36 amazing dance scenes

As BFI Southbank hosts a two-month celebration of some of the great dance movies, writers from across the BFI pick out a favourite on-screen dancing moment that always gets their toes tapping.

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Over the next two months, BFI Southbank is celebrating dance on film with a season of dancing classics, from the 30s song-and-dance showstoppers of Fred Astaire and Busby Berkeley to modern gems like Strictly Ballroom (1992) and Pina (2011). Meanwhile, a special accompanying event – Dance First, Think Later – will spread its net wider to discuss a host of memorable dancing scenes from non-dance films.

In the movies, just like in life, any moment can become a dancing moment. Dance in film is not just about musicals. In the famous scene above, from Big (1988), in which Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia dance out ‘Chopsticks’ on a toy shop’s giant piano, it doesn’t really matter that Hanks isn’t Gene Kelly. It’s an expression of joy and character rather than of professional ability – after all, dancing isn’t owned only by those who are good at it; we’ve all been known to have given it a go.

With boogying on the brain this summer, we asked writers from across the BFI to nominate a personal favourite dancing moment, whether a certifiably classic sequence or something more obscure. Feature films, shorts, TV, non-fiction, animation – all were up for grabs. Let’s hit the dancefloor…

The Rat (1925)

Director Graham Cutts

Darling of the West End stage Ivor Novello cemented his reputation as a screen idol with his portrayal of a self-penned role: Pierre Boucheron, aka ‘the Rat’, king of the Paris underworld. The Rat’s domain, The White Coffin Club, is the scene of the film’s famous apache sequence, in which he demonstrates his power over women. Pulling Mou Mou (Julie Suedo) onto the floor, he rips her tight skirt to accommodate the steps of the routine, but, rather than a display of rhythmic prowess, the dance is a risqué combination of passion and aggression rarely seen in British silent cinema.

Josephine Botting

The Little Colonel (1935)

Director David Butler

Can anybody resist the temptation of having a go at Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson’s staircase tap dancing sequence in The Little Colonel? It’s the bit before Shirley Temple joins him. Using a simple time signature, mostly four-four, his feet perform to the music he himself sings, and they create a little world of unique sounds and rhythms. You can close your eyes and it also works as a very fine piece of drumming. And, of course, the politics and injustice of it all still resonate today: where does the innovation come from, and who ends up with the recognition and the money?

Jóse de Esteban

Rainbow Dance (1936)

Director Len Lye

I make no claims for the flouncing about of ‘dancer’ Rupert Doone in Len Lye’s Rainbow Dance, but I am here to pitch for the film itself as an extraordinarily choreographed work, which mixes music, movement, the body and a firework display of colours and textures to glorious effect.

It was Norman McLaren who said that “every film is a kind of dance” – his Pas de deux (1968) and A Chairy Tale (1957) should make any list of dance on film. But it was Lye who set the tone in his ‘film ballet’ follow-up to A Colour Box (1935) for the GPO Film Unit; experimenting not just with the performer, the camera and the setting, but also with the very means of film reproduction itself. By befuddling the colour separation technique of the early colour process Gasparcolor, Lye created a dazzling combination of dance, poster film, surrealism, animation and, most importantly, fun. 

Jez Stewart

Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940)

Director Norman Taurog

For his first starring role at MGM, Fred Astaire was paired with cinema’s most dazzling female dancer of the 1930s, Eleanor Powell. While the resulting backstage musical may have been a rather routine affair, the climactic number was anything but. On a black mirrored floor enclosed by a backdrop of stars, the pair perform two separate dance routines in quick succession to differing arrangements of Cole Porter’s ‘Begin the Beguine’ – and the result is simply intoxicating. The second dance arguably the greater, containing, as it does, one of the most invigorating tap routines ever committed to film. Perfection!

