10 Best Movie Dance Scenes Of All Time

These are the most iconic dance scenes from cinema history.

By Sckylar Gibby-Brown | Published

dance scenes

Dance is a timeless form of storytelling and an art form that can greatly enhance the quality of a blockbuster if done right. Whether the dance scene was created to help move the story along, is purely filmed for entertainment purposes, or was put in as an unexpected surprise, a great dance moment backed by exceptional choreography and performed by talented actors can help any movie secure a spot in Hollywood history, even if the film itself is not a musical. These are the top 10 movie dance scenes of all time.

10. Footloose (1984)

dance scenes

The warehouse dance scene in Footloose starring Kevin Bacon as Ren McCormack is one of the most iconic dance scenes in movie musical history. In a single scene with no dialogue, the scene is able to convey rebellion against authority figures and societal norms as Ren defies the no-dance laws and lets out all of his anger and frustration in one great scene set to an awesome rock soundtrack. The energetic and dynamic choreography has become a pop-cultural touchstone that is instantly recognized by any cinephile and has been replicated in numerous movies, television shows, and even in real-life events. 

9. La La Land (2016)

dance scenes

The opening dance number in La La Land is a fun and upbeat song that is nearly impossible not to sing along to once you know the words, but it’s also an important number to set up the tone and themes of the movie. The scene, which was filmed on a stretch of the 105/110 freeway interchange in Los Angeles, is bright, colorful, and extravagant, which is reminiscent of the Golden Age of Musicals, and the song also symbolizes the pursuit of dreams, escapism, connection, breaking conventions, and embracing the present moment.

It’s one of the most ambitious dance scenes as the entire nearly four-minute-long number is shot in a single take and required a busy freeway to be shut down. In fact, some of the drivers in the scene had astonished looks on their faces because they were not actually extras in the scene, but genuine commuters who were stuck in the traffic jam. 

8. West Side Story (1961)

dance scenes

Shot right on the cusp of the ending of the Golden Age of Musicals, the Mambo scene in West Side Story has become one of the most influential dance scenes in movie history. Choreographed by Jerome Robbins who was known for his innovative and influential choreography, Robbins created a visually stunning and technically intricate routine that seamlessly blended ballet, jazz, and Latin dance styles. His choreography captured the vibrant energy and passion of the characters and added depth to the storytelling.

The mambo dance scene isn’t just an entertaining sequence, it serves as a pivotal moment in the film’s narrative. It takes place at a dance competition where rival gangs, the Sharks and the Jets, confront each other. Through dance, the tensions and conflicts between the two groups are heightened, showcasing the underlying themes of prejudice, rivalry, and forbidden love.

7. Saturday Night Fever (1977)

dance scenes

Before he became a teen heartthrob in Grease the next year, John Travolta solidified his status as a talented actor and dancer during his solo dance scene in Saturday Night Fever in 1977 when he captivated the audience with his groovy, smooth, and electrifying dance moves. While disco dancing is rarely seen anymore and is considered a fad of the past, Saturday Night Fever was released during the height of the disco movement, which struck a chord with audiences who could relate to the music, dancing, and fashion of the time. Tony’s dance scene became a symbol of self-expression and liberation, resonating with viewers who may have sought their own escape through dance and music.

6. Pulp Fiction (1994)

dance scenes

Fast forward 17 years and John Travolta starred in another iconic dance scene, this time in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction where Travolta played the coked-up hitman Vincent Vega. The dance scene where Vega and Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman in her breakout role) get up and dance in the middle of a 50s diner is unexpected and surprisingly lighthearted as it comes in the middle of a violent and confusing mash-up of scenes. The seemingly random scene is a signature of Tarantino who has the ability to mush together various genres and tones into one film.

The moves are slightly reminiscent of Travolta’s earlier dance scene from Saturday Night Fever, and it represents an unusual carefree moment in Vega and Wallace’s high-stakes world. The scene, set to Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell,” has had a significant cultural impact since the film’s release, becoming widely referenced, parodied, and imitated in various forms of media, showcasing its enduring popularity and influence on popular culture.

5. The Red Shoes (1948)

While many modern movie watchers may have never heard of the classic film, The Red Shoes, this British dance movie from 1948 was groundbreaking at the time and set the stage for all future dance scenes in cinema in the decades that followed. The film follows Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) who longs to be a prima ballerina but finds herself caught between the spotlight and the man she loves. The film was one of the first features to use technicolor to its full advantage, using vibrant colors to bring ballet to life while simultaneously adding a bit of fantasy into the mix. 

Over the past 80 years, The Red Shoes has retained its status as containing one of the most influential dance scenes in all of cinematic history, and this scene is often referenced and celebrated in discussions of the greatest dance moments in cinema.

4. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

In Silver Linings Playbook, the dance scene isn’t just an entertaining moment but is important to the plot of the film as it serves as an emotional catharsis for the characters as well as the audience as this is the moment the entire film has been building up to. Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) are both struggling to find their way in life and this moment in the film symbolizes redemption and transformation for the characters—the dance becomes a metaphorical representation of their journey towards healing and personal growth. Through the power of dance, they are able to find a sense of freedom, release their inhibitions, and embrace life’s uncertainties.

3. Chicago (2002)

The “Cell Block Tango” dance sequence isn’t just an iconic dance scene in movie history but is also one of the most famous dance scenes in theatrical history. The scene sees the “Merry Murderesses” take turns telling their stories about why they are in prison as all but one basically admits to committing the murder they were accused of. 

The choreography of the scene is powerful and dynamic as each actress embodies a distinct character brought to life by their movements. The song is catchy, provocative, and dark and is brought to life by the striking visuals reminiscent of film noir and the strong female performances given by the ensemble cast. The dance scene has become a prominent moment of pop culture and has been repeated and parodied numerous times in various forms of media.

2. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

There are many dance scenes in Singin’ In The Rain that are iconic, but the most famous one is when Gene Kelly as Don Lockwood taps into his inner child and dances in the rain, spinning around light posts and jumping in rain puddles during the titular song. The song doesn’t necessarily add to the plot of the film as the emotions the singer conveys could have just as easily been shown in the scene before the sequence begins when he drops Debbie Reynolds’ Kathy Selden off at her front door as it’s just a song about how Don is in love, happy, and feeling optimistic about his plan to save his career. However, the scene, which features expert dancing and groundbreaking technical achievements, has become a symbol of escapism and joy and has thus gone down in history as one of the most recognized, repeated, and parodied dance scenes in cinematic history.

1. Dirty Dancing (1987)

While all of the dance scenes on this list are masterclasses in storytelling, dancing, and entertainment, the dance scene at the end of Dirty Dancing is probably the most recognized, the most duplicated, and the most parodied in pop culture—especially the lift at the end. This dance scene showcases the resolution to the story, encapsulating Baby’s (Jennifer Grey) and Johnny’s (Patrick Swayze) undeniable chemistry. 

It also captures the essence of youthful romance and the thrill of dancing. Its timeless appeal lies in its ability to evoke feelings of nostalgia, joy, and the transformative power of dance. The scene’s enduring popularity and its ability to resonate with audiences across generations have secured its place as an iconic cinematic moment.