PNB School Faculty’s Favorite Dance Movies

With the Oscars happening at the end of April, this month’s PNB School Spotlight is all about our PNB School faculty’s favorite dance films! Read on for favorites (spoiler alert: everybody loves Billy Elliot and Dirty Dancing), guilty pleasures, and movies that inspired our faculty to become dancers.

[Parental Advisory: Please note that not all of these movies are suitable for all ages. Some may include mature content, or were produced at a time in history where subjects that are not acceptable today were common. Along with where these movies may be viewed, we have included the ratings for each film from the Motion Picture Association to assist in your movie-watching decision-making.]


AN AMERICAN IN PARIS

“Leslie Caron, who started her career as a ballerina, made her film debut in An American in Paris opposite Gene Kelly. Fun fact: Caron was discovered by Kelly on the stage of Roland Petit’s Ballet des Champs Elysées. Both Caron and her friend Violette Verdy joined the company as teenagers. Caron would go on to star in The Glass Slipper (a musical adaptation of Cinderella) in which Verdi also had a featured dance role, and featured choreography by Petit.”
–Dana Hanson

(An American in Paris: Hulu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV. Rating: Approved.)
(The Glass Slipper: YouTube, Amazon Prime. Unrated.)


BILLY ELLIOT

“My favorite dance film! I loved Billy’s journey from a small coal-mining town to the ballet stage. The movie gracefully balances warmth and humor with the characters’ deeper frustrations and ends with a wonderful feeling of hope. There is something special in Billy Elliot–a message that dancers understand in a fundamental way—how dance can be both a cathartic release and a path for someone yearning to become their best self.”
–Miriam Landis

“My favorite dance movie! Billy Elliot was the first movie that I went to with all my friends from ballet school! Amazing music, cinematography, choreography, and dancers. Years later, after I graduated and started to teach ballet, which had usually been only girls, I had a boy sign up and some students commented that he looked weird and asked why he was trying ballet. So I rented Billy Elliot for them to watch, and they all enjoyed it and had more respect for him after.”
–Claudia Aragon

(HBO Max, Hulu, Amazon Prime. Rated R for language.)


DIRTY DANCING

“My guilty pleasure will always be Dirty Dancing. Every single dance scene explodes with energy. It was my favorite movie when I was a tween because the nerdy Jewish girl became a fabulous dancer and won the guy! That final euphoric dance number is just one of the many moments that make Dirty Dancing the ultimate feel-good dance film.”
–Miriam Landis

“Patrick Swayze with Jennifer Grey and Broadway legends Jerry Orbach and Kelly Bishop (as her parents), what’s not to like? Set in a Catskill resort, it’s a family drama which morphs into a dance drama with political, classist undertones. I feel charmed by it more every time I watch it.”
–Dina McDermott

(HBO Max, Hulu, Amazon Prime. Rated PG-13 for mild sexuality, violence, and language.)


FAME

“This is the movie that made me want to be a dancer. Debby Allen was the teacher you wanted to learn from…strong, intense, but full of love for you and the art of dance. Leroy (Gene Anthony Ray) was my hero. Untrained, raw, determined. And everyone falls for the street dance scene but overlooks the real dance gem of the movie, ‘Hot Lunch.’”
–Eva Stone

(Amazon Prime, YouTube, and Apple TV. Rated R for sexual content, partial nudity, suggestive material, language, and some drug use.)


FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

“The bottle dance: How this scene builds from cool ease to joyous exuberance is pure magic. And when the men kick up that dirt, my skin, without fail, always begins to tingle. I feel the weight of my ancestors and their stories in this scene.”
–Eva Stone

(Netflix, Amazon Prime. Rated G.)


FOOTLOOSE

“As a teenager my favorite dance movie was Footloose. I thought Kevin Bacon was such an amazing dancer. Looking at the movie today I realize there is very little actual dancing in it, but the dance enthusiasm really swept me away. Fun fact: Years later I would meet actor John Lithgow (who played the dance-hating preacher) during the making of Chris Wheeldon’s Carnival of the Animals for NYCB. Lithgow narrated the story and also had a cameo appearance in the ballet as a dancing elephant!”
–Dana Hanson

(Hulu. Rated PG for mild violence, profanity, and alcohol.)

CENTER STAGE

“Useless but interesting fact: I was high school friends with Carol Heikkinen, who wrote the screenplay for Center Stage. And yes, there is a character in the movie named Eva!”
–Eva Stone

(Hulu, Starz.) Rated PG-13 for language and some sensuality.)