John Oliver

Hellzapoppin’ (1941)

Director H.C Potter

“Don’t blame us if you laff yourself to death!” forewarned the poster advertisement. A wise disclaimer, as the film is gag-laden and side-splittingly funny. Yet in the midst of all the flapdoodle lands one of the most surefooted, to-be-taken-seriously swing-dance performances ever recorded. Led by Frankie Manning, his primo troupe, the Harlem Congeroos, storm through a frenzied, two-minute scene that’s inspired modern virtuosos and had hipsters scrambling to make the Lindy Hop their party piece. In one magical moment, a maid’s loosened hairpiece floats to the floor, limply out of time, and innocently places into perspective the electric energy, strength and tempo of the incandescent Congeroos.

Jonny Davies

Listen to Britain (1942)

Director Humphrey Jennings

Humphrey Jennings’ captivating collage of the sights and sounds of wartime Britain, is packed with memorable and moving scenes, of which this is just one:

It’s 1941 in Blackpool Tower Ballroom and the band is playing ‘Roll Out the Barrel’. Out on the dancefloor, couples in their assorted wartime finery display various levels of competence – sweeping, striding and stumbling past the camera. There are men and women singing along, women dancing with women, and members of HM Forces, resplendent in uniform, who have got in half-price. An overhead shot reveals the enormous, surging crowd – an impressive, exhilarating spectacle of communal activity and shared pleasure. Is it nostalgia for a vanished world – maybe one that never really existed – that makes this minute-long sequence so infinitely touching? Partly, I think, it’s that the crowd is so clearly composed of individuals, full of quirks and thoroughly lacking the inhuman precision of a Busby Berkeley number (or the Nuremberg Rallies). Partly too, it’s that the dance is glimpsed in mid-flow and only in the briefest flashes. It has neither beginning nor end, which imparts a sense of eternity – as if somewhere, in some enchanted time-warp, the dancers are wheeling round forever.

Margaret Deriaz

A Study in Choreography for the Camera (1945)

Director Maya Deren

Before becoming a filmmaker Maya Deren was a dancer, working with the influential Katherine Dunham company. In this three-minute film, Deren attempted to unite film and dance, a film-dance she called it, in such an inextricable way that neither could exist separate to each other. She collaborated with dancer, Talley Beatty to make it, but her editing of the film is as much responsible to the sense of movement as his action, particularly in his great leap at the end of the film. As in her earlier film At Land (1944) there is a single dancer, but because of the direct relationship to the camera, he is not alone.

Helen de Witt

Chasing the Blues (1947)

Directors J.D. Chambers and Jack Ellitt

The frame bursts open and two Sadler’s Wells dancers jump-dance through it then dance-sprint their way up close to viewers’ faces. Their athletic arrival epitomises this mix of management training with boldly stylised, syncopated filmmaking. They’re the solution (‘Mr Will and Mr Way’), to the problem of low productivity in Lancashire cotton mills. Pictograms come to life, their silhouettes are superimposed on animated and live action scenes, into which, timed to Jack Parnell’s upbeat jazz, they zestily add symbols of improved working conditions. Several steps ahead of the mainstream of the day, this unique short still puts a spring in the step of modern viewers. What mill managers made of it 1947 is anyone’s guess…

Patrick Russell

On the Town (1949)

Directors Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen

For me the queen of tap will always be Ann Miller. Raven-haired, sassy and incredibly fast (she was once timed at 500 taps per minute), Miller’s energy seemingly burst out of the screen. Her legs were reputedly insured by RKO for $1m, but it was with MGM that she did her best work – Easter Parade (1948), Kiss Me Kate (1953) and, my favourite, On the Town. Among a sublime ensemble cast, Miller shines as man-crazy anthropology student Claire Huddesen, and ‘Prehistoric Man’ is a standout sequence. Wearing a covetable green dress, and winking knowingly at the camera, Miller wraps it all up with a superlative display of tap that exhilarates and exhausts in equal measure, even making the museum’s dinosaur go weak at the knees.

Sarah Currant

The Band Wagon (1953)

Director Vincente Minnelli

Halfway into Vincente Minnelli’s satirical love letter to Broadway, the drained, mismatched stars of a new stage musical (Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse) call a truce and take a sanity-restoring break from the show’s catastrophic rehearsals. As they stroll in comfortable silence in moonlit Central Park, something wonderful happens: they just click. They begin to dance, elegantly and sensually, discovering both stylistic compatibility and intimate personal harmony. Galvanised by the unhurried orchestral rapture of Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’, they dance gracefully up a flight of steps and into a horse-drawn carriage (no easy feat), dazed, renewed and in love.

