Jump to content

 
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...
GeezerNoir

COMPARE AND CONTRAST Ruby Keeler and Eleanor Powell

Recommended Posts

4 hours ago, corinne54 said:

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.

Hoofing is a style of dance though...

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for mentioning the term "Hoofer" during the Top Hat segment. I was searching for the right word or words to try and describe Keeler and Powell. I would describe Keeler as a Hoofer and Powell as a Hoofer Plus. Obviously both can dance but there was a big difference in how they danced and the mood conveyed watching them. Powell seemed to put more emotion and/ or show more emotion and joy, Keeler seemed less so. Granted, Powell appeared to have a heavy cast around her, but she stood out and no one could ignore her. Keeler's performance seemed very low key by comparison and that was probably good for her-no competition to watch.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 6/7/2018 at 2:39 AM, MarkH said:

Are they seriously showing colorized clips? That’s not the 42nd Street that Warner Bros made. This doesn’t lend the course much sense of seriousness or accuracy. Also the Born to Dance clip’s frame is completely stretched out of shape. Come on Ball State/TCM, you can do better than this!

I completely agree. Those two clips are a major disservice to the originals. The colorized clip of 42nd Street also has the entire brilliant  street performance scene clipped out, skipping to the finale.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I appreciate both Ruby Keeler and Eleanor Powell as dancers.  Both seem very accomplished in what they can do, but I think Powell seems more polished as a dancer.  It's as if one is watching someone with training in ballet or classical dance, incorporating each into the tap routine she is doing. Powell seems very effortless and graceful, always beaming a megawatt smile as she glides about the floor.

Keeler on the other hand, while she dances well it seems as if she has to really focus to get the steps correct and her footfalls are rather heavy sounding. Plus in the clip we watched, it was not just about her dancing, but about her singing as well.  I think the term best used to describe Keeler's style would be hoofer (a tap dancer with no other type of dance training).

Both are amazing and delightful to watch, just different styles it seems.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have to agree with the consensus that Powell was a better and more artstic performer. But I’m surprised to admit that I really like Keeler! She’s refreshing. She’s warm and enthusiastic and awkward and relatable. I do like the opportunity this course is giving me to compare and contrast their styles, and to examine the evolution of dance as depicted in film.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Eleanor Powell was the best dancer of all the women dancers of her time.  She had such power behind her!  She was discriminated against as many male dancers (including Fred Astaire from what I've read) were jealous of her abilities.  I don't know if that's true, but it wouldn't surprise me!  Too bad she couldn't have been around even ten years later during the time of Ann Miller, another fabulous, powerful dancer whose career spanned decades.  

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Powell’s dancing seems light and effortless, where Keeler’s dancing seems heavy and difficult. With Keeler I get the impression that the dancing is hard (and it probably is), but with Powell, she makes it seem easy (maybe I could do that, except for the back bends!). Powell is an all around dancer, able to master and incorporate several styles into her tap, where Keller has one style that she keeps repeating.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Not to offend Ruby Keeler fans, but I have always felt she was a triple threat: couldn't dance well, couldn't sing well and couldn't act a lick.

While many say the studio dictates the performance, in Keeler's case I believe she could not have performed in musicals for any other studio. Powell, a classically trained dancer, was extremely athletic as well as being a magnificent tap dancer and would likely have been able to adapt to the style of any studio's productions. To a great extent Powell was a female version of Gene Kelly in that she could incorporate very physical movements into her dance routines but at the same time could match styles with a more sophisticated dancer like Fred Astaire. To some extent, you could make a comparison between Powell and Cyd Charisse much in the way people have been comparing Kelly with Astaire over the years.

Powell was so dynamic she could be the central focus of a dance number. On the other hand, Keeler could only perform short, clunky routines and invariably had to be supported by a Dick Powell or a chorus line of dancers to complete an entire dance sequence on film. Her awkward, somewhat amateurish (IMHO) performances worked to an extent in the WB backstage style of musical but would likely not have transposed to the style of any other studio of her time. Keeler also had the advantage of performing at a time when depression era audiences were starved for escapist entertainment and would be much more forgiving of her performances than audiences of the forties and beyond.