DANCERS

“I used to watch an old VHS of Dancers over and over as a kid. It’s definitely a ‘guilty pleasure’ film because the plot is kind of silly! It’s set in Italy where American Ballet Theatre is on tour filming Giselle, but in real life a Giselle-like love triangle is afoot. Starring Julie Kent and Mikhail Baryshnikov, you’ll laugh at the cheesy moments where Julie boards the back of a Vespa in pointe shoes, a tutu, and a leather jacket; and your heart will melt watching Alessandra Ferri and Baryshnikov perform the actual second act of Giselle. It’s some of the most beautiful dancing caught on film. Enjoy!”
–Jenny Turner

(Amazon Prime, Apple TV. Rated PG.)


LA DANSE

“High-brow pleasure: A documentary film which shows the incredibly rigorous training dancers receive at the Paris Opera Ballet.”
–Dina McDermott

(La Danse can be watched for free on Kanopy with a library card. Unrated.)


SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN

“I love all the Fred Astaire films (my favorite of his would be Swing Time), but I’d say that my favorite dance film is Singin’ in the Rain. It never fails to bring a smile. Unbelievable performances from the cast, and Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse are flawless in their pas de deux.”
–Nancy Crowley

“My first introduction to dance was through the old movie musicals my parents liked to watch. Gene Kelly was my idol, and Singin’ in the Rain is one of my all-time favorite movies!”
–Dana Hanson

(Singin’ in the Rain: HBO Max, YouTube, Apple TV. Rated G.)
(Swing Time: YouTube, HBO Max, Google Play, Vudu. Rated Approved. NOTE: One scene includes blackface.)

WEST SIDE STORY

“Favorite dance movie, hands down. Obvious choice. The opening dance sequence is one of the best ever filmed.”
–Eva Stone

(Amazon Prime. Rated Approved: Mild profanity, racism and hate speech, gang violence.)

WHITE NIGHTS

“My favorite dance movie! Choreographed by the one and only Twyla Tharp, starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and the late, great Gregory Hines, with supporting roles played by Helen Mirren and Isabella Rosellini. The nail biting story of two expats in Soviet Russia with very different life stories is set in the gorgeous city of St. Petersburg (definitely on my bucket list-right of places to visit!) The juxtaposition of ballet and Broadway/musical theater styles could only have been pulled off by Twyla, in my opinion. See it!”
–Dina McDermott

(YouTube and Apple TV. Rated PG-13.)


..AND HERE ARE A FEW OTHERS TO CHECK OUT TOO!

BREAKIN’
Shabba Doo! Breakdancing’s break-out movie!
(DirecTV. Rated PG.)

FIRST POSITION
This moving documentary follows six young dancers from around the world as they prepare for the Youth America Grand Prix.
(Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes. Rated PG.)

BOB FOSSE FILMS
A choreographer unlike any other!
Sweet Charity (Tubi. Rated G…despite thematic content.)
Damn Yankees (YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Prime, Apple TV. Rated Approved. Some thematic content.)
Cabaret (YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu. Rated PG for some thematic elements, sexual references, and some language.)
All That Jazz “Fosse choreographs HIS OWN DEATH. Who does that? A choreographer does, that’s who. And I thought ‘I want THAT job.’” –Eva Stone (Not currently available for streaming. Rated R for drug use throughout, strong sexual material, brief nudity, language, and a graphic scene of surgery.)

MAO’S LAST DANCER
Based on professional dancer Li Cunxin’s autobiography of the same name.
(YouTube, Pluto TV, Tubi, Vudu. Rated PG.)

PINA
A beautiful tribute to the late choreographer Pina Bausch.
(Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes. Rated PG.)

THE RED SHOES
Boris: “Why do you want to dance?”
Victoria: “Why do you want to live?”
Boris: “Well I don’t know exactly why, but I must.”
Victoria: “That’s my answer too.”
(HBO Max, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes. Unrated.)

SAVE THE LAST DANCE
Does she give up ballet for hip hop…and love?
(YouTube, Vudu, iTunes, Google Play. Rated PG-13)

THE TURNING POINT
When her daughter joins a ballet company, a former dancer is forced to face her long-ago decision to give up the stage. Baryshnikov, Bancroft, and Maclaine at their finest!
(Max Go, Cinemax. Rated PG.)

Guilty Pleasure (adults only!): SHOWGIRLS
“The choreography is terrible. The storyline is terrible. The acting is terrible. The costumes are terrible. The lighting and the music…all terrible. But when it’s on, I can’t turn away.”
–Eva Stone
(Hulu, Amazon Prime. NOTE: There are both NC-17 and R-rated versions of this movie. Pervasive nudity and sexuality throughout, graphic language and sexual violence.)

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