Generally speaking, the arts often come under fire (just think of how often essentially harmless novels are banned) and dancing especially is often a controversial subject. Many believe that dancing is inherently sexual in nature and thus, deserves censorship, while others argue that it’s a basic form of artistic human expression that should be encouraged and indulged in. Additionally, novelty is often seen as a hallmark of corruption: frequently, the public initially has difficulty accepting new dance styles, for they’re seen as licentious and lascivious. This list is comprised of ten films that feature dancing scenes that are controversial for a wide variety of reasons. Some have earned their place because young girls were overly sexualized, some have been deemed as conforming to racist stereotypes, and some have unfairly credited actresses for dancing that they didn’t do themselves. Each of these ten films is well known and some of the scenes are deliberately controversial but, despite controversy, each one has withstood the test of time and remains legendary.
10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1
The infamously awkward dance scene between Harry and Hermione was hugely controversial for the tamest reasons. Not only was splitting Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two films a controversial decision, but fans disliked the addition of this scene because it wasn’t in the book. Additionally, many insisted that the scene didn’t jive with the brother-sister-esque relationship that Harry and Hermione shared. The decision to keep the scene was divisive across the board: the film crew, actors, actresses and fans were divided on the issue. However, the scene remained, and is now forever a part of the Potter universe.
9. Little Miss Sunshine
The climax of Little Miss Sunshine culminates an adorable seven-year-old Olive, performing an overtly sexual dance choreographed by her grandfather at a child beauty pageant. Olive dances to the tune of “Super Freak” by Rick James, and its inappropriate nature shocks both the judges of the pageant and the audience members. However, while this scene is problematic for a variety of reasons, it is low on this list because it is intentionally controversial – one of the major themes of Little Miss Sunshine is noting and criticizing the blatant sexualization of young girls in beauty pageants.
8. The Littlest Rebel
Chubby-cheeked and ringletted Shirley Temple is one of America’s sweethearts, but not everyone was pleased with the dancing and portrayal of Bill Robinson’s character, Uncle Billy in The Littlest Rebel. Many critics have argued that Robinson portrayed an essentially racist character: the trope of “Uncle Tom,” a black character who is subservient to a white one. Others fail to see this dynamic, instead adamant that the relationship between Temple’s character Virgie, and Uncle Billy, is one that is warm, genuine and caring. Whether you believe that Uncle Billy’s character is inherently racist or insist that it’s benign, it’s undeniable that Bill Robinson is one hell of a tap dancer.
7. American Beauty
Like Little Miss Sunshine, the dance scene in American Beauty is intentionally controversial. This film tells the story of middle-aged Lester, who becomes infatuated with his teenage daughter’s friend Angela, after watching her perform a cheerleading routine. During the routine, Lester watches, slack-jawed, as the dance transitions from a tame high school number into a solo sultry and sexual near-striptease. The scene was controversial because it depicted an adult man lusting after a girl still in high school, but the film and this scene were intended to question and analyze middle-class and suburban lifestyles. Thus, a great deal of the film, especially this scene, was intentionally controversial. Their tactics worked – 15 years later and we’re still talking about it.
6. Dirty Dancing
Although Dirty Dancing is now a cinematic staple and beloved the world over, when it first made its debut in 1987, viewers were shocked at both the risqué dance style and the controversial subject matter: Penny’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy and slipshod abortion certainly didn’t help with those who considered the dancing style indecent. Innocent main character, “Baby” hangs out with the edgy hotel staff and receives quite the shock – the staff indulges in rock n’ roll style dancing, one of the most sensual and sultriest dance styles in existence. Many viewers reacted with shock at the highly erotic dance scenes, but the film prevailed and remains iconic. The title of this once scandalous film is definitely accurate.
5. Jailhouse Rock
Elvis’ notoriously sinful hips made their debut in Jailhouse Rock. It’s no secret that Elvis became one of the most famous sex symbols of the 20th century, and many people had difficulty with the increasing sexualization of young stars. Elvis’ dancing style came on the wave of an increasing liberal presence in culture, and was frequently cited as morally degenerate; many were fearful that it would contribute to an era of immorality. The opening scene of Jailhouse Rock features some of Elvis’ signature moves: swinging hips, an entire crew of men in prison garb, and even Elvis swinging around on a pole. The scene has been touted as homoerotic and highly sexualized – this kind of sexuality might be considered normal and encouraged today, but in 1957, the public was scandalized.
4. A Clockwork Orange
A Clockwork Orange is rife with controversial images that make for a very disturbing film, and the infamous “Singing in the Rain” dance scene is no different. The scene features the main character, Alex, doing a stylized tap dance while belting out the usually cheery tune “Singing in the Rain.” He accents his acapella version of the song with swift kicks to a man’s ribs, while his wife is being manhandled. The juxtaposition of the jolly song and energetic tap dance with the casual, gruesome violence results in a highly controversial scene.
3. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Like Dirty Dancing and Jailhouse Rock, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a modern classic that, during its debut, was either ignored or often classified as obscene. The film’s subject matter (the plot revolves around a murderous, cannibalistic, homosexual transvestite) is controversial in and of itself, and the song and dance numbers certainly don’t escape this label. Among others, the number “Time Warp” was extremely controversial for its flamboyant and campy style. However, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is now a cult film with a loyal following, and is regularly watched and performed. Offended viewers may have won the battle, but the murderous, cannibalistic, homosexual transvestite won the war.
Flashdance culminates in a powerful scene: protagonist Alex gives a stunning audition for a dance school in Pittsburgh. However, the scene was controversial because credit given for the actual dancing was dubious. French dancer, Marine Jahan did a significant portion of the dancing in the final scene, and b-boy Richard Colón dressed in drag to perform the phenomenal breakdancing scene. However, neither dancer was given the credit that they deserved: instead, it was implied that actress Jennifer Beals did all of the dancing. Jahan’s name was even omitted from the film credits. Shockingly, the final film on this list earned its spot as number one for almost the exact same reason.
1. Black Swan
One person certainly wasn’t happy when the credits for Black Swan rolled around. Sarah Lane, a soloist who dances for the American Ballet Theatre, wasn’t credited as Natalie Portman’s body double, despite the fact that she arguably did the majority of the dancing for the film. However, director Darren Aronofsky and several others involved in the film, have claimed that most of the dancing actually featured in the film was done by Portman. It’s also been noted that Portman failed to thank Lane during her acceptance speech after winning the Oscar for Best Actress. Many have argued that producers of the film did their best to make Portman appear as if she did all of the dancing for Black Swan, while in reality, Lane should have received more credit. However, the truth is extremely ambiguous.