Patrick Fahy

‘Balletomines’, Mining Review (1954)

What a show! The roof is raised as eight ‘husky’ miners from the West Riding Colliery, resplendent in tutus, perform Delibes’ Coppelia at a charity event at Normanton Central Town Club. This story is from the monthly cine-magazine Mining Review and it was one of many startling discoveries among the hundreds of films which came to the BFI National Archive from the National Coal Board. It’s the sheer unexpectedness that I first loved, but the film is also beautifully photographed, with charming introductory close-ups of the stars of the show – first seen in their working environment at the pithead. The repertoire of these gutsy pirouetting miners also included the can-can.

Ros Cranston

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

Director Stanley Donen

Choreography meets construction in the infamous barn raising sequence of Stanley Donen’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Donen, a choreographer in his own right, collaborated with Michael Kidd (The Band Wagon, Guys and Dolls) on this tale of the biblically named Pontipee brothers and their ill-conceived backwoods courtships. To achieve the particularly high standard of dance seen on screen here, Kidd broke with traditional MGM protocol in the hiring of professional ballet dancers. With a cast rounded out by gymnasts and tumblers, this sequence memorably combines acrobatic prowess and balletic elegance. Though the film’s central Stockholm Syndrome premise is questionable by today’s standards, the displays of athleticism and artistry by its dancers are timeless.

Claire Geddie

The Pajama Game (1957)

Director George Abbott and Stanley Donen

Bob Fosse’s Broadway debut as choreographer in The Pajama Game had won him a Tony Award, but it with the 1957 film version that the wider world witnessed his revolutionary jazz style. Its ‘Steam Heat’ number is a masterclass in rhythm play. Dancers’ bodies do not glide silently but are percussive: feet slap, teeth hiss and tongues cluck. The bowler hat would reappear on Liza Minnelli in Cabaret (1972); atop Carol Haney, and her distinctive posture, it recalls another dancing factory worker: Chaplin in Modern Times (1936). As with Chaplin, the mechanised, uniform and repetitious character of industrial labour is incorporated and pushed to a zany level of syncopation.

Adrienne Rashbrook-Cooper

Let’s Make Love (1960)

Director George Cukor

In Let’s Make Love, Marilyn Monroe, flanked by tracksuited men, sings ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’ and delivers a striptease made unique by her trademark mock childlike innocence. At her most voluptuous, wearing a sweater over a body stocking, she doesn’t dance so much as swings from exercise poles into a multitude of male arms, moving seductively, all hooded eyes, pouty grin and swaying hips. Rumours of an affair with married co-star Yves Montand enhanced the innuendoes, as Marilyn invites boys to “dine on her fine Finnan Haddie” – “laddies” may be “perfectly swell” but she “simply couldn’t be bad”…

Mary Wild

West Side Story (1961)

Directors Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins

The routine for ‘Cool’ from West Side Story, choreographed by the brilliant Jerome Robbins, is said to be the most physically demanding dance sequence in the film. It’s set after the rumble that has led to the killing of the Jets’ leader, and the gang and their girlfriends want revenge. The range of other confused emotions – anger, fear, grief – are danced out to Leonard Bernstein’s complex jazz score, with conflicting rhythms layered at times to represent the fight that has just occurred.

Robbins was known as a hard taskmaster and as we watch the number it’s evident that the dancers are pushing themselves to their limits, as the sweat glows on their faces from the harsh lighting and lack of air, and their breathing is close to panting at the end of the routine. Eliot Feld, who played the peroxide blonde Baby John, suffered most as he contracted pneumonia midway through the shoot. He had to be taken to hospital, only returning to set the next morning – yet his timing remains impeccable.

