All the best period dramas have their dramatic dance scenes. Why? Well, they’re usually breathtakingly romantic for a start, usually with flowing gowns and beautifully orchestrated music. However, they’re also usually the perfect tool for a pivotal scene for the central couple, whether they’re dealing with jealousy or realising their true feelings. It’s also worth noting that for many traditional period dramas, particularly those set pre-1850s, this is the closest we get to a romantically passionate scene. For some, the slightest touch of the hand is the first physical interaction that these couples experience on screen, despite an established acquaintance, meaning these dance scenes radiate repressed passion.
So, without further ado, here’s the top 10 period drama dance scenes to grace our television and cinema screens. I’ve tried to get videos for as many as possible – as to the rest, well you’ll have to just watch the whole thing sometime to catch a glimpse.
10. Easy Virtue (2008)
This dance scene definitely belongs bottom of my list, as it’s not a particularly strong film and Jessica Biel’s acting performance always gives me splinters. However, one significant thing put this on the countdown – can you guess?
You’re right, it’s seeing Colin Firth dance the tango. Goodness me.
9. Parade’s End (2012)
This is a more subtle dance scene compared to other examples, especially as it happens just at the end of the five-part series. However, for those who watched the frustrated feelings between Christopher and Valentine survive war and a toxic ex-wife, this quiet dance away from their celebratory friends is their chance to at last enjoy a moment together in public. They’re both finally content and it’s oh so well deserved.
8. A Royal Affair (2012)
This Danish film is fantastic and despite its fairly recent release date, it didn’t quite get the traction it deserved amongst period drama fans. Alicia Vikander plays the queen of Denmark in the 18th century, who embarked on an affair with the royal physician played by Mads Mikkelsen. Not only is it very well performed (Vikander and Mikkelsen both have worked as professional dancers), but it does that wonderful trick of slowing down briefly to focus on the expressions and attraction between the pair.
7. Emma (2009)
This dance scene is the crucial moment where Mr Knightley and Emma discover that they may have romantic feelings for each other, as the two go from playful and joking to serious and breathless. The choreography is exquisite, and although a video is no longer available online, you’ll find plenty of other videos where people attempt it. It’s a little more intimate than traditional dancing that we’d see in an Austen adaptation, but it’s just the right amount of closeness to really show the effect it has on the couple.
6. Brooklyn (2015)
If you went to see Brooklyn last year and didn’t fall a little bit for the adorable Tony, then rewatch that movie. He’s charming, a little nervous and clearly bowled over by meeting Irish girl Eilis. Their dance scene begins as Tony watches her from across the room, seeing her in the crowded dance hall as if she’s the only one there. When he comes over and asks Eilis to dance, our hearts all sighed.
5. Pride and Prejudice (2005)
This one is a classic. I’ve already waxed lyrical about this film on the site, but it’s hard not to love the way Darcy begins his gentle attempt at getting to know Lizzie a little better by asking her to dance, yet soon it becomes loaded with awkwardness and faux pas. The scene is also beautifully shot, as the camera dances along with the room until their interaction reaches its highest point of conflict. It pauses briefly and then we see Darcy and Lizzie on their own in the room, where their unrecognised feelings manifest themselves into a whole heap of tension.
4. Anna Karenina (2012)
Like Pride and Prejudice, this is another of director Joe Wright’s films. He’s a true period drama master, and knows exactly how to pull off a perfect dance scene. This one is markedly unique, especially as it flows so smoothly with the rest of the film which is set almost entirely on a stage. The sexual tension between the two is almost unbearable and as with Lizzie and Darcy, Anna and Vronsky become briefly alone in the room. However, as the lights go up again, the score speeds up and the mounting scandal felt by those watching on the sidelines pushes the couple apart.
3. Crimson Peak (2015)
As primarily a gothic horror, this film isn’t exactly a typical period drama. However, an early scene takes direct inspiration from the genre as young writer Edith is asked to dance by mysterious Englishman Sir Thomas Sharpe. He teaches a masterclass to a room of scandalised gentry, declaring that the true test of a perfect waltz is to be able to hold a candle throughout without it extinguishing. The pair dance beautifully as the music swells, and the candle remains unchanged. It’s a truly romantic moment before the film turns fully to its sinister side.
2. War & Peace (2016)
Like Brooklyn, this is another very recent drama, but War & Peace was an exceptional series. Still on my urgent re-watch list, the dance scene stood out as unforgettable, as the naive young Natasha is asked to dance by Prince Andrei. The couple are carefully captured by the camera, with close up wide shots taking in every nervous breath and touch. They fall in love in just one scene, and the music seamlessly moves on as we’re shown how their courtship develops after that fateful moment together. Even more powerfully, the dance is juxtaposed with Paul Dano’s Pierre, who at the moment of watching his two friends,tragically realises that he’s been in love with Natasha this whole time.
1. Becoming Jane (2007)
Yes, yes, I’ve already talked about this one. But lets be honest here, could I have picked any other dance scene as my number one choice? Jane’s boredom as she’s feels miserably trapped changes completely as Tom LeFroy swoops into shot just after the one-minute mark. James MacAvoy gives one killer smile and like all viewers watching, Jane is delighted. The scene doesn’t cease to be brilliant there either – the pair move from being light and happy to serious as they realise that their feelings require more than just the stolen moments they’ve had so far. I could watch this scene a million times and never get tired of it. That’s why it’s the best.
Do you agree with these choices? Submit your own favourite dance scenes in the comments!
Revisit the music of the scenes in this list too and listen below to our carefully curated ‘Period Drama Dance Scenes’ playlist.