Dance is defined as the art of movement. It can be used to express feelings, to exercise, to perform, and some can even interact and have nonverbal conversation though the art of dance. Dance is usually performed through the rhythm and beat of music, but it doesn’t necessarily have to involve music. Sports even sometimes incorporate a certain dance, or type of dance. For example, a martial arts kata is simply a series of movements put together to be performed with the grace and strength of a dance. Dance is also used in sports such as synchronized swimming, ice skating, and gymnastics.
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There are many types of dance, ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop, modern, and contemporary just to name a few. Most people can’t go through the day without seeing a type of dance performed in some way. Whether its seeing kids dance at a prom, a person walking down the street moving to the beat of their iPod, or simply turning on the television, it’s something that’s in our everyday lives. But have you ever wondered where it all started, or how it became what it is today?
It was believed that dancing was a ritual in early ancient civilizations; priests would dance to the rhythm of harps and pipes to tell stories to the ancient gods, people also danced at funerals to express their sorrow. Around this same time period ballet was beginning to evolve in France. As it continued to spread through Italy, England, and Russia, it became a concert dance, which is often, even today, seen in movies and events all over the world. Dancing has continued to blossom into what it is today, and the best way to show how it has become what it is today, is though film.
One of the first movies that involved sing and dance was the 1952 film, Singing in the Rain, starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds. This movie was more of a Broadway musical, but it is one of the first movies that involved dance at all. The most famous part of this movie is when the main character, Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly), dances through the streets with an umbrella as he twirls and sings the title song. He then grabs onto a pole and swings around it continuing to sing. During the filming of this scene he had a 103 degree fever, but thanks to the help of the camera crew, this scene only had to be shot one time.
After the production of this movie, dancing became the new craze. Dances such as, the Bop, the Stroll and the Swing became popular. Also when the song “Willy and The Hand Jive” was released, it stayed at the top of the charts for 16 weeks. Poodle skirts and pony-tails were the style, and “Do Wop” music was what everyone wanted to hear.
The 60’s rolled around quickly and with a new decade, came new traditions. A brand new dance became the new trend. In 1960 Chubby Checker released his song entitled “The Twist.” The Twist was the first Rock & Roll dance in which partners didn’t have to touch each other.
The Twist was once said to be like, “putting out a cigarette with both feet and drying off your bottom with a towel to the beat of the music.” It was performed with the feel shoulder width apart, standing straight up, with the arms fully extended and slightly bent at the elbows. Then the next move was simply to twist the body back and forth.
Other popular dances during this time period were the Mashed Potato, the Monkey, and the Madison. The “Baby Boomers” definitely played a role in all the dance explosion of the 60’s. Throughout the end of this decade many of these dances were seen in movie productions and on Broadway.
Next we enter the retro years of the 70’s, KC and the Sunshine Band topped the charts, and Disco was the new craze. Everyone was aware that sooner or later the sex appeal of disco would make its way to the film industry. There isn’t a movie that shows this better than Saturday Night Fever starring, John Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney. Saturday Night Fever became an instant box office hit with the famous dance by John Travolta to the Bee Gee’s smash hit Stayin’ Alive. Disco was one of the fast dances of the decade, with 110-140 bmp (beats per minute). It wasn’t long before everyone wanted to become a part of the raging disco scene, eventually
groups such as Kiss, and The Rolling Stones, and people like Cher and Rod Stewart were all in on the fun.
As the years passed Broadway musicals became popular for a short period of time. After the great success of Hair in 1970, movies continued to make it from Broadway to the big screen. Grease, All That Jazz, and Dreamgirls, just to name a few.
Toward the end of the 70’s came the first big Broadway film to hit the box office. Grease hit the cinemas in 1978 and it soon became a dance sensation. The dances from this film are often recreated in dance classes, at recitals, shows and other events; some of these dances are even trademarked. This movie was not only a musical it was also very popular for its energetic cast and it’s “feel good” love story. One of the most famous dance moves from this movie was “The Hand Jive.” Since then there have been many different variations of how it is done.
Grease is one musical that has been said to “never get old” with the catchy songs and the disco and jive moves of John Travolta. Grease produced one of the best selling soundtracks in the world. Also, once Grease went to Broadway, it was one of the longest running musicals of all time, until Cats overtook it just recently.
The next movie of the 70’s that shows a definite change in the music and dance of the decade was All That Jazz in 1979. This film starring Roy Scheider and Jessica Lange is based on the aspects of a dancer, a choreographer, and a director’s life and career. It was inspired by the
director’s effort to edit a film, while also staging a 1975 musical Chicago. This film closed out the 1970’s with a “bang.” It was awarded many honors, and four Oscars. Also, in 2001, the United States deemed the film “culturally significant” and it is now preserved in the National Film Registry.
