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5 Inspiring Documentaries Expressing the Emotional Power of Dance

We’ve all seen the popular dance movies where celebrities strut their stuff in toe-tapping musicals. But the documentaries we’ve reviewed below really get under the skin of dancers and their passion. Take a look if you’re seeking the inspiration to get moving  through dance.

1. Mad Hot Ballroom (2005)

For a while, ballroom dancing seemed old-fashioned, but the success of shows such as Dance With The Stars and Strictly Come Dancing have made it popular again.

Mad Hot Ballroom follows a group of 11-year-old school children from New York as they prepare for the annual city-wide ballroom dancing competition. It is an uplifting story highlighting the excitement and pizzazz of dancing, alongside the exuberance and innocence of youth.

The dedication of the teachers and students alike does not falter and the documentary takes a journey of etiquette and cultural learning as the students transform into ladies and gentlemen before the camera.

Rooting for the underdogs throughout the film, the viewer feels the stress, pain and glory of the competition’s climax, for both the eliminated and the successful dancers. Winning a clutch of awards on its release, this film has since entered the ranks of the Top 20 highest grossing documentaries in America.

2. Flamenco at 5.15 (1983)

This Oscar-winning short film shows that even classically-trained dancers can get excited by the heat of the Flamenco.

Each year during the cold harsh winters in Canada, senior students at the National Ballet School are treated to lessons in the dynamic Spanish dance style by two native experts. Watch the pupils learn more than just dance steps as they absorb the culture, rhythms and ancient language of passionate gypsies.

Stylistically shot, the film beautifully complements the flamboyant style and staccato beats of the dance, which highlights the technique and emotion at the heart of the traditional moves.

3. Take the Lead (2006)

This film is not a documentary as such, but is based on the true story of a well-known ballroom dancer and teacher, Pierre Dulaine, who channelled the discipline and dedication required for ballroom to focus a group of unruly problem children.

Played by Antonio Banderas, Dulaine reaches out to a bunch of youths in detention class and inspires them to learn his skill using the tantalising Tango. The film shows the gradual breakdown of class, age and gender barriers as the erstwhile delinquents prepare for a dance competition. Showcasing more than just the moves, the film demonstrates the teamwork, respect and dignity required to produce the elegance of ballroom dancing.

4. El Espiritu De La Salsa (2010)

Sultry Salsa rhythms and infectious flavour whip up a frenzy in this film. Follow ten diverse New Yorkers through six weeks of transformation from amateur dancers to competition standard Salsa specialists, under the expert tutelage of Tomas Guerrero of the Santo Rico Dance Company.

In this documentary, real people face their fears and step outside their comfort zones at the hands of Guerrero’s no-frills confrontational instruction. This reality show gives the viewer insight to the highs and lows of intense training and ends with a triumphant dance display in front of a full house of the participants’ family and friends.

With a fiery soundtrack, this film asserts Guerrero’s belief that everyone can learn to Salsa.

5. Swing! (coming soon)

Swing! describes itself as ‘a documentary by dancers for dancers’. It’s a behind-the-scenes peek at the culture of swing dancing. It traces the style’s American roots and the lives of the characters who made it famous, as well as exploring the emergence of the Lindy Hop as a modern international phenomenon.

Filming is complete on this project and the team is busy editing and raising funds to complete post-production for release. You can donate at and hopefully it won’t be too long before we see this exciting film come to life for lovers of swing music and dance.

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Dance students come to Arthur Murray for many reasons. If you’ve been inspired by popular culture and want to learn a dance style you’ve seen on the big screen, you can book a free private class with a professional instructor in any of our 10 dance styles.