Nisa (Laura Harring) is a native princess of a northern Brazilian tribe who comes to Los Angeles to stop an American corporation from destroying her rainforest home. With her is tribal shaman Joa (Sid Haig), who uses black magic to get past the company guards and see the chairman of the corporation, resulting in his arrest.
Left to fend for herself in Los Angeles alone, Nisa, with the help of Carmen (Angela Moya), finds work in a Beverly Hills mansion as the servant of an uptight couple whose son, Jason (Jeff James), lives only to dance. After spying on Nisa as she dances provocatively in her bedroom, Jason takes her out to a club. She is rejected by Jason's friends, and he is berated by his parents for dating the help.
Nisa runs away and gets a job at Xtasy, a sleazy dance joint/brothel, as a dance partner for male customers. Jason's friends visits the club and want to dance with Nisa, but Nisa refuses to dance with them. One of Jason's friends (Kenny Johnson) becomes sleazy towards her and she knees him in the groin. Later, the friends tell Ashley, Jason's girlfriend, and she runs back and tells Jason his little girlfriend is a sleaze working at Xtasy. He becomes morose, turns away from his buddies and girlfriend Ashley (Barbra Brighton) and goes to Xtasy to try to take Nisa out of the place. A bouncer beats up the would-be rescuer and prepares to deflower Nisa, but fortunately, Joa walks in and magically stuns the attacker, which clears the place.
The shaman then heads back to the tribe, while Nisa and Jason, now in love, prepare for a dance contest, hoping to speak out about the plight of the rainforest when they are showcased on TV.
They win the contest, but the corporation's head stooge, Benjamin Maxwell (Richard Lynch), kidnaps Nisa afterwards. Jason finds them and helps Nisa to escape but twists his ankle, ruining their chances of performing on the show.
Luckily, Joa shows up backstage, heals Jason's wound, and the dance goes ahead as planned. The crowd loves them, Nisa's king father joins on stage, they start a boycott against the destruction of the rainforest, and everyone gets into the Lambada.Laura Harring as Nisa
Jeff James as Jason Anderson
Angela Moya as Carmen
Sid Haig as Joa
Shannon Farnon as Katherine Anderson
Linden Chiles as Bradley Anderson
Pilar Del Rey as Queen
Ruben Moreno as King
Barbra Brighton as Ashley Wells
Richard Lynch as Benjamin Maxwell
Miranda Garrison as Mickey
Tom Alexander as Kurt
Connie Woods as Trish
Steven Williams as Weed
Remy O'Neil as Robin
Charles Meshack as Eddie
Sabrina Mance as Cami
Kenny Johnson as Dave
Adriana Kaegi as herself
Kid Creole as himself
The film was written, produced, and released very quickly in order to cash in on what some thought was a Lambada dance craze. The script was commissioned on December 7, 1989 by Sawmill Entertainment and producer Richard L. Albert after he had seen Kaoma perform the song "Lambada" in Los Angeles. The script was written in about ten days, and filming began within a month. Albert's Sawmill Entertainment hired the same writers and director recently employed in making the suspense film Sight Unseen starring Susan Blakely.
The film was shot on 35mm film in and around Los Angeles, California, and was completed when a color-corrected answer print and other film elements were delivered to Columbia Pictures on March 15, 1990. Editing went on around the clock, with two separate crews of film editors working while the film was being shot. Two choreographers were hired, Miranda Garrison and Felix Chavez, and the work apportioned between them. Film critic Roger Ebert visited the set while filming, as news was publicized how fast a major-studio film could be produced. The film featured the 1989 song "Lambada", performed by the group Kaoma, which became involved in the Lambada dance craze.
It was released on March 16, 1990, the same day as rival film Lambada – whose producers brought an action before the MPAA title registry to block the use of the word "Lambada" in the title. Notwithstanding that attempt, posters went up in New York before the release promoting "Lambada" in large type followed by "is the Forbidden Dance" with a picture of Laura Harring and Jeff James dancing in the rain forest.
The film was panned by critics and received little attention in the theaters. Opening in 637 theaters, it grossed $720,864. By the end of the theatrical run, it grossed $1,823,154.
The Forbidden Dance received largely negative reviews, it currently holds a 23% on Rotten Tomatoes. "The Forbidden Dance is B-movie drab, and its dance sequences are barely sexier than a bowling tournament," said Jon Pareles of The New York Times. "Heavy-handed and somewhat mean-spirited, The Forbidden Dance is a slapdash message movie, about as subtle as a clog dance," wrote Rita Kempley in The Washington Post.
Critics also considered The Forbidden Dance to be the worse of the two rival lambada movies, and the film grossed less than Lambada during its theatrical run. However, years after the release, the film finally found a cult following, especially after its continuous TV reruns and being sampled on pop singer's Jully Luz album Rainha do Gueto.Chorando Se Foi (Lambada) - Kaoma
Lambada A La Creole - Kid Creole and the Coconuts Featuring Cory Daye
Automatic - Kid Creole and the Coconuts
It's A Horror - Kid Creole and The Coconuts
You And Me Alone - Mendy Lee
Lambada: The Forbidden Dance - José Feliciano
Always You - Joyce Kennedy
Limba Limba Lambada - Reginaldo Pi
Capoeira - The Dream Machine
BH Disco - Bob Midoff
Good Girls Like Bad Boys - Victor Merino
Hand To Hold You Over - Mara Getz
Last Lover - Gene Evaro
Reaction To Passion - Gene Evaro
It's Never Too Late - Jeff Harper
Stop, Listen, Look & Think - Exposé