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The Ten Best Dance Sequences of 2018

Each day a new year in review list. Here's Dancin' Dan

If there was a common theme among the films of 2018 when it came to dance, it's the idea of losing yourself to the dance, of dancing as a trance-like state where either the viewer, the dancer, or both can shut everything else out and focus on this one thing. I think that's something we all could have definitely used in 2018, but it certainly wasn't all happiness and fun that was offered up for us to get lost in.

Before the countdown begins, though, a shout-out to three honorable mentions: Marina's disco fantasy in A Fantastic Woman (which was kind of last year but also kind of this year which makes listmaking INFURIATING), the climactic lighthouse sequence of Annihilation (which isn't technically a dance, but sure as hell feels like one), and this rightly cut but nonetheless adorable scene from A Simple Favor (Henry Golding has never been so adorable).

And now, let's get down and dirty...


10. Chris Hemsworth Gyrates, Bad Times at the El Royale
Was there a single image from a trailer this year that got more people more excited about a 2018 film than this moment - Chris Hemsworth, sporting a pornstache for the GODS, shirt unbuttoned, swaying that ripped, muscular torso. And the film itself delivers the goods. Hemsworth is electrifying from the second his charismatic cult leader comes on screen. And even if the film is a bloated, confused, almost-there mess, when Hemsworth lets loose, it’s compulsively watchable.

9. “Mamma Mia”, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
If there’s one single number in Here We Go Again that most encapsulates what the film is trying to do, it’s this one. As Lily James’s Donna goes from being sad to empowered over the course of one verse of the ABBA hit, it serves as the thesis statement for not just this sequel, but the original as well - this is the power of a great pop song, to improve any mood. By the time the band and The Dynamos join in, there’s no point in resisting - their polished girl group dance moves will push you over the top, right on to cloud nine.

8. “Trip A Little Light Fantastic”, Mary Poppins Returns
I’ll get this right out of the way: I did NOT like the choreography for this where they tried to interpolate some modern-style hip-hop stuff. And it’s not a patch on the glorious “Step In Time” number from the original. HOWEVER, everything the dancers do on the lampposts is absolute perfection, and it gets bonus points for the reprise - Dick Van Dyke has still got it, and any chance to see the legend strut his stuff is cause for rejoicing.

7. Hae-Mi’s Twilight Dance, Burning
It wasn’t until this scene where I really started to get into Lee Chang-Dong’s beguiling Haruki Murakami adaptation. The cinematography helps - the twilight colors of the sky make for a gorgeous backdrop - but more than that, it’s Jong-seo Jun’s performance as Hae-Mi that really turns this into a stunner. After the drowsily sexy Miles Davis track stops, she slowly, softly, starts to cry. She tries and tries to regain the high she had just a few seconds ago, to get lost in the moment again, but it’s too late. She’s come back down to earth, back to reality. It’s the moment where this manic pixie dream girl of sorts becomes fully, painfully human, which gives the film’s second half the emotional anchor it needs to work.

6. “Hollywood Ending”, Anna and the Apocalypse
The most underrated film of the year, this zombie Christmas musical has a pretty great soundtrack, and “Hollywood Ending” is the catchiest song of the lot. I’m a sucker for a good high school cafeteria sing-and-dance-along, and this is a pretty great one: As two of our leads bemoan how life isn’t what the films, books, and songs have told them it was going to be, two others sing about how beautiful, perfect, and never-ending their love for each other is. It’s the entire teenage experience crammed into one perfect pop song, with plenty of line dancing and tray slamming.

5. Lady Sarah Gets Down, The Favourite
From the moment Rachel Weisz points at Joe Alwyn, you know you’re in for a treat, but I certainly wasn’t expecting… THIS. A deliriously weird blending of the actual court dance style of the period with some twentieth century anachronisms, this is one of the most Lanthimosian moments of The Favourite, and one that I cannot wait to watch again.


4. "VOLK", Suspiria
Honestly, this list could consist of nothing but moments from Luca Guadagnino’s latest - the film gets everything about being a dancer so completely, bone-chillingly right that it feels like the film was made entirely by dancers. When practicing with Dakota Johnson’s Susie privately, Tilda Swinton’s choreographer Madame Blanc tells her “When you dance the dance of another, you make yourself in the image of its creator,” and the film later literalizes that several times over in increasingly horrifying ways, this time in the form of Mia Goth’s injured innocent dancing while under a trance. But what puts the dance company’s performance of “Volk” above the rest is the symbolism behind it. Another key moment finds Madame Blanc saying that dance can never again be beautiful - a rebuke of the Third Reich's insistence that all art glorify the German nation and its people. And so it is that this violent, aggressive piece is the company’s most famous - a primal scream of femininity after years of oppression and subservience. The costumes, the music, the movement… it fits right in with the time and location where the film is set.

3. “A Cover is Not The Book”, Mary Poppins Returns
Admittedly, this is not my favorite song in Mary Poppins Returns, BUT we’re here to talk about the dancing, and the choreography for this number is FANTASTIC. At its best, Rob Marshall’s sequel is joy personified, and this number positively reeks of the stuff. Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda let their voices loose and give their bodies over to the pure vaudevillian joie de vivre of the music hall performance, which is doubly difficult considering they’re interacting with animated characters and sets the whole way through. It’s the biggest, best spectacle of a musical number Disney has produced since “Be Our Guest” - and that’s high praise indeed!

2. Misty Copeland Performance, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
Disney’s strange adaptation of The Nutcracker is a mess on a lot of levels, but all is forgiven when the plot completely stops to bring out American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland to dance a ballet about the history of the titular “Four Realms”. It’s a lovely nod to the famous Balanchine ballet, and a chance for everyone who can’t make it to an ABT performance to see Copeland’s magical dancing for themselves. For all the CGI on display in this film, she’s the best special effect on offer.

