When The Lava Lizard unveiled our list of the 16 Best Sings of the Last 16 Years, it caused quite a stir and quickly came became one of our most popular articles. Now, we’re back in action with another ranking that will surely catch everyone’s attention: the 20 Best Dancers in Music!
Without setting a time period for our lineup, The Lava Lizard team considered dancers from across the industry as we determined who should be crowned the very best of the best. From the innovators and trendsetters to the quick-steppers and hip-shakers, we judged them all during one of our most heated debates to date.
Of course, to ensure that our decisions were fair, we developed a comprehensive point system. After gathering a list of the top 30 dancers from across the musical spectrum, including Rock & Roll, Pop, Dance, Soul, R&B, Hip-Hop and even New Jack Swing, a scaling system was used to define the top 20.
Each dancer was judged on the basis of 5 categories – their versatility and the range of their styles, the difficulty of their moves, their originality, their ability to perform complex choreography, and their stamina. The selected acts were then scored on a scale of 1 to 5 in each field and ranked accordingly. All ties were broken by discussions amongst the members of our 5-person panel.
So, without wasting any more time, it is finally time to announce the 20 Best Dancers in Music! See the full list below:
20. Lady Gaga
When Lady Gaga exploded onto the music scene in 2008, she was just another stiff Pop star who was trying her best to keep up with simple 8-count routines. However, thanks to the guidance of choreographer Laurieann Gibson and months of dedication toward improving her craft, Gaga has blossomed into a talented performer.
In fact, Gaga inched Madonna off our list with a broader range of moves that consist of more than just timely yoga poses. As part of her quest to replace her idol as the reigning Queen of Pop, Gaga has demonstrated that she is truly a better dancer, singer and all-round musician than her older counterpart. She may not be original but she certainly is good at what she does and continues to improve with every performance.
Notable routine: the ‘Bad Romance’ video of 2009.
Ne-Yo is a brilliant songwriter and competent singer but he is also a very talented dancer. Although his ability is often overlooked in favour of his higher energy peers, his skill extends far beyond the basic two-steps of other R&B crooners, such as Miguel and Trey Songz.
Perhaps, what is most impressive about Ne-Yo’s dancing is the fact that his moves remain incredibly sharp while he keeps up with backup dancers and sings live. Handling the double duty of being both a singer and dancer is incredibly difficult, and he does it while flipping and splitting onstage without missing a beat.
Notable routine: the live performance of ‘Closer’ at the 2008 BET Awards.
18. James Brown
James Brown was truly an icon who inspired generations of performers with his slick moves and funky dance breaks. Building on the work of Cab Calloway and Frankie Lymon, Brown developed his own style that continues to be imitated years after his death.
You know that foot shuffle and glide that Janelle Monae performs in the middle of her ‘Tightrope’ routine? That was first perfected by Brown. Remember the most popular Soul Train dancers of the 1970s? They based their moves on Brown’s work!
Yes, Brown wasn’t known for extensive choreography or being assisted by a troop of dancers but without his contributions to dance, many of our favourite artists probably won’t be here today. That is the mark of a legend.
Notable routine: the live performances of ‘Get Up Offa That Thing’.
17. MC Hammer
MC Hammer’s success at the top of the Pop charts was short lived but his legacy carries on thanks to two simple words: hammer time! Yes, if you can remember the 1990s then you know all about the revolution of parachute pants and nifty footwork that occurred when Hammer released his monster hit ‘Can’t Touch This’.
When Hammer hit the stage, it was a game for young children and their parents to keep up with his nonstop movements. Unfortunately that was almost impossible because this man was much more than just a regular dancer; he was a machine. Please Hammer, don’t hurt ’em!
Notable: the ‘Can’t Touch This’ video of 1990.
16. Britney Spears
Before Britney Spears lost her mind and became a heavily medicated shell of her former self, she was a force of nature onstage. Armed with skills in both ballet and Hip-Hop, Spears was reminiscent of a young Janet Jackson, despite the ignorant staff at MTV inaccurately comparing her moves to those of Madonna.
Sadly, the fiery Spears who challenged even her best male peers to keep up with her tightly knit choreography has been replaced by a shy girl who seems scared of the spotlight. A dancer still lives in the mind of Spears, however, because she learned the steps to PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style‘ after seeing him perform it once for only 10 seconds.
Notable: the live performance of ‘Me Against the Music’ during her ABC television special in 2003.
