With the popularity of top ten lists these days, that got me to thinking – why not dance movies? In researching this topic, I looked for other top 10 dance movie lists – 10 Dance Movies That Are Actually Worth Your Time and My Favorite Ballet Movies are notable for their picks.
I’ve compiled mine around two themes – that those chosen were (mostly) from popular film genre and that one or more of the actors in each film had classical dance training:
- An American in Paris: my all time favorite with music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, the famous 17 minute “An American in Paris” ballet with sets by Marc Chagall – features Gene Kelly and the film debut of a very young Leslie Caron. Can’t beat this film for the best combination of toe-tapping, sing-a-long music combined with wit, warmth and Oscar Levant (watch for his marvelous “Concerto in F” sequence).
- The Red Shoes: based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, features Incredible and magical dance sequences starring the superb talents of Moira Shearer, Robert Helpmann and Leonide Massine. A Classic.
- Singin’ in the Rain: seems be at the top or near the top of everyone’s top ten dance movies – yes the famous routine featuring Gene Kelly “singin’ in the rain” is a not-to-be-missed favorite, but watch for his duet with Cyd Charisse in the “Broadway Melody” ballet sequence. With the ever-energetic Debbie Reynolds and smooth moves by Donald O’Connor.
- Daddy Longlegs: another favorite and perhaps more obscure – Leslie Caron shot this a few years after American in Paris. Features wonderful ballet sequences with Fred Astaire and inventive musical scenes with songs and lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Watch for the humorous Thelma Ritter.
- Blood Wedding: a 1981 spanish film by Carlos Saura, featuring Antonio Gades and his company of flamenco dancers, in an adaptation of the Federica Garcia Lorca play.
- West Side Story: the movie version of the legendary musical combines a superb story, choregraphy, dancing, music – starring Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Natalie Wood, Russ Tamblyn, Richard Beymer. With music and lyrics by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, and the choregraphy of Jerome Robbins.
- The Band Wagon: beautiful Cyd Charisse with Fred Astaire in this 1953 musical comedy.
- The Company: this 2003 Robert Altman film, starring Neve Campbell (who trained at the National Ballet School of Canada before becoming an actress) – features the ups and downs in a year from the life of the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. Also stars Malcolm McDowell and James Franco.
- Dirty Dancing: the iconic 1980’s dance film, starring dancer and actor Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey (daughter of Joel Grey). With it’s blend of nostalgia, romance and “dirty” dancing, the electric chemistry between Swayze and Grey is why I keep coming back.
- Billy Elliot: wonderful UK film featuring a young Jamie Bell in the title role. Nothing beats this for the sheer enjoyment of watching a youngster’s love of ballet win out against all odds in his quest for acceptance into the Royal Ballet School. Julie Walters plays the ballet teacher who gives him his start.
I leave you with 3 clips from more films (and 1 variety show) that didn’t make my list, yet have great dance sequences in them.
The late great ballerina Maria Tallchief, performing as Anna Pavlova in “The Dying Swan” sequence from the Esther Williams film, Million Dollar Mermaid:
Cyd Charisse from Silk Stockings:
Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor – dancing together in a 1959 bit from a Gene Kelly TV special – watch for the grace and timing of this superb duo: