Dance icons: Which famous movie scenes and music videos inspire us to get moving?

Whether it’s the feel-good finale in Dirty Dancing or the attitude of Michael Jackson, all of us have witnessed an iconic dance moment and felt the goose pimples that come along with it. But which moves do you wish you could perform perfectly, given the chance?

We surveyed people living across the UK to learn about the secret dance fantasies we hold in our hearts. From the irresistible suave of Patrick Swayze to the ultra-smooth moves of the King of Pop, find out which iconic dances we admire the most and what routines we’d love to be able to become experts at ourselves.

We partnered with Arthur Murray Dance Studios to recreate some of the most popular dances as voted for by Brits. Take a look at the videos on our YouTube channel featuring dance teacher, co-owner of the London studios and dance champion Shaun McEnery alongside the studio's students.

Movie moments: Top dances from films and music videos

When choreography comes together perfectly, it can captivate us, and there have been many on-screen routines in both films and music videos that viewers will remember forever.

Dance films

According to our survey, Dirty Dancing overwhelmingly dominates as the film we associate with iconic dance routines. Our top 5 favourite dance films include:

  • Dirty Dancing
  • Grease
  • Singin' In the Rain
  • Saturday Night Fever
  • Footloose

  Flash Dance and Pulp Fiction were also popular choices, while West Side Story, Step Up, and The Breakfast Club fell towards the bottom of the list.

Dance videos

Iconic pop culture dance moments aren’t confined to the big screen – have you ever heard a song on the radio and instantly thought about (or maybe even tried to reenact) the signature routine from the corresponding music video?

Our survey respondents crowned Michael Jackson and Beyoncé as king and queen of memorable dance music videos. Together, they take 7 of the top places (5 for Michael, 2 for Bey). “Thriller” leads the way by a long shot – except for 35-44-year-olds, who prefer “Single Ladies”.

The 10 most popular dance music videos include:

Dances we dream of doing

 You know a routine is really inspiring when you’re itching to try it yourself – and many viewers have a clear idea of exactly which dance roles they see themselves starring in.

Unsurprisingly, The Lift from Dirty Dancing is the dance movie moment that most people wish they could perfect across the board. But, when broken down by age group, it seems different generations have a favourite.

The “Thriller” routine is the most popular choice for 35-44-year-olds, while those age 65+ wish they could recreate the iconic umbrella scene from Singin’ in the Rain.  

Showing your moves: What do we break out on the dance floor?

 We may dream of having a Swayze or Beyoncé moment, but what do our dance moves actually look like in action?  

The dances we can do

Though it might not be as sophisticated as movie-worthy choreography, it seems that many of us have at least one routine that we can bring to the floor in a moment of need. The most common dance moves our survey respondents know off by heart are:

Our survey revealed that we can easily be time-stamped by our choice moves – age has an impact on which moves Brits have memorised:

18-24 year olds are most likely to know the moves to “Saturday Night” (released in 1995), while those aged between 25 and 44 are more inclined to whip out “La Macarena” (released in 1993).

The “YMCA” (released in 1978) is the most popular routine for 45-54 year olds, but the older generation (55-64) prefers “The Timewarp” (released in 1975) – and you can expect those age 65+ to do the jive (which was popular in the 1930s).

The dances we’d like to learn

While we might be able to fall back on “Saturday Night” or “La Macarena” in times of need, many of us wish we could add more complex moves to our repertoire.

According to our survey, salsa, ballroom, and jive are the styles we’d most like to master, while the two-step, bolero, and can-can are at the bottom of our list of aspirational routines.

It seems the younger generation is more interested in modern moves, while older people would rather stick to the traditional dances. The results showed that 18-24 year olds would overwhelmingly rather learn hip-hop or breakdancing compared to those age 55+, who said ballroom, jive, salsa, and waltz were their top choices.


Dance off: Battle of the sexes

 Any professional dance duo will vouch for the importance of synchronization and timing – but our survey revealed that men and women seem to be dancing to separate beats altogether.


Movie moments: Out of synch

When it comes to those iconic dances from films and music videos, women and men have different opinions about which routines rule the screen.

According to our survey, Dirty Dancing and Grease are far more popular with women, while men prefer their John Travolta moments to come from Saturday Night Fever, or the classic charm of Singin’ in the Rain.

They do seem to agree more on music video moments – both men and women rate “Thriller” as the most iconic, though, perhaps unsurprisingly, “Single Ladies” is far more popular with women than men.


Tearing up the dancefloor

 In the event of a real-life dance-off, women are far more likely to show off familiar moves – according to our survey, 3x more women than men know a dance off by heart, with “La Macarena” and “Saturday Night” safely stored away for special occasions.

But it seems that a couples’ dance class could offer some hope – both men and women agree that ballroom, salsa, and jive are the top 3 dances they’d like to learn (though both groups did rate which they’d most like to learn in a completely opposite order…)

Regardless of whether you’re daydreaming about the iconic Dirty Dancing lift or busy practicing your “Thriller” arms, we can agree on one thing – movies and music videos are great at inspiring us to get moving! Find everything you need to perfect your routine or explore our blog for further inspiration about local news and events that might move you.

Image credit.