Ilona Cheshire

Play It Cool (1962)

Director Michael Winner

Picture the scene: a Soho nightclub, packed with teenagers, circa 1962. Taking the stage, bequiffed British rock’n’roller Billy Fury launches into a blistering performance of a terrific new number, ‘Twist Kid’. “I’m doin’ the twist – all o’ the day,” he growls, with a moody curl of the lip, “ready to go – so get out of my way!” The kids go wild; furious twisting ensues. The film is Play It Cool, and this pre-Beatles pop musical provided British teens with a precious glimpse of that happenin’ new dance craze, The Twist. Snake-hipped Billy twists as well as he sings, but some of his audience aren’t so hot: so new was the dance, many of them had no idea how to do it. Hence there’s a lot of strange waving and leaping in the air going on, but it all adds to the frenzied fun. “Twist is here to stay,” Billy’s song concludes. It wasn’t, but this brilliant sequence freeze-dried it for us to marvel at today.

Vic Pratt

Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967)

Director Jacques Demy

It’s the scene where Andy (Gene Kelly, all teeth, toupee and trim athleticism) sings and dances to express his joy at falling in love at first sight with Solange (Françoise Dorléac), just encountered when he helped pick up the satchel dropped by her young brother. As Michel Legrand’s music switches from the ‘piano concerto’ theme that swells up when the pair’s eyes first meet to a jazzier variation, Kelly makes his exhilarating way down the street, changing dance styles as befits the sailors, miniskirted girls and schoolkids he stops to tell about his coup de foudre.

What makes the scene so special, apart from the extraordinary energy that permeates the entire film, is its meticulously balanced blend of everyday reality (it was shot on location in Rochefort and used locals as extras and in minor roles) and fairytale romance (the town was repainted and its inhabitants costumed – often bizarrely – in pastel hues). It’s a winning mixture that brings a rare emotional depth and honesty to the fantasy world of the dance musical.

Geoff Andrew

The Jungle Book (1967)

Director Wolfgang Reitherman

King Louie the orangutan (Louis Prima) is perhaps the most memorable of the conniving anthropomorphised animals out to trick orphan Mowgli in The Jungle Book. During his performance of ‘I Wan’na Be like You (The Monkey Song)’, Louie dances, sings and scats with such joyous abandon, even Mowgli’s beatnik bear custodian Baloo can’t help but dance along (though he wears a grass skirt and coconut mask as a rudimentary disguise). Louie’s backing band include one of his bopping monkey minions slapping out a beat on a hollowed-out tree trunk and an aged ape happily strolling along playing air-trumpet – a fitting accompaniment for a self-proclaimed jungle VIP.

Lou Thomas

Pakeezah (1972)

Director Kamal Amrohi

Pakeezah is a tragic tale of forbidden love from Bollywood in 1972. ‘Inhi Logon Ne’ is the first major song and dance sequence, and our stunning introduction to the heroine, the courtesan/dancer, Sahibjaan. In a swirl of scarlet, all coquettish and flirtatious glances and gestures, she sings to her audience of the men who took her honour away.

The Technicolor playfulness of the sequence has enchanted thousands, and there’s a tribute to it in East Is East (1999) when Archie Panjabi’s character breaks into an impromptu backyard dance to the song with the aid of a nearby broom.

Ayesha Khan

The Wigan Casino (1977)

Director Tony Palmer

The Mods first adopted soul music in the 1960s, but it was the northern soul devotees of the 1970s who expressed their passion for it most intensely. Eschewing alcohol for amphetamines, they brought a new repertoire of breathtakingly athletic movement and intricate footwork to the dancefloors of a post-industrial north. Tony Palmer’s documentary about northern soul’s most iconic venue shows its dancers in full flow, transcending the crushing grind of day to day life through spins, flips and backdrops in styles that were arguably a precursor to breakdancing of the 1980s.