So to wrap up the 70’s the Twist, the Bump, the Jitterbug, the Hustle and the Swing were all very popular dances, but through these years nothing compared to the Americans love for the Disco. It was the last immensely popular move driven by the baby boomers generation, but soon enough came the 80’s and with a new decade came new traditions, fashions, and of course a brand new dance.
The 80’s was definitely one of the best decades for new dance moves, and movies that portrayed this. From the musicals like Fame and Footloose, to the break dancing skills showed in the film Breakin’, a rewind of 70’s disco in Saturday Night Fever, the mambo and freestyle dance of Dirty Dancing, to the unusual dance moves of the extremely popular Michael Jackson. The 80’s was another step to make dancing what it is today. These 10 years were some of the best in dance history.
One of the first 1980’s dance movies to earn a spot in the all-time movies hall of fame is Fame (1980), starring Eddie Barth, Irene Cara and Laura Dean. Fame mainly took part at a Performing Arts Academy, with many great performances. Fame is considered a musical with a large amount of singing and dancing. It was awarded 3 honors, 2 Oscars, as well as 16 other
nominations. It wasn’t a huge hit, but it still remembered by some and it showed how the sing and dance of this time period was done.
1983’s Flashdance was a major pop culture influence, with a style of its own. This film is the story of a Pittsburgh woman (Jennifer Beals) that juggles two jobs, one as a welder, and the other as an exotic dancer. Of course, during this time exotic dancing wasn’t twirling on a pole and taking off clothes, it was much different. She longs to make a career of her dancing and apply to a ballet school, but doesn’t have to confidence in her skills to apply. Flashdance had a worldwide box-office gross of 100 million, won 10 honors, one Oscar, and was nominated for 13 other nominations. This was a very stylish movie that entertained millions with the 80’s pop music and new dance moves. Flashdance popularized the dance of the 80’s with many new hit songs and dances.
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The next movie that shows an evolution in the dance moves of the 80’s is actually a sequel to the 1977 movie Saturday Night Fever. Stayin’ Alive was a 1983 movie starring John Travolta, Cynthia Rhodes, and Finola Hughes. This film begins five years later with the main character, Tony Manero, dancing on the weekend nights at a disco club to run from his problems. Eventually he decides to leave his life as a dance instructor and club waiter to pursue a career on Broadway. He ends up getting the lead role in a Broadway show called Satan’s Alley. This film brought in 65 million, it was a lot less than its predecessor in 1977, but it managed to be one of the top 10 successful movies of the 80’s.
In 1984 Kevin Bacon’s moves and energy made one of the best “high budget” dance movies of the 80’s. Footloose combines great dance music with dancers and a story of a guy that came from a big city, to a small town where dance is banned. Jazz, Hip-hop and freestyle were the main dances of choice throughout this film. Around this time in the 80’s Footloose was a rival to Flashdance, but it was said many times that Footloose was definitely the favorite for most people. This film starring not only Kevin Bacon, but Lori Singer and John Lithgow as well, brought in 80 million, it was nominated for 2 Oscars and 4 other nominations.
The next 1984 movie was one of the “lower budget” movies, and according to some, it put some of the “higher budget” movies to shame. Breakin’ was one of those movies that were very different than what most people were used to. Unlike most movies, it used talented dancers, rather than talented actors to dance. The difference with this movie rather than most during the 80’s was that it’s a celebration of dance; it doesn’t really have any particular style it was more of a freestyle dance movie. This movie was about a jazz dancer named Kelly (Lucinda Dickey) that meets two break dancers who combine their dance styles. Although the acting wasn’t great, the dancing definitely made up for it. The sequel was released a year later, but it wasn’t near the hit as this one. Because this movie wasn’t like the traditional movies of the 80’s it was only nominated for one award and it only brought in 38 million, however this movie was also very different than the rest during this time period that was a major factor in the downfall.
In the film industry of the 80’s one of the biggest successes was Dirty Dancing. This is a 1987 film starring Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey and Cynthia Rhodes. Personally this is my absolute favorite movie of all time. Something that most people don’t know was that Dirty Dancing was a true story based on the screenwriter, Eleanor Bergstein’s own childhood. This movie was the story of a 17 year old girl and her family who goes on vacation at a resort, eventually Baby Housman (Jennifer Gray) falls in love with the resorts dance instructor (Patrick Swayze), while her family strongly disapproves. She spends her entire summer with him as he teaches her to dance. When this film was finished and about to be put in theatres the directors and cast were informed that this film would be a huge “flop” and possibly one of the worst films made during this time period.
