TAP DANCE HALL OF
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Fred Astaire (1899-1987)
Fred Astaire was the American tap dancer
extraordinaire; Frederick Austerlitz was born May 10,
1899 in Omaha, Nebraska. Astaire and his older sister,
Adele, were brought to New York as children to receive
dance training and perform on vaudeville stages.
They studied with Claude Alvienne and
Ned Wayburn, but could not perform in New York because
of the Gerry Society restrictions on child performers.
They toured on the Keith-Orpheum circuit, then returned
to New York as finished specialty dancers to enter Over
the Top (1917).
They worked together on Broadway in
The Passing Show of 1918, For Goodness Sake (1922),
the Gershwins’ Lady, Be Good (1925) and Funny
Face (1927), Smiles (1930), and The Band Wagon (1931)
and many others. The pair was extremely popular in New
York, but their London reputations were even greater.
Adele retired following the close of The Band Wagon,
and Fred performed with Claire Luce in the 1932 film
The Gay Divorcee.
For much of his film career, his search
for a perfect partner was a frequent publicity theme.
The partnership with Ginger Rogers is film and dance
history, of course. The work with the great tap dancer
Eleanor Powell, is legendary among tap professionals.
A stunning choreographer himself, Astaire was also able
to perform brilliantly in dances staged by many others.
He danced the choreography of Dave Gould, who wont he
first dance director Oscar for “the Carioca,”
Harry Losse, a concert dancer with Denishawn lineage,
Bobby Connolly, Charles Walters, and ballet choreographers
Eugene Loring and Michael Kidd.
Astaire’s dance numbers can be
divided roughly into four categories – exhibition
ballroom romances, tap competitions, solos, and solos
with props. The most frequently performed was the first
type, danced with each of his female partners; the dances
were based on conventional exhibition ballroom styles,
in turn based on social dance work. They involved a
single format, with the meeting, duet work, breaks apart
and pulls together, and a final symmetrical or tandem
series of movements. Among Astaire’s examples
in this style are the famous love duets with Ginger
Rogers, such as “Cheek to Cheek” and “Night
and Day,” which are exquisitely beautiful from
their openings, in which one touch from Astaire spins
her into his arms, to the finales in which they simply
Tap challenge numbers were danced with
Rogers, as well as with his other partners. With Rogers
and Powell especially, these numbers, based on minstrel
formats, presented an alternating series of tap flurries,
each dancer trying to best the other. In the “Let
Yourself Go” number from Follow the Fleet, the
Astaire-Rogers competition is set in a dance hall with
“real” inter-couple competitions. The solos
occasionally had a “schtik,” such as the
“fireworks dance” in Holiday Inn, but more
frequently were danced alone before a camera.
The solos with props are among his greatest
accomplishments. He could not only dance with anyone,
but with anything – the coat tree in Royal Wedding,
the wall in that underrated film, or the drum set in
It would be difficult to overestimate
Astaire’s influence. He represents tap, theater,
and ballroom dance to much of the world, and perfection
in performance to everyone.
Unknown Writer & Tony Waag
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