Top 5 Movie Dance Sequences

What's this I see? I thought this was a party. Let's dance!

Inspired by catching the sweet moves of Breakin' earlier this week, I figured this was the perfect time to call out my favorite movie dance sequences. I'm no expert on musicals or dancing styles, so these are not the most technically complex routines ever created. Instead, they're simply entertaining moments that heighten our enjoyment of the story. I'm sure there are numerous other great choices for this list, so please post your angry thoughts in the comments section. The Mary Poppins penguin dance above is just one example of a fun sequence that fell short. It's time to hit the dance floor and check out my picks!

Honorable Mention, The Stage Dance in Napoleon Dynamite
I realize that it's easy to hate on this movie for its deadpan humor, but I really enjoyed it. Jon Heder may be a one-trick pony based on his roles since this signature character, but he's perfectly cast as the goofball. One of the best moments involves his ridiculous dance to "Canned Heat" by Jamiroquai at the school talent show. It comes near the end and still manages to surprise us. At the end of the dance, Napoleon shyly runs off the stage like it's nothing, and it just adds to the silliness.

5. The Big Dance Finale in Footloose
I'll admit to having a soft spot for the original Footloose, which embodies the best parts of '80s cinema in a fun-filled package. Kevin Bacon makes the idealistic Ren believable, even when he's doing an angry gymnastics-filled dance at an abandoned warehouse. That sequence is great, but it doesn't match the joy of the big dance. After taking charge and beating up some local hoodlums, Ren and his buddy Willard (Chris Penn) rejoin the dance and get things rolling. These mild-mannered kids employ all sorts of smooth moves to Kenny Loggins' music and just celebrate how much fun dancing can be. Everybody cut!

4. The Madison Dance in Band of Outsiders
Possibly the coolest dance in movie history, the "Madison Dance" shows the lead characters (Anna Karina, Sami Frey, and Claude Brasseur) performing an intricate dance at a local cafe. Tapping their shoes on the hardwood floor and swaying with hip, rhythmic movements, the trio create an amazing scene. This is one of several original sequences in Jean-Luc Godard's 1964 film that influenced many filmmakers working today. In fact, a classic Tarantino moment directly influenced by this dance appears later in this list.

3. "Good Morning" in Singin' in the Rain
I'm generally skeptical of musicals, particularly old-school films when they were a major genre. It was a revelation for me to catch this 1952 classic when it showed at a special screening in a local theater. The main characters are so likable that it's impossible not to get drawn into the story. There are also some great moments involving the switch from silent films to "talkies" in the late '20s. The most recognizable song is the title dance from Gene Kelly, but I prefer "Good Morning". Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O'Connor deliver an upbeat, exciting dance that involves remarkable choreography. It helped push this skeptic to just enjoy the moment and appreciate its charisma and skill.

2. Travolta and Thurman at Johnny Rockets in Pulp Fiction
What more can I say about this scene? It stands out in a movie filled with famous sequences and is one of the purely fun scenes in the movie. On the first viewing, the dance is unexpected and brings life to an already enjoyable night on the town for Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman). Twisting away to "You Never Can Tell" by Chuck Berry, the couple perfectly convey their growing attraction. Having Travolta dancing also recalls his career-making performance in Saturday Night Fever and reminds the audience of his past stardom. There's a lot more happening beneath the surface, but on the whole it's just a really fun dance number. Tarantino was inspired by the Madison Dance from Band of Outsiders, and he manages to even surpass that scene with this cool sequence.

1. Subway Dance in Last Days of Disco
Whit Stillman's 1998 film about fast-talking yuppies isn't a dance movie but uses the setting of "The Club" for the witty exchanges between the young socialites. They dance, start romances, and have intellectual conversations about a variety of topics. Stillman's style isn't for everyone, but I'm a huge fan of his three films from the '90s. This movie closes with a surprise dance on the subway to "Love Train" by the O'Jays that wonderfully brings down the house. The story had grown fairly serious at times, so it's refreshing for the end to be such an enjoyable romp. Stillman took a 13-year hiatus after this picture (Damsels in Distress is out this year), so this dance was basically his goodbye to cinema for a long time.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about this list below in the comments section. You should also check out the archive of past Top 5 Lists if you've missed them. There's a new one every Friday that relates to that week's posts.

Next week, I'll head to Vienna to check out the a musical genius named Amadeus.


  1. HAHA I love this list. I haven't seen the dance in the top spot but it must be good huh? to be at number one? So who am I to argue.

    I like the dance scene in 500 days of summer. Walking down the street to You Make my Dreams come true. I love the fact that it is an unexpected set up.

