Ah, yes. The school dance. Awkward and nerve racking, it was a necessary rite of passage. It's no surprise that such a dramatic collective memory would make for some great moments on film. Here's a list (in no particular order) of my favorite school dance scenes in movies interspersed with some groovy vintage dance pics. Please leave a comment if I left any serious omissions.
It's a Wonderful Life
The gym floor opening up into a pool is an extremely memorable scene. It highlights perfectly George Bailey's wild and promising youth before his big fall.
Dazed and Confused
The scene is brief, but the inclusion of the infamous "make-out room" is classic. Only in the seventies.
Perhaps the most memorable of all high school dance scenes. DePalma's split screen technique in combination with Spacek's ghastly visage is one that's hard to shake.
Scott Bao's powers are taken to their limit, and we get to see Heather Thomas disrobed (or actually her body double).
Pretty in Pink
My understanding is that Andi (Molly Ringwald) ended up with Duckie in the original version of the film, but test audiences were appalled. John Hughes subsequently changed to the script to have Andi end up with Blaine (Andrew McCarthy). I strongly agree with that decision; I fucking hate Duckie.
Who cares that every kid at Rydell loooks like they're 30. This dance scene with Travolta in his prime doing the Hand Jive is solid gold.
Can't Buy Me Love
Somehow Patrick Dempsey's African Anteater Ritual dance catches on, and soon the entire student body is joining in. What a bunch of sheep.
"True" by Spandau Ballet, a painfully awkward dance by "Farmer Ted", a brief appearance by John Cusack, Dong and his buxom soul mate, the scoliosis girl, and a $1 cover charge to see Sam's underwear....Priceless.
Perfectly captures the awkwardness of being on the outer fringes of the popularity caste system - all to the sounds of Alphaville and Cindy Lauper. "My old girlfriend from Oklahoma was gonna fly out for the dance but she couldn't cause she's doing some modeling right now."
Ren and Ariel release some seriously pent up sexual energy on the dance floor. Lithgow was not impressed.
Better Off Dead
Ricky (the fat dude from Head of the Class) dances like an effing maniac to impress Monique. I laughed till I ran out of air and blacked out, woke up and laughed some more.
Prom Night (1980)
The dance sequence set to disco music featuring Jamie Lee Curtis is classic. The scene goes on and on - I think they play the full length of two entire songs. Even better, we get to see Leslie Neilsen putting on his boogie shoes!
Romy and Michele's High School Reunion
The prom flashback is a brief but wonderfully effective reminder that the dance feels monumentally important at the time, but really has no consequence for the life that awaits.
Back to the Future
McFly on the guitar playing "Johnny Be Good" to an eager crowd at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance is an amazing moment.... but then his digression into heavy metal guitar noodling leaves the audience saying "huh?". Classic.
Just One of the Guys
Historic school dance moment: Joyce Hyser shows her friend that she's really a girl in disguise..... by showing him her breasts. An odd but unforgettable movie moment.
Valley Girl (1983)
The curtain opens revealing a brawl between Randy (Nicholas Cage) and Tommy the Prom King. Ultimately, the titular Valley Girl shoves guacamole in Tommy's face and the crowd erupts into a food fight.
Honorable Mention: The pilot episode of Freaks and Geeks. I know it was a TV show, but it still deserves inclusion in this post.
Notable Omissions: Twilight, Mean Girls, Saved! (2004), and Never Been Kissed. Didn't really care for those films. Saved! was okay, but the prom scene is where everything fell apart.