The latest “Mach was” (“do something”) challenge is a call to do something with dance and I have to say, I was stumped for a while. What to do with dance? I once did ballet from the age of 10-14 but, while fun, it never really inflamed a passion for me. I do enjoy going to the ballet, but not enough to actually write a whole post about it. I just don’t see ballet often enough. So, what else could I do with dance? What do I like and how can I connect that with dance? Well… I love the movies… and hey, presto, there was the idea!
The first thing that springs to my mind when I think of films and dance is… Fred Astaire! And it didn’t stop there, I immediately had this image of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers doing their Cheek to Cheek dance number in the film Top Hat. If you look closely, you can see the feathers flying off Ginger Roger’s dress as she is being twirled around. And I thought of the dance (Never Gonna Dance from the movie Swing Time) where they each have to twirl up this staircase. To get the timing right, it had to be repeated so often that Ginger Roger’s feet were reportedly bleeding by the end of it. And I thought of the roller skates dance… and the dance where Astaire demonstrated to a dance school owner how much Rogers has apparently taught him (also from the movie Swing Time)… Of course I could have gone into Fred Astaire’s solo performances as well, which were just as wonderful, but no, the partnership with Ginger Rogers beckoned. What’s a girl to do but follow her heart, right? So Rogers & Astaire it is for this challenge!
Fred Astaire had many great dance partners but the one he somehow shared the most magic with was Ginger Rogers. Katharine Hepburn reportedly once said of them: “He gives her class and she gives him sex appeal” and I think that hits the nail on the head. They fit, they molded together very well and they danced brilliantly (even though Ginger Rogers still had a lot to learn when she started out).
Those two just floated in each other’s arms in the romantic dances and the fun just jumped off the screen in their lively, more playful numbers.
Their tapdancing was always fun and, as mentioned above, they even tapdanced on roller skates once (Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off in the film Shall We Dance?)!
Fred Astaire (1899-1987) had danced in shows and revues with his sister Adele very succesfully on Broadway and in London until she got married in 1932. He then went into films on his own and very soon (in 1933, in his second film!) he was paired in a supporting role with Ginger Rogers (1911-1995) in a movie called Flying Down to Rio. A review said that, “Astaire starts dancing where the others stop hoofing.”
Astaire and Rogers were an immediate success and although Astaire wasn’t keen to be in a ‘partner act’ again (it had taken him a while to live down the partnering reputation with his sister), he was persuaded to first make one more movie with Rogers (The Gay Divorcee), and then persuaded to make many more. Between 1934 and 1939 they starred in 8 movies together and most of them were box office hits. The stories weren’t that deep, the plots sometimes convoluted but the films were fun, it was pure entertainment, and the dancing was of course magical. Many of the songs in those movies are all time classics! After a break of 10 years, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made one last movie together in 1949 called The Barkleys of Broadway.
A dance commentator (John Mueller) analysed the magic of these two together as follows: “Rogers was outstanding among Astaire’s partners not because she was superior to others as a dancer, but because, as a skilled, intuitive actress, she was cagey enough to realize that acting did not stop when dancing began … the reason so many women have fantasized about dancing with Fred Astaire is that Ginger Rogers conveyed the impression that dancing with him is the most thrilling experience imaginable”. And Fred Astaire himself once said: “She got so that after a while everyone else who danced with me looked wrong.” He credited the success of their partnership largely to her.
In the 1950s Rogers career declined, there being a lesser demand for ‘older’ Hollywood actresses. Fred Astaire’s career remained more or less successful and in later years he also branched out into television. Both of them remain best remembered for their partnerhip in 10 films, however; a partnership that started 83 years ago! I am amazed at how fresh and good the dancing still looks and find that it still holds up well today…
I have spent a little time creating a YouTube playlist with some of their dance numbers that are among my own favourites. If you have some time, take a peek!