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Top 5 Dance Movies of the Last Five Years

With the release of Step Up All In, it got us thinking about dance movies. Immediately, we thought of films like Flashdance, Footloose, even You Got Served. But what is so fascinating about the top five dance movies of the last five years, is that each film serves to represent a different form of dance, and yet they mesh so well together. Remember, the first Step Up movie was about a clash of styles, between Jenna Dewan’s ballet and Channing Tatum’s breakdancing. As it is, the list compiles films incorporating these styles, as well as dance theatre, ballroom dancing, tap dancing, and even exotic dancing. This list is dedicated to actor Sam Rockwell, who turns every movie in which he stars into a dance movie.

5. Step Up 3D

The third film in the franchise, which is mostly forgettable, earns its spot on this list for one reason: the water dance set to Beggin’ by Madcon. This scene did two things: first, it absolutely popped off the screen, fully justifying the 3D of the title of the movie. Secondly, it elevated Adam Sevani’s Moose, dressed more than a little bit like Michael Jackson in this superlative scene, from supporting player, to cult hero.


4. Pina

To say that the film almost plays out like a festival version of Step Up would do a great disservice to this at-times gorgeous film. Wim Wenders had planned to capture the Tanztheatre, or ‘dance theatre’ movements of choreographer Pina Bausch, when she passed away a mere two days before the movie was set to shoot. Instead of the celebration of life, Bausch’s death tinges the film with a sort of melancholy that pervades the scenes, which remain utterly beautiful and sound great, with credit going to Wenders, co-cinematographers Hélène Louvart and Jörg Widmer, and the music by Thom. Once again, this dance film features an amazing use of rain dancing, and uses the 3D technology to its advantage, something that many films do not do. However, while the film will appeal most to Bausch fans, there is little in the film that makes it accessible to the Pina uninitiated. Pina is perhaps best enjoyed in a theatre space, alongside a Bausch disciple.


3. Silver Linings Playbook

We can hear you snickering derisively that David O. Russell’s film, based on a book by Matthew Quick, somehow does not qualify for the list, as it is not a dance movie, termed instead to be a romantic comedy, or a film about football or mental illness. And to that we say, we take the lead of lead Pat Solitano, played by Bradley Cooper, and we say, “Excelsior”. Because we are intimately familiar with the book, and the dance competition there plays out veeery differently. In the film, the final dance sequence with Pat and Tiffany, embodied by Jennifer Lawrence, makes a spirited transition from Stevie Wonder to the White Stripes to an instrumental version of Maria from West Side Story, to the suspense of whether or not the lift at the end is going to work. Forget the audience watching the performance, including some great reactions from the characters played by Chris Tucker, Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver —the audience where we were watching the movie, at filled to capacity Elgin Theatre at TIFF, were reacting along with them. Not only that, but an earlier scene, where Pat and Tiffany are practicing for the dance, and Tucker’s Danny McDaniels implores them to ‘black it up’ may be even better.


2. Black Swan

Black Swan is more than just a ballet movie, as the form mirrors the content. Black Swan is a ballet movie about the production of Swan Lake, in which the characters undergo tribulations similar to those befalling the characters in Swan Lake. Black Swan takes the ‘difficulty of performing’ narrative from the movie Centre Stage, (and indeed, one hinted at and unrealized in Step Up: All In), and takes it one step further, with its exploration of body issues like anorexia, difficult mothers, and teachers that demand perfection from their students. Indeed, as writer-director Darren Aronofsky considered Black Swan a companion piece to his film The Wrestler, it is important that a movie shows the difficulty and commitment needed to be given to dance, and especially to ballet. Some will argue that Natalie Portman’s principal ballet dancer, Nina Sayers, descends into a sort of madness at the end of the film, but the dancers who watched the film realized that the pressure of performing are a sort of madness in and of themselves. The dancing by members of The American Ballet Theatre and the Pennsylvania Dance Theatre, and the haunting score by Clint Mansell, which darkens Tchaikovsky’s already chilly score for Swan Lake reveal that Aronofsky as well sought to dance until he reached a sort of perfection.


1. Magic Mike

We have come full circle with this list, starting with a movie that was a sequel to the film that first caused Channing Tatum to be noticed, which was of course, Step Up. Also, the Step Up movie that we included was largely the result of one dance that just was unlike anything that we had seen before, one which turned Channing Tatum into a megastar Channing Tatum. Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike features Tatum, based upon his real experience as an exotic dancer. A memorable song combined into a number featuring dancing the likes of which we have never seen, and probably never will again: Pony. The look on Cody Horn’s face watching Tatum, (Mike) giving it his all on the stage, a mix of bemusement slowly turning to horror, well, we imagine that the look was very different from the faces of the audience. The look from each and every audience member is staring wide-eyed, and their jaws hitting the floor.