Ian O’Sullivan

The Morecambe & Wise Christmas Show (1977)

The Morecambe & Wise Christmas Show was always a highlight of Christmas Day television. What makes the 1977 Christmas Show so special to me was the energetic and amusing interpretation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘There Is Nothing like a Dame’. As with most of Eric and Ernie’s musical numbers, the gag was that the guest stars would appear at first with their backs to the camera then turn around to reveal their faces. However, in this case the surprise appearances of newsreaders, sports presenters and film reviewers singing and dancing (well, sort of dancing) was topped off with them performing a sequence of spectacular gymnastic somersault routines. Great editing. Great song. Great fun.

Kathleen Luckey

Permanent Vacation (1980)

Director Jim Jarmusch

Drifting through a downbeat New York, Aloysious Christopher Parker (Chris Parker) cuts a lean, solitary figure in Jim Jarmusch’s debut feature. When he plays a record in a run-down apartment, he transcends the drabness of his surroundings, wigging out to Earl Bostic’s rousing, saxophone-saturated ‘Up There in Orbit’.  He paces, spins and shuffles, every inch as loose and lithe as the music. He dips to the floor, the track keeps playing, he rises to dance again. The girl he’s there with (Leila Gastil) sits throughout – but this is a moment of connection for Jarmusch’s pensive protagonist.

Jonathan Benaim

Strange Behaviour (1981)

Director Michael Laughlin

A favourite dance scene of mine is from this offbeat slasher/mystery film, also known as Dead Kids. Set in the fictional small town of Galesburg, Illinois (but filmed in New Zealand), Dead Kids is an oddball tale of high-school murders, bizarre experiments and mad doctors. It boasts one of horror cinema’s strangest party scenes – a fancy dress party where all the local kids have come dressed as 1960s TV characters, including Batman and Robin, Lily Munster, Wilma Flintstone and even Hoss Cartwright from Bonanza. The party is in full swing when Lou Christie’s hit song ‘Lightnin’ Strikes’ kicks out the speakers and, inexplicably, the partygoers break into highly stylised, synchronised dancing. It’s a wonderfully bizarre moment in a film that, despite its more grisly moments, pays loving homage to hazy small-town Americana of the 50s and 60s.

James Blackford

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Director John Hughes

John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club, about five teens from different social cliques stuck in Saturday detention, includes a dance sequence that’s short but perfectly formed. Confined to the school library and told to each write an essay about who they think they are results in the teens eventually opening up to each other. What follows is a classic dance montage in which they each strut their stuff to ‘We Are Not Alone’ by Karla DeVito, and while their dance moves may differ, the simple motif of close-ups on each of their pairs of dancing feet illustrates perfectly what the group (and the audience) are beginning to understand: they’re really not so different after all.

Liz Parkinson

Something Wild (1986)

Director Jonathan Demme

Somewhere in heaven this moment from Jonathan Demme’s screwy yuppie-nightmare comedy Something Wild is playing on loop. Midway through their impromptu road-trip misadventure, straitlaced banker Charlie (Jeff Daniels) accompanies the capricious Lulu (Melanie Griffiths) to a high-school reunion. Improbably, the Feelies are the house band, and after one of their own jittery gems, the pace slows to a narcotic groove for a cover of David Bowie’s ‘Fame’. Everyone’s dancing better than anyone ever danced at a school reunion and Charlie quickly raises his game – jerking, waving, strutting, even moonwalking with inspired, voguish abandon. Lulu lets him lead, giggling and keeping time with hand claps as the man in the blue suit cuts his shapes.

Samuel Wigley

Looking for Langston (1989)

Director Isaac Julien

There are several gorgeous dance scenes in Looking for Langston, Isaac Julien’s beautiful meditation on the history of queer lives in Harlem and the iconic status of poet Langston Hughes and other black artists, spanning the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s to the present day.

While the early dance scenes show gay couples waltzing slowly on the dancefloor at a smoky 1920s speakeasy, the final sequence shows the same tuxedoed men cutting loose to pumping house music, dancing in gleeful mockery as angry policeman and homophobic yobs try to break in. It’s a thrilling and delightful intrusion of contemporary club culture, jolting the narrative into the modern day.

