Bringing Dance to Life On the Big Screen

Like every sibling relationship, my younger brother and I have the ability to say something and know exactly what the other person is talking about.  Normally because it is a quote from a movie.  Anytime I watch a movie I always find something new that I didn’t see before whether it is a moment between characters that I missed, a line that is insanely funny that I didn’t connect to before, or a heart stopping quote that makes everything finally tie together.  Dancing in a movie can do that without saying one word.  Usually dancing in movies go hand in hand with it being some type of musical, unless it is specifically about dance like “Center Stage” or “Step Up,” but I am not talking about dance focused movies.  I want to talk about movies that have dance in them that make you feel something so powerful that you can’t help but fall in love with the story, the characters, and the inevitable plot twists that the director takes you on.

Over the last thirty years, dance sequences have popped up in movies periodically, but not consistently, which has to do with cost of the choreographer(s) and the dancers, the ability to find the right type of dancer(s)/ actor(s), and the various types of film shots that need to be taken when capturing a dance sequence so you can record the right type of emotion for the viewer.  Needless to say, you need a talented director and one that knows something about dance.  So what makes a movie a success?  Does dance in movies help to sell the film, or is it an added expense that not only increases the production budget but has a large potential to fail as a blockbuster?

Kenny Ortega is an American choreographer and director most notably known for his work on the ‘High School Musical’ trilogy and the 1992 film, ‘Newsies.’  He has a choreographic style that stands out from his strategic layout of group dances in songs such as ‘We’re All in This Together’ and ‘Seize the Day’ to his ability to choreograph for the camera by utilizing movements that are explosive such as chaînés leaps and pirouette extensions.  Ortega has a way of connecting his choreography with the storyline so it doesn’t seem like the dancing is coming out of no where mixing fantasy with reality through film shots and dance sequences.  For example, in High School Musical 3 during the song ‘Can I Have This Dance’ he blends the asking of a proposal to the prom that has the perfect theme of the waltz and as the two characters sing they waltz and partner throughout the roof of the school.  The director goes from quick feet views to full body circular movement of the camera to a high view of the characters during the partner lifts.  This gives the audience an inside view through each waltz to the emotions that the characters are feeling through a simple touch or a partner lift.  The High School Musical trilogy hit big after the first television release in 2006 so by the time HSM3 came out in 2008 Disney had the budget to do a theatrical production.  The fans pushed the popularity of this made for television story that skyrocketed the careers of the people who worked on these films from the actors such as Zac Eron to the choreographers Ortega, Bonnie Story, and Charles Klapow.  ‘Newsies’ didn’t have the greatest response when it first came out in 1992, but it has some great choreography in it.  For example, the song ‘King of New York’ where not only is there jazz, but also a mix of tap moves such as shuffles, scuffs, and toe hop barrels.  It’s rare to see two different styles mixed within one number.  Having a two drastically different types of dance styles in a number can create difficulty when searching for dancers who are trained in those styles; that is why as a dancer it is always good to be versatile.

I still haven’t figured out what makes a blockbuster hit movie.  I think it’s more like gambling.  Some film productions get a smaller marketing and production budget and then the fans blow up the popularity of it like with High School Musical, where other movies get a larger production budget but not enough marketing is done for it or it doesn’t resinate with the current generation that is being targeted such as ‘Newsies.’  Either way, movie studios bring on the dance because society is ready to be taken on a new ride that doesn’t always have to be capped superheroes and gore.

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