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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014

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The dancers of "Step Up Revolution" aren't the only ones who can bust a move in Hollywood.
The dancers of "Step Up Revolution" aren't the only ones who can bust a move in Hollywood.

Five great on-screen dance moments

Somehow, a fourth "Step Up" film is hitting theaters this weekend (how it's not called "Step Up 4 Your Rights" is a mystery to me). Luckily, the "Step Up" movies and others of its ilk aren't the only movies that feature dancing. A few movies have managed to fit dance into their stories and become iconic as a result.

Here are five examples of great movies that can also bust a move (musicals don't count toward this list; it just wouldn't be fair).

"Black Swan"

It's not an easy task to take ballet, an art most known for its fluffy tutus and delicate spins, and make it terrifying, but that's exactly what "Black Swan" does. Darren Aronofsky's 2010 psychological thriller places viewers inside the twisting mind of Nina (an utterly terrific Natalie Portman), a young ballerina struggling with the sacrifices needed for a great performance.

It all comes to a peak when Nina takes the stage as the lead in the opening night performance of "Swan Lake." Aronofsky films the performance as though the camera is her dance partner, spinning and pirouetting with the action. Some viewers might be upset that the footwork doesn't get the focus, but Aronofsky still captures the physical and especially the mental aspects of a performance. Plus, when Portman stares her cold eyes into the crowd during her Black Swan dance, it's a more chilling and eye-popping effect than anything from a 3-D movie.

"Pulp Fiction"

When most people watch Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction," they first marvel at his unique brand of banter – and understandably so. It's brilliant, and I'm not sure Tarantino has written anything better since. But even the parts in "Pulp Fiction" without any dialogue carry the same Tarantino spark, namely the iconic and oft-imitated dance scene at Jack Rabbit Slim's.

It's hard to say exactly why the scene is so memorable, but I think the choice of actors is a large component. Travolta and Thurman are both perfect, staying cool while the audience can feel the sensual heat growing between them. Tarantino knows exactly how to build the tension so that the audience could hear a needle drop. Considering what happens to Mia later on in the night, perhaps I shouldn't be bringing up needles.

"Slumdog Millionaire"

Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire" became the indie sensation of 2008, grossing over $140 million and winning eight Oscars, including Best Picture. But why do we think it's so feel-good? The movie's filled with death, torture, enslaved children and tragedy, yet the quote on the poster uses phrases like "buoyant hymn to life."

Part of the answer probably belongs to Boyle's kinetic and colorful visual energy, but I think the big Bollywood-style dance scene over the end credits deserves some of the credit as well. Despite coming out of almost nowhere, the group dance number, led by reunited lovers Dev Patel and Freida Pinto, fits perfectly into the film. It's both a tribute to the Indian culture "Slumdog Millionaire" immerses the audience into, as well as a jubilant and unhindered celebration to the enduring power of love. It sounds hokey but as the cast is dancing, you can feel the joy in your bones.

"Little Miss Sunshine"

I enjoy 2006's "Little Miss Sunshine," though several years after its initial release and its absurd amount of hype, it's hard not to view it as overrated. In a year with "Children of Men," "United 93" and "Pan's Labyrinth," somehow it was the little yellow-infused indie that got a Best Picture nomination. A good reason why "Little Miss Sunshine" won over so many hearts is that it ends with its best moment: Abigail Breslin's dance for the pageant. Screenwriter Michael Arndt teases the dance throughout the entire film, and the payoff is worth it, as the dance turns into a hilarious yet heartfelt on-stage family reunion. It was a scene so great, it convinced the Academy the rest of the film was on the same par.

"Footloose"

It was tough deciding between this and "Dirty Dancing" for the final spot on this list. When it comes down to classic '80s dance movies, though, I have to go with the Bacon-ator and 1984's "Footloose." There's just something so charming about how earnest the film is about its absolutely absurd story. Kevin Bacon's rage-filled dance-gasm through a warehouse would be hilarious if Bacon and the movie weren't so genuine about their passion for dance.

My personal favorite moment, however, is the ending when, after a massive fight outside, Bacon runs back to their makeshift prom to yell "Let's dance!" and commence the final group number to the tune of Kenny Loggins' title track. The movie leaves the big fight scene completely unresolved and hops straight into the dance number, as though the writer was tired of the story and just wanted to cut footloose already. Luckily, it's so infectious that I couldn't agree more.

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