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15 Famous Dance Numbers

R. Kurt Osenlund



Step Up Revolution

This weekend, the Step Up franchise returns with Step Up Revolution, an installment that takes the action to Miami, but likely can’t trump the heat of its irresistible predecessor, Step Up 3D. Still, its release presents the perfect opportunity to glance back at famous movie dance numbers, whose smooth moves paved the way for the flash-mob spectacle the new film boasts. Before there was Channing Tatum (and his lineage of avatar successors), there were Gene Kelly, Ann Miller, Moira Shearer, and, yes, Sarah Jessica Parker. Before you get a load of the latest hotties and hardbodies to stomp the yard, check out the 15 films we’ve shortlisted for their unforgettable steps.


“Put the Blame on Mame” in Gilda (1946). Charles Vidor’s Gilda is known for two showstopping dance numbers, both of them choreographed by the famous Jack Cole. “Amada Mio” is technically the better of the pair, but the more iconic is certainly “Put the Blame on Mame,” which sees our title gal (Rita Hayworth) lip synch the crooning of Anita Ellis while slowly stripping off the black gloves that complete her sexy satin ensemble. Risque for the time, Gilda’s striptease is meant to make her possessive husband jealous. What it wound up doing was launching countless lounge-singer homages.

Pulp Fiction

Twist Contest in Pulp Fiction (1994). “I wanna dance, I wanna win, I want that trophy. So dance good.” So says Uma Thurman’s bob-rocking Mia Wallace to John Travolta’s ponytailed Vincent Vega, before the two kick off their shoes in a famous diner dance-off, which officially turned the piece sign into a bona fide power move for white guys. This Pulp Fiction sequence is so renowned that it prompted F. Gary Gray to resurrect it for Be Cool, the film that reunited Thurman and Travolta. Alas, the magic died at Jackrabbit Slim’s.

10 Things I Hate About You

Bleacher Serenade in 10 Things I Hate About You (1999). Heath Ledger’s greatness was but a sparkle in his eye when he wooed Julia Stiles as a mysterious high school rebel, but flashes of his Oscar-caliber work are there in 10 Things I Hate About You, including in an impromptu dance number that sees him belt out “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” on the bleachers of a football stadium. Soon enough, the marching band gets involved, and keeps on playing when security chases the loverboy out of the stands.

Mary Poppins

“Step in Time” in Mary Poppins (1964). The rooftop performance of “Step in Time” is the set piece that best proves Mary Poppins’s timelessness, its wizardry still awe-inspiring after nearly 50 years. Yes, the primitive, technicolor fireworks vividly show their age, but all else wows as well as the day it hit screens, with the great Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke acing the jovial choreography. It’s as technically impressive as it is starkly atmospheric.


Nomi’s Stardust Debut in Showgirls (1995). The dreams of Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley) come true in Showgirls’s showiest dance number, which sees the burger-munching ingenue hit the glitzy Stardust stage for the first time. It’s a bit rocky at first, but Nomi dutifully nails her golden debut, showing campy fervor before disrobing during Cristal Connors’s explosive entrance. All her practice paid off, including the mastering of one beautifully nasty hand gesture.

Easter Parade

“Shakin’ the Blues Away” in Easter Parade (1948). Ann Miller was a busy girl long before she rented an apartment to Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive, and her shining moment as a triple threat may just be this arresting number from Easter Parade, a film that needs every great moment it can muster. Dressed like a bumblebee and working her legs as hard as her pipes, Miller steals the show right out from under Judy Garland and Fred Astaire.

Singin' in the Rain

“Singin’ in the Rain” in Singin’ in the Rain (1952). It’s only the most famous dance sequence in all of film. Don Lockwood’s (Gene Kelly) rain-pelted performance of the movie’s title track is fraught with backstage trivia, including the fact that Kelly had a 103-degree fever during filming, the misfortune that his wool suit shrunk during shooting, and the rumor that he completed the whole song in one take (he didn’t). Rumors aside, it’s a landmark number, which, incidentally, inspired an homage in Step Up 3D.