15. Jason Derulo
Jason Derulo is probably one of the most hated Pop stars on the planet but that doesn’t change the fact that he can out-dance almost every performer in the industry today. This is a man who continuously pushes himself even at the risk of his own neck. Seriously, he previously broke his neck while perfecting a routine.
If only Derulo’s music was as good as his moves then he might avoid the slander that follows his name across the blogosphere. On the other hand, he could always get a job crafting choreography for some of his more musically talented peers. His girlfriend, Jordin Sparks, definitely needs some help in that department.
Notable routine: the live performance of ‘Don’t Wanna Go Home’ on ‘The X Factor (Australia)’ in 2011.
A rock just hit my window and that’s probably because Ciara has been positioned at #14 on our list. So, before you followup with death threats or key my car in the parking lot, give me the opportunity to explain her relatively low position.
Ciara can bend, pop, lock and drop with the best of them but despite her enormous potential to join the ranked among the greatest dancers of our time, she is redundant and one dimensional. Beyond her usual backbend and buttocks aerobics, what does Ciara do to set establish a lasting legacy as a performer?
Yes, Ciara is very athletic and the step routine of ‘Gimme Dat’ video was fun to watch but that is where her greatness ends. There are only so many times that a person can “shake her booty from the left to the right” before it gets boring. Well, unless that person is a stripper who gets paid to do it.
Notable routine: the live performance of ‘Gimme Dat’ on ‘George Lopez Tonight’.
Next up on our list is Shakira, who is probably the most unique performer on this lineup. Combining the art of belly dancing with West African and East Indian styles, she moves her body to the beat of her own drum.
No other artist in Pop music today can emulate Shakira and it is always funny to watch them try. Why do people often get confused by her moves? They wrongfully assume that she is simply shaking her hips without observing her ability to use every part of her body to create captivating illusions. Shakira once said that her hips don’t lie but they do trick people at times.
Notable routine: the live performance of ‘Whenever, Wherever’ in Dubai in 2007.
12. Bobby Brown
Bobby Brown does not get the respect that he deserves. Before Usher and Chris Brown thrilled their fans with their risque dance routines, it was Booby Brown who earned a name for himself as the original bad boy of R&B. However, his skills extended far beyond the thrusting of his groin into the faces of horny women.
New Jack Swing had a particular style of dance that involved quick moves and buckets of sweat. Nobody understood that fact better than Bobby Brown, and if you look closely at the moves of Hammer, you will see a clear influence. Whitney Houston often referred to her husband as the King of R&B but he was really the King of New Jack Swing.
Notable routine: the live performance of ‘My Prerogative’ at the 1990 American Music Awards.
Why is Beyonce ranked this high? Why is above Ciara? Why is she even on this list? Why am I asking so many questions? Maybe I just enjoy talking to myself but you have to admit that these question caught your attention.
Beyonce earns her spot at #11 on our list because her ability to adapt to almost any choreography and the diversity of her moves. Although she often resorts to shaking her backside instead of actual dancing during some of her shows, Beyonce has a broad skill set.
Just watch some of Beyonce’s videos and you will observe her performing African step (‘Run the World’), the Charleston (‘Sweet Dreams’) and the Fosse (‘Single Ladies’). Beyonce is not a one trick pony but I won’t doubt that she probably shaved one down to make her collection of wigs.
Notable routine: the ‘Run the World’ video of 2011.
10. Jennifer Lopez
Jennifer Lopez went from performing as a Fly Girl on ‘In Living Color’ to dancing backup for Janet Jackson and then launched her own widely successful music career. However, she never lost her passion for dance.
Switching from sneakers to 4-inch heels while using props during her routines, Lopez is has proven on multiple occasions that she is a very talented dancer. Most importantly, her performances are clean and she never looks sloppy or out of place amongst her team. There aren’t many women who can compete with Lopez once her mic is off and she knows it.
Notable routine: the ‘Feelin’ So Good’ video of 1999.
9. ‘N Sync
It was impossible separate the boys of ‘N Sync and judge them individually because they are all exceptional dancers, especially JC Chasez and Justin Timberlake. So, here they are as a collective at #9.
Living up to the name of the group, ‘N Sync remained in perfect synchronisation as they performed their steps during their live shows. You try copying their routines while staying in time with the music and four other people all sharing the same space. If you don’t break your hip in the process then upload the footage to YouTube for some well deserved praise.
Notable routine: the live medley at the 2000 MTV VMA.
