Dancing, as a metaphor for blossoming or reigniting love, the joy of life, growth, achievement, maturity, and the meeting of a challenge, is seen very often in movies. Many directors use a few dance moves to speak volumes about the emotional state of and between two characters.
This week’s article is a countdown of my 20 favorite partner dance moments in a non-musical film. Some of these dance scenes have become classics either for the quality of the dancing or the emotional significance of the scene.
20 Dance with Me (1998) – Vanessa Williams and Chayanne aren’t even holding each other in this scene, but they still are able to connect with each other during a dance competition. The sensuousness of the fantasy is skillfully filmed.
17 Stalag 17 (1953) – It’s Christmas time and the POW’s in Stalag 17 have no one to dance with except each other. The scene is brief, but the portrayal of the holidays during wartime is long-lasting. This is a rare scene – during this era in American film, very few movies depicted men dancing together.
15 Black Orpheus (1959) – The ill-fated story of Orpheus and Euridyce is masterfully told with Brazilian Carnival in the backdrop. Breno Mello and Marpesa Dawn play the tragic couple. Though she is not his fiancee, their love is evident in this scene.
14 Strictly Ballroom (1992) – “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” plays in the ballroom. Paul Mercurio and Tara Morice, an unlikely pair, dance the rumba. From here, the dance of pretend love evolves into the dance of real love.
13 Saturday Night Fever (1977) – In the story’s big disco contest, John Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney dance a very smooth hustle to “More Than a Woman”. The classic white polyester suit is just as much a character in this scene as the dancers.
11 The Thomas Crowne Affair (1999) – “Do you wanna dance? Or do you wanna dance?” With this question, Pierce Brosnan and Renee Russo are enemies dangerously intertwined in a robbery investigation and a romanic affair.
10 Shall we Dansu (1996) – Koji Yakusho is a businessman who kept his dance lessons a secret. When he reveals his new passion to his wife, her first reaction is anger then jealousy. In their backyard, their daughter helps them reconnect by making him teach her to dance.
9 Marty (1955) – Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair are not the most beautiful people in the world, but their connection on the dance floor and beyond makes for one of the the most touching stories on film. No other time will hearing “You’re not such a dog as you think you are” seem so nice.
8 Pulp Fiction (1994) – With “You Never Can Tell” as a backdrop, the twist contest between Uma Thurman and John Travolta is arguably one of the most well-known dance scenes in film history. The scene hints at a possible romance, but the rest of the evening turns out to be much more of an adventure.
7 Addams Family (Values) (1991,1993) – Raul Julia and Angelica Huston are the classic gothic couple who are unable to keep their loving hands off of each other on and off the dance floor. In the first movie they dance a waltz; in the sequel, a fantastic tango.
6 It’s a Wonderful Life (1947) – At a high school party, James Stewart and Donna Reed Charleston their way into history and into the swimming pool he designed. A bitter suitor gets the gym floor opened to reveal the pool, but the moment sparked a classic romance.
5 When Harry Met Sally (1989) – It’s their first New Year’s Eve out together as friends. Then comes that awkward moment when both Meg Ryans’ and Billy Crystals’ characters feel a spark as Harry Connick, Jr. sings “I could write a book” in the background.
4 Tango Bar (1988) – Raul Julia and Valeria Lynch dance a simple and elegant tango together. As often occurs in movies, a love triangle threatens a long lasting friendship between two men and the woman they love.
3 Dirty Dancing (1987) – “I’m a Love Man” plays, Patrick Swayze gestures come hither , and Jennifer Grey is introduced to a world she couldn’t have even dreamed of. See what happens when you carry a watermelon?
2 Scent of a Woman (1992) – Al Pacino and Gabrielle Anwar dance the tango to “Por Una Cabeza.” One of Pacino’s final wishes is to make love to a beautiful woman, and he does so – on the dance floor. This performance has inspired people to dance ever since.
1 Casablanca (1942) – Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman dance to the song “Perfidia” in a flashback taking us to Paris. The song choice is perfect since the love story and the song are about a love triangle. This scene shows us why we will “never forget Paris.”
Get your popcorn, and roll up the rug, it’s time to put on a movie and dance!