Squeezing a good dance scene into a movie is surprisingly difficult. Even if the theme of the movie rotates around dancing, the dancing sequences must make sense story-wise and be at least semi-realistic. That’s yet to mention how the choreography must be excellent.
Here are the best movie dance scenes that did all of the things above well enough to become iconic. If you’re looking for a good dance movie to binge, some of these movies here are worth the one or two hours watching just for their dance scenes alone!
- How I Choose the Best Movie Dance Scene?
- 10 Best Dance Scenes In The Movie History
- 1. Swing Time (1936) – ‘Never Gonna Dance’ scene
- 2. The Red Shoes (1948) – The Ballet Scene
- 3. An American in Paris (1951) – The Final Ballet
- 4. Royal Wedding (1951) – You’re All the World to Me (the Ceiling Dance scene)
- 5. Singing in the Rain (1952) – Gene Kelly’s Singing in the Rain
- 6. Singing in the Rain (1952) – The Broadway Melody Ballet
- 7. Flashdance (1983) – Final Dance Scene
- 8. Dirty Dancing (1987) – Time of My Life
- 9. Step Up 3 (2010) – The Water Dance Scene
- 10. Hail, Caesar! (2016) – “No Dames”
- Final Words
How I Choose the Best Movie Dance Scene?
But to choose the best dance scenes, it’s essential to have a methodology.
The first thing I focus on whenever I watch a movie with a dance sequence is how skillful the dancers are. In other words, the mastery of techniques they display.
Next, the choreography must be eye-catching, bold, and imaginative. There are hundreds of dance movies out there, each one with different choreography. The more unique the choreographing work of a movie is, the easier it will stand out in my (and the audience’s) eyes.
The quality of the music is another factor. Good music, master dancers, and good choreography are the killer combo for enjoyment.
Last but not least, there’s the design and storytelling. Since we’re talking about movies, editing is essential. The cameras must follow the dancers from the most aesthetically-pleasing angles, allowing the viewers to see their movements. And the setting of the dance scene must make sense in the overall context of the movie, too.
10 Best Dance Scenes In The Movie History
1. Swing Time (1936) – ‘Never Gonna Dance’ scene
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers define the word “dynamic duo” with their dancing. Their musical numbers are timeless. Almost a century later, you can still find people appreciating the pure passion, inventiveness, and mastery in their dances together in online forums and YouTube recordings of their old scenes.
One of their most memorable sequences was the ‘Never Gonna Dance’ scene in the cult-classic movie Swing Time (1936). It’s the scene that has solidified the image of Fred and Ginger together in the hearts of fans. Their final waltz was wonderfully done. Not just from a choreographic but also a cinematographic standpoint.
This scene is the climax of the movie and the culminating point between the two characters John (played by Fred) and Penelope (Ginger).
Of course, we’ll not spoil the movie if you haven’t watched it yet. But the saddened mood, the palpable tension in the air, and the desperate, almost frantic movement of the pair can leave you breathless. The scene ends with a cliffhanger that can leave you at the edge of your seat, waiting to see the end.
2. The Red Shoes (1948) – The Ballet Scene
The Red Shoes (1948) was based on the fairy-tale of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen. The term ‘fairy-tale’ is liberally used here because the story isn’t exactly something you would tell your children about. It’s a movie about a pair of enchanted shoes that won’t ever come off when worn, and the wearer is condemned to dance until death.
In the movie, there is a 15-minute-long scene that contains an entire ballet. The theme of the tale is echoed in this scene, and it also foreshadows how it’s going to end (tragically).
In this scene, the wearer of the red shoes was the ever-graceful and beautiful Moira Shearer. There’s absolutely nothing to criticize about the choreography, costuming or the actual dance performances.
The ballet scene – beautifully executed – gives the sense a fever dream-ish feel. Almost bizarre like a Hitchcock movie.
3. An American in Paris (1951) – The Final Ballet
An American in Paris (1951) is a movie adaptation of an orchestral piece by George Gershwin of the same name.
During the climatic sequence of the movie, a 17-minute-long ballet ensues. In it, the two main characters waltz through a dreamy landscape, complete with flowers, fountains, and every element of Parisian romance.
The sweeping dances are evocative and nostalgic. The dancing and the music (by Gershwin) can throw you back to the glitzy era of the postwar ages.
And the perfection of this scene was hard-earned by the crew. This 17-minute scene alone took an entire month to film!
4. Royal Wedding (1951) – You’re All the World to Me (the Ceiling Dance scene)
We can’t imagine what the viewers at the premiere of the Royal Wedding (1951) thought when they saw this scene for the first time. Even in the 21st century, this gravity-defying (literally) scene done by Fred Astaire was mind-blowing. And combined that with his usual energetic and jazzy dance, this ‘You’re All the World to Me’ scene is easily one of the best in the dance genre.
