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MyFavorite Ballroom Dance Duet are featured in "Broadway Melody of !938")


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I always enjoy watching "Broadway Melody of 1938".

In George Murphy's book, Say...Didn't you used to be George Murphy", George had the following comments

about this movie: "....I was concerned about one thing, which I explained to [Eleanor Powell] when we first met. I had seen her on Broadway and in at least one film, and she always seemed to be doing the same routine. I thought in the movie we were going to do together we ought to vary the dances. ....Eleanor agreed and we immediatly went to work practicing a waltz, a schottische soft-shoe number and an entirely new variation of a tap dance. ....It seemed to me there had to be a better way to shoot these long musical numbers. I went back to Metro and talked with Blanche Sewell, then the studio's top film editor of musical films. ....She and I finally concluded that if the sound track were used as a common denominator it would be possible to cut a dance up into several sections. The idea--then quite revolutionary--was for Blanche to splice the many segments together in the cutting room, guided by the sound track. ....That night I sat down and drew a diagram for a routine that would be done on a set representing Bryant Park, just back of the New York Public Library. ....The next morning I took the diagram to Roy Del Ruth, the director, and explained the plan for breaking up the number into five segments. ...."Okay," Ruthe interruptted finally, "if you feel so strongly about it, why don't you shoot the number yourself?" And I did.....This new technique, I believe, revolutioniized the shooting of musical numbers in Hollywood."

 

Just as Gene Kelly brought out the best of Leslie Caron's ballet ability and his own ballet ability in "an American in Paris" (my favorite dance musical), George Murphy brought out the best of Eleanor Powell's ballet ability and the best of his elegant light-footed dancing ability in "The Broadway Melody of 1938" (my second favorite dancing movie). All the dance numbers in this movie were splendid! And, after seeing Murphy and Powell's breathtakingly beautiful, graceful, and intimate ballroom dance--which had great lifts and elegant twirls--I have come to think of them as being the best ballromm dance team in the Golden Age of Hollywood. (Most people probably feel that Astaire & Rogers deserve that honor--but I will stick with Murphy and Powell. I Think Fred Astaire was great in his joyful tap dances with Vera-Ellen ("Mr and Mrs. Hoofer at Home" and "Where did you get that Girl") in "Three Little Words"; And his fun tap dance with Joan Leslie in "The Sky's the Limit"; His great tap dance with Eleanor Powell in "The Broadway Melody of 1940"; His wonderful"The Shorty George" tap number with Rita Hayworth in "You were Never Lovlier"; His wonderful tap number with Ginger Rogers in "The Barkleys of Broadway". And Astaire & Rogers were great in their high-speed tap-ballrom exhibition dance ("Dance in Swingtime") from "Swingtime". Yet (un-like a lot of people) I don't detect alot of intimacy in Fred's ballroom dances with Ginger. After holding Ginger close to him for a few seconds, he would send most of the dances a good distance apart from her. Intimate hugs, embraces, kisses, and lifts were rare-- (Ginger's short very intimate cheek-to-cheek hug of Fred in their ballroom dance in "Roberta"; Fred and Audrey Hepburn's intimate song and dance "S Wonderful" from "Funny Face" are the only examples of intimacy that come to mind. An explanation of why Fred was reluctant to publicly show affection can be found in the book ?Fred Astaire: His Friends Talk? (Sarah Giles, 1988).

Most of his ballroom dances, seem to me to have been high-speed exhibition dances.)

Other example of intimate dances that I love are:The intimate dance between Maurice Chevalier and Jennette Macdonald in "The Merry Widow"; The beautiful courtship dance of Bambi Linn and James Mitchell in "Oklahoma"; Marge and Gower Champion's lovely "Someone to watch over Me" ballet-like dance from "Three for the Show";

Bing Crosby's warm and tender waltz with his female partner in "One in a Million"; Cyd Charisse' s beautiful ballet duet with her partner in "Meet me in Las Vegas"; The great tender ballet "Reflections of 1960" ( masterpiece!), from "The Glory of the Kirov".As you can see, I love slow, flowing (skate-like dancing) ballroom-ballet dances with graceful lifts, intimate embraces, and intimate eye contact between the dancers. When I see examples of this on such dance television shows as "So You think you can dance", I observe tears of tender joy coming down the faces of many of the people in the television audience (and I feel the tears coming down my face). What are some of your favorite intimate dances from films you have seen?

