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Tap dancing in all movie musicals


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I have never been able to figure out "how" they managed to film tap dancing in all the wonderful old musicals when no one is wearing taps on their shoes!!!!

 

I have been an avid musical fan for several "generations", and my curiosity continues to become an obsession....I can't figure it out. All I do now is look at the bottom of the shoes in frustration. No taps!! Did they film the dance sequence and then foley in the taps or what?? I googled tap dancing..nothing informative. Any suggedtions as to where I could find this info?

 

Dying of curiosity

isyss

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Most taps were added later, sometimes by the dancer him/herself, and sometimes by another dancer. Gwen Verdon often told of how she helped to dub the footbeats for Gene Kelley's "Singin' in the Rain" number by dancing in a basin of water. I recall also hearing Ann Miller say that as a young dancer she dubbed in the taps for others in many movies. Matching the steps of another dancer you are watching on film must be quite a skill in itself.

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Most taps were added later, sometimes by the dancer

him/herself, and sometimes by another dancer. Gwen

Verdon often told of how she helped to dub the

footbeats for Gene Kelley's "Singin' in the Rain"

number by dancing in a basin of water. I recall also

hearing Ann Miller say that as a young dancer she

dubbed in the taps for others in many movies.

Matching the steps of another dancer you are

watching on film must be quite a skill in itself.

 

Yeah. Especially if it was the Nicholas Brothers or The Berry Brothers! :-)

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Most taps were added later, sometimes by the dancer him/herself, and sometimes by another dancer.

 

I'm not sure whether it was in some version of "That's Entertainment" or "That's Dancing," or whether it was simply an on-screen comment one time - but speaking specifically of Eleanor Powell, that she filmed her scenes in soft-shoes (read: ballet slippers?) and then added her taps later, along with the rest of the music. They filmed her scenes (and many musical numbers) to a click-track (with maybe only a piano playing), and then the (often pre-recorded) music was mixed in later. At least that's the way I learned it all, years ago.

 

Plus there are 2-3 records of her with the Tommy Dorsey orchestra, doing her routine on a tap-board so we could hear her anytime we wanted!

 

Bill

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I posted this on the Astaire thread, but will repeat here:

 

I was always confused about this until I read something written on the Astaire discussion board on the Internet Movie Database that really explained it well:

 

For those interested, here's a technical question I wondered for a long time and finally figured out. In all those Hollywood musicals, how did they record the sound of tap dancing and singing? One might think that they just recorded it off the floor or near the singer as it was being performed, but that's not how movies work. This, as best I can tell, is the process:

 

1. Record the music and any vocals in a recording studio.

 

2. On the movie set, while the cameras roll, the actors must synchronize their singing or dancing to the audio playback of the recorded song (obviously over a loudspeaker so they can hear it). Because of the ambient music playback, none of the sound from the set can be used in the finished film.

 

3. During the film editing stage, the original studio recording must be synched to the cut film.

 

4. And here's the tricky part, after the music is added to the film, the actor/dancer must go to a Foley studio and record a tap track on a wooden floor and perfectly match the image on the screen for a clean sound. It's interesting to imagine a Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly or the Nicholas Brothers trying to recreate in sound what they see themselves doing on screen. Anyway, I hope a few of you find this info of interest.

 

--Isn't that a great explanation? And someone else on the discussion board added this:

 

That is indeed the process. I have an interview with Eleanor Powell in which she explains how she would be in the pre-recording studio with the orchestra and perform her dance routines on mattresses so her dancing would not be picked up by the mikes, but she and the musician could perfect the timing and rhythms.

 

--If you want to hear a movie in which all the singing and tapping, etc. was recorded live on the soundstage, that was the case for Roberta. Although the sound is slightly muddy, I love the naturalness of it, esp. during the dance to "I'll Be Hard to Handle," because you can hear Ginger giggling with joy as she is whirled around the floor. Compare that to "Bouncin' the Blues" from The Barkleys of Broadway, which has Fred making little sounds of approval, but looks a little phony because he dubbed them in later (hope I'm not ruining the number for anyone--I still think it's fabulous!).

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From the excellent documentary Astaire and Rogers Partners in Rhythm:

 

[Narrator] Chuck Klausmeyer: Fred began taking an interest in the technical aspects of filmmaking. He would spend hours in the cutting room, making sure the sound synchronized perfectly with his routines.