Little did they know that Dirty Dancing is considered today, “the best dance movie ever made” and it would still be the favorite of many people today. As of 2007 this film earned $213.9 million worldwide, and it was the first home video to sell more than a million copies. The Dirty Dancing soundtrack also produced two multi-platinum albums and multiple singles. This film went on to win an Oscar, as well as 9 other awards, and 5 nominations.
Although there wasn’t a movie about the dance styles of Michael Jackson, I believe that he played a major part in the shift of styles in the 80’s. Michael Jackson’s career was booming with new dances, songs and styles during this time. In 1982 his album “Thriller” still remains
today, the bestselling album of all time, and remained on the Billboard 200 peak position for 37 weeks straight. It contained 7 top ten hits, and it was only a 9 track album. “We Are the World” and “Bad” were also big hits during this time period, making music and dance even more popular. As the 80’s continued Michael Jackson was said to be one of the biggest stars of the world. He popularized dances such as the Moonwalk, the Kick, the Soulful Robot and the Never-Ending Spin.
The 80’s has been said to be “the decade of dance,” there was break dancing, the Worm, the Moonwalk and more. During the 80’s the dancing definitely took a step up to what it is for most people today. Also, many movies through these 10 years showed a change in the dance styles.
The beginning of the 90’s dance styles was very similar to the 80’s. Michael Jackson was still popular; the same dance movies were being watched over and over; and most people were still stuck in their 80’s ways of life. As the 1990’s continued dance moves such as the Macarena, the Cha Cha Slide, the Running Man, and the Electric Slide.
One of the first dance movies in a long time came out in the year 2000, Center Stage, starring Amanda Schull, Zoe Saldana and Peter Gallagher was one of those dance movies with a plot that “wasn’t so good”, but the dancing was excellent. This film revisits styles of ballet, Broadway dancing, and disco, and blends together styles of its own. It also shows the difficulty
and common issues of professional dancing and how some people cope with the stress without computer special effects.
The next movie isn’t exactly a “dance” movie, but it shows how dancing has recently been incorporated into other activities, such as cheerleading. Bring it On was the 2000; film starring Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dushku and Gabrielle Union. Bring it On shows how cheerleading involves dance as well, and how had dance has spread to other activities. Not only does cheerleading involve dancing, but many other sports too, such as synchronized swimming it’s nothing more than a dance in water, or figure skating. Even professional football players are sent to ballet classes to obtain balance and poise. This is an excellent film that shows the importance of dancing in sports such as cheerleading.
The year 2004 takes us to a memorable movie where the style changes to ballroom dance. Shall We Dance shows many types of ballroom dance, like the Waltz, Quickstep and Tango. This film was first a Japanese film, but this version starring Jennifer Lopez, Richard Gere, and Susan Sarandon, is the story of a workaholic lawyer who is getting bored with his daily routine, and he decides to take ballroom dance classes to make his life a little more interesting. As the time he dances continues he finds joy in it more and more. This film brought in 57.8 million dollars and was nominated for 4 awards.
The next film takes us back to the musicals of the 70’s and 80’s, Hairspray, starring Zac Efron, John Travolta, Amanda Bynes, Queen Latifah and Michelle Pfeiffer was the fourth highest grossing musical film in US cinema history, behind Grease, Chicago and Momma Mia! This film is set in Baltimore in 1963; the story is about a plump teenager Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) who seeks stardom as a dancer on a local television show. The 1988 original version of Hairspray earned 6.6 million and was nominated for 4 awards, while the 2007 version earned 188.8 million in the box office, was nominated for 3 Golden Globes, won 12 other awards, and had 18 other nominations. This was an energetic dance movie, much like Grease, with plenty of heart, it was said to make people “want to get up and sing and dance.”
The final and most recent successful 2006 dance movie is very similar to Dirty Dancing. Step Up, starring Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan, is a perfect example of what dance has become today. Step Up is the story of a privileged ballet dancer who meets a free style dance rebel with a dream of making it in the real world of dance. In this film there was a mix of hip-hop, ballet, modern and break dancing to make this film perfect for this list of movies that helped our styled evolve today. This movie earned 65.3 million in the box office, and won one award and was nominated for 3 other awards.
Things have definitely changed from the 1950’s until today, but one thing in common with all of these movies is the real message; follow your dreams, and never give up on the things that you want. Another thing that all these movies have in common, it that it gives most people the urge to get up and dance.
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