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I understand what you are saying about something lacking in the more ballroom routines of Fred & Ginger. There is great imagination and choreography in the routines, in addition to being executed well, but lacks something in the embrace or connection. In my opinion, the best couple who illustrate this are Marge & Gower Champion, as you noted in their "Someone to Watch Over Me" number, and I will add "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes". Probably, this is because they were married and danced exclusively with each other. If you like slow floating, skating style with gracefull lifts, then that perfectly describes the professional ballroom dance team of Veloz & Yolanda, who made a few featured appearances in some films of the 30's & 40's, most notably in the nightclub scene in "Pride of the Yankees".

 

A few other routines of a more ballroom nature that I can think of off the top of my head, are a number by Cesar Romero & Betty Grable in "Springtime in the Rockies", Ricardo Montalban & Cyd Charisse tango in "On an Island With You", and that hot little samba Ricardo dances with Lana Turner in "Latin Lovers".

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No offense, guys, but are you really watching the nuances of these Astaire-Rogers dances? Each one is a love story, and the reason A and R are so celebrated is that they were both very good actors who imbued their dancing with deep emotion. Many of their dances were symbolic of lovemaking during a time when that couldn't be implied, much less shown, onscreen.

 

In the dance to "Night and Day," for example, she is a divorcing woman who is reluctant to get involved with him, even though she is attracted to him. He doesn't know she is married, and is determined to win her over. He sweetly seduces her--they show fun and humor in the dance, but also intense passion. She is in awe of him at the end of the dance.

 

I hope I don't sound like a lecturer, or as if I expect you to start liking whatever I like. But I have sometimes found that friends notice something to treasure in a certain dance or moment, and

once they have told me about it, I enjoy it all the more--sometimes something that I had never even taken much notice of.

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Hi Ayres - I know you are a dancer like me, so I do understand your delight in watching the Fred & Ginger routines. The Astaire & Rogers films were some of the first classic films I watched, as well as some of the first musicals that got me interested in dance - I signed up for tap dance classes because of them. I watched these films over and over for many years, on the small screen and big screen, and I love what Hermes Pan and Fred did with the choreography and little storylines, like Night & Day and especially Let's Face the Music and Dance. These two also have a larger body of work as a dance team than others, so that can also place them in the forefront when discussing dance couples. For me, as the years went by and I sought out more musicals that featured dancers, either individual or teams, I started to vere away from A&R, especially after I had started studying ballroom and partner dancing. I could go into volumes about what a follower looks for in a good lead, but I'll stop myself. What I read in the original posters comments were that he was specifically looking for more "ballroom" type of pairings, and thats what I tried to respond to. In this fantasy scenario, if Fred Astaire and Gower Champion both came up to me and asked me to dance a Foxtrot or Waltz, I would chose Gower. I think he has a better dancer's physique, has longer legs and better lines, and having watched how he handles Marge in their routines, I would feel much more secure in his embrace, and I believe I would have a better connection with him. And I would love to dance a Tango, Rumba or Samba with Ricardo Montalban for many of the same reasons. Now, if it were a tap routine, like the Shorty George number Fred does with Rita Hayworth, I would pick Fred - or better yet Hermes Pan! I like the way Hermes partners Betty Grable in some of her films.

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No offense, guys, but are you really watching the nuances of these Astaire-Rogers dances? Each one is a love story, and the reason A and R are so celebrated is that they were both very good actors who imbued their dancing with deep emotion. Many of their dances were symbolic of lovemaking during a time when that couldn't be implied, much less shown, onscreen.

