School Daze #3: The Greatest School Dance Scenes in Movies

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).

Dance Fever

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.

Sixteen Candles
"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.

Napoleon Dynamite
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.

the dance

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!

Boogie Fever

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.  Kevin Sam Weir finally gets to slow dance with his crush, but the opening to Styx's "Come Sail Away" quickly turns loud and fast.  He decides to go with the flow, stop being so damn self conscious and just have fun.  The feeling is contagious and his sister Lindsey, operating the punch bowls, decides to have fun herself and dance with the school nerd.  Perhaps my favorite school dance scene of them all.

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.


  1. i agree with you on Freaks and Geeks....oops but speaking of nerds, I have to correct you...it's "Sam Weir". Lindsey Weir, who had a little something to do with the mentally challenged boy's broken arm ventures over to see if he has forgiven her by asking him to dance. He agreed and it made it all the more heartwarming! Makes me misty every time.

  2. God yes, that scene from F&G captured early teen fear and public dance humiliation perfectly. The walk from the sidelines to their spot on the dance floor lasted forever, giving everyone more than enough time to see how awkward he felt. Poor Sam just wanted to feel her tits rubbing against his chest as they slow danced.

  3. Oh, and I also like the school dance scene in American Graffiti: Ron Howard tells the principal to go kiss a duck; the teacher that Richard Dreyfuss is talking to in the hall has to go talk with the teenage girl, probably about some secret rendezvous they had before and now she's pregnant; the piano player in the band with his greasy hair and attitude; and "hey, zit make-up!"

  4. Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The end of school dance. Not very long but I like Jeff Spicoli's air drums.

  5. Armpit beat me to it, I was going to say American Graffiti.

    I'd forgotten about some of these and had to think back to even remember the dance scene at all. I went to several high school dances. Never once danced until senior prom.


  6. I am partial to the Tri-Lamda/Omega Mu dance from Revenge of the Nerds powered by Booger's "wonder joints". We hear "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" and Jacko's "Thriller" in the same dance scene. I love it when Booger slow dances with the Mu's while squeezing their butt cheeks. Classic.

    This post brings back to memory one of my greatest conquests as a young teenager. As a 7th grader, I got the nerve up to ask a pretty 9th grader to dance and she said yes. We slow danced to Journey's "Open Arms" and all was right with the world!

  7. Your missing the scene from the movie RAD.
    That scene is epic followed by the "bicycle boogie" aka "send me an angel" scene.


  8. Does the Deltas toga party with "Otis Day & the Knights" (featuring a young Robert Cray) count as a "school dance"?

    But thank you for including the swimming "dance" from It's a Wonderful Life. After Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed first accidently fell into the pool, then the shot of Jimmy Stewart pretending to still be dancing in the pool while Donna was falling down laughing....that's just one of the scenes that makes that movie one of the best ever (while still really schmaltzy, granted)

  9. WHOOPS! For all you hip hop happening groovy cats from Nowsville, the school dance I refer to was part of the now immortal Animal House--the best movie ever filmed in Oregon.

  10. What? No, "To Sir, With Love"?

  11. @rason , Thanks for sharing the youtube best part of the video.

  12. Oh, How can you have left out 1989's Teen Witch?? Robyn Lively's scene at the dance is sublime!!!!!!