Movie Wrangler

Keeler vs Powell

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Contrasting the dancing styles of Keeler vs Powell in the clips from today's Lecture Notes.  Keeler seems so much more "natural", as if it all comes easily and she is just dancing casually.  Powell seems much more structured, rehearsed, even the smile is there "on purpose".  Granted, Powell's was a much more difficult routine and she performed it admirably.  But watching Powell made me feel like I was watching a show, while watching Keeler made me feel like I was part of a more intimate audience, if that makes sense.

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Before watching "Born to Dance", I have never watched any Eleanor Powell films, besides the clip shown in "That's Entertainment".  I have, however watched Ruby in a number of films.  I like Ruby, even though she is not technically the dancer as Eleanor is.   I agree with the feeling that  Eleanor is putting on a show.  Down to her seemingly insincere giant-size smile.  

Ruby seems more accessible and for me, watchable.  She is no singer and some say her dancing is clumsy, but she wins my heart every time.  She is adorable. 

 

 

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So glad to have you say this, Movie Wrangler.  I felt the same way, though most of the posts I read from classmates seemed to take the position that Keeler was a "hoofer" and they much preferred Powell.  I really found Keeler's style more appealing and even sensuous. She is more open and muscular in her style, while Powell is sharp, contained and controlled.  I don't have a vocabulary to discuss dance, but I guess I know what I like! 

If Powell's background was in ballet, which we hear in today's Daily Dose, I wonder what Keeler's background was. Her style seems more natural and has a flow to it that seems more like modern dance or jazz dance. I hope someone here knows more about this.

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There is no doubt that Keeler and Powell are very different styles of tap dancer and that they are working at different levels of technical skill. Powell moves over a much wider distance, has more complicated taps, uses her whole body, including her pelvis and performs feats that would make a gymnast proud. She is a lovely woman as well, but she is not really charming. After about four minutes of her routine, I was ready to stop (and I love dance). There is something relentless about her style that wears me  out. In contrast, Keeler is a more old-fashioned style of tap that reminds me of Irish step dancing. She stays in a limited space and the action is really in her legs as opposed to her whole body. She has a limited dance vocabulary, but she is also adorable. Her appeal is as much about her smile as her taps, and even her wooden acting style somehow makes her more vulnerable and appealing. Just want to add that I love James Stewart's singing!

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To me, it's not even close. Eleanor was graceful and athletic, a really skilled dancer, maybe the best. Ruby has always seemed awkward, her steps are slow and amateurish. She's static and doesn't use the stage. A lot of arm flailing. I don't think she's adorable at all. And she can't sing. 

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16 minutes ago, ESei said:

There is no doubt that Keeler and Powell are very different styles of tap dancer and that they are working a different levels of technical skill. Powell moves over a much wider distance, has more complicated taps, uses her whole body, including her pelvis and performs feats that would make a gymnast proud. She is a lovely woman as well, but she is not really charming. After about four minutes of her routine, I was ready to stop (and I love dance). There is something relentless about her style that wears me  out. In contrast, Keeler is a more old-fashioned style of tap that reminds me of Irish step dancing. She stays in a limited space and the action is really in her legs as opposed to her whole body. She has a limited dance vocabulary, but she is also adorable. Her appeal is as much about her smile as her taps, and even her wooden acting style somehow makes her more vulnerable and appealing. Just want to add that I love James Stewart's singing!

I was browsing online to find some comparisons of their styles. I can back up what you say here about Keeler and Irish step dancing. I read that this is her background, as contrasted with Powell's background in...ballet (!). Keeler is mentioned as performing in a "buck-and-wing" style. In looking this up, I've learned that what we think of as All-American tap dancing is actually an extremely complex amalgam of African, African American and European American styles that have influenced each other for centuries.  That's more than I wanted to know, BUT I did wonder if there was some non-European influence on Keeler's style, though she's associated with "Irish" dancing and a super-percussive style. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200217630/

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I have to agree with Suzy-Q.  I find Keeler's dancing sloppy and amateurish.  She looks at her feet a lot and the arm flailing is really distracting.  I am not a fan; I think she is by far the weakest link in 42nd Street.

Powell is much more technically competent. I would put her dancing in a completely different era than Keeler's.  I don't known if it is studio style or if the intervening three years made that much of a difference, but Powell's style seems to have evolved beyond the early musical dancing style into something a bit more controlled and less jazzy. If I did not know what year that clip was from, I would have put it in the early to mid-40s.  I find Powell's gape-mouth pasted-on smile a bit hard to take, but I much prefer her dancing to Keeler's.

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Ruby Keeler dances as though she is still learning how to do it.  She's awkward, almost clumsy, and she exudes a kind of naivete.  Eleanor Powell is confident, polished, obviously professional.