 

It's doesn't hurt to mention it. I feel I've been aware of that at some level for some time now, although tbh I can't say for sure if I remember actually discussing it with fellow film fans.

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What you say makes sense--and it would explain why ballroom competitions rarely evoke for me the spirit of Fred & Ginger (though swing dancers and figure skaters sometimes do). Astaire didn't really consider himself a ballroom dancer so much as a jazz or show dancer, and (despite the overused and inaccurate "Ginger did everything Fred did, only backward and in high heels") his partner was as often beside him as lead by him, doing a choreographed routine rather than a ballroom dance per se.

 

Then too, as I said, the A&R dances (and Astaire's romantic numbers with other partners, notably Hayworth and Charisse) were displays of emotion and acting in addition to dances.

 

Speaking of Ricardo Montalban, I do love that tango with Cyd in On an Island with You--VERY sexy!

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As a fan of Turner Classic Movies, I have noticed that, in Many of the A & B musical and non-musical movies of the 30's and 40's, you will find some very intimate dancing. In the nightclub scenes you will often see cheek-to-cheek dancing--where the dancers are in a hug-like embrace, chest to chest, waist to waist, pelvis to pelvis, as they sway in suxual-like rhythm to the music. Even in Andy Hardy-like movies such as, "State Fair (1945)", and "Rich, Young and Pretty" (1951) you will find such dancing. Professional dancers (such as Murphy & Powell) would expand on this, and incorperate beautiful ballet-like poises, (lighter-than-air) lifts and twirls, and soft embraces and caresses to their ballroom numbers. A bit of this was present in the Astaire-Rogers "Change Partners" dance, and theAstaire-Charisse' "Dancing in the Dark"dance. I'm not sure that the public-at-large were able to grasp all the subtle sexual nuances in the Astaire-Rogers dances that were so apparent to many book authors, who wrote on the dances of Asaire and Rogers. I think the public was charmed by the skinny, common looking Fred Astaire endeavering to suduce, in a sophisticated way, the rather tough, yet poignant Ginger Rogers. (Fred Astaire had script control, and he would cross out any mushy love scene that was present in any of his scripts.) And Astaire- Rogers danced like they were made to dance together! Ginger was plyible and flexible to Fred's fast, complex steps, turns, twirls, dips, and other difficult movements. They made these movements look effortless! And Ginger didn't look lost when Fred would do his ballet-like solo twirls and turns during their ballroom-tap-jazz numbers. I think by-in-large that the public were amazed by Fred Astaire's great artistry!

By his great ballet-like lightness, agility, poise, and fluidity! And I think the were amazed by the deep and realistic emotions displayed by Ginder Rogers throuhout the movies she did with Fred Astaire. Off the dance floor, she was the center of attention.

 

I recently viewed a DVD on the life of the great ballet choreographer George Balanchine (produced by PBS Masters). In the documentary, Balanchine stated, in effect, that he believed that women, because of thier lightness, agility, and body make-up were the best dancers--and the true dancers. ( He liked women dancers who were tall, very slim, and who had long legs.) He said men were good for lifts and leaps--but they were not really dancers. Yet Balanchine is often quoted as saying that his favorite dancer is Fred Astaire.

My pointe is Fred Astaire could do things that other male dancers could not do. And he had the respect and admiration of many, if not all, of the notable male dancers of his time. When he walked he was dancing!

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I just needed to add:

 

That many of the Astaire-Roger films were blockbusters! That dance studios were flooded with couples--who wanted to learn how to do the latest Astaire-Rogers dances.

 

That there are magical, romantic moments in the Astaire-Rogers (Astaire-Leslie, Astaire-Charisse) movies that I will treasure forever!

 

That Fred Astaire, in addition to being a great dancer and a great and humble person (I saw his TV specials, and his appearance on the Dick Cavett show) was a great singer! In his television appearances and his records from the 50''s are some very romantic and touching interpretations of songs by famous composers. (Many of these songs were made famous by Fred Astaire.)

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