Alex Davidson

Paris Is Burning (1990)

Director Jennie Livingston

Jennie Livingston’s portrait of the Bronx drag ball scene doesn’t really have dance ‘numbers’. Rather, the rhythm of the film are the fabulous gestures, poses and struts that comprise riotous ball performances (to chants of “WERK! WERK! WERK!”). Some might say the film doesn’t even contain dance as such. But what Paris Is Burning taught me (better than Judith Butler ever could) is that everything we do with our bodies is a dance. That gender, class, race is a performance danced out on the streets – and, as such, able to be imitated in the ballroom where “you can be whoever you want to be.” Strangely enough, my favourite dance moment doesn’t take place in the ballroom, but on a beach. After telling us of her recent “transsexualism” operation, Brooke Xtravaganza twirls and skips across the sand, and she and a girlfriend sing, in a theatrical old lady voice: “I am what I am, I am my own special creation.” It’s a beautiful, playful moment filled with joy.

David Edgar

The Fisher King (1991)

Director Terry Gilliam

The Fisher King, Terry Gilliam’s most brazenly emotional film, forgoes the vitriol or joyous surrender to sheer fantasy that characterises his other work. It’s a deft hand, however, that perfectly balances Arthurian legend with New York grime and magic realism with social realism. The visionary apex of the film sees Robin Williams as Parry, a mentally ill homeless romantic stalk the girl he loves from a distance through Grand Central Station. His joy at seeing her manifests visually around him as the commuters between them break into a grand and unexpected waltz. A pure cinema, pre-flashmob vision of impossible beauty.

Jon Spira

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Director Quentin Tarantino

Although it feels like one of Quentin Tarantino’s cinematic in-jokes, Pulp Fiction’s dance sequence was written before the washed-up, middle-aged star of Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Grease (1978) was cast due to the unavailability of Michael Madsen. Tarantino later commented that if anything the sequence was a homage to the dance numbers in Godard’s films, notably Bande à part (1964) – something fun, that comes out of nowhere. Genre bending. With his ponytail and paunch, John Travolta is the hapless gangster Vincent Vega assigned to escort his boss’s slick wife, Mrs Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman), to Jack Rabbit Slim’s Twist Contest. Dancing to Chuck Berry’s ‘You Never Can Tell’, they’re terrific together, she’s barefoot, he’s in his socks. Like all the best dance sequences, it conveys a whirl of apparent contradictions that don’t easily fit into any other kind of action or into dialogue. It’s cool yet gauche, both unbridled and restrained. It’s comic but deadly serious, instantly classic yet enduringly original.

Jane Giles

Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion (1997)

Director David Mirkin

Somewhat overlooked at the time of its release, Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion has established a very respectable cult following over the years, and nowhere are the secrets to its oddball charm more apparent than in the film’s climactic scenes. Having triumphed over their former bullies, our heroines take to the floor and embark on one of cinema’s strangest moments of choreography to the nostalgic sounds of Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time after Time’. Former classmate Sandy Frink may join them in the spotlight, but this is all about the two women, celebrating their love for each other and embracing their status as outsiders through the medium of dance.

Michael Blyth

Beau Travail (1999)

Director Claire Denis

Ever since his berserk sprinting workout to Bowie’s ‘Modern Love’ in Leos Carax’s Mauvais Sang (1986) – recently appropriated by Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha (2012) – Denis Lavant has proven one of the most intensely physical of contemporary screen performers. But it’s not until the dying moments of Claire Denis’ mesmeric spin on Melville’s Billy Budd that we see him really let loose. Left in a suicidal funk, Lavant’s isolated legionnaire is last seen (or imagined?) alone on a dancefloor, suddenly erupting into a convulsive, flailing interpretation of Corona’s ‘Rhythm of the Night’. In a film dominated by images of synchronised bodily movements – military exercises, nightclub dancing – it’s a sublime shock of ragged individuality, and a bracing example of dance as spiritual catharsis.

