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12 of the Best Dance Movies of All Time

Light up the disco ball! It's time to pirouette and boogie while you watch Hollywood greats that celebrate dancing.

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via imdb.com

‘Black Swan’ (2010)

Natalie Portman took home the Best Actress Oscar for her searing portrayal of a prima ballerina striving for perfection. The costumes are gorgeous, especially when Portman transforms into the black swan. Stirring visuals abound in this dream-like thriller about artistry and self-doubt. Portman trained for months to achieve the look and technique of a ballet pro.

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‘The Turning Point’ (1977)

Real-life dance phenomenon Mikhail Baryshnikov stars as a playboy in this acclaimed ballet movie based on the rivalry between two ballerinas. Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine play the dancers who meet in their youth. Bancroft stays on and becomes prima ballerina, while MacLaine leaves to start a family and teach. When Bancroft offers her grown daughter a part in the company, the women come to terms with life choices, lost and gained. (You’ll also want to watch these movies about friendship.)

3 / 12
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‘Center Stage’ (2000)

This soapy drama is like Beverly Hills 90210 set in a ballet academy. Peter Gallagher stars as the driven ballet director, and Zoe Saldana debuts as a prima ballerina who can’t be held back. Real-life ballerinas dance, flirt, and break each other’s hearts in this story about staging a modern ballet alongside traditional choreography. You’ll cheer when someone drives a motorcycle on stage. Point shoes work great with rock music and there’s nothing like watching ballet pros at the top of their game.

4 / 12
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‘Step Up’ (2006)

Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan Tatum—the absolute cutest married couple on earth—met while filming the first movie in this hit franchise about dancing. The plot is all about mixing break-dance with ballet. Channing comes from the wrong side of the tracks and Jenna’s getting ready for a prestigious audition. By the end, they’re mashing up dance styles and falling in love. After this one, you’ve got four sequels to shimmy through! (Don’t miss the most romantic movies of all time.)

5 / 12
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‘Flashdance’ (1983)

Take your passion and make it happen! Jennifer Beals perfected the off-the-shoulder sweatshirt look in this upbeat drama about a welder in Pittsburgh who secretly yearns to be a ballerina. She goes to sign up for an audition wearing work boots and coveralls. Intimidated by the snooty dancers, she runs away. By the end she gets her nerve back and nails the audition of a lifetime. Ballet, pop songs, and big 80s hair will get your groove on. Water buckets optional! Stick with the big hair and shoulder pads theme with these classic 80s movies.

6 / 12
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‘Saturday Night Fever’ (1977)

John Travolta strutted to stardom in this drama about how disco dancing can ease the pressure of working-class life in the Big Apple. As Tony Manero, Travolta sports his signature white suit with the wide collar and boogies on a lit dance floor. You’ll be pointing your finger and shaking your hips just in time for the dance contest at the end. The iconic BeeGees soundtrack keeps the city breakin’ and everybody shakin.’ Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive!

7 / 12
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‘Strictly Ballroom’ (1992)

Baz Luhrmann directed this Australian mockumentary about the glamorous intrigue behind the curtain of major ballroom dance competitions. You’ll be laughing at the same time you’re awestruck over the incredible artistry behind the sequins and glitz. The plot centers on the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship and the use of a controversial dance move that’s not “strictly ballroom.” These are the movies with the best one-liners.

8 / 12
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‘Save the Last Dance’ (2001)

Hip-hop and ballet totally go together! This romance stars Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas as teens who show how mixing cultures works out great. Stiles shines as a dancer without formal chops who gets lessons from her boyfriend that loosen her up and add some much-needed swagger. When she uses these hip hop skills for the big audition at Juilliard at the end, she realizes that she’s gained hope and support as well as cool moves.

9 / 12
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‘Billy Elliot’ (2000)

Little Billy (played by Jamie Bell) heralds from a coal-mining family in rural England. His dad sends him to boxing class, but once he sees ballet class he can’t resist it. No one wants him to pursue ballet, especially his conservative father, but in the end, Julie Waters as his passionate dance teacher gets him to London just in time for the big audition. Guess who gets accepted to the Royal Ballet School? Your feet will tap and your heart will swell. Here are more tearjerker flicks for when you need a good cry.

10 / 12
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‘The Red Shoes’ (1948)

Moira Shearer stars as a dancer enchanted with magical shoes in this fairytale-like story about the passion of dancing. The story features the ballet “The Red Shoes,” in which wearing the enchanted footwear makes a young girl dance—until she dies. The story also follows the starring dancer in her real life, where artistic men obsess over her—and in which red shoes also have a mystical, dangerous, and tragic power. This classic is known for its stunning use of color and visual art.

11 / 12
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‘Top Hat’ (1935)

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers float across the stage in this classic backstage musical. Old Hollywood never looked so luminous as when these two stars famously waltz to “Cheek to Cheek.” Astaire is practicing his tap moves when he bothers Rogers who is trying to catch some shuteye just below him. Once they meet, sparks fly, and a beautiful romance is born.

12 / 12
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‘Dirty Dancing’ (1987)

Nobody puts Baby in the corner! Patrick Swayze was a vision as Johnny Castle, a dance instructor at a country club resort in the 1960s. Jennifer Grey plays the teeny-bopper who just can’t resist him in this romance about the scandalous goings-on between rich people and the hired help. Toss in some scenes with the late great Jerry Orbach and you’ll have the time of your life! Check out the best movie happy endings ever.

Molly Pennington, PhD
Molly is a writer and collage artist with a PhD in film and cultural studies from the University of Pittsburgh. Her professional astrology services and artwork are available at Baroque Moon Astrology. She covers the zodiac, books, movies, TV and culture for Reader’s Digest, and loves to talk about all the ways we make meaning.