New York City is quite arguably the epicenter of the dance world. But you do not necessarily have to spend hundreds of dollars on a Broadway ticket in order to revel in the dance history of this magical city. After your morning ballet class at Steps, take a tour of the Big Apple’s legendary locations that have served as sites for some of film’s greatest dance scenes. Revisit the specific spots where the likes of Gene Kelly, Shirley MacLaine, John Travolta, and Michael Jackson have danced.
On the Town (1944)
Though not in the same six-minute time span, you can still visit almost all of the historic locations of On the Town’s opening number, “New York, New York:” the Brooklyn Bridge, Federal Hall on Wall Street, the Statue of Liberty, Washington Square Park, and the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center. When Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin originally filmed the opening number for the 1944 movie, the actors drove around the city in a taxicab and hid Sinatra in the backseat so fans wouldn’t cause a frenzy. After you explore the spectacular sites of the city, you should be sure to head to the Lyric Theatre to see the new Broadway revival of On the Town.
West Side Story (1961)
Practice your snaps and head up to the playground at 110th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues to visit the location of West Side Story’s “Prologue.” While this site is ironically on the east side of Manhattan, other shots from the “Prologue” were filmed amidst tenements around the west 60s (now the site of the pristine Lincoln Center). Actually, much of the rest of the movie was filmed in Hollywood. But while in New York, dancers suffered numerous injuries from leaping and dancing on the hard pavement of the playground. Additionally, residents of the tenements, angry about the long duration of production, harassed and threw rocks at the cast and crew. While both areas look a lot different today, over fifty years later, make sure to take a photo of you and your friends hitting the signature Jerome Robbins battement á la seconde!
Sweet Charity (1969)
You probably won’t be able to parade around like Shirley MacLaine with a marching band following behind you, but you can visit the scene of Sweet Charity’s “I’m A Brass Band” down on Wall Street and Nassau Street. Bob Fosse’s meticulous choreography—from the spread of the fingers down to the position of each foot— reflects the precision and dynamic of the song’s instruments (drums, harpsichord, clarinet, cymbals, etc.).
Adorn your rose-colored glasses and hippie-chic apparel as you make your way to the reflecting pool at Lincoln Center. This was one site in the filming of Godspell’s “All for the Best.” You may be allowed to dance around the pool, but be careful not to fall in like Judas! Sammy Bayes (who also revived the choreography for Broadway’s Fiddler on the Roof) choreographed Godspell —a musical that strings together a series of parables in a contemporary 1970s setting. For the most part, the choreography was pedestrian and natural to reflect the easy-going, realness of the hippie characters.
The Wiz (1978)
The World Trade Center Plaza was the site of The Wiz’s “Emerald City Sequence.” A more modern take-off on the traditional story of The Wizard of Oz, The Wiz juxtaposes the fairy tale in a fantastical version of New York City and chooses the FiDi (financial district)—the economic Mecca of Manhattan—as the perfect location of Emerald City. Veteran Broadway choreographer, Louis Johnson, choreographed The Wiz and got to really use his imagination and invention for “Emerald City Sequence” which is not part of the original Broadway score.
All That Jazz (1979)
The opening audition sequence of Bob Fosse’s semi-autobiographical All That Jazz was filmed on the stage of The Palace Theatre—soon to be home of the highly-anticipated musical, An American in Paris. The dance scene, set to George Benson’s iconic “On Broadway,” was Fosse’s actual first audition cut for all of his projects for both film and theatre. The seemingly simple combination (only five counts of eight) revealed a dancer’s technique, musicality, dynamic, and style.
Twyla Tharp choreographed the film version of Hair. In fact, it is the Twyla Tharp Dance Company who performs these dance scenes in the film. Just look at the clip of “Aquarius” which was filmed in Central Park (near Sheep Meadow). Notice the balletic style of the partnering and leaping sequences juxtaposed with a sense of freedom, fun, and improvisation. Also, while you probably won’t see a horse rearing back, you actually might spot a police officer riding a horse around the park. Observe the horse’s gait and grace. Horses have been the inspiration for dancers and choreographers from Broadway’s Bob Fosse (see Gwen Verdon’s “The Pony Dance”) to the vocabulary of ballet (pas de cheval, chasse, etc.).