In this scene, Fred’s character, Tom Bowen, falls in love with Anne Ashmond (Sarah Churchill), a newly-engaged dancer. When he realized the depth of his affection for her, he danced around, singing the tune of ‘You’re All the World to Me’ while holding a photo of Anne. The joy that came with this realization was so great, he even danced on the walls and the ceiling!
The gravity-defying trick was done by building a room set inside a revolving barrel. As the room revolves, Fred can dance on the walls and the ceiling as if he’s fighting gravity.
The operator and the camera are mounted to an ironing board and rotated along the room. Thus, the camera perspective makes the room look still … All the while, Fred was busting out some seriously good tap dance moves on the ceiling.
5. Singing in the Rain (1952) – Gene Kelly’s Singing in the Rain
In the 20th century, the rain was an effect that was almost exclusively used to describe sadness and blue. That’s until Gene Kelly came along and demolished this frowny trend with the spectacular scene in Singing in the Rain (1952).
Gene Kelly, playing the role of Donald (Don) Lockwood, is a silent film star in this movie. He fell in love with Kathy Selden (played by Debbie Reynolds), a stage actress, after an accident wherein he jumped into her car to escape fans after a movie premiere.
In this scene, after taking Kathy home and receiving a goodbye kiss from her, Don bursts into a heartfelt and enchanting song-and-dance routine in the rain.
It’s such an iconic scene and has played an essential role in elevating Singing in the Rain to the list of the greatest American films in 2007.
Fun fact: Gene Kelly was down with a fever while performing this scene. You wouldn’t know by looking at his smiley, love-struck face as he frolicked through the streets. And in the pouring rain, no less!
6. Singing in the Rain (1952) – The Broadway Melody Ballet
Another iconic scene from this cult-classic movie is the Broadway Melody Ballet scene, which is the biggest musical number in the entire movie. But it’s a lot more special than just that. This scene also stands out for its mind-bending cinematography and the eye-popping choreography that went into it.
Despite the vibrant Technicolor and the dreamy setting, the backstory of this 13-minute ballet scene is rather dark. It encapsulates the struggle that Don has to go through to be where he is and tells of his struggles and pains.
This scene tells the story of a hoofer that goes against violent mobsters. Then his heart is broken by a woman, and he’s forced to wear a humiliating neon-yellow vest that makes him look like a banana.
The description sounds strange without context. But believe us when we say that it’ll make more sense when you watch the movie for yourself.
Entertaining and artistic, it’s well on par with the previous eponymous scene in terms of excellence.
7. Flashdance (1983) – Final Dance Scene
Since we’ve been in the early to late 20th century for the better part of this list, let’s take it up to the 80s with this entry. Representing the heyday of 80s dance movies is this dance scene from Flashdance (1983).
Flashdance follows the journey of a teenage girl named Alex Owens. She has the aspiration to become a professional ballet dancer. Still, she’s stuck working as a welder with no formal training. Occasionally, she works as a cabaret dancer in the local clubs, but that’s about it.
Later in the movie, through the advice of a career counselor, she decided to apply for the prestigious Pittsburgh Conservatory of Dance and Repertory. At the audition, Alex initially falters, but she eventually finds her courage. She performs consecutively a dance number that consists of not just ballet but also breakdancing.
We won’t spoil the movie’s end or much more of the premise. That’s something you should discover by yourself! But this scene alone is good enough ground to give the 97-minute long movie a watch.
8. Dirty Dancing (1987) – Time of My Life
The ‘Time of My Life’ is the final romantic dance scene in the movie. The chemistry and pure tension between Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey’s characters can leave you breathless as they swing and dance on stage.
This intimate dance scene is joyful and beautiful, but, mixed in with a little bit of youthful rebellion, it’s a scene that almost everyone can relate to.
And that’s the magic of the scene and the movie by extension. It’s the culmination of a coming-of-age journey that’s relatable to many of us.
9. Step Up 3 (2010) – The Water Dance Scene
If you want a more modern flavor of dancing, the final dance scene from Step Up 3 is going to satisfy you. Channing Tatum came back to the screen in the third installation of the Step Up series with a stunning dance number that combines elements from ballet, contemporary dance, as well as breakdancing.
10. Hail, Caesar! (2016) – “No Dames”
Though it is a 2016 movie, the costumes, the color, the setting, and most importantly, the dance is nostalgic for the 60s and 70s.
In this funny dance scene, the spotlight is on Channing Tatum and his character, Burt. The musical number is done inside a bar as he and his fellow sailors are about to head out to sea.
With these 10 famous movie dance scenes and movie titles, you won’t have to worry about what movie to watch in the next couple of weekends. Some of the titles here are classic, while the others are great dance movies. Ultimately, every single one is worth watching until the end!
We’ll have a few more similar guides for you in the future if you’re interested, such as a list of the best Bollywood movie dance scenes.
Tell us in the comment if you’re interested! And also, tell us which scene on this list impressed you the most. We’d love to hear what you think.