Reel Moves:10 Iconic Dance Scenes in Movies

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Written By Amanda Anthony

Amanda is a freelance writer passionate about horror and fantasy films. When she’s not writing about the latest celebrity hijinks and epic on-screen moments, you can find her watching Blumhouse films through the delicate fibers of a protective blanket. Amanda lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with her husband, kiddos, and goofy golden doodle, Ripley.

Dance scenes in movies have a magical way of captivating audiences, combining the beauty of choreography with storytelling. These scenes stand out not only for their choreography but also for how they serve the story and character development. Here are 10 iconic dance scenes from movies we love to rock out to.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Dance moves
Image Credit: Miramax

The twist dance by Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) in the retro diner is one of the film’s most memorable moments. Pulp Fiction (1994) is a film about two mob hitmen, a boxer, a gangster’s wife, and a pair of diner bandits. Stories intertwine in four tales of violence, redemption, and crime. Stories are characterized by sharp dialogue, eclectic soundtracks, and dark humor, exploring themes of morality and chance.

Dirty Dancing (1987)

Dance movies
Image Credit: Great American Films Limited Partnership

No film dance scene list would be complete without Dirty Dancing (1987). The climactic scene with Baby (Jennifer Grey) and Johnny (Patrick Swayze) dancing to “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” is unforgettable. Dirty Dancing follows a family vacation to the Mountain Lake Hotel where the youngest daughter, Baby winds up taking dance lessons from Johnny. The film shows the difference between classes and wealth in the 1960’s.

Saturday Night Fever (1977)

Dance films
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

In Saturday Night Fever (1977), young Brooklyn native Tony Manero (John Travolta) escapes the confines of his mundane life on the dance floor. Amid the pulsating beats and flashing lights of the Saturday night discotheque, Tony navigates love, friendship, and dreams of a life beyond his blue-collar existence. John Travolta’s disco dance sequences, especially to Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive,” became emblematic of the disco era.

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Dance films
MGM Studios

From the golden age of musicals, Singin’ in the Rain (1952) is set during Hollywood’s transition from silent films to talkies. Star Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and his friends face challenges adapting to the new format, particularly when the voice of Lockwood’s on-screen partner, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), proves problematic. Amid the backdrop of this changing film landscape, Lockwood falls for young actress Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), leading to iconic musical numbers and romantic entanglements. Kelly’s performance of the title song, dancing through Puddles with an Umbrella, is legendary.

West Side Story (1961)

Dance Films
Image Credit: The Mirisch Corporation and Seven Arts Productions

West Side Story (1961), is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. Tensions rise in New York City as two rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, battle for territory and respect. Amid this backdrop of conflict, forbidden romance blossoms between Tony (Richard Beymer), a former member of the Jets, and Maria (Natalie Wood), the younger sister of the Sharks’ leader, leading to tragic consequences. The dance at the gym sequence is fantastic. It showcases a mix of ballroom and street dance, highlighting the tension between the Sharks and the Jets.

Grease (1978)

Dance films
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

In Grease (1978), Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) is surprised to see her summer fling Danny (John Travolta) goes to her new high school. Danny tries to play it cool with his friends, hurting Sandy’s feelings. Throughout the musical, there are many dance scenes to sing and shimmy along with. The final dance number is unforgettable. Danny and Sandy both change for each other, one becoming a greaser, the other prep. They’re so touched, they sing a song about it. Some feel the film has aged terribly, but the music is here to stay.

Footloose (1984)

Dance films
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

In Footloose (1984) a teenage boy, Ren (Kevin Bacon), moves to a small town from Chicago. The town has outlawed dancing. With a few new friends and a love interest, Ren tries to warm the town up to the idea of dancing again. This is one film where the protagonist triumphs, because he gets his dance in the end. Ren’s anger-fueled warehouse dance is a standout moment, representing a youth’s desire for freedom and expression.

Flashdance (1983)

Dance films
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

In Flashdance (1983) Alex (Jennifer Beals) balances her life between her day job as a steel mill welder and her nights as an exotic dancer. She secretly nurtures a dream of joining a prestigious ballet academy. Guided by ambition, love, and the iconic water-drenched dance sequences, Alex strives to turn her aspirations into reality. A memorable moment is when Alex performs her impassioned dance to “What a Feeling,” finally winning her place at the dance academy.

Chicago (2002)

Dance films
Image Credit: Miramax

Chicago (2002) is a film about a women’s jail facility. Accused husband murderer, Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) works with lawyer, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), to get her off the hook. During her time in prison, Hart joins forces with fellow jailbird Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), also imprisoned for murdering her husband, and her sister. The “Cell Block Tango” performed by the murderesses is a powerful, seductive, and darkly comedic number.

La La Land (2016)

Dance films
Image Credit: Summit Entertainment

In La La Land (2016), aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), struggle to make it in modern-day Los Angeles. The two embark on a whirlwind romance. As they pursue their dreams, they confront the challenges of ambition and compromise. Every dance scene in La La Land is eye-catching. The “City of Stars” pier dance between Mia and Sebastian under the night sky captures the dreamy essence of Hollywood. The final scene with Mia’s white dress and the lights twinkling like stars behind them offers the perfect happy ending.

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Pride and Prejudice Focus Features
Image Credit: Focus Features

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The Truman Show Paramount
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

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Bohemian Rhapsody 20th Century
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

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