All the Right Moves: Dance Movie Types and Tropes

Kitsch-appreciation and guilty pleasures aside, dance movie scripts are formulaic at best. But, really, we all know that the plot is just a vehicle, a secondary excuse, for the choreographed routines themselves. As our previous posts on essential movie dance sequences have illustrated, dance routines run the gamut of styles and, in most cases, aren’t just there for theatrical flair. They have a particular significance to story and scene, communicating essential information about the characters, plot, and narrative tension — especially given the genre’s established conventions in recent years. So whether you’re someone who’s foolishly dismissed the dance movie category, or someone who already mentally choreographs routines for your own life, here’s a guide to understanding the different types of dance sequences and what they each convey.

In the apparently snooty world of dance, there’s nothing quite so offensive — and then, of course, ultimately inspiring — as a performer who incorporates elements of modern movement into their classical routine. This sequence makes for a handy climax to any movie about fractured identities (and, really, aren’t they all about fractured identities healed through the art of dance?) because it combines accepted, high-brow norms with novel, low-brow brashness — assuming for a moment that any kind of non-classical dance is still a novelty. It’s also a symbolic act of uniting the boundary-breaking romance, professional zeal, or social transgression that the protagonist must struggle with throughout the movie.
Noteworthy Examples: Flashdance (1983), Save the Last Dance (2001), Step Up (2006)