Dancing Feet

We turn the spotlight to Britain’s rich legacy of dance on screen

Inspired by BFI Southbank’s celebration of legendary Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, the Mediatheque turns the spotlight towards Britain and our own rich legacy of dance on screen. Dance is more popular than ever, thanks in no small part to ‘Strictly,’ the BBC’s phenomenally successful revival of Come Dancing (1949-98) which helped bring ballroom back from the dead. The wider boom in TV talent shows has created new stars fluent in a range of dance styles and pulling in audiences with, among others, the big-screen Street Dance franchise.

This collection ranges from English folk traditions like step dancing (Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow, 1950) and morris dancing, through the modest gentility of the tea dance to the lofty heights of the Royal Ballet, tipping our hat to Riverdance on the way. The indelible influence of world music and dance traditions on post-war British culture – from Brazil, Barbados, Bollywood – is reflected too. British cinemagoers always loved a spot of hoofing, so we’ve included a smattering of musical features from the 1930s and 40s, when stars like Jessie Matthews drew on the power of popular dance to brighten up one of the darkest periods in our history.

Ten to try

Morris Dancing at Berkhamsted (1950)

A noble English tradition is preserved in Hertfordshire.

Light Fantastic (1960)

Former dancer Ken Russell takes a look at the state of the art form in post-war Britain.

Dance Festival (1969)

‘Freaking out’ was a popular alternative to more traditional dance on the 60s psychedelic scene, as this footage of Camden’s hippy haven the Roundhouse shows.

All Star Record Breakers (1979)

Roy Castle and co break out their dancing shoes for this special Christmas edition of the kids TV favourite.

Time for Dancing (1979)

Strictly come social tea dancing in Buxton.

Grove Carnival (1980)

Enjoy the dancers, drumming and steel pans, or chill out to the sounds of British reggae at the 1980 Notting Hill Carnival.

Comrade Lady (1987)

Royal Ballet principal dancer Marguerite Porter performs in Nobby Clark’s short film, with music by saxophonist John Harle.

Capoeira Quickstep (1992)

Docu-drama exploring how the dance-influenced Brazilian martial art of Capoeira gained a peculiarly British twist when it arrived on our shores.

Dance Lexie Dance (1996)

Billy Elliot meets Riverdance in this Oscar-nominated short.

Strictly Come Dancing (2009)

A full two-hour instalment of the hit BBC series, featuring a guest performance by the late, great Amy Winehouse.

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