties, Flashdance tells the story of an aspiring young dancer who worked in a still mill and dreamed of becoming a ballerina. Starring Jennifer Beals, this 1983 film features elaborate sequences performed by the brilliant and uncredited French dancer Marine Jahan.
Saturday Night Fever
Did someone mention disco? No? well, no list of great dance movies can omit Saturday Night Fever. The movie tracks the exploits of Tony Manero, the King of his local disco. Starring John Travolta as Tony, Saturday Night Fever (1977) dominated the box office and launched Travolta from small screen to mega film star, owing in part to his exceptional talent as a dancer.
Hollywood captured the history of dance. Watch, enjoy, and learn from the many outstanding performances by the very best.