Costuming for each of the performances also highlight the difference between the two performers. Where Keeler had to be dressed up in ruffles and a bright white derby to decorate her and give her some character, Powell's military costume was neat, trim and emphasized her slender and athletic figure. Powell provided the character on her own.

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Keeler is a true hoofer of the buck and wing variety. The sound of her stomps and heavy footfalls are a part of her rhythm dancing which help emphasize the melody. Her dance style derives from the roots of tap as seen and heard in the, jig and clog style of musical theatre.

Powell is more stylized and athletic in her dancing with her footfalls generally softer than Keeler's. Though she is also a rhythm dancer her background in ballet and acrobatics distinguish her dancing. She trained with the likes of Bo Robinson and John Sublett Bubbles master of the, "heel drop" style of tap. You can see their influences upon her dance style. She also trained with the soft shoe teacher extraordinaire, Jack Donahue who taught her the importance of tapping with her feet vs her body and tapping low to the ground, the opposite of Keeler's stomping, clogging method.

  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I liked both Powell and Keeler but I did notice that MGM felt Powell could hold the stage on her own while Warner Brothers didn't seem to have the same faith in Keeler - shunting her off the stage in favour of more spectacle.  In a way, though, Keeler's performance is sometimes more pleasant to watch than Powell's as her dance in pure and simple whereas Powell, in her musicality, can sometimes get herself into some awkward-looking positions: the moment during which she's tapping and slapping her thighs leaps to mind.  That movement causes her to hunch over and her feet look like little old lady feet all of a sudden.  However, the beauty of some of her other moves makes up for this overall.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So much has already been said that it seems pointless to add to it but hey, isn't that what we're here for?

To me the differences are noticeable in the fact that Powell does indeed show a grace in her movements while Keeler is a bit clunky. But in watching the clips you have to take into account what's being filmed as well. With Keeler we're seeing more of what a live stage performance would have been; it looks like it was shot as an audience looking at a stage which is what it was in that movie. For Powell the dancing is integrated into the setting differently. She may be showing what she can do but not being in front of a theater audience and in a small setting she can add nuance to her moves.

Watching the second clip of Keeler someone shared (with James Cagney) it didn't much change my opinion of who was the better dancer (Powell) but it at least was a better comparison. Keeler still shows a more hoofer like quality, all footwork and leg movies with arms askew seeming more there for balance than dance interpretation.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Eleanor Powell was first and foremost a dancer. She was highly skilled, light-footed, accurate. She was athletic with those kicks and splits. She covered the floor in an effortless, fluid manner. Those taps never stop. And they are much more than taps. They are the percussion section for the number - she is just that rhythmic and musical. Watching her dance is hypnotic. She is power.

Ruby is a personality. Shes sings a little, dances a little and is as cute as a button. 42nd Street required a wide-eyed ingenue and she fit the bill. I always thought that everyone else on the floor danced better that her and I bet a lot of the chorus felt that too. I could name all of her steps, they were executed so slowly and deliberately. Shuffle-ball-change anyone? She was slower than the music.

Eleanor Powell danced on a set with a bright shiny floor in an approachable setting. The audience was right there. That MGM bright shiny floor... The setting for the 42nd Street number foreshadows the look of film noir. One scene is supposed to be impromptu, the other is a lavish stage production. It's not really an equal comparison. Didn't you love the police horse performing dressage moves? Everyone was dancing on that street.

MGM - light, bright and engaging - using the camera to enhance movement. Warner Brothers - big on production and staging for effect.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It’s fun to look at Eleanor Powell and Ruby Keller together and know that they both were extremely popular dancers, but their dancing styles are as different as night and day.

Eleanor Powell is a technically proficient dancer, very nimble, and quite a gymnast. Her ballet background is obvious. She has a curvy figure, and she looks womanly as she moves. 

Ruby Keeler is a hoofer. Her dance routines are much less complicated, and she appears a bit stiff. She does not hold herself **** as does Powell, and it is plain that her only training was in school dance class. She has a youthful, nearly boyish figure, and she does not possess sway. I personally always believe she is just about half a beat behind the music.

