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Dirty Dancing
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6 Movies like Dirty Dancing: Love and Drama on the Dancefloor

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Jane Howarth itcherBehind the music and the romance, Moulin Rouge!, West Side Story, The Breakfast Club and these other movies like Dirty Dancing aren’t afraid of tough issues. ~ Jane Howarth

These Movies Like Dirty Dancing Aren’t Afraid of Controversy

Since the stage musical opened in Sydney in 2005, it’s been particularly hard to forget the 1980s classic, and of course the movie has never really gone away.
As much as it’s a feel-good film, though, I can’t help being both captivated by the routines and shocked by the challenging situations going on behind the romance in what’s meant to be an uplifting movie. But somehow the charming love story and choreography overcomes the darkness every time.
I started thinking about other movies that handle a totally conflicting range of subjects in something you can still class as an inspiring or uplifting film, and it turned out there were actually quite a few.

Movies Similar to ‘Dirty Dancing’…

‘Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights’ (Guy Ferland, 2004)

The Dirty Dancing sequel has its detractors, but the pre-revolutionary Cuban setting is totally captivating, even if the plot mirrors the original closely. The gorgeous setting is tainted with danger, though, as the country becomes increasingly hostile, putting the English/Cuban couple at risk.

Choreographer JoAnn Jansen’s experiences of growing up in Havana influenced the plot and a number of details, lending credence to the film’s claim of being based on a true story.

Similarity Match: 100%
Not everyone agrees, but I think this Cuban-set version of the original is fresh enough to qualify as a real alternative.

‘Moulin Rouge!’ (Baz Luhrmann, 2001)

A penniless writer falls in love with a dancer in 19th Century Paris, and gets swept up in the decadence of the Moulin Rouge. Behind the glamour of the stage, the beautiful Satine is hiding consumption and is caught between her love for the writer and her employment as a sought-after courtesan.

Yes, like the dancers at Kellerman’s Hotel, working to entertain the wealthier classes creates an underworld that’s hidden from the clientele. Alright, it’s glitzier than Kellerman’s, but you get the idea.

Similarity Match: 90%
Love, drama and dancing were never more apparent (or more sparkly) than in this Baz Luhrmann movie

‘Footloose’ (Herbert Ross, 1984)

Kevin Bacon plays a city teen whose family move to a small, rural town. He finds out that dancing to rock music is banned, and leads a rebellion against the law, which happens to be upheld by his love interest’s father. Are you singing the title song already? I am, much to the lament of my neighbours.

Similarity Match: 90%
Footloose gives us another community divided by dancing, and another irresistible soundtrack.

‘West Side Story’ (Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins, 1961)

This retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story moves the action to New York, where the Jets and Sharks are rival gangs divided by race. A boy and girl from opposite sides of the divide fall in love, setting off a dangerous chain of events.

Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics to the Oscar-winning musical, and while it’s older than the other movies on the list, I think it definitely covers the same ground. Tough storylines centring on social divides definitely feel familiar, and both movies somehow leave you with a good feeling. Just how do they do it? Well, in West Side Story’s case, I’d say it’s the swirling late-1950s dresses and vivacious choreography.

Similarity Match: 80%
More love across the divide in another movie that offsets issues with unforgettable musical numbers, this time with more of a traditional musical feel.


If You Like ‘Dirty Dancing’, You Will Like…

Dirty Dancing overlaps with the Brat Pack thanks to its stars, coming of age theme and status as a classic ‘80s movie. So it’s only fair that we include these other movies, even if they aren’t dance themed.

‘The Outsiders’ (Francis Ford Coppola, 1983)

A suburban town is split between two rival gangs, so a love affair that crosses the social divide is bound to spark problems. The Brat Pack adaptation of S. E. Hinton’s beloved original story (find more great similar novels here) sits halfway between nostalgia and tough drama. While it’s got a darker tone than Dirty Dancing, fans will feel at home thanks to the presence of Patrick Swayze in the line-up.

Like Dirty Dancing, The Outsiders blends a compelling story with harsh realities, though this time going darker with gang violence added to the mix.

‘The Breakfast Club’ (John Hughes, 1985)

Yes! There is definitely a memorable dance scene in this one! If you don’t know what I mean, look out for some cool ‘80s shapes.

A group of students from different cliques are stuck in Saturday detention, and throughout the day they waver between being enemies, conspirators and confidantes. Like our mismatched dancers, the question hanging over the students is whether they can cross established boundaries, and if they can, how long will it last?

Fleeting relationships and that perfectly Brat Pack combination of hope and melancholy should give you something like the Dirty Dancing feeling.


It’s Strange But True, The Formula Works

Well, it really shouldn’t make sense, but it does. My theory is that with the hard-hitting moments help to accentuate the hope you’ll find in the romance and music scenes.
If you’re looking for more dance-themed films with a dramatic side, try these movies like Burlesque (Steven Antin, 2010) for corsets, irresistible routines and the stardom. Feel like getting up and dancing along? Paola’s movies like Flashdance (Adrian Lyne, 1983) are just what you need.
Over to You
What would you recommend to anyone looking for movies similar to Dirty Dancing?
Let us know in the comments.
Hi, I’m Jane, BA (Drama, Film and TV) and MA (Cultural and Creative Industries). When I’m not writing about creative things, I’m designing or planning them. If you’re brave enough to risk an avalanche, look behind the stacks of books and DVDs and you’ll find me balancing a cup of tea, a handful of knitting and a cupcake.
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