1. Rehearsal/Wreckage, Suspiria
Where Black Swan was a horror film about the mind of a dancer, Suspiria is a horror film about the body of a dancer. And nowhere was this more apparent than in this early scene, which became notorious after a screening at CinemaCon in April. After principal dancer Olga quits the Helena Markos Dance Company in a rage, Dakota Johnson’s new girl Susie Bannion steps in (she’s memorized the dance from watching it over and over at her local library). And as she dances, Olga, trapped in another studio with fully mirrored walls, gets thrown around, twisted, and tortured by Susie’s psychic energy. What makes the scene even more gut-wrenching is that nearly all of the contortions were done by the actress (dancer Elena Fokina) herself, making it all the more real. That also makes this two dances in one, and the cross-cutting between them makes the hurt even worse… not to mention the sound effects! I once had my shoulder pop out of its socket while I was performing, and I will never forget that sound and feeling for as long as I live. The pure visceral nature of this scene took me right back to that moment, and I couldn't tear my eyes away, even as I had to watch through splayed fingers. It may be painful to watch, but it's the most meaningful, artfully done, breathtaking dance sequence of the year.

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Reader Comments (18)

Okay, well first of all I was highly distracted by that link to that cut alternate ending for A SIMPLE FAVOR. Glad it was cut, but even happier it was filmed and released afterwards. Henry Golding is just so much and I can't wait for him in next year's Christmas (musical?) movie written by Emma Thompson!

Thanks for including "A Book is Not the Cover" from MARY POPPINS and "Hollywood Ending" from ANNA. These were my fave songs/performances in both. As for Hemsworth's gyrating... YES. His upper body/torso should be up for Oscars.

As for other scenes to consider, though probably not Top 10 material, there's DUMPLIN' group pageant number and LOVE SIMON's "out at college" number. And shout out for all those supposedly deleted scenes of Harry Shum Jr. dancing in CRAZY RICH ASIANS.

December 27, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

Wait til you get a load of Climax

December 27, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterken s.

I would include the beautiful choreography that Lara rehearses obsessively in Girl. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui did a great job.

Anyway, wait until Gaspar Noe's Climax opens in the US. You're going to be amazed!

December 27, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Great list but this omission hurts just a little

December 27, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterWilson

Those dances in Suspiria felt real. Obviously, there were people dancing in the film. The style of modern choreography and constant demands to innovate and create felt real. The teachers felt real. The burnout felt real. The consequences felt real not because of witchcraft but because of how easily someone with power can destroy a young person's career for saying no, or how many injuries happen because young people are afraid to say no or slow down.

The special effects reel explaining the how and why of Olga's dance is incredible. Just a warning: it does spoil a great bit of the film as it goes over all the major prosthetic work, not just Olga's. It's called Suspiria Featurette - The Transformations and you can find it on YouTube.

December 27, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

ken and Peggy Sue - I CANNOT WAIT FOR CLIMAX. Love Noe, and that trailer is STUNNING.

I can't believe I COMPLETELY forgot to watch Girl before doing this list. Almost included the Love, Simon moment just for how much fun it is.

December 27, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

I think Dancing Queen in MM2 deserves a spot. Boat dance sequence. Epic.

Probably Waterloo too.

Also really enjoyed Trip Light Fantastic.

December 27, 2018 | Unregistered Commentercatbaskets

I'm debating whether any of the scenes from Madeline's Madeline should be considered strictly "dance" sequences. They're more interpretive, full-body expressions where dancing is a major component, so maybe?

Anyway, I nominate the climactic..."sequence" from Madeline's Madeline!

December 27, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBennett

Yesssss I am so here for 'Anna and the Apocalypse' love. I would probably include Dancing Queen or the glorious Super Trouper over Mamma Mia.

The biggest snub though.....HUGH GRANT IN PADDINGTON 2. All he needed was a captive audience, but a place on this list would have been nice too.

December 27, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterchasm301

Great list, Dan! Happy New Year. Can we add Ally shaking it to The Ass Song in ASIB.

December 27, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Love the inclusion of ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE!

I'd add in the end credits scene of PADDINGTON 2 plus the either the "All in My Head" or "Greater Good" sequences of BASMATI BLUES.

December 27, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge P.

Suspiria.... now that is dancing.

December 27, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

Joanna Kulig dancing on the bar in Paris in COLD WAR made a strong impression, too. A really entrancing scene, even though I didn't love the movie overall.

December 27, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterER

Mr Hemsworth always sets the screen on fire

December 27, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

I remember the first time I saw Olga's destruction in SUSPIRIA and being very emotionally disturbed and close to having an anxiety attack and yet not able to look away because it was such a beautiful scene, the editing, the dancing, and the pain expressed by Olga's character as she was reduced from a woman to essentially just flesh and bodily fluids was something else.

December 28, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterB. Lermontov

Those costumes in "A Cover is Not the Book" are just glorious. They look like a small child colored them in.

December 29, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Whoa...great list, Dan. I haven't seen any of these (no surprise there), but am looking forward to damn near all of them. I've always loved a good dance nunber, so this post was much appreciated.

December 29, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterm.brown

The dance scene with Olga in Suspiria was powerful, intense, horrifying...and way too long. Yes, maybe it was because I was uncomfortable, but about 2/3 of the way through I was like "I geeeeet iiiiiiiid" and it just kept going...and going. It felt really indulgent and not in a good way.

January 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

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