By Lesley Mealor / Edited by Samantha Bellerose, B.Ed, Dip.Dance (Performing Arts)
One of the coolest things about jazz dance is how varied the style can be! From lindy hop to street styles, Latin jazz to social dances, jazz dance lives in many worlds, and there is no shortage of movies that have some sort of jazz dancing included.
The jazz dance movies you need to watch include films from as early as the 1940s to a recent 2021 release! In this collection, you will find some old favorites as well as some unexpected gems!
While I can’t claim to have seen all the movies featuring jazz dance, these are just a few of my favorites that are easily accessible via streaming platforms, to rent, or to buy. Linked in each synopsis is a clip that gives you an idea of what’s to come.
Hellzapoppin’ is a film version of one of the most successful Broadway musicals in history – but can you believe it was filmed in 1941? Hellzapoppin’ stars Whitey’s Lindyhoppers, a real life troupe of dancers who popularized the Lindy Hop, elements of which we can still see in jazz dance today. While you can’t find the full version to rent, Youtube has some great clips!
7 Brides For 7 Brothers
7 Brides For 7 Brothers is a classic movie musical from 1954 choreographed by Michael Kidd. This musical showcases character driven jazz dancing, and features one of jazz dance’s early technical heroes, Matt Mattox, as one of the brothers. This movie focuses on the 7 backwoods Pontipee brothers as they pursue 7 sisters in hopes of marriage. 7 Brides For 7 Brothers is rated G.
West Side Story
West Side Story, both the original musical from 1961 and the remake from 2021, are well worth a watch for jazz dance lovers. Originally choreographed by Jerome Robbins, West Side Story is a modern day version of Romeo and Juliet, and showcases his signature gritty, story-driven style. Justin Peck, the New York City Ballet’s resident choreographer, reimagined the recent remake. West Side Story is appropriate for ages 13 and up.
When you watch The Wiz, released in 1978, you are transported to an urban fantasy land called Oz. Based on the classic The Wizard of Oz, this musical adaptation stars Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, and contains some stunningly athletic dancing by the members of The Louis Johnson Dance Theatre. The Wiz is rated G.
Footloose is a PG-rated, classic 80s movie starring Kevin Bacon, and choreographed by Herbert Ross. In the world of Footloose, dancing and rock music are banned in the small Texas town of Beaumont, and the plot centers around the characters attempting to hold a school dance despite the ban.
A Chorus Line
Chrous Line is PG-rated, although there are a few songs in there and character stories that some parents may feel inappropriate for their child so I would advise watching this first before allowing your child to, to make sure you are fine with all the content. But either way the auditon scenes at the beginning of the movie are well worth watching for their classic jazz dance content even if you don’t watch the whole film!
The early 90s brought us Newsies, a Disney movie musical loosely based on the New York City Newsboy’s Strike of 1899, featuring choreography by Kenny Ortega. Despite the unlikely subject matter, the dancing in this movie is incredible, and eventually the movie went on to become a stage musical. Newsies is rated PG.
Center Stage is probably one of the most recognizable dance movies for people of a certain age (read: millennials!), and is rated PG-13. Featuring lots of ballet, but a fair amount of jazz dance, Center Stage stars real life dancers Ethan Stiefel and Amanda Schull as the two main characters and love interests.
High School Musical
High School Musical spawned sequels, tv shows, stage musicals and reality tv shows, so there is no doubt that it was one of the most influential dance-focused movies of the 2000s! Featuring choreography by Kenny Ortega (remember him from Newsies?) High School Musical, rated PG, is another modern day Romeo and Juliet story, this time set in a high school and focusing on basketball star Troy Bolton and brainiac Gabriella Montez.
Hairspray has been remade several times, but the 2007 version, choreographed by Adam Shankman of So You Think You Can Dance fame, is one of the best for dancing! A story about celebrating who you are and standing up for what’s right, Hairspray follows wanna-be tv star Tracy Turnblad and friends as they navigate segregated 1962 Baltimore, Maryland to try and gain a coveted dancing spot on the “Corny Collins Show”. Hairspray is rated PG.
In the Heights
One of the more recent movies to feature jazz dance is the film adaptation of Lin Manuel-Miranda’s hit Broadway musical In the Heights. With Latin jazz and street style dancing choreographed by Christopher Scott of Step Up fame (also check out the Step Up movies for more street dance!) In the Heights, rated PG-13, follows main character Usnavi as he navigates life, love, and struggle in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan.
Hopefully one or more of these movies showcasing jazz dance is just what you’re looking for! But jazz dance shows up everywhere, so be on the lookout next time you go to the movies or flip through channels searching for something to watch.