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GeezerNoir

COMPARE AND CONTRAST Ruby Keeler and Eleanor Powell

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For me, I agree with more of what people have already said. I thought that Eleanor Powell was definitely smoother and more graceful of a dancer, but Ruby Keeler was a bit more powerful in her steps. I found Keeler more interesting to watch even though she didn't move around as much. I enjoyed watching her hit steps hard while Powell was just kind of flitting about. There was a grace to Powell, but I didn't like it as much. Probably makes sense for me because I really enjoy watching Ann Miller, who was also very powerful in her steps.

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I am a choreographer and dancer by trade and I have studied all forms of dance, including tap and ballet extensively, and I have also studied both dancers at length.

Although many people are commenting on the fact that Powell had formal ballet training, it's not, to be quite honest, completely evident in her dancing. She does a lot of "sway back" moves, full on back bands, and holds her arms in towards her body in a "broken" way that no ballet dancer would ever, ever do. She has long limbs, that came naturally, so her extensions are long, but not necessarily graceful per se. As a tapper she is clean, fast and sharp, and in many interviews and readings she was compared to being a "male Astaire" and I do agree that her taps were equal, but her polish, her finesse, were not. A perfect example: watch her dance in ANY movie in any number, odd back bends, crunchy arms, but watch her dance beside the master, Astaire, in "Begin the Beguine" (Broadway Melody 1940) you will not see one out of place back bend or bent arm, I don't think Fred would have allowed it, he was too classy, too pristine. I am not saying all of the affectations of hers are bad, they made her unique and were part of her style, but ballet based style was really not a huge part of her tap career. She could spin (chaine) and "fouette" (kick like turns in spot) like nobody else though, she was a speed demon and very precise with excellent balance, no doubt ballet gave her some tips, if not style.

 

Keeler indeed was a "hoofer" trained in the days when loud was more important than upper body movement support, she likely wore wooden soled shoes, no metal, and as such put that much more emphasis into the floor to get the sound out. It was about the rhythm, and yes the effort for her, she did not pretend to do it with ease, but she had a moxy to her, a real fight and that is one of the reasons she was ideal for the role in "42nd Street" specifically. A famous hubbie didn't hurt, but she did stand...and dance on her own two feet. 

Side note, I am also disappointed to see a colorized clip...if that was the only clip available, a note should be made available to indicate to those who may not be aware that the film was originally in Black and White and that is part of its charm.

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Don’t think that Powell wasn’t also an amazing pure tap virtuoso. Check her out in Broadway Melody of 1940 where she goes one-on-one with Fred Astaire in a “call and response” tap-off. She totally holds her own and the two of them will blow your mind.

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Both are great dancers. By watching these two clips I noticed that Ruby Keeler sings during performances and Eleanor Powell is more focused on dancing. I have not seen many films with those two but I did watch Born to Dance on Tuesday and from what I've noticed Powell is mostly dancing during musical numbers. Also in the clip with Keeler she is less active, while Powell is more active. Powell is jumping around, kicking and swinging her feet around and doing cartwheels. Keeler's performance is also more sexy and she uses her sex appeal during her musical number. Powell does not do that and the emphasis is more on her dancing. 

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With Powell the dancing is part of the music for example she is creative with her steps with the music.  Powell weaves a thread between the dancing and the music and she echos it with the drums, the horns, the hand clapping and the cymbals. She is gives careful thought to interweave both arts.  She ties it up with a beautiful bow when those cannons go off and she salutes.

With Ruby she demonstrates a dance trooper. I've got this break and I'm going to learn these steps! She is an average person learning to dance not a trained dancer like Powell.  Ruby also uses her hand motions to describe the lyrics. The emphasis is on the tapping. The music even pauses or is quiet to highlight the tapping. Ruby also has a cast of dancers that help her tell the story. She isn't the center of attention.

If I had to choose I prefer Powell

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Eleanor Powell was a great dancer and I love to watch her dance. For me, her persona seems to be a little aloof and at times arrogant. Ruby Keeler was a clunk machine, but she is so cute and sweet and endearing  that I love her too. I'm so lucky to be able to watch them both. Thank you TCM!

