Top Ten Latin Dance Scenes in Movies

If you're in the mood to move your hips to salsa or samba, or just want an evening's entertainment watching talented dancers boogie to hot horns, here's a list of films to watch, each containing one or more ​great scenes of Latin dance. Either they will prove to be an inspiration,  flaming those dormant dance dreams, or just a pleasant night at the movies.

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Dance With Me

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If salsa brings a smile to your face, then this is the film for you. There's more salsa per minute in 1998's Dance with Me than in any other Hollywood film I know of. Starring Puerto Rican singer Chayanne and Vanessa Williams, it features cameos by DLG, Albita and Makina Loka in the dance club number.

Its soundtrack includes songs from a variety of Latin music giants, including Gloria Estaban, Ruben Blades, Sergio Mendes, and Jon Secada

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Shall We Dance?

I first saw the Japanese version of this film and couldn't stop laughing, although the dancing was enjoyable to watch. If you aren't ready for a movie in Japanese (subtitled in English), the Richard Gere/ Jennifer Lopez version of Shall We Dance? came out a few years later, in 2004. I still think the original is better, but the tango scene, done to the music of the GoTan Project's "Santa Maria (del buen ayre)", makes the remake worth watching.

The film features many types of dance numbers, so will be of interest to anyone enthusiastic about ballroom dance. 

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Black Orpheus

Can't afford a trip to Rio? Turn on the 1959 film Black Orpheus and you bring the samba sounds of Carnaval straight into your living room.

This classic movie, the story of Orpheus and Euridice, doesn't have just one dance scene in it--the entire movie is a moving, rhythmic Brazilian carnival. The music is by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luis Bonifa.

Black Orpheus was a critical success, winning the Palm d'Oward at the 1959 Cannes Film Fesitival, the 1960 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and the 1960 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film.

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Strictly Ballroom

Strictly Ballroom has always been one of my very favorites, taking place in the world of Australian ballroom competition. An early Baz Luhrmann film (1992), it has a wonderful dance scene performed to Doris Day's "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps" as well as an over-the-top Paso Doble--a typical Luhrmann extravaganza.

Strictly Ballroom is a comic gem that will have you laughing out loud.

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Mad Hot Ballroom

Mad Hot Ballroom is a charming 2005 documentary about New York City fifth-grade school children competing in ballroom dance competition, and learning social graces and dignity along the way. The best moments in the film is the contagious excitement of the children whenever they got a chance to do the merengue.

Fans of this movie watch it repeatedly; it is well worth seeking out for your collection.

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Take The Lead

You might think that any movie with Antonio Banderas dancing would have to be wonderful--especially for the female audience. Alas, this movie is anything but great, but it is on my list for two reasons. First, it's the story of Pierre Dulaine, the man who started the dance program featured in Mad Hot Ballroom. Secondly (I confess), it offers the chance to Banderas dance the tango for hours.

Take the Lead is in many ways a fictionalized version of Mad Hot Ballroom, with a plot line that features Banderas as a schoolteacher instructing children in the art of ballroom dance. 

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Lambada was made in the early 1990s when word got out that the Brazilian government had banned the dance. It is not a great film, but if you're curious to see a dance that was forbidden in a country where scantily dressed Brazilians samba the night away, this is the place to see it.

Initially, this film was released simultaneously with The Forbidden Dance (next page). 

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The Forbidden Dance

This film is better than the previous one, but not by much. Still, lots of lambada!

The lambada is a dance that originated in Africa, though the Brazilian Portuguese quickly put their stamp on it. The word lambada means, literally "strong slap" or "hit" in Portuguese, but as a dance term, it refers to the whip-like motion of the dancers, which distinguishes the lambada from other Latin dances. 

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Dirty Dancing

The 1987 classic, Dirty Dancing, needs no introduction. More than 1 million copies are owned by movie buffs on home video. Watching Baby learn to do the mambo never gets old for me. But you would be well-advised skip the 2011 remake, with its bad plot, bad acting and bad dancing.

So popular is this film that an annual Dirty Dancing festival has been held in Lake Lure, North Carolina since 2009. 9]

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The Mark of Zorro

The 1940 Tyrone Power/ Linda Darnell film The Mark of Zorro is on this list because the dance scene between the two stars is one of my very favorites, though I'm not sure whether it's because of the wonderful 'Californio' dance number, or the witty and funny dialogue during the dance. Either of these reasons makes the film worth seeing.

The 1940 version of this film is a remake of the 1920 silent film starring Douglas Fairbanks. Take care to view the right film--the 1920 version has no dancing. 

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For Dessert: Scent of a Woman

 If you have seen all movies in the Top Ten, and are still eager for more, check out 1992's Scent of a Woman, in which a blind Al Pacino dances a sentimental and powerful tango with actress Gabriella Anwar. 

Al Pacino won the Academy Award for best actor for this film, so it is worth checking out on several levels.