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25 Iconic Dance Sequences In Film

Features
by The Playlist Staff
December 3, 2010 6:05 AM
10 Comments
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"Young Frankenstein" (1974)
There are scenes on this list that will have you swooning with the romance of it all. There are scenes that have you blown away by the physical feats involved, or make you fight the urge to get up and dance yourself. But there's only one that can't fail to reduce anyone to howls of laughter -- "Puttin' On The Ritz" from Mel Brooks' classic comedy "Young Frankenstein." We've watched the scene, in which Gene Wilder's Frederick Frankenstein and his creation (Peter Boyle) perform Irving Berlin's song, countless times, and not once have we managed to make it past Boyle's first delivery of the titular line without collapsing into the kind of laughter that hurts the next day. If you haven't seen it, we won't spoil it here -- just make sure you're not at risk of doing a spit take, and watch below.

"Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986)
John Hughes’ “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is a movie which modulates effortlessly between triumphant teenage joy and more melancholic introspection (it’s the latter that makes every high school kid in America quote the film in their senior yearbook). The “Twist & Shout” sequence, in which Ferris (Matthew Broderick), looking to get a rise out of his Eeyore-ish pal Cameron (Alan Ruck) and smoking hot girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara), smuggles himself aboard a parade float and defiantly dances (despite the fact that he’s trying to keep a relatively low profile on his day of prolonged hooky-playing). Ferris sways with the background dancers and gamely lip-syncs to the bar mitzvah staple, his hair in a gravity-defying pompadour, and for both the audience of spectators watching the parade and the audience in the theaters, it’s a moment of pure cinematic ascension; you can't help but smile. As far as dance numbers go, this certainly isn't the most sophisticated or well choreographed. But then again, it's not supposed to: it's an impromptu act of innocuous teenage rebellion and the dance moves' lack of sophistication makes it all the more infectious (a marching band joins in, as does a builder working nearby, and Ferris' father, unaware of his son's involvement, even shimmies a little bit). Anyone who's ever skipped school has wished they could have accomplished something so awesome, especially while wearing such an awful vest.

"Band Of Outsiders" (1964)
While dance sequences and musicals were certainly not a new element to the film landscape in the 1960s, Jean Luc Godard's introduction of the random non-sequitur dance sequence may have been just one of the electric New Wave techniques he ushered in during his relatively brief, but arresting halcyon days (when you think about it, his reign only lasted from '59-'67). Would-be lovers and criminals Anna Karina, Sami Frey, Claude Brasseur philosophize, plan their heist in a cafe over drinks and cigarettes, a jukebox number comes on (score by the great Michel Legrand) and then suddenly the trio fall in place with a chorus line-like dance for the '60s hipster set (now famously known as “The Madison dance”). So unexpected, the scene is certainly iconic and perhaps one of the more memorable sequences from the French New Wave. To wit, Quentin Tarantino named his production company A Band Apart -- Godard's guys-and-girl-plan-a-heist/ go-on-the lam film is called “Bande à part” in French -- and his “Pulp Fiction” dance sequence also feels like another hat tip. Semi-embarrassing/prideful extra credit: This writer once memorized this dance and skipped along to picture in his early salad days.

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10 Comments

  • 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
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUKxDVilH8M

  • 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!

    http://artsmeme.com/2010/11/10/jack-cole-marilyn-reunited-jacobs-pillow/

  • 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.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djh1UprzoLk

  • 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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