Though their styles and abilities are wildly different, this did not prevent both Powell (MGM) and Keeler (Warner Bros.) from representing their studios in a big way. Audiences loved both ladies. One might conclude that audiences were so desperate to feel better, to escape their Depression Era woes, that they gladly accepted both highly and barely trained dancers as their emotional saviors. Both dancers made it fun to go to the movies.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 6/7/2018 at 1:12 PM, MsAllieB said:

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.

 

Thank you, MsAllieB, for finally putting into words what I have always felt about Eleanor Powell  I think Eleanor Powell is a good dancer, but there has always been something that just doesn't live up to the hype of "best tap dancer ever" to me.  You explained it very well.  Keeler seems to have actual hooves on her feet when she dances.  She is obviously not a dance expert which shows in the numbers she dances in.  They only show her dancing for 30 seconds or so and that it the last we see her, until the end when she appears at the end, usually with Dick Powell.  She's not much of a singer either, but there is something that you just gotta love about Ruby.

  • Like 2
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Tortuga53 said:

Eleanor Powell was first and foremost a dancer. She was highly skilled, light-footed, accurate. She was athletic with those kicks and splits. She covered the floor in an effortless, fluid manner. Those taps never stop. And they are much more than taps. They are the percussion section for the number - she is just that rhythmic and musical. Watching her dance is hypnotic. She is power.

Ruby is a personality. Shes sings a little, dances a little and is as cute as a button. 42nd Street required a wide-eyed ingenue and she fit the bill. I always thought that everyone else on the floor danced better that her and I bet a lot of the chorus felt that too. I could name all of her steps, they were executed so slowly and deliberately. Shuffle-ball-change anyone? She was slower than the music.

Eleanor Powell danced on a set with a bright shiny floor in an approachable setting. The audience was right there. That MGM bright shiny floor... The setting for the 42nd Street number foreshadows the look of film noir. One scene is supposed to be impromptu, the other is a lavish stage production. It's not really an equal comparison. Didn't you love the police horse performing dressage moves? Everyone was dancing on that street.

MGM - light, bright and engaging - using the camera to enhance movement. Warner Brothers - big on production and staging for effect.

Yes, I did indeed notice and love that horse performing in the midst of all that noise and confusion...excellent!

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 6/7/2018 at 10:11 AM, jawz63 said:

Eleanor Powell’s clip showed how MGM centered the number around Eleanor Powell. There are long shots and close-ups focusing on the whole package. She also had a long line and was very flexible. Her movements were so fluid. She would slink down to the floor again and right back up again. I could go on and on about the balletic moves she incorporated into her numbers. Check out her dancing styles to Begin the Beguine in Broadway Melody of 1940.

Ruby was a hoofer. . Her movements were very clunky. She seemed like she was working very hard where as Eleanor Powell’s seemed to move effortlessly. I felt that in the clip from Ruby’s moviewas used as a break between the larger numbers and Busby’s extravagant productions.

 

I enjoyed this clip. I'm not sure if it's fair to say this after seeing only this clip of Eleanor Powell and Fred Astaire dance together, but I don't sense any spark between them at all. I think Ginger Rogers and Astaire had much more chemistry; they both seemed to enjoy each other's company and dancing so much more.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 6/7/2018 at 3:39 AM, MarkH said:

Are they seriously showing colorized clips? That’s not the 42nd Street that Warner Bros made. This doesn’t lend the course much sense of seriousness or accuracy. Also the Born to Dance clip’s frame is completely stretched out of shape. Come on Ball State/TCM, you can do better than this!

Thanks for pointing this out. This has been fixed. We strive to have high quality clips in all cases, and this video problem has been addressed. 

On the positive side, love the great discussions here about the differences between Ruby Keeler and Eleanor Powell. 

Keep up the great work everyone!!

  • Thanks 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Excellently stated Pastiche. Was trying to verbalize what I felt about the two styles & you hit the nail on the head. 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree that Powell is the much better dancer and the clip focuses on her dancing.  Keeler does a few standard tap moves and the clip doesn't focus much on her dancing .  Powell uses her whole body to dance .  I saw some arm movements that are reminiscent of the African American tap dancers of vaudeville.  I bet Powell choreographed or worked with the choreographer as there are some special "powell" style moves.  I think Keller didn't.  Powell's style is also much more athletic and inventive.  