  2. There are several wonderful, wonderful dance scenes in Billy Elliot, where the feet are dacing with Billy more than anything else. Uncontrollable sort of. Hard to pick one over the other though.
    For a big-style-mass-dancing scene I'd like to give a honerable mention to the dancing in "Every sperm is sacred" in The Meaning of Life.

    I've never quite understood the greatness of the Balloon dance, but nevertheless I'll never forget the one in The Full Monty.

    Just to mention a couple that comes into mind.

    But there are sooo many great dancing scenes. A 5 list feels very inadequat.

  3. Love the list, what I've seen of it. I'd go with the big finale from Swingtime, as I'm a Fred and Ginger girl, and "Make 'em Laugh" from Singin' rather than "Good Mornin'", but great list none the less.

  4. Kate, now that you mention it, "Make 'em Laugh" is also a great pick that might be even better than my pick. There are too many good choices! I did think about both the finale and another song from Swingtime, but they just missed the list.

    Jessica, I'm sad to admit that I haven't seen Billy Elliot. You're right that a Top 5 list is inadequate, but I feel like keeping it short forces me to really narrow down the picks.

    Scott, I also enjoyed that dance scene from 500 Days of Summer with Hall and Oates playing. You can't go wrong with that pick.


  5. I was going to be very angry with you if Singin' in the Rain didn't make this list somewhere. "Good Morning" is a great sequence, but the single best dance from that film is (as Kate said) Donald O'Connor's turn in "Make 'Em Laugh." But, that's also a solo dance--and everything on your list involves multiple people. And is there a more iconic solo dance number than the title dance from Singin' in the Rain?

    Fred Astaire would make my list somewhere, I think. There are some winners in Top Hat, for instance, and his best solo performance is when he dances on the ceiling in Royal Wedding.

  6. Steve, like I told Kate, I'm starting to wonder about my pick from Singin' in the Rain. I think this is a definite reason to watch it again soon (not that I should need one). I'm sad to admit that I haven't seen Top Hat or Royal Wedding, but there were a few strong contenders in Swing Time. Thanks!

  7. Nice list, Dan! That Pulp Fiction one is definitely memorable. I'd also add the Le Tango de Roxanne from Moulin Rouge as one of my favorites.

  8. Ruth, I'm sad to admit that I haven't seen Moulin Rouge yet. I think the feedback from this Top 5 is reminding me of a lot of movies that I still need to check out. Thanks!

  9. There are way too many to ever pick, but one I would point you towards was a Fred Astaire routine where he literally danced on the ceiling (and the walls and the floor, too). It was in Royal Wedding. I have a link to a video of it in my review of Inception because they used the same technique for the hallway fight that Astaire had used 60 years earlier.

  10. I'm gonna give you a pass on Footloose. We all know the warehouse sequence is vastly more memorable (even if it is terrible). The end sequence is certainly uplifting, but it just didn't do it for me.

    Love the inclusion of Pulp (naturally - it would likely top my list) and Band of Outsiders (only seen recently, but hell yeah - that sequence kicks ass).

    I've seen Last Days of Disco (a long time ago) and don't remember that at all...sorry. I'd put Napoleon in the top 5 where he belongs.

    Fun list.

  11. Dylan, I considered the Footloose warehouse sequence with the gymnastics, which is ridiculous, but I remember enjoying the fun of the last sequence. I'm glad you approve of the Pulp and Outsiders choices, which are both classics.

    I'm pretty sure that I like Last Days of Disco more than almost everyone who's seen it (I'm surprised you saw it), so it's not a surprise that you forgot the end credits scene. It happens pretty quickly, and you could have missed it on the way out since it's at the end. Plus, it came out more than 10 years ago.

  12. We're about the same age and have similar tastes - I'm pretty sure we saw a lot of the same flicks in the early-to-mid 90s. I saw a ton of those early indie flicks like Walking and Talking and The Last Supper and Shallow Grave. I seem to recall liking Disco, but it's been forever. Didn't he make Metropolitan, too?

  13. You are correct. Whit Stillman's first movie was Metropolitan from 1990, which I love. He also made Barcelona, which is great too. That's been pretty much it, though he does have a new movie this year, Damsels in Distress, hitting festivals.

    I also saw a lot of the early indie movies during the mid-90s. I was seeing a lot of movies in theaters at that point, and it was a really good time for indie films. You mention a few of the many big ones from that time period. I wonder how some would hold up now? I'm guessing it varies by the film. I was happy to see that Reservoir Dogs was still amazing when I watched it a few months back.


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