Dance on film has been around for years – whether present in one scene, a few, or jam-packed throughout the feature. We see dance in many musicals, of course, but also, in movies with just dialogue. You may not have heard of the following dance movies, but regardless of your plans this Valentine’s Day, they are sure to entertain! Grab some snacks, get cozy on the couch, and press play on these five feel-good films filled with incredible dancing.
1969, 2h 29m, G
While Sweet Charity is considered a musical comedy drama, it definitely contains a lot of dialogue – making it perhaps a more watchable option for the non-musical-loving people in your life. This flick came after the 1966 stage version, which was based on Federico Fellini’s screenplay, Nights of Cabiria. Both the stage and film versions of Sweet Charity were directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse. Shirley MacLaine plays Charity Hope Valentine, a witty, funny and charming character that I couldn’t help falling completely in love with shortly into the film. Charity works at a club in New York City as a taxi dancer – a performer employed by a venue to dance with customers who pay an amount per dance. All she wants is love, but keeps dating the wrong men. If you are familiar with Bob Fosse’s movement style, then you know that it’s inventive, unique, jazzy, sometimes provocative, and extremely recognizable. There is a large section of choreography at a club scene towards the beginning of the movie that will not disappoint. (Perhaps you have heard of “The Rich Man’s Frug” but didn’t know from which movie it originated?) It feels like the perfect choice and vibe for a friends’ night in or Galentine’s Day!
Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (The Young Girls Of Rochefort)
1967, 2h 5m, G
Have you ever wanted to visit France with your amour? The French spirit throughout this film might have you adding France and some of its romantic cities to your travel dream list. The dialogue of this movie is in French, but please don’t let the need to watch with subtitles lead you away! While all five of these dance movies have many routines in them, this musical comedy is by far the most bursting with back-to-back jazz-styled pieces of excellence choreographed by Norman Maen. Twins Delphine and Solange Garnier, played by real-life sisters Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac, yearn to find true love and live life in a bigger city. Their chances of reaching these dreams feel closer when a fair arrives in town for the weekend. If you're a Gene Kelly fan, you’ll also get to watch him in this movie! I can’t tell you his character name as it will give too much away ;) Fun fact for the West Side Story (1961) lovers: George Chakiris, the actor who plays Bernardo, leader of the Sharks, is also in this film as Étienne. A stage musical for this film was produced in 2003 in France.
2003, 1h 34m, PG-13
Snuggle up with your partner or loved one to this short, sweet, and easy-to-watch flick. Starring Jessica Alba as Honey Daniels, Honey is a dance film about a young girl living in the Bronx who wants to become a hip-hop choreographer. This movie even features a few Y2K rap star cameos. The story is inspired by the life of the choreographer, Laurieann Gibson, who can be seen on-screen as Honey’s rival, Katrina. You will see hip-hop in various settings such as the classroom, music videos, and on-stage – as well as a sprinkle of breakdancing!
Mao’s Last Dancer
2009, 1h 57m, PG
I absolutely loved this movie, and so did my husband! Li Cunxin, a Chinese-Australian professional ballet dancer, wrote a memoir titled Mao’s Last Dancer that was released in 2003. The autobiography was later made into a film, with professional ballet dancer Chi Cao playing Cunxin. The story is about a boy’s childhood in China, his ballet training experience, and his life in the United States. And of course, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, you’ll see Cunxin’s journey of love. There is a lot of substance to the plot, it is engaging, and I felt grateful to have discovered this film and be let into the story of Cunxin’s life. The cherry on top is the intense, breathtaking, and utterly amazing dancing throughout the movie, choreographed by Graeme Murphy.
2006, 1h 48m, PG
This flick is a computer-animated musical comedy, and it’s absolutely adorable. If you have children, or nieces and nephews, it is perfect for a movie night in with them – but also enjoyable for adults! Mumble is an emperor penguin. From childhood, every emperor penguin can sing. They each discover their personal heartsong which will one day attract a soul mate. Unfortunately, Mumble cannot sing, and experiences heavy ridicule from those around him. He does, however, have his own unique talent – tap dancing! This film follows how Mumble grows up and uses tap dancing to solve a vital issue for his community, and eventually charms his true love. Throughout the film, you will see many tap solos from Mumble, as well as large group numbers in other genres. The film is mostly animated, but motion capture technology of live human dancers was used for all of the dancing scenes. Every penguin is a real dancer’s performance. Kelley Abbey choreographed the film and was also the principal performer, capturing the motion of characters such as Gloria, Norma Jean, Ramon, and many more. The dancing and choreography for Mumble was provided by Savion Glover, who also co-choreographed the dance sequences.
After doing research on penguins, Abbey put Glover and the other dancers through character development, what she called “Penguin School”, where they would wear motion capture sensor suits and learn penguin-like movements with less range of motion as if they had flippers and shorter legs, even practicing with fake beaks on their heads. Mumble’s routines were filmed with Glover performing in a black bodysuit with 40 reflective sensors on a tiny stage under 60 lights. The cameras record the light movements created by the reflectors and turn it into data. While the performers danced on the capture floor, the director, George Miller, could instantly see their penguin characters on the monitor, directing them to keep their range of motion authentic to that of a penguin. You’ll notice when you watch the movie that there are scenes with thousands of penguins dancing. It is not an easy task to achieve a screen filled with thousands of dancing penguins, with the limited ability to motion capture small groups of dancers at a time. It was like a giant puzzle involving a lot of math to reach the final product of what you see as a viewer. A huge group of technicians at Animal Logic Studios in Australia transported these dances from the physical to the digital world. The hard work of this film is sure to put a smile on your face, and maybe encourage some of the little ones in your life to try tap dancing!
Whether you’re watching movies with friends, family, a lover, or by yourself – I hope you enjoy some of these films as much as I do. Have a Happy Valentine’s Day, and share a photo of your movie night by tagging @danceplug so we can see which ones you’re enjoying!