Blog How did dance end up in films and movies?
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How did dance end up in films and movies?



Dance movies have been part of history since the late 1800s. If you've ever wondered how it all began, it is always helpful to study historical dates and times that produced what is considered today as the best dance movies throughout time and history. This brief history provides a clearer perspective for various dance movie eras.


Dance movies throughout time and history

As a brief description implies, a dance movie is basically dance filmed for entertainment, educational instruction or enjoyment. 

It may surprise avid dancers and dance fans alike that the first dance movie was filmed by Thomas A. Edison, in 1894. Edison is more widely known as an inventor of the incandescent light bulb, phonograph, film, movie cameras, mimeographs and electric power distribution, among others. 
He filmed the famous dancer, Ruth St. Denis performing her Skirt Dance in an outdoor scenic backdrop. 

The first actual dance movie film projected to an audience was Swan Lake Ballet in 1895 in St. Petersburg, Russia and choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. 

It is important to note the distinctions between dance films and movies. The basic difference is that a dance movie may be structured around a dramatic plot. A dance film usually has no dramatic plot and is intended to provide viewers with enlightment on movement and choreography.


Introduction to dance films and development of movies

Although, films on celluloid were first produced in 1887 by H.W. Godwin, it wasn't until George Eastman and Louis Lumiere began to experiment with combining the functions of the camera and projector that dance movies became a form of public entertainment. 

Thus, the first dance films were of the slide projection type without dramatic plots. Once color and sound was developed, films could contain dramatic plots. Sound was developed for dance movies to enhance the overall enjoyment of dance put to music. 
Although they were not dance movies as we know them today, history indicates from 1896 until 1899, several Dutch films like Gestoorde Hengelaar, a fictional film of slapstick comedy first shown in Utrecht and several docufilms such as Spelende Kinderen, Aankomst en vertrek spoortrein te Weesp and De militaire wedstrijden door het 7e regiment and Oranje-Nassau Kazerne op 25 Oct. deserve mention for historical purposes.


Best dance movies defined

The characteristics of what constitutes the best dance movies depends on several factors. These include:

  • Dance genre such as ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, hip hop and folk dance
  • Quality of movie filming, staging, direction and production
  • Celebrity status of dancers cast in a movie
  • Audience to whom the dance movie appeals most


Dance film eras

Dance genre has always played a large role in dance movie popularity. For example, in 1914 Vernon and Irene Castle starred in the film The Whirl of Life. Their genre was a newly developed form of modern dance. 
In 1915, another modern dance genre presented the Denishawn Dancers in D.W. Griffith’s epic film, Intolerance. 

By 1916, Anna Pavlova appeared in an acting role in The Dumb Girl of Portici. A few years later, this world class ballerina assoluta was filmed dancing her solos, one of which included The Dying Swan from Swan Lake. This was on the set of The Thief of Bagdad which starred Douglas Fairbanks. 

1929 was a busy year for dance films. While Wall Street collapsed in one of the greatest financial disasters, dancing and singing revue films begin to appear in greater number. 


From films to movies

In this same year, Kodak introduced the first 16 mm color film. That spawned a genre of Busby Berkeley films rife with tap dancing, ballet and swing style jazz dancing, not to mention some extremely complex choreography with a cast of hundreds of dancers.

With the 1930s, the accent was on ballroom dance with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers while child star, Shirley Temple tap danced with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and stole the hearts of people everywhere. 


Folk dance on film

History of dance movies would not be complete without mention of Rolf de Mari and Claire Holt filming of traditional dances of Bali as performed by I Mario and dancers of Peliatan, Tabanan and Ubud. Their movie also included traditional funeral dances of the Torajas natives of the Makale region and Celebes (Borneo) villages of Kondongan and Kalembe in 1938 during their visit to Netherlands East Indies.
Thus, folk dance became a significant part of dance movie history. Folk dance movies have contributed Russian, European, Asian Indian, Polynesian, African and Native American tribal dances to the delight of the dance world.


Audiences choose best dance movies

Audiences are largely responsible for the success or failure of dance movies. In most cases, audiences choose their movies according to their favorite type of dance. The diverse preferences of audiences choose dance movies that capture their imaginations and attention. 

For example, many dance movies incorporate a musical plot within a dramatic script. One of today's most popular movies that was a box office hit was The Black Swan, borrowed from the character, Odile, in the ballet Swan Lake. The plot of this dramatic movie is based on the same evil character, Odile.

Audiences flocked to the movie West Side Story in 1961, a film with complex choreography set to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet set in a modern day jazz dance plot. The twist in West Side Story was conflict between two rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. 


Dance movies go hi-tech

Since the days of the Walt Disney movie, Fantasia, dance films have gone hi tech with the use of synthesized characters such as in the movie, Anchors Aweigh where famous actor/dancer Gene Kelly dances with Jerry, a cartoon mouse. 

Another of today's hi tech dance companies found on film is Nederlands Dans. With high ranked dancers and choreographers, this dance company has been captured on film and presented to numerous countries on world theaters. 


Names of the best dance movies

In addition to West Side Story being named of the best dance movies, others include Bob Fosse's All that Jazz and A Chorus Line. These movies tell the difficulties dancers face trying to achieve fame. 


Best dance movies for students and teachers

In the world of dance, there is enormous need for dance movies for training and educational purposes to encourage new talent as well as to advance aspiring dancers and performers. 
Many of the best movies for training and educational purposes are filmed on site in dance class and dance school during scheduled rehearsals for preparatory performances. For example, universities, centers for performing arts, public broadcasting videos and centers for arts and humanities all provide documentary dance movies. 

Dance movies for training and educational purposes are found in dance class and dance school as part of the curriculum. 

One organization founded in 1984 in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, SKVR, a collaborative of Artship, offers a diverse range of art and dance courses. These include ballet, contemporary, modern, urban, Pilates and jazz, as well as many other significant dance techniques and styles.


Finding your niche

Artship is highly recognized for its dedication to the arts. Artship offers a world of sharing and experience in writing, music, dance, art, singing, acting, painting, photography and designing. Artship is located in Rotterdam and has a full compliment of programs that attractive a large student body. 
Artship helps artistic, creative individuals find their niche with supportive tools like summer programs and the framework for a dance community par excellence unmatched by competitors. 

Whether you are a teacher or a student, Artship helps build technique and skills taught by a master dance educator. 


Next Stop Artship

All dancers and aspiring dancers are moved by the best dance movies throughout time and history, no matter how old the movie may be. When it is time for in depth studies, dancers want to spread their wings and learn from a master.

Take your next dance vacation in Rotterdam and join the dance community at Artship. There is nothing quite like the thrill of meeting fellow dance lovers in a well structured dance class. Learn something new in technique and help advance your dance career. There's no place like the Netherlands to energize your creativity. Art is all around you and there is an unmistakable rhythm that keeps happy feet dancing.


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