One of the most epic dance movies in history was Flashdance, released in 1983. It was about a struggling woman, just 18 years old, working two jobs — a welder by day and an exotic dancer by night — with a dream of getting into ballet school. Long before the snobs of Rodeo Drive turned their noses up at Julia Roberts, Jennifer Beals faced off against an uppity audition board at a high-class ballet program. When she walked into that audition with her leg warmers and off-the-shoulder sweatshirt, a look was born. When she pulled a bucket of water down on herself (didn’t that make dancing really unsafe?), millions of boys fell in love. Millions of girls turned up Michael Sembellos’ “Maniac” and Irena Cara’s “What a Feeling” and jumped around our bedrooms dancing like we’d never danced before.
In honor of the 35th anniversary of the movie that influenced so much of the way music mixed with movies in the 1980s, let’s look at the 10 best dance scenes we’ve ever seen.
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Singing in the Rain, “Singing in the Rain”
When Don finally gets his girl, his celebratory dance-walk home exudes the kind of joy we all know comes from early love. The technical tapping combines with some graceful acting for a scene that can’t help but put a smile on your face.
The Breakfast Club, library dance scene
It’s hard to put a finger on what makes this moment of rebellion so appealing. Molly Ringwald’s moving with abandon? Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall and Emilio Estevez’s railing walk? Ally Sheedy’s modern moves? Or maybe it’s the words of the music by Karla DeVito reminding us that no matter how different we are, we are not alone.
Saturday Night Fever, “You Should Be Dancing”
When John Travolta said, “Oh, forget this,” about traditional club dancing and took over the floor, it epitomized 1970s cool. Travolta’s dancing may be a little technically questionable, but the Bee Gees’ music and glittering dance floor make the overall effect fun to watch. And don’t you dare say you haven’t tried some of those moves at least once.
West Side Story, Prologue
There are many great dances to choose from in this iconic movie, but this opening number uses nothing but dance to set the stage for the tension that exists between the two rival gangs. Watching choreographed groups of teenage boys dance-fight their way across New York City never seemed less silly.
Chicago, “Cell Block Tango”
It’s always impressive to see people we know aren’t professional dancers pulling off incredible dance moves. Catherine Zeta-Jones, who epitomizes class and refinement, is so raw and strong in this performance, it’s unforgettable. And the spot-on group tango is riveting.
Dirty Dancing, “Time of Your Life”
No movie of the ’80s had a more memorable climax than the story of Baby and Johnny, finally getting to dance in front of everyone. Nobody has ever made dancing look manlier than Patrick Swayze, who will live on through his sharp footwork and that iconic lift.
Gold Diggers of 1935, “Lullaby of Broadway”
The song is better known than this amazing dance scene, which set the standard for large, choreographed dance numbers. Choreographer Busby Berkeley pulled from his past as an Army man to teach formation dancing and timing, and he produced some of the most organized tapping in history.
While Kevin Bacon brings the technical dance skills to this 1984 classic, it’s the pure abandon of kids having innocent fun that makes this scene so iconic. While Kenny Loggins’ version of the song is the better choice, the 2011 remake did a great job of updating the classic while keeping some of the most memorable moves. Here’s a chance to see them both.
Step Up 2, final dance
This climactic scene pays homage to so many dance movies before it, but as the song says, “It’s the new style.” Pulling from every modern influence from breaking to popping to krumping, this massive number brought the fun of a concert stage to the screen.
Stormy Weather, “Jumpin’ Jive”
The Nicholas brothers join in with Cab Calloway and his orchestra in this display of athleticism, tap and control. Going from standing to splits to standing, in tuxes no less, is nothing short of phenomenal.
Bonus: Billy Elliot
The courage of a young dancer facing down his disapproving father with nothing but his raw skills is the heart of this sweet movie about chasing those dance dreams.