If you’re a dancer, waiting (with masked breath) for the world to reopen, or if you’re someone hoping for a safe stage to host performers and theatrical productions again, this article might restore some faith. The magic of the movies is forever an inspiration for artists, as going back to iconic images is what makes us look forward to creating our own!
The relationship between dance and the movies is multifaceted. The mixed bag of authors, choreographers, costume and set designers tend to bring some fabulously curated, memorable outcomes. So, let’s look at the celebration of culture through dance in international cinema, with a lesser-heard list of films where dance pivots the plot.
Anna May Wong is known to be the first Chinese American actress to have gained a foothold in Hollywood. Despite being exotically positioned as a bicultural spectacle for Jazz Age Londoners, she channels a deep despair and a shimmering seduction. It is rumoured that the scene was inspired by drawings of Thai dancers and was choreographed by Wong herself.
The Red Shoes (1948)
The story of Victoria (played by Moira Shearer – an internationally renowned Scottish ballet dancer) who has to make the ultimate decision between her career and a lover. A world-class creative team mustered their collective talents for 15 breathtaking minutes which took 24 weeks to shoot. The film has won several accolades for its screenplay, sound and art direction.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
‘Broadway Melody,’ from the Hollywood classic Singin’ in the Rain, is perhaps in every must-watch musicals list – deemed rewatchable for too many reasons. Some of the steps in Broadway Melody make it dreamy beyond comprehension, with seamless pivots, precarious arches and balancing and mind-bogglingly impeccable timing. The sequence dates only as far back as when performers were the key special effect.
8 ½ (1963)
Did you know that the iconic dance scene from Pulp Fiction (when Mia and Vincent dance) was actually an homage to this scene from 81/2 by Federico Fellini? One look at it, and you can see how ahead of its time, how free and infectious this performance by Barbara Steele and Mario Pisu was. Considered a ‘mode of experience’ that liberated the filmmakers of its time, it is appreciated for making a subject out of joy, movement and possibilities.
Strictly Ballroom (1992)
We simply had to include a dance competition film – the sports movie equivalent for dancers. Strictly Ballroom is an Australian film with a by-the-book plot but characters who might be from another world. It’s hard to say if it wishes to say something about Australia. There is a sense of mania that the characters have absorbed deeply (which can sometimes be comical) as they seem to survive on a strict diet of ballroom dancing.
Directed by Takeshi Kitano, Zatōichi is a Japanese Samurai film packed with everything havoc, including assassins, robberies, massacres and tap dancing. The iconic dance number comes alive at the end of the film, led by a noted Japanese dance troupe called The Stripes. For those wondering what those shoes are – they’re called ‘geta’ – Japanese wooden sandals.
Jodha Akbar (2008)
Azeem-o-Shaan Shehensha is what many might name from Bollywood as a genuine attempt at Olympic-sized grandiose storytelling, pre-Game of Thrones. The story is designed to fit within Jodha Akbar – a narrative conceiving the epic romance (which others saw as a marriage of convenience) between Jodhaa Bai and Emperor Akbar (in 1562, India). The palace-wide choreography with 2000 actors and 400 dancers took 15 days to film!
And while this one isn’t from a movie, how could we resist Rasputin?
By Germany-based pop and euro-disco group Boney M, Rasputin is a song about Grigori Rasputin. With its famous multilingual verses and iconic phrases, ‘Russia’s Greatest Love Machine’ is remembered to this day, with its most recent revival going viral on TikTok.
With that, we hope we’ve inspired you to put on your dance shoes and maybe look into some dance styles you’ve never considered before. If you’re new here, we ship the best dancewear all across Canada. If you love seeing dance interwoven with a movie, check out our list of top dance films on Netflix.