Ah, dancing movies. Hotly debated as viable interests, most dancing movies remain secret sources of shame for those that love them. While some are amusing, some attempt to take themselves too seriously. Still others fail to provide enough dancing, and some have taken on a life of their own through the passage of time and nostalgia.
First off, a few clips from films that didn't quite make the cut ...
Step Up 2 The Streets Part 2
And now, we here at Film.com humbly offer up our top five selections for the greatest dance scenes in the history of film.
5. Napoleon Dynamite
A movie that most people either love or hate, 2004's Napoleon Dynamite served as a milestone for all the strangely quirky films that would come after. While the story itself centers around awkward Napoleon (Jon Heder) and his high-school troubles in helping a friend become class president, all is brought to a head when Napoleon decides he must dance to garner support for his wildly-unpopular candidate. Up on stage, a strange two-minute improvised lurch begins, admittedly with some pretty sweet moves. All of this transpires in front of the whole school, and for a moment you're sure that these unresponsive kids are going to humiliate poor Napoleon; but as his dance ends, the crowd erupts and he's saved the day. A quick YouTube search reveals countless imitators, but no original clip, as this simple dance captured the attention of hundreds of teenagers hoping to distinguish themselves at various talent competitions around the country.
Editor's Note: The clip isn't available to embed, but here is a decent imitation.
Flashdance, cutting edge in 1983, now seems hopelessly outdated in ways that the other older films don't. Jennifer Beals plays a fiery welder who dances by night and dreams of joining a ballet company. Widely parodied is the "Maniac" dance sequence in which Beals (or her dance double, I know, I know) warms up by running in place, stretching all over, quite provocatively. The running theme throughout Flashdance never really touches joy, as Beals struggles to make a decent life for herself in a mostly dark world. Where the other films treat problems as necessary but not detrimental to the dancing happiness of any parties involved, Flashdance strives for a different take, acknowledging and taking control over the limited circumstances Beals finds herself in and her struggle to pull herself free.
3. Singin' In the Rain
It seems as if fewer and fewer people have seen the iconic dance scene with the umbrella, and though Singin' In the Rain was filmed in 1952, this elegant and joyous tap number performed by Gene Kelly never fails to impress me ever since I saw it as a young child. Kelly warbles, taps, shlooshes, and splashes his way through a lengthy number in which he becomes soaking wet, though remains entirely, radiantly, jubilant. When it's dry outside in the dead of summer, one can always return to this sequence for a drenching downpour, dripping with verve. Most impressively, this reportedly was all captured during a single take as Kelly was desperately ill with a 103 degree fever. The final moment of the scene, as Kelly kindly hands off his umbrella to a fellow pedestrian as Kelly himself is already doused, is a sweet finishing touch.
2. Dirty Dancing
After Baby has been taken out of the corner by Patrick Swayze in the final moments, we are given over to one of the best dance sequences ever committed to film, one shining moment as "Time of My Life" fills the air. All at once, Baby is no longer the awkward and gangly girl she once was, finding herself changed through her love and the dancing skills of the Swayze. Other dancers eventually join in, and though everyone is dancing around them, it is that ability that love has to hold us in as though there is no one else that makes this moment so sacred and lovely.
Editor's Note: The clip isn't available to embed, but here's a high defintion version.
This final dance highlights something that runs through all of these films, and that is a cynic's nightmare: true joy. The joy of dancing, the joy of being together with other people who are young and just as alive as you are, this is what makes these films so great, and none of them capture this feeling as well as the final moments of Footloose. After Kevin Bacon struggled so long, and fought so hard, to make dancing legal again in the small Midwestern town where it had been previously banned, we are treated to an extensive prom dance scene where silver confetti rains down on the exuberant crowd of teenagers showing off and having a wonderful time. One by one, various high schoolers are brought out or called out onto the dance floor, showing off their dancing skills which until now had been hidden under their quiet Midwestern exteriors. Though much of the dancing in the film feels unruly and wild, much like the characters themselves there is a limitless energy in the end which makes this last scene unforgettable.