Matthew Taylor  

Donnie Darko (2001)

Director Richard Kelly

In a film full of musical 80s moments, this two-minute sequence is my favourite. Faces fixed with determined pouts and silver leotards dazzling under flashbulbs and stage lights, Donnie’s 12-year-old sister Samantha (Daveigh Chase) and her Sparkle Motion dance group perform synchronised gyrations to Duran Duran’s ‘Notorious’ at the high-school talent night. Only Donnie’s bemused English teacher (played by Drew Barrymore) seems to realise the routine is so awkwardly age-inappropriate, eye-rolling stage left while zealot gym teacher Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant) proudly counts out the moves with a clenched fist. The Darko family cheer with glee in the audience, but where’s Donnie? He’s following instructions from nightmarish man-rabbit Frank and setting fire to the mansion home of motivational speaker Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze), soon exposed as a paedophile when a child-porn dungeon is found in the ruins…

(Trivia: The routine was actually performed and shot to the Pet Shop Boys’ ‘West End Girls’ but Kelly re-dubbed with ‘Notorious’ when he couldn’t clear the rights)

Ben Roberts

Blackpool (2004)

Creator Peter Bowker

Peter Bowker’s musical drama series for BBC1 was constantly compared to the work of Dennis Potter, and while the characters do burst into song and dance routines in the middle of criminal acts and emotional traumas, it’s safe to say Potter would never have constructed a choreographed drugs bust to the Smiths’ ‘The Boy with the Thorn in His Side’. Led by DI Carlisle (David Tennant), a troupe of police sidle up to arrest Danny Holden (Thomas Morrison) while performing a dance routine along one of Blackpool’s North Shore colonnades. It may be a downbeat number but, like the rest of the series, it’s wry and tender too. 

Lisa Kerrigan

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Director Rob Marshall

This dance scene is a climatic moment in the film – until now we’ve witnessed Sayuri’s many struggles as an apprentice geisha or maiko, but here she appears triumphant at the height of her artistry. Her towering platform sandals (geta) glide effortlessly across the stage but as a violent snowstorm descends, Sayuri’s movements become more maniacal; this dance is simultaneously about control and an apparent loss of control. 

Most likely inspired by the popular kabuki dance Sagi Musume (The Heron Maiden), which also features a solo performer in a white costume and snowfall, this reimagining now evokes the catwalks of Gaultier or McQueen. And indeed, Colleen Atwood went on to win the Academy Award for best costume design in 2006 for her work on the film.

Gemma Starkey

Connect (2010)

Director Samuel Abrahams

London, 2010. Somewhere on the Edgware Road a young woman (Tuppence Middleton) idly daydreams while riding the bus home. She pictures a pushy passenger drawing a gun and blasting his way to a free seat, before snapping back to reality and flirting with another fed up passenger (Daniel Lawrence Taylor). Their ‘connect’ is brief, cut short by his departure at the next stop. But all is not lost.

In one of the most delightfully unexpected moments in recent British cinema, the remaining passengers suddenly cast off their commuter inhibitions and unite in a burst of dance that flows across the seats of the lower deck: a student jumps and spins, a nurse throws her hands aloft while the previously threatening gunman embraces his former victim and lifts her to the heavens.

The dance ends as quickly as it has begun; another fanciful reverie of the young woman. When she looks again at her co-travellers they’re still seated, isolated and bored, having never actually moved. But for a beautiful moment, this BAFTA-nominated short has whisked us all away from routine reality, creating a precious happy fantasy to counter the joyless mundanity of commuting. 

Dylan Cave

Pina (2011)

Director Wim Wenders

“Dance, dance… otherwise we are lost.” Pina Bausch

The great German director Wim Wenders shot his 2011 film Pina, a homage to the German dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch, in stunning 3D, capturing the boundless physicality of the modern-dance pioneer in a dazzling combination of movement and space. Enacted by a group of sensational dancers from Bausch’s company, the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, the dance sequence with Ditta Miranda Jasjfi under the rain in the darkness is a vivid representation of freedom and the struggle that comes with it. Following a long-planned collaboration between Wenders and Bausch, Pina was in preproduction when the choreographer died in 2009. However, Wenders went on to complete the film two years later, capturing Bausch’s art in the most exhilarating way.

Georgia Korossi

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