The Best Dance in This Year’s Oscar-Nominated Films

March 6, 2024

With the 96th Academy Awards coming our way on March 10, we’re taking a moment to acknowledge the most prominent dance in the films nominated for Oscars this year, as well as those movies’ choreographers.

The Oscars and dancemakers don’t have the easiest relationship. Although many of the films nominated inevitably include dancing, there’s no award for choreography. The past year has shown what may be the first signs of change: In March of 2023, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which presents the Academy Awards, created a new Production and Technology branch, which will house choreographers admitted to the Academy. (That number, however, remains very small—with last year’s addition of Fatima Robinson, it’s not even at double digits.) In 2025, the Academy will add an Oscar for casting, a development that could set a precedent for choreographers. And as of last month, IMDb started recognizing “choreographer” as a primary profession.

Hopefully, dancemakers will soon be able to chassé onto the Dolby Theatre stage to collect a golden statuette of their own. In the meantime, we’ll recognize their work here.

Robbie, wearing a silver sequined jumpsuit, winks at the camera as she claps her hands. A chorus of exuberantly clad fellow "Barbie" actresses dance behind her.
Margot Robbie (center) in Barbie. Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures.

Barbie, Choreographed by Jennifer White

In an interview, director Greta Gerwig said that she fought hard to keep the “I’m Just Ken” dream ballet in Barbie. “I was like, ‘If people could follow that in Singin’ in the Rain, I think we’ll be fine,’ ” Gerwig reportedly said.

Gerwig has a good dance track record: For her 2019 film Little Women, she turned to choreographer Monica Bill Barnes. For Barbie, she broughton London–based choreographer and movement director Jennifer White, with associate choreographer Lisa Welham. White, who has a long list of film, music video, and stage credits, strikes the perfect balance of wittiness and whimsy in Barbie’s dream ballet and its earlier “Dance the Night” number.

Barbie is nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Ryan Gosling), and Best Supporting Actress (America Ferrera). It is available to stream on Max, and to rent or buy on Amazon’s Prime Video and Apple TV.

Barrino, Henson, and Brooks are captured mid-song, throwing their arms exuberantly out to the sides
(From left) Taraji P. Henson, Fantasia Barrino, and Danielle Brooks in The Color Purple. Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures.

The Color Purple, Choreographed by Fatima Robinson

The Color Purple is a full-fledged movie musical: Its choreography, by Fatima Robinson, isn’t relegated to just one or two scenes. Based on the stage musical, which in turn is based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize–winning 1982 novel, the film follows Celie, a Black woman living in the rural American South in the early 1900s. Her long journey to empowerment is driven by strong female friendships and her bond with her sister. (The book was first adapted for film in 1985 by Steven Spielberg.)

Dance is everywhere in this movie: on the walk to church, in a crowded street, at a juke joint. Throughout, Robinson’s years of experience choreographing for major musical artists—Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Rihanna among them—shine through. The dancing is a blend of social dances from the film’s era, African forms, hip hop, and musical-theater–style movement. 

The Color Purple is nominated for Best Supporting Actress (Danielle Brooks). It is available to stream on Max and to stream or buy on Amazon’s Prime Video and Apple TV.

A black and white photo of Cooper as Bernstein at the podium, wearing a tuxedo. His arms are raised, his expression intent.
Bradley Cooper in Maestro. Photo by Jason McDonald, courtesy Netflix.

Maestro, Choreographed by Justin Peck

Leonard Bernstein’s collaboration with Jerome Robbins is the stuff of legend: It produced West Side Story, On the Town, and works for New York City Ballet, including Fancy Free and Dybbuk. So it’s only fitting that Maestro, the Bernstein biopic starring and directed by Bradley Cooper, includes dance.

In a dreamlike dance scene choreographed by Justin Peck (with Craig Salstein as associate choreographer), Cooper and Carey Mulligan, playing Bernstein’s wife-to-be, Felicia Montealegre, watch a version of Fancy Free onstage that melts into an original dance number, which they become a part of. The list of dancers includes NYCB’s Harrison Coll and Sebastián Villarini Vélez, and freelancers Gaby Diaz, Benjamin Freemantle, and Jeanette Delgado. Peck is often called a creative descendent of Robbins; after choreographing 2021’s West Side Story, this feels like a natural progression.

Maestro is nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Cooper), and Best Actress (Mulligan). It is available to stream on Netflix.

Stone, wearing a flowing peach skirt and white top and her long brown hair loose, dances in the middle of an ornate restaurant, snapping her raised fingers.
Emma Stone in Poor Things. Courtesy Searchlight Pictures.

Poor Things, Choreographed by Constanza Macras

Poor Things, director Yorgos Lanthimos’ feminist abstraction of Frankenstein,stars Emma Stone as Bella Baxter, a grown woman reborn with the mind of a child. In a Victorian-era restaurant, Stone (who honed her dancing chops in La La Land and Broadway’s Cabaret) finds herself drawn to the music and takes to the dance floor. Rather than imitate the couples around her, she finds her own, intuitive movement style. For a while she’s joined by her lover, played by Mark Ruffalo, but, ultimately, she wants to dance on her own—a choice that helps further the film’s plot.

The scene is choreographed by Constanza Macras, a Berlin-based dancemaker who runs the dance and theater company DorkyPark and recently staged a production of Carmen for Switzerland’s Theater Basel. She first worked with Lanthimos on his 2018 The Favourite, whose dance scene also delightfully defies convention.

Poor Things is nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Stone), and Best Director (Lanthimos). It will be available to stream on Hulu starting on March 7.