8. Tina Turner
Before the invention of fancy pyrotechnics and light shows to entertain concert patrons, artists had to depend on their raw talent and nobody had more than Tina Turner. This legend set the standard for choreography, and influenced her peers across various ethnicities and genres.
Yet, what made Turner a true great in the arena of dance was the fact that she choreographed most of her own shows, moved with remarkable athleticism and outshone people half her age until she was 70 years of age! If your favourite artist dances in heels and leotard then they owe Turner a cheque.
Notable routine: the various live renditions of ‘Proud Mary’.
Mya is probably one of the most versatile dancers on this list. Having mastered the incredibly difficult art of tap as well as Hip-Hop, vogueing, ballroom and even wining, she is a chameleon.
Additionally, Mya’s skills have earned her prime roles beyond the music industry, such as in the musical ‘Chicago’. Few people have had their dance ability compared to both Gregory Hines and Janet Jackson in the same sentence, and Mya is one of them.
Notable routine: the live performances of ‘My Love is like…Wo’.
Omarion is such a disappointment because his desperate attempts at being recognised as hypermasculine figure have made people lose focus of his dance ability. Indeed, his antics have overshadowed his craft and damaged his chances of ever being taken seriously.
Luckily, some of us remember that Omarion is a very skill dancer whose routines entail extreme levels of difficulty. Just ignore his sex faces while he’s onstage and you’ll notice that Omarion is a technician of the highest order. Now, if only he would get his life together and stop his foolishness. Just put your paws up, Omarion!
Notable routine: the ‘I Get It In’ video of 2009.
5. Paula Abdul
When Janet Jackson wanted to establish her own identity away from her brothers and needed a choreographer to teach her the right moves, she turned to none other than Paula Abdul. What exactly did Abdul teach her young friend? How to be ‘nasty’!
Abdul is basically an older version of Mya with slightly more refined moves. Well versed in tap, Jazz and ballet, there is little that she can’t do on the dance floor. Even today, at the age of 50 years, she is still among the best in the business. Dear Ciara, please give Abdul a call.
Notable routine: the ‘Cold Hearted’ video of 1989.
Usher has a fantastic voice but his dance moves have always taken centre stage. Channelling Cab Calloway, James Brown and Michael Jackson, he is the definition of smooth, minus his scruffy hairstyle.
Over the years we’ve seen Usher slow down a bit but he continues to push himself to improve as he experiments with his dancing as much as he does with his music. To this day, I still can’t figure out how he does that row boat move on the floor while performing ‘U Don’t Have to Call’ or how he manages to perform the glide on his toes without tripping on his own feet.
Notable routine: the ‘OMG’ video of 2010.
3. Chris Brown
Chris Brown is a beast and that is not some unfortunate pun. Packing more energy than a windup toy, all the producers of a show have to do is give him enough room and watch him bounce around the stage without pause.
Brown can flip, split, do the robot and I bet that he can even do the funky chicken. As he said on many occasions, dance is his life and proves that every time he performs because he brings everything to the stage (except live vocals, of course).
Whether you’re a fan of music or not, of all the young entertainers in the industry today, there is nobody who can compete with Brown. Also, he is probably the only person who should be compared to his idol, Michael Jackson.
Notable routine: the live performances of ‘Wall to Wall’ and ‘Kiss Kiss’ at the 2007 MTV VMA.
2. Janet Jackson
If you’re a fan of Ciara, Mya, Beyonce and Gaga, then you’re indirectly a fan of Janet Jackson. Second only to one other entertainer, who shall be named shortly, this living legend is the probably the most influential female dancer of our time.
Janet Jackson is simply an icon. She can move like a B-boy then soften her step and twist her body like a belly dancer. Even her brother Michael Jackson was eager to compete with Janet Jackson at the peak of her career, and admitted that her routines were a source of inspiration for his work. How many other people can say that? The answer is none.
Notable routine: the ‘Rhythm Nation’ video of 1989.
1. Michael Jackson
If you thought anybody else would be at #1 on this list then slap yourself and pray for forgiveness. Standing tall above all others was a true giant among men; the one and only Michael Jackson also known as the King of Pop and the King of Dance.
Michael Jackson learned from James Brown, Sammie Davis Jr, Jeffrey Daniel, Cab Calloway and Bob Fosse but combined their styles with his own innovative ideas to revolutionise modern dance. What results from his work are generations of imitators who seek to follow in his glittering footsteps yet will never replace the King!
Watch one of Jackson’s impressive routines at the 1995 MTV VMA below: