10 Most Famous Movie Dance Scenes

Saturday, March 12 by Alan Rankin

The 10 most famous movie dance scenes have been imitated and parodied so many times, they’ve become part of our culture. Audiences around the world recognize the classic choreography and immortal music of these iconic scenes. The images represent the eras in which they were created, sometimes with a single signature move.

  1. “Singin’ in the Rain” Many moviegoers consider Gene Kelly’s elated splash through the title tune the most famous movie dance scene ever made. Kelly co-directed and choreographed this musical classic. The spirited renditions of “Good Morning” and “Make ‘Em Laugh” could also qualify among the most famous movie dance scenes.  
  2. “Cheek to Cheek” Fred Astaire was the most famous movie dancer, especially when he teamed with Ginger Rogers. Their swing to Irving Berlin’s tune in 1935’s “Top Hat” is the classic Astaire-Rogers number. Ginger in an ostrich-feather dress has the more challenging role. As the popular saying goes, she had to match Astaire’s moves, backwards, while wearing high heels. 
  3. "We're Off to See the Wizard" “The Wizard of Oz” made “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and many other songs into classics. But the image most associated with the movie is the dance down the Yellow Brick Road. Singing a peppy tune, Judy Garland’s Dorothy befriends a scarecrow, a tin man and a lion on the way to her meeting with the Wizard.
  4. “The Yankee Doodle Boy” Jimmy Cagney was Hollywood’s toughest gangster, so many viewers forget he started as a vaudeville song-and-dance man. He returned to his roots in 1942’s “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” playing Broadway legend George M. Cohan. This marching musical number proved just as memorable as the most unforgettable moments from his crime films.
  5. “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” Marilyn Monroe’s performance in 1949’s “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” is one of her most memorable images, alongside her subway-grate upskirt scene from “Seven Year Itch.” It has been imitated by later sex symbols like Madonna, who duplicated the dance for her “Material Girl” music video in 1985. Nicole Kidman delivered a sizzling, glittery version of “Diamonds” in 2001’s “Moulin Rouge!”
  6. “Springtime for Hitler” The idea of a musical about Hitler is absurd in the 21st century, but it was unthinkable in 1968. That’s just what swindlers Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel want in Mel Brooks’ comedy classic “The Producers.” The musical number that made them reluctant stars was re-created even more elaborately in the 2005 remake, based, ironically, on the Broadway hit inspired by the movie.  
  7. “Stayin’ Alive” This number from 1977’s “Saturday Night Fever” remains the defining image of disco music. The disco craze and the 1970s themselves, are often symbolized by the image of John Travolta in a white suit, pointing a finger at the ceiling. Every movie, TV show and cartoon of the era had to parody this image, which will follow Travolta for the rest of his life and beyond.  
  8. “Old Time Rock and Roll” Speaking of images that will follow an actor always, Tom Cruise permanently etched himself into the public consciousness with this dance number from 1983’s “Risky Business.” He wasn’t singing, just lip-synching, and he wasn’t even wearing pants. Nevertheless, this became one of the most imitated images of the 1980s.  
  9. “Flashdance” Another iconic 1980s image is a barely clad female dancer getting deluged with water from above. Actress Jennifer Beals and her dance double Marine Jahan created several memorable scenes in 1983’s “Flashdance,” including “Maniac” and the title tune, but none more famous than this one. The actual song they’re dancing to, Shandi’s “He’s a Dream,” is otherwise rightfully forgotten.  
  10. “The Time of My Life” “Footloose” almost squeaked onto the list. But no dance scene made more girls melt than the finale of 1987’s “Dirty Dancing.” Patrick Swayze lifts adorable Jennifer Grey into the air and into film history, creating a beloved image for the movie’s worldwid legion of fans.
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