Is there anything sexier than ballroom dancing? Now, I will grant you that there certainly are a large number of things that are smuttier than ballroom dancing. No question about that.
I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about sexy here: high heels, dresses that flare, sweat dripping from a tuxedo-clad man as he twirls her around, pulls her close, and holds her head as he dips her down. Phew! That kind of sexy.
Are things a little dreary around your house lately? The winter was a bit longer and harsher than you wanted and summer seems like it’s never gonna come. When was the last time you saw a convertible driving around with the top down? Something like 80 years ago? You, my beleaguered friends, need some ballroom dancing movies. Here are my choices for not strictly—but fabulously—ballroom dancing movies.
I watched the original Shall We Dance in Japanese at an arthouse in Los Angeles one afternoon on a break from a show I was working on. Didn’t understand a word of what was being said, and I am sure I missed a lot because the mainly Japanese audience was laughing at lines I couldn’t understand. Still…I loved this movie. It tells the story of Shohei Sugiyama (Koji Yakusho), an accountant for a large firm in Tokyo, who seems to have a really nice life except that he feels miserable and empty.
One night, while taking the train home, he sees a famous ballroom dancer in the window of a dance studio and decides to go there and take lessons. It is a transformative decision. Despite mockery from his co-workers and suspicions from his wife, he forms a deep and enchanting dance partnership with his instructor, Mai Kishikawa (Tamiyo Kuskari). This is a wonderful, wonderful movie.
In 2004, an American remake of Shall We Dance was made starring Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, and Susan Sarandon. It’s not quite so enchanting, but still worth a rental. The reason, I think, lies in the casting of Yakusho versus Richard Gere at the beginning of the film. The transformation of Yakusho from a geeky nerd into a dashing, debonair man on the dancefloor is so much more appealing to me than the American version. I mean, it’s Richard Gere. He’s already beautiful. He already won. Still, this is such a charming story the remake is worth watching, if only because you don’t speak Japanese. But definitely give the original a shot.
Maria Nieves Rego and Juan Carlos Copes are the most famous dancers in the history of tango. They met in Buenos Aires as teenagers in 1940. She could dance, he could not. They fell in love, and their ambition to dance together helped turned tango into a global phenomenon. It was, however, a highly combustible relationship, marred by Copes’ frequent affairs. Argentine director German Kral decided to tell their true story by mixing interviews, actual footage of the two dancers, and extended scenes with actors (Ayelen Alvarez Mino and Juan Malizia) dramatizing their story.
Looking to get swept up in a movie? This is the one for you to watch. The music, the dancing, the passion, the hatred. It’s really worth a rental.
You know the routine: a couple fights their way to a climactic dance scene, miraculously nail it perfectly, and the crowd cheers. That’s NOT what happens in this luminescent movie about coming to terms with mental illness. And that’s what everyone loves about this David O. Russell movie. Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany Edwards (Jennifer Lawrence) dance their routine and they are average, at best.
But the dance itself is the triumph we all wanted. And after all they have been through as people, we want them to fall in love. This is a deeply human film, as well-acted as any film you will see. In fact, you probably have seen it. Do yourself a favor and watch it again.
Here is a completely delightful Australian romantic comedy from Baz Luhrmann about the oddball world of competitive ballroom dancing. One of my daughters who is quite shy and a serious scientist took up ballroom dancing a few years ago. She took me to a ballroom in San Francisco and the experience was a revelation. This bookish and quiet young woman who seems most comfortable in a wetsuit gathering data in marshy, mucky waters was transformed. She swept through the ballroom in a flashy dress and heels, along with all sorts of other dancers who had come there solo as well.
The romance and glitz of a ballroom is mesmerizing. Need a little vacation from a hard week? I highly recommend this movie about a prima donna male dancer and the clumsy, ugly duckling young woman who becomes his dancing partner. You’ll watch it over and over.
When most people think about this movie they only think about the enormously popular soundtrack, largely composed of disco music by the BeeGees. The film itself, however, is another thing altogether. The film is a dark and angry portrayal of life among dead-end kids, based on an article in New York Magazine by British journalist Nik Cohn about the disco craze in working-class Italian-American neighborhoods in Brooklyn. This is John Travolta’s best performance by far. His Tony Manero works in a hardware store and lives for Saturday nights at a cheesy disco near his home.
It’s actually a sad movie—defiant, rounded with bitterness and sorrow, but filled with dreams of a better life, over there, in glittering Manhattan. If you’ve only heard the soundtrack, you owe it to yourself to finally see the movie. It was one of the best American films of the 1970s.
David Raether is a veteran TV writer and essayist. He worked for 12 years as a television sitcom writer/producer, including a 111-episode run on the ground-breaking ABC comedy “Roseanne.” His essays have been published by Salon.com, The Times of London, and Longforms.org, and have been lauded by The Atlantic Magazine and the BBC World Service. His memoir, Homeless: A Picaresque Memoir from Our Times, is awaiting publication.