My Favorite Sports Films: Dance



Because dance is a sport.
Although I do realize that most of these films have other complex undertones that would disqualify them from being considered canonical sports films on a normal list.  But I don’t actually like sports films very much- if by that you mean just watching physical exertion and posturing- I’d much rather watch something with some art, psychological suspense, romance, or history to it.

Black Swan: Black Swan has got to be one of my favorite films of all time, and not just because I have a desperate girl crush on Natalie Portman. And it’s not because I sympathize with the portrayal of anxiety and obsession- although that’s true too.  It’s a very powerful and disturbing movie that really speaks a lot to the power of competition and ambition, especially for dancers where so much of their energy has to be focused on their body, physicality, and appearance.  It’s more a tour de force of acting than of dancing, but the dancing is pretty impressive (whether it’s real or not).  A lot of the time what happens with dance films that cast major actors and actresses is that the shitty dancing kind of takes you out of the film (*cough* La La Land *cough*). Not so here.
Plus, Swan lake is a just a gorgeous ballet- although it’s not at all rare to cast the same ballerina as Odette and Odile.  In fact, it’s traditional.

The Red Shoes: I know I’ve talked about The Red Shoes before.  I really can’t describe it very adequately beyond the basics, which is that a ballerina is torn between her ambitions and the man she loves.  Beyond that, it gets pretty surreal, as the ballet she’s performing in, The Red Shoes, becomes a nightmarish allegory for her internal conflict.

Shall We Dance?: Pay close attention- I am NOT talking about the film with Jennifer Lopez. I’m talking about the original 1996 Japanese film.  I love this film so much- a businessman finds himself drawn into the world of Dancesport (competitive ballroom dance), practices hard, competes, all while hiding his new obsession from his family.  Beyond being an excellently made film, this brings back really fond memories of my own introduction to Dancesport and subsequent obsession (which practically defined my college experience). Practicing quickstep by yourself, automatically noting the rhythm and style of any music you here, it’s all there.  And it’s an interesting look at the culture of Dancesport in another country- especially since ballroom has taken off in Asia over the past decade or two.

Innocent Steps: This si a very strange Korean drama/romance that was recommended to me by a ballroom friend.  It’s a bit overblown and silly, but all the better for that.  I’m going to avoid commenting on the female character’s lack of agency (because there are cultural factors at work there) and instead talk about this excellent scene, featuring samba stunts and slow motion.

Mao’s Last Dancer: Okay, so clearly I like ballet and ballroom best. This is both a dance film and a biopic of Li Cunxin who was selected by the Chinese government (based on natural aptitude) to train in ballet. He later defected and continued to dance, becoming a great and famous danseur.  The lead actor who plays Li Cunxin is Chi Cao, himself a famous and very accomplished dancer (and also very attractive, which never hurts so far as movies (or really anything else) is concerned).

Obviously this just skims the surface of all the dance films out there.  There are more films that might have been on this list if I had seen them, like Isadora, Pina, Ballets Russes, Billy Elliot, or the 2016 film Dancer, about Sergei Polunin.

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