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20 best dances in films

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Anna Pollitt
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Take our hand as we lead you through the big screen's most memorable dance sequences, from the famous lift in Dirty Dancing to Uma Thurman and John Travolta's hamburger-fuelled shuffle in Pulp Fiction.

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Images: Rex Features

  • Dirty Dancing

    Whose schoolyard playtime didn't involve an attempt at 'the lift'?

    Baby (Jennifer Grey) fluffs it up all through the film, but when Johnny (Patrick Swayze) utters the magic words "Nobody puts Baby in the corner" she flies through the move.

    Fun fact: Billy Zane was originally intended for the part of Johnny, until casting directors saw the sizzling chemistry between Swayze and Grey.

  • Little Miss Sunshine

    "She's alright! She's alright!"

    What do you get when you cross a heroin-snorting grandad with a prim and pretentious child beauty pageant? Olive (Abigail Breslin) performing a dance to Rick James' Super Freak in one of Hollywood's funniest dance sequences. Ever.

  • Flashdance

    Alex Owens (Jennifer Beals) really went to town celebrating the end of the hosepipe ban.

    There are plenty of parody-worthy moment in Flashdance but Alex's seductive water dance to Irene Cara's What A Feeling is undoubtedly a signature dance of the '80s.

  • Pulp Fiction

    No movie dances gallery would be complete without John Travolta - and he scores a hat-trick in this one.

    As Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction he kicks off his shoes and pouts his way through a twist with Uma Thurman's Mia Wallace to Chuck Berry's You Never Can Tell. Glorious.

  • The Breakfast Club

    The dance that launched a thousand gifs.

    Claire's (Molly Ringwald) nonchalant foot shuffling-arm flailing combo was the dance deemed acceptable for '80s indie music.

    Fun Fact: Claire was meant to be the only character to dance, but Molly Ringwald felt too embarrassed to go solo, so John Hughes made the whole cast step up with moves of their own.

  • Fame

    Remember, it's only okay to jump up and down on strangers' car bonnets when a killer dance routine is involved.

  • Black Swan

    We're unsure if this a really good dance scene, or if Natalie Portman hypnotized us into thinking so with her disturbingly penetrative red eyes.

  • Coyote Ugly

    Best recreated sober, but most often...not. The Coyote Ugly dance involves rum, fire and animated bartop dancing to Def Leppard's Pour Some Sugar on Me - what could possible go wrong?

  • Silver Linings Playbook

    An imperfect pas de deux by cinema's coolest couple, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Laurence, to a mash-up of Stevie Wonder, The White Stripes and jazz pianist Dave Brubeck. AND there's a Dirty Dancing type lift.

  • Footloose

    A warehouse, a rust-coloured velvet jacket and bags full of glitter - it's not another EE conga, but one of the most famous dance scenes of cinematic history.

    Kevin Bacon is Ren, the moody-with-moves teenager who celebrates turning his stuffy new town onto prom dancing with a staircase slide, backflip and of course, The Robot.

    Fun fact: A body double was called in to perform the backflip, much to Bacon's annoyance.

  • West Side Story

    In British high school gyms we attempt to shimmy up ropes, while in America they seem to use theirs for fancy dancing.

    Grease based its famous gym dance competition on West Side Story's impressive mambo at the gym.

  • Risky Business

    As a fresh-faced Hollywood heartthrob, Tom Cruise embarked on some Tina Turner-style dancing while miming to Old Time Rock and Roll Bob Seger. That dance scene is quite possibly the reason we still know his name today.

  • Save the Last Dance

    Once upon a time, before she joined the Bourne franchise, Julia Stiles was the go-to girl for teen dance films.

    In Save the Last Dance her ballet-hip-hop combo wows the exacting judges of the prestigious Juilliard dance school.

    Fun fact: The film's choreographer, Fatima Robinson, is also behind the Backstreet Boys' 'As Long As You Love Me' moves.

  • Grease

    We go together like rama lama lama ke ding a de dinga a dong remembered for ever like shoo bop shoo wadda wadda yipitty boom de boom.

    The lyrics are neither here nor there, but coupled with a sizzling dance routine by Sandy and Danny (Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta) it's pure magic.

  • American Pie 3

    Okay, yes, it's three American Pies in and the puerile novelty value is waning, but there is nothing tired about uber jock Stifler's dance-off moves to a medley of '80s disco classics.

  • Chicago

    Chicago sees Velma Kelly (a superb Catherine Zeta-Jones) perform a sexy song and dance routine about committing murder, complete with red scarf props to represent the blood dripping from her hands. Like Lady Macbeth: The Musical.

    Fun fact: Producer Martin Richards was so impressed with Zeta-Jones' Christmas carol singing he asked her to take on the main role of Roxie Hart. She agreed to star, but on the condition she got to play Velma - the role Angelina Jole had auditioned for - because it meant she would get to sing 'All That Jazz'.

  • Saturday Night Fever

    Ah, the '70s, when a three-piece white suit had a place - and that place was the discothèque.

    Travolta first sashayed onto the scene in his (stacked heel) dance shoes in Saturday Night Fever as Tony Manero, the Bees Gees loving youth who uses disco dancing as a means to escape his tumultuous personal life.

  • Muriel's Wedding

    Tacky costumes and terrible choreography don't prevent Muriel's Wedding's Abba scene being one of the best big screen dance sequences ever.

  • Strictly Ballroom

    Rebellious underdogs who can shake a decent tail feather are the key to a successful dance movie - and Strictly Ballroom is a prime example.

    The final, gripping scenes see Scott (Paul Mercurio) and Fran (Tia Morice) throwing themselves into a passionate, Spanish-inspired routine, only for the film's villain to kill the music. The pair continue dancing regardless. A pure crowd-pleaser.

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Anna Pollitt

Anna is a freelance writer and editor who’s been making her dime from online since 2007. She’s a regular at Stylist.co.uk, ITV News and Emerald Street and moonlights as a copywriter and digital content consultant. The baby is borrowed.

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