My parents have taken me to the theatre since I was a tot, and therefore a love of musicals has been instilled in me. I recognise that I’ve been extremely fortunate in being able to attend lots of live theatre performances and that many of these can be extortionately priced. Musical film adaptations are a great way of democratising theatre and allowing everyone to experience the pure joy and escapism of an almost unbelievably upbeat musical. It’s all well and good having a cracking musical score, but the perfect dance routine will make a good musical a great musical. Whilst there are many strong contenders, I’ve whittled it down to my top four musical dance numbers that’ll get you over those post-fresher blues and strapping on your dancing shoes.
4.) “Dancing Queen” – Mamma Mia
“Dancing Queen” from the original Mamma Mia is the ultimate feel good scene. The scene comes when Donna is having a bit of a ‘mare after bumping into not one but three of her exes (rough). But, with the power of dance and a great ABBA tune, best pals Rosie and Tanya are here to save the day and remind her that she truly is the dancing queen. Honestly, if I could have a Rosie and Tanya hyping me up when I’m feeling a bit low then that would be great. What I love about this particular dance routine, is that there’s nothing too technical or complex about it. In fact, it feels like the sort of dance routine that you and your mates could come up with. After just a couple of views, I’m sure even the most average of dancers could pick it up. Initially there’s a lot of dressing up and running wildly across a beautiful Greek island, but then the scene launches into this spectacular synchronised dance routine. Donna, Rosie, Tanya and an ensemble cast gather on a wooden pier that goes into the glistening Greek water. They perform some cool hand movements, a few jumps, some floss type move and I even spied some air guitar. The image is a pretty iconic one. It’s not particularly technical but this dance just makes me feel so good. It makes me want to jump up and dance along with them. It makes me feel like I too am young, sweet, seventeen and the dancing queen. And I think that’s what a good dance scene should do, it should make you want to jump up off your sofa and join in. So, for that reason, “Dancing Queen” kicks off this list and comes in at number four.
3.) “It’s a Hard Knock Life” – Annie
Annie’s “It’s a Hard Knock Life” was the dance routine that made my childhood-self wish she had the talent and/or money to go to stage school. Alas, I still have absolutely no rhythm and no matter how hard I try, I can’t do a cartwheel so there’d be no place for me in this dance routine. The irony is that Annie tells the story of an orphaned girl living under the cruel supervision of Miss Hannigan, but all I could think of as a child is how fun those girls made cleaning the floor look. I definitely don’t think this interpretation of the scene is the preferred reading so that’s testament to how talented they are as dancers and the high energy and fast paced nature of the scene.
The scene has a tone of defiance to it, which is probably what attracted me to it when I was younger. The imagery of their loud stomps and jumps contribute to the sense of chaos and rebellion. Through the dance routine, the girls are performing their chores but they’re doing so in an aggressive way. It shows an army of young girls screaming about their dissatisfaction with their lives, which feels subversive and interesting. The choreography is a lot more technical and seems more deeply considered than “Dancing Queen” and the young actors are clearly very talented dancers. So, “It’s a Hard Knock Life” comes in at third place.
2.) “Cell Block Tango” – Chicago
In my twenty years I’ve come across some very annoying men. None have yet to push me to the point of murder, but if I ever felt so compelled, I’d turn to “the six merry murderesses of the Cook County Jail in their rendition of the “Cell Block Tango” for inspiration. The story of Chicago is based on an obsession with murder cases involving a female perpetrator killing their lover, which arose in the Chicago press of the 1920s. It’s also a nod to the changing gender relations of the period. The “Cell Block Tango” perfectly demonstrates this. In the narrative of the song and the dance routine itself, the women are firmly in control. It’s a scene that I find fascinating to just watch and admire. The routine showcases the women as physically strong and in command of their sexuality and their needs and desires. The energy of the scene gradually builds. Each character’s individual dance is beautifully executed and really assists with the flow of the narrative; It manages to tell the woman’s story simply through action. Gradually more dancers are added to the scene until it culminates in a full stage of women performing a synchronised, high energy routine, with the use of silhouettes in the background. The routine feels symbolic of the changing nature of the position of women in the jazz age with the inter-war sexual revolution allowing women to break free from the traditional stereotypes of femininity. Because I’m a sucker for a bit of gender history, “Cell Block Tango” just trumps the Annie girls and comes in at second place.
1.) “You Can’t Stop the Beat” – Hairspray
In my humble opinion, “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from Hairspray is one of the greatest moments in cinematic history. All eight minutes and thirty-six seconds of it. Hairspray is set in 1960s Baltimore and explores themes of racism, the impact of segregation and body image and positivity. There are so many amazing dance routines in this film, but “You Can’t Stop the Beat” just tops it for me. Loads of different popular 1960s dance moves are used which makes it feel really authentic, the song has a beautiful message, it showcases all the main characters with solo dance routines and the moves are complex and impressive whilst still being easy enough that if you tried hard you could pick up some bits of it. It’s basically the textbook perfect musical dance routine. Why else would Cheesies include it on its playlist? It makes you want to get up and start shimmying and shaking. It’s high energy and fast paced and incorporates all the aspects that I loved about the other dance scenes: feel good factor, good technique and exploring an interesting and important message and history. That’s why for me, “You Can’t Stop the Beat” claims the top spot as the best musical dance number.