Dance film

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A dance film is a film with dance interludes ; In a narrower sense, a dance film also addresses dancing itself.

The genre


The dance film is a genre that cannot be clearly defined. Its beginnings go back to the development of the sound film in the 1920s. It is closely linked to Hollywood , the center of film in the USA , and at the same time closely linked to Broadway's musical theater productions , which for a long time served as a template for dance films. The term “dance film” only exists in German, there is no equivalent translation in other languages. Standard names for dance films in English are “musical comedy” , “musical film” , “music film” or simply “romantic comedy” . These terms emphasize less the dance aspect, but equally encompass dance, music, song, humorous and romantic elements.


A dance film is characterized by the clear emphasis on the dance scenes, in which the dancer or the dancer should best be filmed in full length. This is supposedly due to Fred Astaire who insisted on this perspective . Sequences in which only partial movements are shown are to be preferred in tap dancing or in a standstill, the pose. The full-length view is often realized by using a wide-angle lens with which the dance scenes are recorded.

Rousing choreographies with 30 or more dance couples have long been an essential element of dance film, but with its decline it has completely receded into the background. The modern dance film focuses on a few dancers, if not just on a single dance couple or a single dancer.

Differentiation from musical films

A verfilmtes musical is in German " movie musical called" or "musical film". The limits to dance film have evaporated here over time. Famous musicals like Grease were filmed and successful dance films like Saturday Night Fever or Dirty Dancing were later turned into musicals. In musical films there are often echoes of the theater productions of the musical templates. The actors play facing the audience as if on a stage; the cinema / television viewer takes on the role of the theater viewer.

Musicals gain their material from the entire breadth of life, which is then enriched with dance scenes. Basically, however, the dance scenes seem to have been placed in the musical - the musical could do without dance scenes and the plot would still be complete. The dance film, on the other hand, also has dance as its content; Dance and events correspond with each other. In individual cases, however, a musical can also focus directly on dance themes (e.g. A Chorus Line ), so that the film adaptation then takes on the character of a dance film.


Early phase of the sound film

Although there are already recordings of dancing couples from the first decades of the film , it was difficult even for experienced accompanying pianists in the first cinemas to achieve complete synchronicity of the beat .

In the first sound film, The Jazz Singer , dancing chorus girls finally appeared, so it was inevitable until Hollywood discovered Broadway productions as film material. The Broadway Melody is one of the first sound film musicals. From 1929 it was turned down in countless chapters, all of which had more of the character of revue films , in which the successes of a year were strung together. The production company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer rose to become the market leader for musicals in the 1930s . The pieces of music were combined with a small basic story into a sparse plot.

The golden era of the dance film

With the discovery of Fred Astaire , the dance film got its own quality, as its incomparable dance style and the choreographies of a Hermes Pan gave the dance film a special elegance and style . In addition, the films, such as Flying Down to Rio or Invitation to Dance , received a significantly higher budget , professional marketing and a better script .

In the 1930s and in the two decades that followed, other giants of the dance film joined his main partner Ginger Rogers , his friend, colleague and almost equally unique dancer Gene Kelly and the queen of tap dance Eleanor Powell .

The transformation into a musical film

At least since the end of World War II, the audience was demanding, so the producers to the numerous musical materials of Broadway resorted to the story to give more content. Now it was not just the dance that was in the foreground - but with Die Roten Shoes (1948), An American in Paris (1951), Singin 'In The Rain (1952), Curtain Up! (1953), Kiss Me, Kate (1953) or Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) epoch-making dance films. With their dance choreographies (see the later film adaptation of West Side Story in 1961), their influence extended to the beginnings of music videos .

The decline of the dance film

Related productions from the 1950s, of all things , such as the water revues of Esther Williams literally watered down the dance film. The best dance and swing orchestras such as Harry James or Xavier Cugat played here , but the actual dance was pushed into the background even more. In addition, since the 1960s, the former stars have become quieter as they get older.

Renaissance of the dance film

It wasn't until the surprising success of Saturday Night Fever (1977) and the musical film Grease (1978) with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John that the dance film was back: a necessary minimum of story, catchy songs, rousing dance scenes. Fame (1980), Flashdance (1983), Footloose (1984), A Chorus Line (1985) and Dirty Dancing (1987) were the greatest hits of the 1980s. The great success of the film Fame - The Road to Fame even led to the eponymous television series Fame - The Road to Fame, which was produced with a total of 136 one-hour episodes from 1982 to 1987 with similarly great success.

After the widely acclaimed but not commercially successful film Stepping Out (1991) and Baz Luhrmann 's first film Strictly Ballroom (1992), another decade of decline followed in the 1990s.


