Bollywood dance moves are part of a large cultural tradition, in which storytelling is a spectacle and dance is a genuine form of human expression and emotion. In order to master the art of Bollywood dancing, taking lessons with a private instructor who’s familiar with the style is important, but you should also know a little bit about it yourself! The best dancers don’t just master the moves; they appreciate and celebrate the origins of the dance. As you enjoy these five films, you’ll see Bollywood dance moves in action as expert performers weave them into elaborate scenes and tell stories with their bodies. Watch carefully — and be prepared to get inspired!
1. Don (2006)
“Don” is a rare remake that some say improved upon the original, but that’s not surprising with two of Bollywood’s hottest stars at the helm. Shah Rukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra are a hilarious tag team as a fake gangster and his girlfriend, but it gets even better when Khan turns a joke at a party into a full-scale dance number. “Khaike Paan Banaraswala” is part slapstick comedy and part boy band music video, but at its heart it follows in the old Bollywood tradition of perfect timing and absurd storytelling. After all, it’s a man and his friends dancing about the merits of a tobacco leaf.
2. Jewel Thief (1967)
This Bollywood classic might not have the high-definition and special effects of modern dance movies, but it can’t be forgotten if you want to understand the evolution of Bollywood dance moves — or appreciate a truly stunning solo performance. The film itself is a spy thriller in the vein of James Bond, but it’s a Hindi classic because of a dance sequence that remains one of Bollywood’s most iconic. Vyjayanthimala Bali, an Indian actress, reigned over Bollywood in the 1950s, and this movie proved she was still on top with an eight-minute long performance of “Hothon Pe Aisi Baat“.
When Vyjayanthimala’s character first emerges, it’s not her mesmerizing beauty or flashy colors that draw all eyes her way. It’s her fluid dance moves, which turn her gold bangles into musical instruments and her long skirt into a magic carpet that never stays in one place. There are background dancers, but they’re just splashes of color during the dancer’s frenzied show-stealer. Her choreography is a great example of Bollywood dance moves that make the most of physical space, and she manages to avoid repetition too. It’s no wonder the movie is still recommended by Bollywood dance instructors throughout India and the United States today.
3. Dabangg (2010)
If you want to fully appreciate this over-the-top action-comedy, wait until you’ve watched a few classic Bollywood movies first. All the archetypes, from corrupt cops to bumbling suitors, come together in one tongue-in-cheek musical number that uses Bollywood dance moves to bring settings and storylines together. The manic dance number is actually a great instructive tool for dance students, too. “Munni Badnam Hui” is such a visual spectacle that it would be hard not to draw creative inspiration from one of the many dancers who bring it to life. Even better, the choreography has a lighthearted sense of humor that makes the complicated moves look less intimidating.
4. Dil Se.. (1998)
There’s no movie quite like this one, and no Bollywood dance sequence that matches its wow factor. The movie’s title means “from the heart,” and the choreography in “Chaiyya Chaiyya” is as sentimental as it gets… but it also takes place on top of a moving train. This in-transit sequence stars Malaika Arora and the legendary Shah Rukh Khan, who make every other Bollywood number look like a piece of cake as they wind through Indian forests and mountains together.
5. Beta (1992)
Bollywood dancing might be extravagant and over-the-top compared to formal genres like ballet, but if you look closely, the best dancers are very deliberate and controlled throughout their performances. Madhuri Dixit dances with every inch of her body during “Dhak Dhak Karne Laga” in this film, and the cameras get close enough to reveal the slight hip twitches and eyebrow raises that take her dance moves to a new level. Study this movie to get a better grasp on the dynamics of dancing with one partner, or if you want to tweak every detail for a smaller performance venue.
If you love watching these movies, think of them as previews of the dancing you could do someday! Watching expert dancers is a practical way to improve your own skills, but you can’t step through the screen to receive feedback about your own Bollywood dance moves. If you’re interested in becoming a better Bollywood dancer, contact a private instructor who knows the style. A pro can guide you toward fancier footwork in the future!