There’s nothing more soothing to the soul than a good inspirational dance movie. Seriously, nothing makes me smile more than when I can root for someone to overcome the ills of society with a ball-step change and a pirouette, preferably while also falling in love.
A good plot centers around a dream and a whole hell of a lot of obstacles (including but not limited to: disapproving parents, judgmental society, jealous rivals, socio-economic depression, and grief) but ultimately, hip swings and high kicks can and will remedy any situation, as will large group dance numbers and steamy couples dances.
If you’re looking to expand your knowledge of the genre, want to choreograph your own group ensemble, or just want to have a few films on deck for the next time you need some inspiration to follow your dreams, here are 16 of the best dance movies ever to help you sashay your way to a better day.
“Step Up”: Besides being one of the best dance movies of all time, this is also the movie we have to thank for the perfect union of Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan-Tatum, who costarred in it as a hip-hop dancer from the wrong side of the tracks and a classically trained dancer who overcame their differences to make an epic dance routine, while also falling in love.
“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”: A very young Sarah Jessica Parker, accompanied by a very young Helen Hunt, escapes the restrictive bounds of her private-girls-school education and her overbearing father to compete in a dance contest with her super-hunky love interest.
“Grease”: One of the great cult favorites of our time, “Grease” has brought us some of the best ensemble dances ever. From the Hand Jive to Danny and Cha Cha’s prom solo to the Carnival-set closing scene, Grease is most definitely the word.
“Flashdance”: Alex is a welder by day and an exotic dancer by night, just trying to fulfill her dreams of becoming a real dancer; this prime example of dance movie plot (dancer trying to achiever her dreams against all odds!) is only further enhanced by her steamy affair with her boss. This is also probably the movie responsible for bringing the first wave of athleisure to fashion’s front.
“Shall We Dance?”: While some might want to make a case for the Richard Gere/J. Lo remake of this film, anyone who’s seen the original Japanese version knows that this tale of a Japanese businessman who finds his life meaning after becoming a competitive ballroom dancer is pretty much the best dance movie ever.
“Roll Bounce”: If watching Bow Wow and Nick Cannon dance while on roller skates sounds like your cup of tea, then “Roll Bounce” is for you. The ultra-fly ’70s-setting and wardrobe (complete with flares and ’fros) only adds to the fun.
“Magic Mike”: Many shirtless males. Much dancing. Did we mention shirtless Channing Tatum? What isn’t there to love about “Magic Mike”?
“Magic Mike XXL”: Honestly, this might be better than the first one; still lots of shirtless men dancing, but with the addition of Jada Pinkett Smith being a total lady boss. Plus, you’ll never be able to hear Ginuwine’s “Pony” without thinking of THAT scene again.
“Mad Hot Ballroom”: A documentary about elementary-school kids competing in a ballroom dancing competition over the course of 10 weeks that will make you feel all the feels about self-expression and those awkward years.
“Footloose”: Kevin Bacon turns a small town’s absurd moral compass on its head when he questions and ultimately breaks its no-dance policy, while also wooing the local pastor’s wild-child daughter.
“Dirty Dancing”: Suburban overachiever Baby meets wrong-side-of-the-tracks dance instructor Johnny at a summer bungalow community in upstate New York and the rest is dance-movie history, bringing us such eternal gems as the trust lift to “Time of My Life” and infamous quips such as “Nobody puts Baby in the corner!”
“Strictly Ballroom”: The world of competitive ballroom dancing can be cutthroat, which Scott discovers as he navigates new moves with a new partner. The only thing hotter than the competition is the dancers themselves.
“Honey”: A sorely underappreciated look at Jessica Alba’s pre-Honest mogul days. She plays a hip-hop choreographer dance teacher who has to choose between making it big and her scruples.
“Fame”: A movie musical about a New York school for performing arts that follows the story lines of multiple talents as they try to make it big in the city. Watch it just for the 1980s-era costumes.
“Stomp the Yard”: A coming-of-age tale about a street dancer turned step team member who finds himself as he competes in his fraternity’s dance competition. Also notable for the film debut of a young Chris Brown and Ne-Yo.
“Save the Last Dance”: Julia Stiles dreams of being a ballerina and attending Juilliard, only to have her dreams shattered when her mother dies en route to the audition. After moving in with her father on the south side of Chicago, she becomes more acquainted with hip-hop dancing and pursues an interracial relationship against all odds, both of which help her eventually ace her next audition at Juilliard.