Dance movies featuring black men and women offer more than stunning choreography and fancy footwork. They also showcase aspects of black life seldom seen on the silver screen, such as college life, the challenges of interracial dating, and the struggles faced by black youth.
From serious dramas to risqué comedies to family-friendly films and more, here are the 15 best black dance movies.
Black Dance Movies with a Black Couple Lead
If you’re looking for the best black dance movies where both leads are black, here are some excellent options, including both dramas and comedies:
Stomp the Yard (2007)
Stomp the Yard took audiences into the world of step dancers in the fraternity system of a traditionally black college, a world never seen before on film. It stars Columbus Short as DJ, a dancer from inner-city LA.
After being accepted into a fictional Black university (clearly modeled on Howard University), DJ attempts to leave his life of crime behind him, only to find all-new trouble at his new school. He must work with his new fraternity to defeat their rivals while also winning the heart of his dream girl, April (Meagan Good).
While the plot has moments that strain believability, nuanced performances from the leads keep the movie heartfelt and compelling. At the very least, the film nails the setting and delivers truly terrific dance numbers, including a showstopping finale set at a dance competition.
Beat Street (1984)
Take a trip back to the hip-hop and graffiti styles of the South Bronx with Beat Street. It’s an authentic product of its time that remains loads of fun for modern audiences.
Beat Street follows the adventures of a crew of dancers, graffiti artists, and DJs. The main character is Kenny Kirkland (Guy Davis), a young DJ who balances his quest for music stardom with his budding romance with Tracy, expertly played by Rae Dawn Chong with cool charisma.
The film features many styles of hip-hop dancing, including breakdancing. There’s also graffiti, boomboxes, bandanas, and other fresh styles from the era.
You Got Served (2004)
What do critics know, anyway? You Got Served was savaged by critics, but audiences made it a bonafide blockbuster. It opened to number one at the box office, earned $16 million its first week, and over $50 million to date. Not bad for a flick with an $8 million budget.
Even if you haven’t seen the film, you can likely guess the story: A rag-tag crew of neighborhood locals face-off against rich jerks (from Orange County) in a dance battle. There’s more: a romance between two characters, a drug deal gone wrong, and friendships broken and reunited.
But the plot is secondary to the dancing, which introduced the world to Krumpin, Clownin, and other styles you’ll see at the club even today. To no one’s surprise, many songs from the film’s soundtrack also became huge hits, including Timbaland’s “Drop.”
If you enjoyed You Got Served, you’d also want to check out Rize, a fascinating documentary that explores the origins of Clowning and Krumping, two frenzied dance styles from Los Angeles.
The film has three sections. First, you’ll learn the origin of Clowning, which derives from early breakdancing. Then, the movie explores how aspects of Clowning turned into an individual style known as Krumping. Finally, the film’s last third focuses on a legendary dance battle called The Battle Zone.
Rize doesn’t just showcase these amazing dancers but also explores their lives and struggles. Most of the folks featured in the film hail from areas in South Central Los Angeles, such as Inglewood and Compton.
Stormy Weather (1943)
Stormy Weather is more than a black dance movie. It’s also a milestone in black cinema, one of two movies released in 1943 with a predominantly Black cast (the other was Cabin in the Sky).
The film stars legendary performers Bill Robinson, Lena Horne, and Cab Calloway. Bill stars as a soldier recently returned from WWI who hopes to make it big as a dancer. It’s a semi-autobiographical tale based on Robinson’s real life, with the addition of a love interest played by Horne.
Despite a runtime of only 77 minutes, Stormy Weather packs in over 20 musical numbers. One of the most notable features is the Nicholas Brothers in an elaborate tap-dance number filmed in a single take.
Cabin in the Sky (1943)
The second movie released in 1943 with an all-Black main cast, Cabin in the Sky, is a musical dance movie starring Lena Horne, Rochester Anderson, and Ethel Waters. It’s based on a then-popular Broadway musical.
Rochester, a famous comedian of the era, plays Little Joe, a shiftless fellow killed over gambling debts. After dying, an angel appears and gives Little Joe another six months on Earth to redeem his wicked ways and earn a spot in heaven. A wild adventure follows where Joe must save his wife by outwitting the devil’s son, Lucifer Junior.
The film faced numerous hurdles. A musical number featuring Horne singing in a bathtub was cut before release, as producers feared white audiences of the time would find the scene objectionable. Additionally, many theaters refused to play the film.
Today, the National Film Registry recognizes Cabin in the Sky as historically and culturally significant.
Black Dance Movies with a Black Female Lead
Check out these movies starring black female leads who have all the right moves.
Work It (2020)
Work It is one of the newest releases on this list, bringing a fun and youthful energy to a classic tale about misfits who must form a group and win a dance competition. It’s a fun, family-friendly film about friendship, diversity, and following your dreams.
Sabrina Carpenter stars as Quinn Ackerman, an awkward high school senior who is more interested in studying than dancing. However, after a lie during a college admissions interview spirals out of control, she must join The Thunderbirds, her school’s elite dance team. Unable to earn a spot on the team, she enlists her best friend, Jasmine, and several others to form a team of their own.
While Carpenter is the main character, the show’s real star is Jasmine, played to perfection by Liza Koshy. A popular YouTube comedian, Work It was one of Koshy’s first feature film roles.
Dance with Me (1998)
Not to be confused with the 2019 Japanese film of the same name, 1998’s Dance with Me is a romantic drama starring Vanessa Williams and Chayanne, a famous Puerto Rican singer.