I wouldn’t recommend reenacting the “Street Dance” scene from Fame since dancing through traffic and jumping from taxicabs is a dangerous idea. But you can visit Times Square (specifically 46th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues) to see where this iconic mob-like dance scene was filmed. Over thirty years later, the taxis, marquis, and hairstyles probably look quite a bit different! If you head on up to Amsterdam and 65th Street, you’ll see Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School (formerly the School of the Performing Arts), the school that inspired the film.
Before the remake of Annie opens in theatres this Christmas, be sure to re-watch the original 1982 film. Before it housed rock concerts, football drafts, and “America’s Got Talent,” Radio City Music Hall served as a grand movie theatre. Annie’s “Let’s Go to the Movies” displays the marvelous experience of going to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes perform, followed by a feature film starring the likes of Betty Davis or Greta Garbo. And when you’re watching the clip, don’t forget to take note of dance legend, Ann Reinking, who stars as Grace Farrell.
The Cotton Club (1984)
The jazzy production number of The Cotton Club, “For Your Fantasy,” was filmed at Grand Central Terminal. Henry LeTang choreographed the film (along with numerous Broadway hits such as Black and Blue and Sophisticated Ladies). Check out tap legends, Gregory and Maurice Hinds, in this clip, along with a quick cameo by Gwen Verdon.
A Chorus Line (1985)
“God, I hope I get it:” a thought that goes through every dancer’s mind at audition after audition. The Tony Award-winning musical-turned-movie, A Chorus Line, was filmed at the Times Square Church (formerly the Mark Hellinger Theatre). Sadly, gone are the days where Broadway shows held auditions in their own magnificent theatres. The groundbreaking Broadway musical, A Chorus Line (which went on to win nine Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize), originally opened Off-Broadway in 1975 at The Public Theatre down on Lafayette Street and Astor Place and, after a sold-out run, went straight to Broadway’s Shubert Theatre. Besides the theatre location, the film has several other distinct differences from the stage musical. First of all, hit songs like “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love,” “Sing,” and “Music and the Mirror” were left out of the movie. And film version was actually choreographed by Jeffrey Hornaday (choreographer for Flashdance) with Michael Bennett, initially, as just a creative consultant.
Center Stage (2000)
Susan Stroman provided choreography for everyone’s guilty pleasure dance movie, Center Stage, the story of a group of dancers studying at the American Ballet Academy. But remember when Jody Sawyer takes a break from her stressful ballet schedule to take a fierce jazz class downtown? That SoHo location, 552 Broadway (at Prince Street) is now the home of Soul Arts Academy, a dance school for children that focuses on holistic development through creative movement.
Coyote Ugly (2000)
While the inside shots were filmed in a studio, the famous Coyote Ugly Saloon is located at 153 1st Avenue (between East 9th and 10th Streets). And in the bar you’ll find daisy duke-wearing bartenders performing choreographed song and dance routines atop the bar.
The Producers (2005)
Tony-winning choreographer, Susan Stroman, is known as the “queen of props,” creatively making everyday objects part of a dance. The little old lady number in The Producers has dancers (no, they were not actually all little old ladies) partnering and “tap dancing” with their walkers. The number concludes with Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) grabbing money from the ladies’ hands as they fall down like dominoes (á la the Rockettes’ “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers”). Left your walker at home? You can still pretend you’re eighty years old and reenact “Along Came Bialy” from this 2005 remake of The Producers. Begin your old-lady shuffle at 5th Avenue between 76th and 77th Street and make your way to the Mall, which runs from 66th to 72nd Street in Central Park.
