Culture / Film

What a feeling – 14 classic dance films for essential viewing

Dance movies, we know them well. Nothing can create drama quite like a bunch of teens pirouetting around the place trying to catch their big break. Mix that with fun music, eye-catching style and big moves is all we ask.

Below we've rounded up our favourite dance films that'll have you in a pair of leg-warmers fast than you can shout 5! 6! 7! 8!


Honey (2003)

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This is Jessica Alba's magnum opus in our opinion. Just a neighbourhood gal teaching kids hip-hop at the local community centre. The tank tops, the hair, the aspirational midriff. We fall for it every time.


Center Stage (2000)

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A horny, dramatic and angsty take on a bunch of teens pushing to make it in a NYC ballet academy. The final dance sequence is burned into my brain forever. Prepare yourself though, a weird phenomenon happens once you watch Centrestage. Here and there you'll begin to find yourself pointing your toes, wondering, "Do I have the right feet?".


Step Up (2006)

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To see Step Up is to watch the real life romance between Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan bloom. After all, this set was the breeding ground for their 10-year marriage. The film follows a delinquent teen forced into community service at a performing arts college, where by accident he begins assisting a dance student. It's one of the class boy-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks scenarios and the pay off is great.

Once you're done with this, give Step Up 2: The Streets a go. It's almost as good as the first.


Frances Ha (2012)

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One of our favourite collaborations between Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, except for, perhaps, their child Harold. The darling of the mumble-core genre is an all black and white look at Frances as she tries to navigate being a dancer in NYC. Oh, I forgot...Adam Driver is in it wearing a fedora.


Save the last Dance (2001)

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Julia Stiles plays a prim ballerina on the verge of going to Juilliard in NYC. That is until her mum dies suddenly and she's shipped away to a new school. As the only white student, Julia is positioned as an outsider. Looking back on this one there are many cringeworthy scenes. Rigid ballerina trying on hip-hop for size for one. If nothing else, there's some laughs in store for you here.


Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (1985)

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Who was Sarah Jessica Parker before SATC? Just a teen named Janey trying to win a TV dance contest.


Black Swan (2010)

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A dark, psychological thriller that earned Natalie Portman an Oscar for Best Actress in 2011. If you're watching this, grab a pillow to hold on to, as you're guaranteed to be at least a little startled. It's not exactly a feel-good dance film, although there's a horny gay love scene to look forward to. The plot centres Nina, a ballerina, as she practices for her role as Princess Odette in Swan Lake. Nina grows paranoid of her peer, played by Mila Kunis, who it seems it out for her part.


Footloose (1984)

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The original rendition of Footloose is where it's at. With another performance from our low-key favourite 80's SJP. Watch a young Kevin Bacon fight for his town's right to party (and dance).


Flashdance (1983)

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Big 80's energy here. High cut leotards, floofy hair and leg-warmers just the way our mums liked it.


Dirty Dancing (1987)

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Oh baby! The cult classic that inspired endless tributes to Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey's lift scene.  There's not much we don't love about this film. Its vibey soundtrack with Mickey and Sylvia's Lover Boy, troves of inspiration for our holiday wardrobes and good-old-fashioned romance.


Burlesque (2010)

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When you put Cher, Stanley Tucci and Christina Aguilera together on one set expect chaotic diva energy. Which is exactly what's needed for a film about the inner-workings of a troupe of dancers trying to save their Burlesque club. Watch for huge dance sequences, dazzling outfits and the vocals of Cher and Agulera. Stay for Tucci's snarky commentary.


Hairspray (2007)

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Adding musicals to this list can seem like a bit of a cop out. But in this 2007 iteration of its broadway sibling dishes out some pure dancing joy. Set in a racially segregated Baltimore, Tracey Turnblad just wants to dance on the local TV network. It's worth a watch just for an impressive cast of John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Queen Latifah and Zac Efron.


Swing Time (1936)

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Would it really be a dance list without a film featuring Fred Astaire? Like everyone else, I set my self upon the film after reading Zadie Smith's Swing Time. It's jazzy, romantic and you'll be dreaming of Ginger Roger's white silk gown for days afterwards.


Billy Elliot (2000)

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A young working-class boy from Northern England is beguiled by the ballet class being taught during his boxing practice. Based on a true-ish story, the film features a sharp and charismatic Julie Walters - our favourite version.


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