Chayanne plays Rafael, a Cuban handyman who finds work in a dance studio run by John Burnett (Kris Kristofferson). Soon after arriving, Rafael meets Ruby (Williams), the studio’s star dancer. As the two fall in love, Ruby is torn between her heart and her commitment to an upcoming competition.
Dance with Me offers romance, drama, and dance. It also has a popular soundtrack, including the hit “You Are My Home,” a duet performed by Williams and Chayanne.
How She Move (2007)
This 2007 drama is popular among teens thanks to its relatable characters and high-energy dance numbers.
The movie stars Rutina Wesley (True Blood) as Raya, an inner-city teen who must win a dance competition to earn tuition money to fulfill her dream of attending medical school. Along the way, she must form her own dance crew while dealing with a group of cross-town rivals.
The film received a much stronger critical reception than many similar films. While the plot is pretty predictable, the performances and design convey gritty and realistic energy similar to 8 Mile.
A Ballerina’s Tale (2015)
Misty Copeland is the first African-American Female Principal Dancer with the American Ballet Theater, one of the top three ballet companies in the country. A Ballerina’s Tale is an inspiring documentary about her life and journey.
The film includes archival footage as well as classic performances, with Copeland providing narration. It’s an uplifting story that also isn’t afraid to explore the struggles she faced, including racism and self-doubt.
Interestingly, A Ballerina’s Tale began as a Kickstarter campaign, with music legend Prince making a substantial donation to help the film get made.
Black Dance Films with a Black Male Lead
Don’t forget the fellas! These movies star black men who know how to command a dance floor.
White Nights (1985)
White Nights features two legends of dance, Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov, in a Cold War thriller packed with suspense and drama.
Baryshnikov stars as a Soviet ballet dancer who defected to the US. However, he winds up back in the USSR after a plane crash, where the Soviet government captures him. Baryshnikov is forced to live with Raymond Greenwood (Hines), a former US citizen who defected to the USSR.
If the plot sounds strange to you, you’re not alone. The New York Times film critic called the story “ludicrous,” while the Los Angeles Times review described it as “wretched high-concept, low-intelligence.”
Fortunately, strong acting and stunning dance ultimately carry the movie. The opening ballet sequence is particularly worth watching. It’s based on classic choreography from 1946 and features Baryshnikov at the height of his abilities.
Save the Last Dance (2001)
Save the Last Dance deftly combines drama, comedy, and dance. It stars Julia Stiles as Sara; a 17-year-old ballet dancer forced to move from the suburbs of Chicago to the inner city after her mother’s death.
Following a rough transition to her new school, she eventually begins dating Derek, played by Sean Patrick Thomas. The two develop a friendship and eventually a romance, based on dance, with Derek teaching Sara how to incorporate hip-hop moves into her ballet performances.
While the plot isn’t breaking any new ground, it’s buoyed by solid performances from Stiles and Thomas. The film offers nuanced takes on inter-racial relationships, income inequality, and other serious topics – while also delivering fantastic and innovative dance performances.
House Party (1990)
House Party is a classic, cartoonish comedy that’s still finding fans over 20 years later, thanks to its charismatic cast, relatable premises, and late-movie dance sequence featuring the classic Kid and Play Dance.
The movie stars rap duo Kid and Play. They play high school friends who throw a house party resulting in mayhem, comedy, and romance. While the story is simple, the all-star cast keeps everything fun and funny. Aside from Kid and Play, the movie also features Tisha Campbell, Martin Lawrence, and a star-making turn from the late Robin Harris.
The film was the professional debut of writer/director Reginald Hudlin, based on a student film he made at Harvard. Hudlin would later go on to become the President of Entertainment for BET as well as a producer on Django Unchained.
While Breakin’ didn’t have a big budget or a famous cast, it did have breakdancing, which was entirely new for most of the world. Like Beat Street, Breakin’ is a product of its time. Some plot points are hard to take seriously today, but it’s also a fascinating look at the styles and ideas that provided a foundation for B-boy and hip-hop culture.
The movie stars a young dancer, Special K, who teams up with two street dancers, Ozone and Turbo. They overcome adversity and relationship issues as they prepare for a local dance contest, where they hope to beat a rival crew.
In the early 80s, breakdancing was “breaking” into mainstream pop culture. Breakin’ was the first of the black street dance movies to hit theaters, as the studio head, Menahem Golan, insisted on beating Beat Street’s release date.
Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (1984)
Even if you’re unfamiliar with the Breakin’ films, you’ve likely heard of its subtitle since “Electric Boogaloo” has become the catch-all joke phrase for any movie sequel, especially cheesy-looking ones.
The original cast was available, so Electric Boogaloo sees the return of Special K, Ozone, and Turbo. Electric Boogaloo is the name of an actual dance, a fluid and funky motion that involves lots of leg movement.
The story of Breakin’ 2 is also fairly internet-famous. The gang of heroes must win a dance competition to prevent their beloved community center from getting turned into a shopping mall by an evil developer.
While its subtitle has spawned many memes, the movie itself didn’t make much of an impression on audiences (then or now). It was initially released in only 717 theaters and went on to earn $15.1 million overall, which is less than half the box office take of the original.
Best Black Dance Movies Ever, Final Thoughts
Whether you’re looking to check out the latest moves or take a trip back to the Old School, the best black dance movies span a vast range of genres and subjects. However, no matter which one you pick, each of these films delivers rousing energy that’s sure to make you move!