Dance on Film

20th April, 2017

Dance and cinema have a long history together, particularly in the early days of film, when silent movies demanded an expressive performance that didn't rely on dialogue.

This film list brings together classic dance films that are renowned for their influence on cinema, as well as their technical brilliance, including many performances that were filmed in just one take and showcase the best footwork ever seen on the big screen. We also explore alternative forms of dance in documentaries that put the spotlight on emerging dance styles and subcultures; become absorbed by dramas that reveal the pressures of performance; and experience the redeeming power of self expression and movement.

To further explore the relationship between film and dance, we've also created a brand new Spotlight on Dance resource, which is for AQA GCSE and A level Dance/Expressive Arts students. The Student Pack contained within has been designed to support students to prepare, plan and record their final presentation, and for A level students to engage in critical analysis and appreciation of the Set Work. The guide provides easy-to-use planning tools and suggested stimulus film content to inspire and enable students to fulfil the specification requirements.

Download our Spotlight on Dance resource here


BallerinaBallerina U (5+)

Duration: 89mins
Year: 2016
Director(s)Eric SummerÉric Warin
CastElle FanningDane DeHaanMaddie ZieglerCarly Rae Jepsen

In 1879 Paris, an orphan girl who dreams of becoming a ballerina takes on the identity of another in order to enrol at a prestigious ballet school.

Félicie can’t wait to escape her rural orphanage to experience the cultural delights of Paris. Tricking her way into the Opera Ballet where the strictly disciplined moves are beyond her untrained feet, Félicie must work twice as hard and practice ballet every moment of the day to keep up with the others, and keep her dream alive.

All StarsAll Stars U (7+)

Director(s)Ben Gregor
CastAkai OseiTheo StevensonKevin BishopAshley JensenKimberley WalshMark Heap

Two plucky kids attempt to save their beloved youth club by staging an exciting and energetic street dance show!

Akai Osei, who got his break on the screen by winning a TV dance competition, stars in this feel-good British film about a group of young people who come together to save the youth club that gives them the space to dance – something they all have their personal reasons for needing.

Singin' in the RainSingin' in the Rain U (5+)

Duration: 98mins
Year: 1952
Director(s)Stanley DonenGene Kelly
CastGene KellyDonald O'ConnorDebbie ReynoldsJean HagenMillard Mitchell

Widely considered the best musical ever made, this tribute to Hollywood is about an actress who can't sing trying to move into sound films.

Choreographed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, the film deals with the industry’s transition from silent to ‘talkies’, and its stars’ navigation of the studio system. Debbie Reynolds, who features as the behind-the-scenes talent who deserves a starring role was originally a gymnast, and received coaching from Fred Astaire to be able to dance on Gene Kelly’s level.

Happy FeetHappy Feet U (5+)

Duration: 109mins
Year: 2006
Director(s)George Miller
CastHugh JackmanElijah WoodNicole KidmanRobin WilliamsBrittany Murphy

Tone-deaf Mumble is a brilliant dancer - but that's no good when Emperor penguins are supposed to find a mate by singing.

This film about celebrating our different talents features dancing sequences motion-captured from human dancers, who had to undergo penguin training in order to learn how to move their feet in that distinctive way. Tap dancer Savion Glover choreographed many of the film’s sequences, and provided the footwork for main character Mumble.


The Red ShoesThe Red Shoes U (11+)

Duration: 128mins
Year: 1948
Director(s)Emeric PressburgerMichael Powell
CastAnton WalbrookMarius GoringMoira ShearerRobert HelpmannLeonide Massine

This visually spectacular, dreamlike film from Powell and Pressburger is one of the great classics of British cinema.

Centred around a ballet production of Hans Christian Andersen’s traditional tale of the same name, the filmmakers made sure to cast dancers with some experience of acting, rather than the other way around. The form is celebrated in an incredible and influential sequence telling the tragic story that so involves those that perform it. Choreographed by Robert Helpmann.

Desert DancerDesert Dancer 15 (14+)

Duration:102 minutes
Year: 2014
Director(s): Richard Raymond
Freida Pinto, Reece Ritchie, Nazanin Boniadi, Tom Cullen, Marama Corlett, Simon Kassianides

Based on the true story of Afshin Ghaffarian who defied authorities to start a dance company, despite the national ban on dancing throughout Iran.

Choreographed by Akram Khan and based on the true story of Afshin Ghaffarian, this film reveals the story of a young, self-taught dancer in Iran who was inspired by classic dance videos of Gene Kelly and Michael Jackson to form his own dance troupe, whose performances had to be carried out in secrecy under threat of persecution.

Billy ElliotBilly Elliot 15 (14+)

Duration: 110 mins
Year: 2000
Director(s): Stephen Daldry
Jamie Bell, Jean Heywood, Jamie Draven, Julie Walters, Gary Lewis

Set against the 1984 Miner's Strike, Billy Elliot is a boy torn between his unexpected love of ballet and the disintegration of his family.

Challenging class and gender stereotypes, this heartwarming film tells of a boy who rebels against conforming to the boxing ring like the rest of his lads, and who finds his true place in the ballet studio instead.

Black SwanBlack Swan 15 (16+)

Duration: 103 mins
Year: 2010
Director(s): Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Natalie Portman
Vincent Cassel, Winona Ryder, Barbara Hershey, Mila Kunis

Psychological horror from director Darren Aronofsky that follows a leading ballerina undergoing a dramatic and dark change in character.

The effect of pressure for perfection and performance anxiety is explored in this film that is influenced by The Red Shoes but takes the psychological trauma to new extremes. Choreographed by Benjamin Millepied.

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