House of Flying Daggers

Shadow Game in House of Flying Daggers (2004). If you want to argue that the “Shadow Game” sequence from House of Flying Daggers isn’t a dance number, then you clearly don’t have enough respect for the visual poetry of Zhang Yimou, who’s a musical choreographer of action if ever there was one. In this breathtaking segment, blind stunner Mei (Zhang Ziyi) has to remember the path of a bean as it bounces off a series of free-standing drums. She proceeds to beat them herself with her flowing pink robes, and one almost feels pity that she can’t see the beauty of it all.


Burlesque Performance in Applause (1929). Not to be confused with the All About Eve-inspired musical that laughably won Lauren Bacall a Tony, Applause tells the tale of Kitty Darling (Helen Morgan), a burlesque star bound for alcoholism and overall personal tragedy. Along with her bevy of fellow dancers, which ultimately includes her disapproving daughter, April (Joan Peers), Kitty has a knack for entertaining menfolk, particularly in this runway-style dance sequence, which yielded one of the film’s more memorable stills. Rouben Mamoulian was known for his innovative camera techniques and going against type, casting heavy-set girls for certain numbers.

Girls Just Want to Have Fun

DTV Finale in Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1985). Early on in Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Janey Glenn (Sarah Jessica Parker) assures us that she belongs on Dance TV, an oh-so-‘80s, MTV-style dance show that’s holding auditions for some sexy new regulars. Putting her best foot forward (and rocking a head full of krimped, dirty blonde locks), Janey keeps her promise, and along with hunky partner Jeff (Lee Montgomery), she beats the leotard off of spoiled snob Natalie Sands (Holly Gagnier), working the DTV stage with backflips and somersaults. You’ve never seen Carrie Bradshaw like this.

Gold Diggers of 1933

“Waltz of the Shadows” in Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933). There’s arguably no choreography more legendary than that of Busby Berkeley, who put his kaleidoscopic creations on full display in Mervyn LeRoy’s Gold Diggers of 1933, a visual feast of a pre-code musical. Paired with Harry Warren’s music, Berkeley’s dance numbers were well ahead of their time, and perhaps none were more avant garde than “Waltz of the Shadows,” which features girls with glow-in-the-dark, neon-tubed violins. Inspired by a vaudeville act, the sequence features Ginger Rogers, who also sings the famed “We’re in the Money” in the same film.

(500) Days of Summer

Morning-After Flash Mob in (500) Days of Summer (2009). The next-day joys of sex have arguably never been more ebullient than they are for Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in (500) Days of Summer. Once he finally gets his pixie-ish infatuation object, Summer (Zooey Deschanel), in the sack, Tom spends his morning grooving through a public park, and soon, the public have joined in on the celebration, adorably keen to his steps. One might think the sequence veers into overkill, but that’s hardly the case, not even when an animated bluebird flies over to offer its congrats.

National Lampoon’s Animal House

“Shout!” Scene in National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978). Building in energy just as heatedly as the song within it, the toga party thrown by the Delta fraternity is one of those rare film scenes that merges perfectly with its music, which doesn’t simply cease after one verse, and almost serves as an advertisement for its performers. Otis Day and the Knights sing “Shout!” with infectious, festive vigor, while John Belushi loses his shit on the dance floor. It’s a cinematic moment worth repeated revisitations, and it proves the perfect respite from the film’s uncaged comedy.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

“Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Adapted from the 1949 stage musical of the same name, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes proved that Marilyn Monroe could manage many immortal moments, adding the Pepto-hued performance of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” to the singing of “Happy Birthday Mr. President” and a certain up-skirt rush of steam. Aped by everyone from Madonna to Kylie Minogue, this glitzy number, literally boosted by a gang of suited male dancers, made viewers nearly forget that Monroe was merely a co-lead, sharing top billing with Jane Russell. What a difference a few jewels and an instantly classic pink dress can make.

The Red Shoes

Central Sequence in The Red Shoes (1948). In an extended, surrealistic sequence that’s at once riveting and seemingly endless, the central number in the titular ballet of The Red Shoes gloriously displays the virtuosity of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, reflecting the artistic descent of Vicky Page (Moira Shearer) in a dream-like dance that’s wholly consuming. The centerpiece of a vibrant masterwork, the number is a haunting bit of foreshadowing, promising that once Vicky donned those lace-up ruby slippers, her passion-fueled fate was sealed.

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