Newer dance films such as Center Stage (2000), The Company - Das Ensemble (2003) and Rhythm Is It! (2004) contain documentary features in which dancers are accompanied in their work and life. In Mad Hot Ballroom (2005), students from New York schools are accompanied as they learn various ballroom dances in order to compete against each other. The film reports on their thoughts and feelings and documents their living conditions and their development. In Tanz mit der Zeit (2006/7) the autobiographical dance theater piece "Time - dancing since 1927" by Heike Hennig serves as a film template. Four former ballet dancers return to the stage of the Leipzig Opera at the age of 80 and dance and tell their extraordinary life stories. In 2011 Wim Wenders released " Pina ", an internationally acclaimed dance film in 3D technology for the first time.

In addition to these documentary films, however, there have also been individual representatives of the classical dance films (such as Billy Elliot - I Will Dance in 2000) who were successful with the audience. In 2004 a sequel to Dirty Dancing (which, however, has nothing in common with the original film in terms of content and personnel) as well as remakes of Fame (2009) and Footloose (2011) were released, none of which could match the success of the originals.


The dance film is characterized by a cinematic emphasis on the dance scenes, and in the present it is also increasingly addressing dancing itself. As a result, topics related to dance determine the action, such as learning to dance or the dancers striving for fame.

Dance films are particularly popular when the respective dance style is to be presented to a particular musical rhythm ( disco music , salsa , samba , hip-hop, etc.) and this is wrapped around with a film plot. Which rhythm is selected depends on its topicality and regional distribution. In Mad Hot Ballroom (2005), merengue was even included as a separate discipline of standard dance.

In the course of time, various topoi have established themselves in the genre , which were passed on by the great successful film role models:

  • The competition. Dancing is rarely an end in itself, but aims at a presentation. The dance couple dances on the dance floor, wants to be seen, to be better than others, to “sweep” the dance floor clean ( Saturday Night Fever, Footloose, Salsa, it's hot ). Admission to a dance or ballet school is sought and requires an entrance exam or audition ( Fame - The Path to Fame, Flashdance, Save the Last Dance, Honey ). But the crowning glory is of course the dance competition, in which a couple is participating, and it usually also wins ( Dirty Dancing , Dirty Dancing 2 , Strictly Ballroom - The dancing against all the rules , may I ask? , Rhythm Is It! , Center Stage , Dance with Me , Salsa, It's Hot , Mad About Mambo , Saturday Night Fever and others).
  • Traditionally, dance serves to find a suitable partner; Dancing is courting a woman. In almost all dance films there are couples who get closer and fall in love. The dance often overcomes social and cultural barriers: the dance partners find each other despite social obstacles and different origins ( Dirty Dancing, Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights, Center Stage, Dance with me, Danzón , Salsa & Amor , Mad About Mambo, The Company - Das Ensemble , Save the Last Dance ).
  • Dancing must also be learned in the film. The dancers often have to work hard to learn to dance ( Fame - The Path to Fame , Mad About Mambo, Flashdance , Center Stage, May I ask ?, Honey , Save the Last Dance, Rhythm Is It !, The Company ) . A dance couple trains and supports themselves, often one of the two is an experienced, if not a dance teacher, and helps the other less experienced partner to learn to dance in the shortest possible time ( Salsa & Amor, Dirty Dancing, Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights, Dance with me, Strictly Ballroom - Those who dance against all the rules , Save the Last Dance ).
  • There is often something disreputable and forbidden about dancing. The old rules no longer apply in dancing - new, sensual movements and twists are tried out ( Dirty Dancing, Strictly Ballroom, Mad About Mambo, Flashdance, Salsa & Amor ). Conservative restrictions and prohibitions are broken ( Footloose , Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights, Shall We Dance? ).
  • Dancing changes the dancers. In dance you are someone else, no longer the person of everyday life; dancing makes you more mature ( Saturday Night Fever, Salsa, it's hot, Mad About Mambo, Center Stage, Dirty Dancing, Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights, Rhythm Is It! ). Often this process cannot be reversed: after dancing you leave your old circumstances, you can't go back or you leave ( Saturday Night Fever, Salsa & Amor, Honey, Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights, Danzón ).

See also

Film documentary

  • That's dancing (USA 1985) - Extensive documentary on the history of dance films.


  • Sherril Dodds: Dance on screen. Genres and media from Hollywood to experimental art . Basingstoke, Palgrave. 2001.
  • Larry Billman: Film choreographers and dance directors. An illustrated biographical encyclopedia, with a history and filmographies, 1893 through 1995 . Jefferson, NC: McFarland 1997.
  • Judy Mitoma (Ed.): Envisioning dance on film and video . London, Routledge 2002.