Keith Young choreographed the movie version of Broadway’s hit musical, Rent. The memorable “La Vie Boheme” scene was filmed in Vazak’s Bar (Avenue B and East 7th Street). While you might be surprised that this not-so-dance-heavy movie musical had a choreographer (and two associate choreographers), “La Vie Boheme” actually had to be meticulously planned and rehearsed. Young worked to make the piece, though carefully choreographed, look natural by using pedestrian movement (and lots of rehearsal).
Embrace your inner Disney princess and head to Central Park to sing and dance your own reenactment of “How Does She Know?” from Enchanted. This production number jumps to many famous landmarks of the park like Merchant’s Gate Fountain at Columbus Circle, Gapstow Bridge, the Boathouse, the Mall, the Reservoir Bridge, Sheep’s Meadow, Bow Bridge, and Bethesda Terrace. The end of the song, where construction workers, newlyweds, street performers, etc. join in, was filmed around the fountain on the lower level of the terrace. While Princess Giselle might not be around, you’re sure to find construction workers, newlyweds, street performers, and lots of tourists at this famous Central Park site.
Every Little Step (2008)
The 2008 documentary film, Every Little Step, follows dancers on their journey to the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line. Auditions were held at Ripley Grier (8th Avenue at 36th Street) and the subsequent Broadway run took place at the Schoenfeld Theatre on 45th Street. Baayork Lee—who took part in the very early workshops of A Chorus Line and originated the role of Connie Wong on Broadway—reconstructed the choreography of Michael Bennett for this 2006 Broadway revival. While the production lasted just under two years, the film Every Little Step keeps the history of the show and the dancers alive.
Step Up 3D (2010)
Remember Moose and Camille’s silly little dance scene to “I Won’t Dance?” The hip-hop remix duet was shot on East 10th Street at 3rd Avenue on the Lower East Side. The whole three-minute routine was filmed in one take—a very uncommon practice nowadays. And guess what else? The part where Moose and Camille “tap dance” with a trashcan lid is actually a nod to Gene Kelly’s trio with Dan Dailey and Michael Kidd in It’s Always Fair Weather (1955). (But I wouldn’t recommend trying that trashcan lid choreography on your own—Kelly, Dailey, and Kidd all confessed to having horrible welts and bruises on their right shins and ankles after rehearsing for the MGM film.)
Black Swan (2010)
The signature ballet scenes from this psycho-thriller were filmed at Lincoln Center’s Metropolitan Opera House. Despite controversy speculating that Natalie Portman’s dance double, American Ballet Theatre soloist Sarah Lane, should have received more credit in the film, choreographer, Benjamin Millepied, praised Lane for covering the more complicated dance sequences, he testified that Portman did most of the dancing featured in the final film. Both Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis supposedly trained for nearly six months prior to shooting, for up to ten hours each day of ballet, choreography, and conditioning (swimming, Pilates, etc.).
First Position (2011)
The annual Youth America Grand Prix competition awards over $250,000 in scholarships for some of the world’s most talented young dancers to study at the top ballet schools and academies. The 2011 documentary, First Position, follows six dancers on their journey to the YAGP in New York City. The final round of the competition is held at the David H. Koch Theatre (Lincoln Center), home of the New York City Ballet. The theatre is arguably one of the most beautiful in the city, with over 2,500 seats in a main orchestra level and five “ring” vertical balconies. A stunning jewel-like spherical chandelier hangs amidst a gold-latticed ceiling. The foyer of the Koch Theatre was also the setting for the final scene of Center Stage where Jodie agrees to take a principal position in Cooper Nielson’s ballet company over a corps de ballet contract with American Ballet Theatre.
Frances Ha (2012)
Frances Ha tells the tale of former dance apprentice and fledgling choreographer, Frances Halladay, as she leaps headfirst to follow her dreams in New York City amidst less-than-ideal circumstances. The memorable “Street Dance,” where Frances Halladay runs, turns, and leaps down the block and home to her apartment, was filmed along East Houston Street and Allen Street.
Do you have a dance film & location you want to add? Send us a comment.
– Mary Callahan
Work/Study Student & Freelance Writer