Top 10 Spontaneous Dance Sequences in Film

You know that feeling when a song comes on the radio or the DJ fades into a personal favorite; the feet start tapping, the head starts nodding. Here’s 10 of the best spontaneous dance scenes.

Who doesn’t love a spontaneous dance sequence. In the movies you could be merrily doing your shopping or sense an empty dance floor needs some inspiration – suddenly, from nowhere, you’re dancing and the world feels so much better for a few seconds or minutes. A dance sequence doesn’t have to be choreographed or carried out by professionally trained ballroom “movers”, it can simply be a moment in time where inhibition is forgotten, the movement and music carrying you on a wave of unrestrained exuberance. That said, it’s always nice to see someone who knows what they are doing shaking their tail feather. Yet, whether it’s a pro or a novice, the beauty of the spontaneous dance sequence is how it appears out of the blue. The best of these seamlessly blend into the film, invigorating both story and character.

10. Reality Bites

Music: My Sharona by The Knack
The definition of the spontaneous dance sequence can be found in Reality Bites. Four friends, a visit to the local Food Mart, the radio quietly playing. Suddenly a song appears that they recognise. “Can you turn this up…please, please…” they say. First, one begins to dance, then another, then another; like a wave the music hits them forcing movement. It’s uncontrolled, anarchic, messy but free and briefly exhilarating.
See also: Top 10 American Indie Films

9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Music: Come On Eileen by Dexys Midnight Runners
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is about the teenage social outcasts, those flirting with social and peer acceptance but determinedly maintaining their own individualism. The film features a wonderful selection of alternative rock, mainly from the 1980s, including The Smiths, David Bowie, Xtc and New Order. The spontaneous dance sequence arrives at a school disco when Come On Eileen appears on the DJ’s play list encouraging Sam and Patrick, who had been bemoaning the lack of “good” music, to take to the dance floor. The greatest moment appears when their new friend, nervous teen Charlie, briefly drops his guard. His head awkwardly moving to the beat, he makes his way to the dance floor to join in on the fun.
See also: Top 10 Teenage Rebellion Films

8. From Dusk Till Dawn

Music: After Dark by Tito & Tarantula
Hello Salma Hayek! Not only is this one of the great spontaneous dance sequences of all time, it is also one of the best character introductions. Our intrepid anti-hero George Clooney has sat down for a drink with his psychotic accomplice Quentin Tarantino and their hostages when Salma Hayek wanders on to stage and begins strutting her stuff. Amidst gyrating hips and the sensual use of a yellow anaconda, Hayek finds time to serve Tarantino’s rampant foot fetish before growing fangs and ripping a hole in his neck. This fabulous scene is a highlight of arguably Robert Rodriguez’s greatest film.
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7. Dirty Dancing

Music: (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life by Bill Medley/Jennifer Warnes
Okay, it is a film about dancing. It even has the word “dancing” in the title. So what is Dirty Dancing doing on this list I hear you say. Well, this sequence does happen somewhat out of the blue – indeed, “Baby” has no idea she’s about to have the dance of her life! Yes, we know the happy ending is coming but do we really expect such a grand finale. There’s that great “nobody puts baby in the corner” line, the brilliant lift, the sing-along song, and, ultimately, the spontaneous audience reaction to what’s going on. Yes, by the end, everyone is up and dancing, so this sequence is worthy of a place in this top 10.
See also: Top 10 Films to Watch With Your Date

6. (500) Days of Summer

Music: You Make My Dreams by Hall & Oates
Like the best spontaneous dance sequences, this will undoubtedly put a smile on your face. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a wonderful performance as he walks the streets of Los Angeles, moving to the beat of You Make My Dreams by Hall & Oates with the subtle inclusion of flash dance sequences thrown in for good measure.
See also: Top 10 romantic films men shouldn’t be ashamed to love

5. The Breakfast Club

Music: We Are Not Alone” by Karla DeVito
The scene that befuddles all pot smokers! The “Breakfast Club”, made up of fellow “detainees” the criminal, the jock, the princess, the geek and the basketcase, all of whom are stuck in Saturday detention, take to the library “dance floor” after enjoying the delights of a doobie! In this world, instead of mellowing the soul, marijuana invigorates it. But this isn’t about scientific explanation, this is about teenagers letting off steam.
See also: Top 10 Single Location Films

4. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Music: Twist and Shout by The Beatles
When The Beatles’ version of Twist and Shout appears on the jukebox it is hard enough to stop yourself dancing along to it but as Ferris Bueller highlights in the film that bears his name, you have to sing-along too! The Ferris Bueller Effect appears to influence the whole of Chicago as everyone is dancing to the music.
See also: Top 10 Quintessential 1980s Films

3. Risky Business

Music: Old Time Rock and Roll by Bob Seger
Destined for numerous parodies the minute it was put on celluloid, Tom Cruise dancing around the living room in his socks and “tighty whities” is one of the most iconic scenes of 1980s Hollywood.
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2. The Blues Brothers