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Keeler is a real traditional "hoofer" - lots of exaggerated, strong tap moves that push the ground. Powell has a more balletic approach that borders on what would become known as jazz dance genre.

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The best way I can put it is that Keeler dances from her feet and hands, while Powell dances from her legs and head. I see a similar style in Ann Miller's dancing - broad poses and fluid body motions. That fit MGM's grand style. Keeler, on the other hand, had a percussive style that's carried all the way into present productions of 42nd Street. I've heard that the hard, stomping style of tap is very hard on the arches, so it takes a lot of stamina. That was Warner Bros. style, as well. MGM swept, Warner punched.

Another good example of that kind of contrast is the dance sequence between Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov in "White Nights".

Edited by Lanin
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Keeler looks like she's trying to dance; Powell dances and looks like she's loving it!

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Reading through the previous comments, I find I differ with most of them.  

I was not familiar with either of the dancers until this class. Yesterday I watched the full Powell movie from the clip and I kept wanting to say to Powell, close your mouth. It wasn't her smile, she has a lovely smile but so much of her dancing she has her mouth physically open. And I wanted to say stop kicking, you are not with the Rockets. I guess I am more familiar with Ginger Rogers so Powells dancing seemed robotic and as if she was an actress who was taught to dance, not a talented women that it comes easily too.  Yes, she did a more difficult dance than Keeler but I don't care for her repetitive style.

Ruby Keeler was a better entertainer. Her singing and dancing seemed to flow better and it felt as if she were more of a natural. I look forward to watching more of her movies. 

Maybe after viewing more of the movies I will change my mind.  I am a huge fan of the Astaire/Rogers team and find their dancing flows so beautifully and is probably influencing my opinion of Powell.


 

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4 hours ago, TOMombie said:

I have to agree with Suzy-Q.  I find Keeler's dancing sloppy and amateurish.  She looks at her feet a lot and the arm flailing is really distracting.  I am not a fan; I think she is by far the weakest link in 42nd Street.

Powell is much more technically competent. I would put her dancing in a completely different era than Keeler's.  I don't known if it is studio style or if the intervening three years made that much of a difference, but Powell's style seems to have evolved beyond the early musical dancing style into something a bit more controlled and less jazzy. If I did not know what year that clip was from, I would have put it in the early to mid-40s.  I find Powell's gape-mouth pasted-on smile a bit hard to take, but I much prefer her dancing to Keeler's.

I think Ruby might agree with you.  It seems to me that, in an interview in the 70's, she said something to the effect that she was an average dancer.

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Keeler performance was much less of a production than Powell's.  Her tap was simple, involved more swayinng to the lyrics and portraying the woman of the age who were I ticking the men rather than the very talented dancers of the thirties.  Remember the lyric that both types were getting electrifying reviews.  Plus the movie itself was seemed to portray the gangster style of New York.  Powell, on the other hand, was vibrant, very talented, wholesome.  She was tapping those feet to echo every melody and flow of that nationalistic production.  She flamboyantly encouraged the audience to leave their troubles behind and be wooed by the bigness of the stage, the energy and good coverage of the stage, and think of the goodness inspire of how they lived outside of the theater doors.  Escapism at its best.

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The fact that Powell started off in ballet speaks volumes when you watch her in her big tap number in Born To Dance. The lines her body makes are so precise, and she's able to stop and hit these poses mid-dance for a split second, and hit them exactly, multiple times in a row. You can see the attention to technique and form completely permeate her dancing, down to the smallest isolation of a toe tip.

With Keeler, she might not have the same technical flair - I guess she'd be what would have been defined as a "hoofer" at the time - because she puts her whole body into every movement, so the "line" isn't going to be perfect. However, I don't know if that's what necessarily matters in tap; I feel it's more about the percussive element and making sure that's what comes across which, despite their differences in dance training, both Powell and Keeler are still able to do in their own way.

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This is the first time I've really noticed these two dancers.  Powell dazzled me when I watched her as Labelle Arlette. So casual and just looked unrehearsed and 'free'.  I questioned to myself how they got the tap sound dupped because it just didn't look like a specific dance routine.  Keeler, to me, fit 42nd Street--she fit as a chorus girl rather than a lead in my opinion.  Now, both had talent; don't get me wrong.  Both are talented with their own unique style.  It would be interesting to me, if you took out the studio & contracts; would either woman fit better in their counter-studio's musicals better than the woman who actually performed the dance routine?  In other words, how would Powell look in 42nd Street; or Keeler in Broadway Melody?  

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10 hours ago, TOMombie said:

  I find Powell's gape-mouth pasted-on smile a bit hard to take, but I much prefer her dancing to Keeler's.

This!! I found myself saying "shut your mouth!" in the big final number. I much preferred her in the earlier numbers at the Lonely Hearts Club to the big finale.

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