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In comparing Keeler and Powell, I think you have to take into account the fact that Eleanor came along a few years later, when the overall talent level was better and the musicals (from music to choreography) more developed.  It's like comparing athletes of today with those of a generation ago.  They're much faster and more skilled today.  So while Keeler was better than the dancers of just a few years before, and very charming on screen, she looks quite awkward and clumsy... both in footwork and arm movements... compared to Powell, whose movements were slick and polished.  Powell didn't just tap, she could strut on stage and her leg kicks were amazing.  Also, she basically stuck to the dancing, at which she excelled.  It might have been better if Keeler hadn't tried to sing, with that squeaky little voice of hers.  Anyhow, I adore them both.     

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I dunno, how can you not love Ruby Keeler? There was some weird sort of genius at work when Busby Berkeley capped off the eye-popping splendor of Footlight Parade’s “By a Waterfall” with a reprise of the song in her odd quacky voice. It made you love her, Berkeley, and the Waterfall all the more!

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Powell has more dance experience, and it shows. She not only tap dances, but she also showcases some ballet training as well. Her dancing is very effortless, and while she looks a little out of control and all over the place, I think she has a strong control over what she's doing. It's obvious that dance is she strongest talent, and MGM featured that over anything else. They gave her time in the spotlight and didn't really feature any other female dancers.

Keeler appears to be a traditional triple threat: she can act, she can sing, and she can dance. Singing seems to be her stronger quality because Warner Bros. features that more than her dancing. (However, this doesn't seem to be the entire number. I haven't seen the full movie, so I'm not sure.) Her tapping is rather good: it's clean, strong, and she knows what she's doing. I want to see more of it to have a better comparison with Powell. But the number features a lot of other dancing women in similar if not identical costumes, which takes away from Keeler. If Warner Bros. had wanted to feature Keeler as a dancer, they may have had her do more dancing.

Both studios have a spectacle element to them, and while there were differences that would appear, they have similarities. Both use a stage that's bigger than it appears. Both use ginormous choruses to back up their one or two featured dancers. Both are over the top and use special effects to elicit a "wow" factor. In general, I think Powell owns the stage more than Keeler does, though Keeler is more desirable because she can do it all.  

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Powell vs. Keeler - wow!

I find Powell the more athletic and controlled dancer of the two. She always seems to dance with her legs out in front of her in this clip, which I think is a remarkable control of gravity. She is clearly powerful (get those kicks to hold at the time and then make a planned landing instead of flopping) and graceful and seems to be able to do anything the choreographer asks of her. Not everyone can look good coming down stairs or turning cartwheels, but she comes up smiling every time. She takes a lot of space, even when the camera is close to her.

Keeler is more intimate in her dancing. She appears much smaller than Powell and dances that way. It seems that she might be more a dancing singer rather than a singing dancer. I should also note that her clip was more shorter and there was less opportunity to observe a lot of variety. 

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This was such an interesting contrast. Eleanor Powell’s number was at least twice the length of Ruby Keeler’s. Ruby was singing during her number and Eleanor wasn’t. Ruby had to dance and still have breath to sing. Her dancing did not flow like Eleanor’s did. I must say that I found myself very distracted by all of the head snapping that Eleanor seemed to be doing in her dance.

As far as production goes Born to Dance was a much bigger production. MGM was always lavish in their musicals. I wonder too if the years made a difference too. 42nd street was 1933, pre-code and Born to Dance was 1936.  I agree that there is definitely a studio difference.

 I don’t feel like I can say one was better than the other because they were both so different. I think it depends on personal preference of dancing style.

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Ruby Keeler seemed to be a bit more heavy footed compared to Eleanor Powell.  Keelers style seemed aggressive where Powell combined both light and aggressive dancing in her style.  Part of tbat is what they were trying to say with their dancing.  Keeler appeared to.be doing a patriotic themed dance, while Powell is dancing to lighter themed music.  

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7 hours ago, Faith Most said:

Powell was a dancer, and Keeler married well. She even admits it in interviews.

 

Yes- she was quoted as saying (maybe a bit of paraphrasing here) " I couldn't sing, dance or act. What I had was luck."

It's hard not to like someone who is that candid about themselves.

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I don't like Ruby's dancing.  She's too clunky and just stomps around.  I understand if that was her style and that's what she did, but I just don't find it pleasant to watch.

Eleanor on the other hand, is an amazing dancer.  I love how she incorporated cartwheels and such into her dancing.  She is graceful and much more fun to watch.