Music: Shake A Tail Feather by Ray Charles
There’s lots of singing and dancing in John Landis’ The Blues Brothers but the highlight for me is when Ray Charles, in an attempt to prove to the film’s two “heroes” that a secondhand piano is fit for use, starts singing Shake A Tail Feather and the whole neighbourhood starts dancing. The Blues Brothers, along with their band, bop along to the beat, but it is the excited crowd outside who really catch the eye. It is especially fun to watch Ray call out dance moves to see the ensemble carry them out – can you do the twist, the swim, and the mashed potato?
See also: Top 10 Comedy Double Acts of the 1980s

1. Pulp Fiction

Music: You Never Can Tell by Chuck Berry
What Mia Wallace wants, Mia Wallace gets; well, that’s what John Travolta’s nice-but-dim hit-man Vincent Vega finds out. When he’s tasked with taking out “Marsellus Wallace’s Wife” for a meal, he knows his job is to serve her every need. They go to a 1950s’ themed restaurant named Jack Rabbit Slim’s which is hosting a “twist” dance competition. Although reluctant, Vincent agrees to join Mia on stage. As You Never Can Tell by Chuck Berry emerges from the jukebox, the mismatched pair perform a dance as awkward as it is brilliant. Uma Thurman as Mia has a kinetic lunacy about her “twist” which counters Travolta’s strained “cool”.
See also: Top 10 Second Films by Directors since 1970

NB. You can find all these dance sequences on You Tube – simply search for the film title and “dance scene” in either Google or You Tube. I haven’t hosted the videos here because of copyright law. Similarly, I haven’t linked to individual videos because they have a tendency to be removed if they are deemed to be impinging upon the individual copyrights of the films.

Written and compiled by Daniel Stephens.

More Top 10 Films about… Animals In Film | Anti-Heroes | Brits On Holiday | 1980s Childhood Adventure Films | Clowns | Drug Addiction | Girl Power | Marriage | Prostitution

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What are your favorite spontaneous dance scenes in film?

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Mette Reply

    What a lovely list! I tried to do a similar one but couldn’t think of enough sequences. The (500) Days of Summer scene was the most surprising one to me, but I love all the others and Pulp Fiction would be on top of my list as well.

  2. Avatar
    Dan Heaton Reply

    Great list. The Perks of Being a Wallflower pick is very good; that’s one of the most enjoyable scenes in the movie. I’d add two for consideration. The first is in Band of Outsiders, where the trio does a choreographed dance that’s so cool and laid back. The other comes at the end of Last Days of Disco on the subway. Such a perfect way to end a movie!

  3. Avatar
    Alex Withrow Reply

    Great list! The Ferris Bueller dance sequence is always a lovely surprise. But Pulp, man, Pulp. It’s all about Jack Rabbit Slims.

  4. Avatar
    Mark Reply

    I would argue that no such list is complete without Christopher Walken in Pennies From Heaven

    … and possibly the Pythons in Monty Python and the Holy Grail

    Warren Beatty and Halle Berry in Bulworth?

  5. Avatar
    Pete Turner (@ilovethatfilm) Reply

    Greeeeeat list! Love Pulp Fiction, Breakfast Club and 500 Days of Summer. Does Enchanted count? I just love Amy Adams singing Thats How You Know round Central Park!

  6. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Mette: Thank you. When I first thought of the list I only had a handful of contenders and didn’t think I’d be able to make ten, let alone have to leave some out. I ended up having to dismiss a few like the Monty Python sketch, Amy Adams in Enchanted, and one of my guilty pleasures – 13 Going on 30 and the Thriller dance!

    @Dan: Thanks Dan. Two great scenes there. It was tough leaving some good dance sequences off this list. At first I didn’t think I could come up with 10. Then realised I suddenly had 20 to cut down.

    @Alex: I think Pulp Fiction was always going to be number one for me.

    @Mark: Ah…Christopher Walken – such a wonderful dancer in his own right. It is rather harsh on my part to leave him off this list…if only I could have 11!

    @Pete: Absolutely. It was on my shortlist when I was putting this together. At first I thought I’d be struggling for ten contenders but ended up having to leave a few out.

  7. Avatar
    Evan Crean Reply

    Glad that classics like Blues Brothers, Pulp Fiction, Ferris Bueller, and Breakfast Club made the list. My personal favorites from this selection though are 500 Days of Summer (which felt truly spontaneous and a lot of fun) and From Dusk Til Dawn (which is incredibly sensual). My gay friend always jokes that Selma Hayek’s number in From Dusk Til Dawn is so hot that it temporarily turns him straight every time he sees it haha.

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    Anthony D'Aconti Reply

    I’m gonna have to go with my girl Salma Hayek on this one. Love it when that liquor pours down her foot. But if I ever need a go-to dance move to pull at a wedding, I always reach for the Pulp Fiction John Travolta two-finger eye sweep.

  9. Avatar
    Raghav Reply

    Brilliant list which brings back some great movie watching momoeries.

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    Chris Reply

    Cool choices! They really do give the movie that extra spice.

    It’s not as famous, but I’d also add the dance scene from Hal Hartley’s Simple Men (1992)

  11. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    Does Singing in the Rain count? I know it’s a dance musical but the dancing in Make em Laugh is so infectious. It’s one of my all favourite scenes.

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