3 Great Dance Competition Films to Watch Instead of ‘Step Up: All In’

By  · Published on August 8th, 2014

Bess Kargman/Sundance Selects

Dancing is a kind of performance that lends itself incredibly well to cinema. Both art forms are heavily steeped in movement, and a film allows the viewer to get closer to a dancer than they ever could in reality, to study and appreciate the remarkable physical capabilities possessed by any good dancer. In recent years, dancing has flourished in nonfiction media. Besides the numerous documentaries on the subject, there are multiple popular reality television shows involving dance competitions, such as So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars.

But in fiction film, dance struggles. We’re far from the heyday of Busby Berkeley musicals and the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films. There are a few exceptions to this, however, the most notable being the Step Up series. Each film in this franchise has proved financially successful, and Step Up: All In, the fifth installment, is poised to repeat that pattern when it opens this weekend. The 3D sequel acknowledges the current dance TV craze by centering around a competition-based reality show taping in Las Vegas.

Step Up: All In may showcase some true dancing talent on screen, but because it focuses on a fictional contest between fictional characters there’s not any reason for us to care who wins or loses. So, for this week’s Doc Option we’ve selected a few necessary nonfiction alternative that also form their plots around dance competitions, the stakes of which are genuine reality.

To one degree or another, these three docs are about how young people use their talents to build their prospects for what lies ahead in life. Whether dancing is an avenue to a scholarship, a prize, or temporary escape from pain, the films help the audience appreciate the beauty of performance by helping them empathize with how it uplifts its participants. This puts all of them in league with the Step Up series, in which the teenybopper protagonists fight for love or respect on the dance floor. Watching them all will expose you not only to a wide array of dance styles, but also to an even wider array of engaging personal stories.