Dance has always been a big part of my life. I started dancing when I was 3, beginning with ballet. I remember getting ready for my first class dressed in a pink leotard and skirt, with my hair in a bun and wearing what I thought was the most special pair of shoes I had ever seen: my first pair of ballet pumps. The class was amazing – there was music, freedom, dancing and so much fun that I forgot about everything else. That class was the first of many, and kicked off my love for dance. My love for dance continued as I tried tap, character, jazz, contemporary, hip hop, and Spanish. Almost twenty years later I’m still dancing and still loving it.
Dance films played a big role in inspiring me to continue dancing and explore new styles of dance. I could watch dance and be immersed in it at any time in the day, and without having to buy a ticket for a show. I could re-watch dance sequences again and again, and learn the routines. Dance could take me away from my current situation and life stresses and into a world where these things didn’t matter. Dance films also provide the added benefit of amazing costumes, fast-paced dialogue, drama, romance, comedy and multiple worldwide locations all rolled into a 90 to 120-minute film that you can enjoy in your pjs at 2am on Sunday morning – what’s not to love? Here are what I believe to be the best dance films out there that changed my life and will change yours too.
“I am the best god Damn Dancer in the American Ballet Academy – who the hell are you? Nobody”- Maureen
Probably the first proper dance film that I ever saw, and in my opinion still the best. You’ve got a love triangle, killer dance scenes, and some super serious on-screen drama. Centre Stage follows a dozen young dancers who are beginning their training at the fictitious American Ballet Academy with the hope of receiving a spot at the end of the year in the prestigious American Ballet Company. The dancers encounter physical, mental and emotional challenges along the way to achieving what they all want, but only a few can have. The montage scenes of the dancers warming up for class and putting on their pointe shoes is one of my favourite scenes of all time, and certainly made those painful first weeks of breaking in my own shoes that much easier. But the best thing about this film is the final dance showcase – from the moment Cooper Neilson rides his motorbike onstage as Michael Jackson’s The Way You Make Me Feel’ plays, to the 28 fouettes Jody does in red pointe shoes, you know this dance sequence is going to be as far away from Les Sylphides as you can get. I basically know the entire script off by heart, and continue to watch it at least a couple of times a year because IT IS SOOO GOOOD. A must watch for all dance lovers.
The Red Shoes
A classic old-school ballet film. It was made in the 40s and before the wonders of torrenting were revealed to me, finding a copy of this film was hard, but is so worth it. The Red Shoes tells the story of Victoria, an aspiring ballerina torn between her dedication to dance and her desire to love. Under great emotional stress, Vicky dances in the production of The Red Shoes and must choose to pursue dance or love, a decision that carries serious consequences. This film is dramatic, intense and you become very emotionally invested in it. The dancing and the film production work so well together making such a great dance film. The sets are amazing and the style encompasses so much of what I love about old films and dance. This film can be weird at times, with surreal dance sequences, but that is what makes it so perfect. Watch this and you will be drawn deeper into dance.
Barbie and the 12 Dancing Princesses
A fun animated film about dance. This film is perfect for audiences young and old. I used to watch this film whenever I was sick and off from school because it has the ability to transport you to a different world. Don’t be put off by the fact that it is a Barbie movie (even though I can’t see how this would), or that it is animated – the dancing in this film was actually performed by dancers and was then animated to be used in this film. Barbie and the 12 Dancing Princesses is based loosely on the fairytale The Twelve Dancing Princesses and is about twelve princesses who live with their widowed father and find comfort in dancing. When their aunt is invited over to help raise the princesses she has another agenda wanting to become queen, and attempts to break the princess’s spirits by banishing everything they love – including dancing. The film is very enjoyable to watch, and is actually quite funny. But be warned – you will not be able to get the music out of your head. Is that really a bad thing?
A more realistic look at the dance world and what it takes to make it. First Position is a documentary following six dancers ranging in age from nine to nineteen who prepare and compete in the Youth America Grand Prix, a competition in which dance schools and companies from around the world scout for new talent. This film is raw – it captures the hard work these dancers put into pursing their dream and how this work sometimes pays off, but often doesn’t. You see the pain, tears, heartbreak and sweat that goes into dance everyday for these individuals. You also see the determination, aspiration, and commitment that these dancers have, which is truly inspiring.
A film about an unconventional way of entering into dance that is powerful and ultimately heartwarming. Billy Elliot is an 11-year-old boy in Northern England who one day stumbles upon a ballet class during his boxing lesson. Within a short time, Billy finds himself immersed in dance and demonstrating an amazing raw talent for ballet. This film is about dance and ballet; it is about strength, power and hard work. I love the way this film portrays ballet as something athletic and powerful, contrary to what people often associate with ballet dancers, or dancers in general. A great film for anyone interested in dance or not, but anyone who watches this will leave with a new-found appreciation for dancers, especially male dancers.
An American in Paris
A Broadway dance film with lots of singing, colourful costumes and great dance sequences. Perhaps one of the more well known movies I have mentioned, An American in Paris follows Jerry Mulligan who has come to Paris to become a painter and falls for Lise Bouvier. Together they enter into a world of romance filled with lots of dance. The opening dance scene with Lise and her colourful ballet costumes is an all time favourite of mine. This film is fun and fast-paced. It has probably the greatest variety of dancing, and least amount of ballet in it – would be good to start off with, especially for someone who already loves musicals or who is new to the world of dance film.
Words by Rachel Thomas
This article first appeared in print volume 88 edition 4 GIRL