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How Iconic Dance Scenes Were Written

Have you ever wondered how someone writes an elaborate dance scene for the movies? It turns out the actual writing of memorable dance scenes has evolved over the years, and today in Dancing in the Movies we've put together a look at how some of them began in screenplay form.

For example, the writers of MGM's "Singin' in the Rain" simply noted where a big number was going to appear in their screenplay, showing how the dialogue would segue into a sudden burst of song:


Click image to see script

That approach wouldn't really work for something like "An American in Paris," whose entire climax is a lengthy, groundbreaking dance sequence without a word of dialogue. Here's an example of how the film's final act appeared before it went in front of the cameras:


Click image to see script

The musical got a big shot in the arm in 1978 thanks to the hit film "Grease." This one was adapted from a stage musical, so again the method used to create the screenplay was a bit different. The show-stopping high school dance contest (also seen here in a rare behind-the-scenes photo) was written in fairly general terms, allowing the cast and choreographers to come up with their own moves on the set:


Click image to see script

In 1983, movie dancing got a big dose of modern pop music with the film "Flashdance," whose entire story involved a girl's struggle to become a respectable dancer. The dance descriptions here are much more detailed than usual, conveying the intense physicality of these scenes:


Click image to see script

The following year, the teen musical had a similar overhaul with "Footloose," the story of a high school boy transplanted to a town where dancing is outlawed. The script (which is much more adult in nature than the finished film, which originally received an R rating) designates where the dancing will occur, but only the dance coaching between Kevin Bacon and Chris Penn's characters receives much attention:


Click image to see script

One of the most ambitious dance films of the '80s was "White Nights," also from 1985, which even called itself "A Dance Film." This script makes the dance sequences an integral part of the dialogue and action, even running them both side by side in columns:


Click image to see script

Documents from the Margaret Herrick Library's Vincente Minnelli, Tom Miller, Nancy Dowd, and Paramount Scripts collections.



What's your all-time favorite movie dance number?

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