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25 Iconic Dance Sequences In Film

by The Playlist Staff
December 3, 2010 6:05 AM
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"The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi" (2003)
Music plays a pivotal role in Takeshi Kitano’s work, as he’s known for teaming with classical composer Joe Hisaishi. But when he took on “The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi,” he went in a different direction, employing Keiichi Suzuki for possibly his most musical picture yet. “Zatoichi” is a film alive with the rhythms and staccato beats of abbreviated sword fights intermingled with more mundane accouterments like the click-clack of sandals against brick, or the abrasive slam of hammer against wood. This is most prominent in the film’s joyous tap-dance sequence, ending the film riotously and bringing our characters full circle. In their heavily-choreographed soft-shoe number, all those wronged by the tragedy of the story are freed to embrace their inner-Astaire, a wonderful example of Kitano’s oft-ignored warmth and sense of community in his body of work.

"Singin' In The Rain" (1952)
Is Gene Kelly the perfect human? The fact that the man tap danced on roller skates and with an animated mouse strongly indicate that he was. "Singin' in the Rain" is by far his most beloved work, and for good reason too. The technicality and precision combined with the pure joyfulness and sense of fun expressed by of Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor is so infectious, we just don't mind when the movie stops for an extended routine. All the numbers move along at such a clip, and are so packed full of stunts and tricks to make you gasp. Even the simple sentiment expressed in "Good Morning" is punctuated with a stunning tap routine by the trio. We love Mr. Kelly for his amazing feats of dance, but the iconic 'Singing in the Rain" is his most memorable number because it is so heartfelt, silly, and fun. No one does a lovesick soft-shoe like him. And you have to give it up for Donald O'Connor-- when paired with the force that is Gene Kelly, he just about steals the whole damn show. "Make 'Em Laugh" is his chance to showcase his talents with this body-punishing feat of virtuosic physical comedy, which happens so fast you can barely take it all in.

"Happy Together" (1997)
What better way to fix a destructive, shitty relationship than to make a trip to Argentina? It's all for naught in Wong Kar-wai's 1997 relationship film, which nabbed him a Best Director award at Cannes. Leslie Cheung and Kar-wai regular Tony Leung play a couple that follow a cyclical pattern of argument, maltreatment, break-up, and reconciliation throughout the movie, despite knowing the futility of their bond. While the film doesn't shy away from showing their destructiveness towards one another (Leslie's character takes his new boyfriends to Tony's place of work constantly, etc.), the subtler dancing scenes, which serve as a greater metaphor for the pair, creep into the consciousness and leave an uncomfortable impact well after the last credit rolls by. Here, a pissed-off Cheung orders his partner to practice the steps by himself, with Leung proceeding to follow instructions, devoid of emotion, hoping only to please his love. It says a million, most importantly that their romantic connection isn't black and white, and the director shows the complexity of emotions that make up their being. He does it so finely that, much like them, we know it's a bad idea for them to be together but are fooled into thinking it might be worth all of the pain.

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More: Films, Feature, Black Swan

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  • Katie | February 2, 2011 6:32 AMReply

    The Seven Brides for Seven Brothers Barn Raising dance number has to be in this conversation. PERIOD. :)

  • Willem van der Plas | December 6, 2010 9:33 AMReply

    best boney m moment ever:
    From Shanghai Dreams

  • Larry Billman | December 5, 2010 12:30 AMReply

    A great - and very provocative- list. The minute you ask for "Iconic" or "Best," it all depends on the age and exposure to dance scenes in film. And what resonates with the viewer. Is it the stars, the characters and the arc they make, the emotion, the movement, the story? And, what is a "Dance?" Is it the over-30-minute-long waltz scene in "The Leopard?" The dizzying and emotionally powerful waltz in "Madame Bovary?" Or is it when Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze simply get into a dance position as he materializes in "Ghost?" How about the finest leg kicking, high-flying, girl tossing, plot developing dance ever in film: the "Barn Raising" in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers?" Thanks for opening heads, as we all start thinking about our favorite dances. And THAT IS A GOOD THING. Too many forget what "dance" can do in film.

  • debra levine | December 4, 2010 11:11 AMReply

    Really appreciate this great effort, and the scope of it, but, come on guys, no Jack Cole? Without whom there would be no Bob Fosse? Jack Cole, the great forgotten genius of dance choreography for film?

    Obvious starting Point: "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" But there is so much more!

  • John Hickey | December 4, 2010 6:21 AMReply

    I think you made an error in leaving out David Lynch's "Do The Locomotion" scene in Inland Empire.

  • Eliza | December 4, 2010 6:20 AMReply

    Great list! I agree that there should probably be some Busby Berkeley in there somewhere, and I would add maybe A Clockwork Orange's "Singin' in the Rain" and "The Time Warp" from Rocky Horror. I'm sure I could think of a million more. I may have to go through my collection...

  • MikeD | December 4, 2010 2:40 AMReply

    Also the cafe muller scene (opening scene) from Talk to her (2002)

  • Mz | December 3, 2010 10:06 AMReply

    Dancer in the Dark? The factory AND the court scenes a beautifully depressing~

  • NickL | December 3, 2010 7:44 AMReply

    Where is the triumphant climactic dance scene from Napoleon Dynamite?

  • JoeB | December 3, 2010 6:55 AMReply

    Great stuff- though I was really hoping the great jukebox scene near the end of "Y Tu Mama Tambien" would make the list

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