The 11 best silent movie dance sequences

Silents by numbersThis is a guest post for Silent London by Alison Strauss, director of the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema, Bo’ness. The Silents by Numbers strand celebrates some very personal top 10s by silent film enthusiasts and experts.

Our Dancing Daughters (1928)
Our Dancing Daughters (1928)

Our Dancing Daughters (1928, Harry Beaumont)

The moment when fun-loving flapper Joan Crawford launches herself on to the dance floor and sets the party alight with a high-tempo Charleston, ripping her skirt to a more liberating length as she goes.

Danse Serpentine (1896, Auguste and Louis Lumiere)

The 45-second kaleidoscopic record of a vaudeville dance – created by pioneering dancer Loie Fuller – in which an anonymous performer elegantly whirls her arms in the long-flowing fabric of her costume to mesmerising effect, thanks to the immaculate hand-tinting work of the Lumiere Brothers’ army of finely skilled women behind the scenes.

Pandora’s Box (1929, Georg Wilhelm Pabst)

Trained dancer and former Ziegfeld Follies girl, Louise Brooks is electrifying as Lulu, especially when, with all eyes on her, she takes to the floor at her own wedding with yet another admirer – a female guest – and the pair dance in a sexually charged vertical embrace.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921, Rex Ingram)

Another raunchy tango, this time with Rudolph Valentino in a sequence that launched him as a legend.  The woman in Julio’s arms submits to his overpowering masculinity in this iconic routine that set the standard for all subsequent movie tangos.

(Watch from 14 mins, 50 seconds)

That’s My Wife (1929, Lloyd French)

Stan Laurel is persuaded by Oliver Hardy to masquerade as his wife in order to secure the bequest of a rich uncle.  In one of the funniest sequences Stan, looking lovely in an evening gown, dances the two-step with Ollie in an effort to shimmy a stolen necklace down through his undergarments!

The Ghost Train (1927)
The Ghost Train (1927)

The Ghost Train (1927, Géza von Bolváry)

In this supernatural treat based on the British rep theatre classic, Ilse Bois plays a woman who has “dedicated her life to the fight against alcohol” but, on being revived from a fainting fit with a dram or two of Johnny Walker, breaks in to the most fantastically comic high-kicking Charleston.

The Artist  (2011, Michel Hazanavicius)

Cheating I know, but when Bérénice Bejo and Jean Dujardin did their Fred and Ginger-like number at the close of The Artist the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.

(Watch from 4 mins, 40 seconds)

The Cook (1918, Roscoe Arbuckle)

Hilarious spoof of Theda Bara in Salome with Keaton vogueing and Arbuckle wearing saucepans as earrings and sporting a string of sausages instead of a snake and a cabbage in place of the head of john the Baptist.

The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929, Charles Reisner)

Another cheat but hoping it will scrape through given the silent stars line-up.  Lots to choose from but the number: Lon Chaney’s Gonna Get You If You Don’t Watch Out sung by Gus Edwards because of the insight it gives into the cultural resonance of the great character actor whose life and career ended at the moment the sound era began, and because it’s so wittily done.

(Watch from 7 mins)

Mighty Like A Moose (1926, Leo McCarey)

It’s not strictly dancing, but Hippodrome festival Producer Shona Thomson has pitched in with the comic choreography of Charley Chase and Vivien Oakland in this two-reeler.  A husband and wife’s cosmetic surgery leads them both to cheat on their spouse with their (unrecognisable) spouse.  The perfect timing as they each get ready for their “illicit” date in the marital home without the other knowing is testament to Chase and director McCarey’s skill in taking the audience to the brink of comedy disaster.

The Gold Rush (1925, Charlie Chaplin)

Another iconic moment: the bread roll dance.  Made famous by Chaplin but the idea was first used by Roscoe Arbuckle in the 1917 film The Rough House.  Much copied since (stand up Robert Downey Jr, Johnny Depp and Grampa Simpson but never bettered in my opinion.


The Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema runs 12-16 March 2014 SilentCinemaFestival; Twitter: @FalkirkCultural #HippFest

The festival opens on Wednesday 12th March with a special screening of Kevin Brownlow’s documentary Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces, followed by a Q&A with Mr Brownlow himself.

Please note: For everyone travelling to the festival, special accommodation rates are available at the Richmond Park Hotel in Bo’ness: £60 for a double/twin room and £45 for a single room, inclusive of full Scottish breakfast. Rooms can be booked directly by quoting reference RPH1216. Contact: The Richmond Park Hotel, 26 Linlithgow Road, Bo’ness EH51 0DN, Tel: 01506 823213,

What do you think of Alison and Shona’s choices? Share your suggestions in the comments below

11 thoughts on “The 11 best silent movie dance sequences”

  1. Brilliant list! Could I add the peasant dance in Sunrise? Lovely to see George O Brien do a jig (great to see him do anything actually!) and just love how it represents the characters whilst simultaneously providing light relief.

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