For me, Eleanor Powell wins hands down. 

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Once upon a time, I took an adult tap class. I was the youngest of the students by at least 40 years -- but that made no difference, as we were all in it together. For our final class performance, we tapped a routine to Glenn Miller's "In The Mood." In my mind, I was Eleanor Powell: graceful, languid, precise, glamourous. However, I'm pretty sure I looked just like a less-trained, less-talented Ruby Keeler as I was counting and step-ball-changing and trying to remember to smile.

Eleanor Powell was sheer magic to watch.
Ruby Keeler had spunk. And, aside from Lou Grant, who doesn't love spunk?

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Ruby Keeler was always a bit clumsy in her dancing - like she's on the edge and could fall at any moment. It's not a self assured dancing. Powell's dancing is strong and confident and graceful. 

Keeler was a hoofer. Powell was a Dancer.

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I actually love both their styles of dancing.  Sure Powell is much more graceful...much more production is put into this film.  And the woman can tap dance her can off.

But the is something about Keeler....clunky kind of style but she seems so much more engaging when she dances.

To me Powell is all like look at me.....where Keeler is like "Dang I am having so much fun "  Something about Ruby I think I would have like as a person...don't know why.

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I have always loved Ruby Keeler. In comparison to Powell, she has more energy and more spunk. Powell was much more polished, more of a professional dancer. It really is a reflection of the WB style vs MGM style. That street tough, blue-collar hoofer vs the elegant, grand final number with tons of sequins and shiny costumes. 

I don’t think that the 42nd St number was the best choice for a comparison (especially not a colorized one). You can see that Keeler is performing true to the WB style in The finale of Footlight Parade, where her style perfectly matches James Cagney, another well known “hoofer”. Check it out.

 

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Coming from a jazz and swing dance background, I think Eleanor Powell is a much entertaining and talented dancer. The way she incorporates, cha cha and sway moves, Charleston kicks, tap dancing, and pirouettes makes each step she takes a thrilling surprise. Her smile throughout the scene makes her look graceful and like a professional dancer - as if she has done the routine many times before. She adds variety, which keeps the dance scene entertaining.

I have to admit, I did not enjoy Ruby Keeler's performance. Her moves were less dramatic and she seemed to move her arms more than her legs. I thought she was trying to make hand gestures to distract viewers from her lack of dance moves. There were a few seconds when she tried to show off some tap dancing but the footwork was not as grandiose as Powell's. Keeler didn't have as much variety and flair in her dancing. 

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Eleanor seems to really use her entire body where Ruby pretty much plunks along doing a very strong, distinctive tap.  There is something very unique when Eleanor just leans back and glides.  Ruby is solid and steady, Eleanor, long and smooth.  They both bring uniqueness to their work. Gotta say....Powell is my favorite.

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Eleanorn Powell was so incredibly athletic and stylized in her dancing. Her ability to spin and do back bends and walkovers made her routines amazing. Keeler is a great tapper but does not have the range of moves that Powell has.

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Powell's tap style is more graceful and reminiscent of ballroom dance with her sway-back posture and arm positions whereas Keeler has a more traditional tap style with slightly ungainly elbows and knees. I prefer Keeler's style personally; it feels more exuberant to me. 

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I love watching Eleanor Powell dance.  Her dancing is more geared to a long musical number, like in Born to Dance.  I didn't get bored watching her.

Comparing her to Ruby Keeler feels a bit like apples and oranges.  A lot changed in Hollywood between 1933 and 1936.  Keeler is more of a hoofer, as has been said.  I also thought of James Cagney while I was watching her clip in the notes.  Yes, her dancing is more "heavy," but I still found it charming in its own way.  It isn't as polished as Powell, but it is still interesting to watch.

That being said, I don't think I would want to watch it for as long as the Powell number took.  The amount they gave us in that scene was just enough without making me want to fast forward.

Basically, I enjoyed watching both of them.

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You can tell that Powell was a trained ballet dancer with her pointed toes, leaps, high kicks, and turns. She uses many ballet steps in her tapping, such as entrechat quatre and fouette turns. Her upper body is flowing and her posture is perfect. Keeler has a more flat-footed, bouncy Vaudeville hoofing style, with a stiff upper body. She is so adorable!

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