 

[Dancer/choreographer] Miriam Nelson: He wanted to make sure the sound was crisp and clear 'cause, you know, sometimes it can be fuzzy if you don't have it dialed up right. And of course, it was always perfect.

 

John Mueller [author of Astaire Dancing]: Astaire insisted on dubbing all of his own taps. Hermes Pan tended to dub Ginger Rogers' taps, so when you hear Ginger Rogers tap -- you're really actually hearing Hermes Pan. But you're seeing her dance.

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the actor/dancer must go to a Foley studio and record a tap track on a wooden floor and perfectly match the image on the screen for a clean sound. It's interesting to imagine a Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly or the Nicholas Brothers trying to recreate in sound what they see themselves doing on screen. Anyway, I hope a few of you find this info of interest. >>

 

Ayres,

 

The explanation is for the most part how it was done. The only thing I would add is that the majority of top ranked dancers didn't do their own Foley work. Other dancers would be brought in for that.

 

The only exception I can think of is Fred Astaire.

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Cool - I do all the partner dances too! I feel having a performance background gives one more of an appreciation of the awsome talents on display in the classic movie musicals. On the other hand, I'm more critical of what's passed off as dance numbers in current films (sorry Richard Gere).

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i read in one of my astaire biographies that the sound recording technology in the early-mid 'thirties could not pick up the tap sounds, but it quickly advanced by the forties. i've only read of astaire dubbing in tap steps on those rko films.

i wonder if that dubbing was only one of many techniques the studios used when making films. i know on big production numbers the songs were pre-recorded. but in the thirties, weren't mae west, marlene dietrich, and irene dunne singing live on set on their films? it sounds like it. didn't it look & sound like ruby keeler's clunky tap steps were filmed in real time on "42nd street"?

and at fox... i remember alice faye and betty grable doing a tap duet in "tin pan alley" and faye makes a slight mistake during the routine, i was surprised they kept it in, but obviously the taps on that one were recorded in real time.

also at fox there were the nicholas brothers and another pair of tapping brothers who worked with grable in "moon over miami" and "pin up girl". both sets of guys were phenomenal strong tap dancers and i think their taps were sound recorded in real time.

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I think you are right that the sound was live from time to time, especially in the pre-1935 musicals, but I'm pretty sure that Roberta is the only Astaire film in which his dances were in live sound. Of course on his television programs there wasn't any dubbing of singing or dance sound.

 

Ironically perhaps, as sound recording technology advanced in the 1940s and '50s, there actually was even more use of overdubbing for singers and dancers in musical films.

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> also at fox there were the nicholas brothers and

> another pair of tapping brothers who worked with

> grable in "moon over miami" and "pin up girl". both

> sets of guys were phenomenal strong tap dancers and

> i think their taps were sound recorded in real time.

 

The Condos Brothers - these guys are extraordinary, I like their tapping more than the Nicholas Bros, but NB were just better all around performers - more flashy, charismatic and they could sing. I'm in line with you Marco44 - to me their routines sound recorded in real time.

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  • 9 years later...

Hey all -

 

I am a professional Foley Artist and from what I heard it was routine to have some (usually female) tap dancer come in during post and do the Foley for most all the dance numbers you heard during the heyday of tap in cinema. I apprenticed with the woman who did ET's footsteps and she said Hermes Pan actually did most of Astaire's Foley, but that Gene Kelly was a perfectionist and insisted that only he be allowed to re-record all his numbers. 

 

The reason you re-record the dance numbers is that you don't want an amazing dance artist to have a mic on them, and they generally sound pretty terrible when recorded live on set with a boom mic. There is also the fact that you have multiple takes and angles, none of which sonically match when you go in to edit them, and all of which have the gigantic soundstage reverb in the background, which is unusable in post. Same reason you often overdub a band's live performance with a studio recording - it just sounds a hell of a lot better as a recording!

 

Unfortunately Foley was not ever credited until Lucille Ball started Desilu, so many of the greatest Foley tap artists died in obscurity. I have tried to get more info on names, dates etc. but have found it very difficult if not impossible.

 

Lara Dale

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4081494/

 

 

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