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I really don’t like comparing Eleanor Powell with Ruby Keeler because I wouldn’t put them in the same class. Powell has always been considered the best tap dancer of her time. I think her style is always technically perfect, while I’m not a big fan of the athletic choreography - sometimes makes it a little awkward. However, that’s a sign of the times. I watch these movies a lot and I think people went crazy for Fred and Ginger because that’s when the dancing became more graceful.  I never thought Ruby Keeler was much better than the other chorus girls. In fact I thought Ginger stepping aside (in 42nd Street) because Ruby could carry the show was funny. But that’s my opinion. I don’t know if Jolson had a lot to do with her success but I just never saw her as a real stand out at dancing, singing or acting.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have never quite gotten the allure of Ruby Keeler - she gave off more warmth than Eleanor Powell, but Powell is clearly the superior dancer. Keeler always struck me as being kind of doughy and klutzy; an acolyte of the Joan Crawford School of Dance. In fact, she almost wrecks the fabulous “Shanghai Lil” number in “Footlights Parade” for me — luckily, James Cagney more than makes up for her off-the-beat ineptitude. Powell uses her whole body in her dancing and has some of the whippet-like grace and fluidity of Astaire.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I dislike comparing performers because each person has his or her own unique abilities and personalities.  There are many variables that affect performance as well, including training, the roles they receive, storyline, creativity, contractual obligations, etc. Also, each individual can put his/her own spin on a role. What would "42nd Street" have been like with Eleanor Powell instead, or "Born to Dance" with Ruby Keller? We remember these films because they were cast and performed by those we love. If they had been cast otherwise, we might remember those performances instead.

For example, Gene Kelly was supposed to star in "Easter Parade;" however, he broke his ankle, and Fred Astaire took over the role.  Now, "Easter Parade" is immortalized with the memory of Judy Garland and Fred Astaire.  But, how would Gene Kelly have changed the role? the choregoraphy? If he had done the part as planned, we would remember him now. The trouble is that both would have been wonderful in the same dancing part, but in different ways. The same goes for Shirley Temple, who was first choice for Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz."  Her studio would not loan her out; therefore, Judy Garland became the star of record. How would Shirley have changed the "Emerald" equaion?

To return to the initial question - Ruby Keeler vs. Eleanor Powell....  My personal favorite is Eleanor Powell. She was a trained dancer, and had the luck to have been cast in roles where she could show her versatility - ballet, gymnastics, tap...  I have only seen Ruby Keller do tap; therefore, I am unaware of her other abilities, which may have been there, but never showcased. (Also, I associate Ruby Keller with Dick Powell as a packaged couple)  Additionally, I like Eleanor Powell, as she was elegant in manner, and partnered well with Fred Astaire - which is no mean feat (View Begin the Beguine or Rosalie for wonderful numbers.I love Eleanor Poewll's quick turns, her high kicks, her bright, happy smile and "stop on a dime" endings! Great timing! Great performances!

We will never know what else these two dancers could have offered us. Who was the better dancer is ultimately in the eyes of the viewer. A quote attributed to George Balanchine says, "Everyone contributes to the painting."  This is so true of the actor with the smallest part to the star.  It also applies to all of the dancers within the movie industry who created magic. Who you like better is viewer's choice. 

 

 

  • Like 2
  • Thanks 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Physically, while both Ruby Keeler and Eleanor Powell are both very beautiful and graceful tap dancers and utilize their femininity and sartorial style effectively, the main thing that distinguishes the two is their height and method of tap. Keeler seems shorter and more pixie-like than Powell, so she accentuates her dance with speed, which works well for a smaller dancer and she's also a clogger placing emphasis on the individual sounds of her taps instead of the overall physical performance. Powell, a taller, and seemingly elegant swing style dancer, uses her whole body and space around her to fill out the dance.

Ruby Keeler as Peggy Sawyer in 42nd Street:

Ruby Keeler, as Peggy Sawyer in 42nd Street, looks very art deco in the title number down to the carefully designed black and white costume which becomes an all-black short-all up to her little white bowler. Her overall tap style resembles a clogger who emphasizes each individual sound instead of concentrating on extraneous movement throughout the whole performance.

Eleanor Powel as Nora Paige in Born to Dance:

One thing Eleanor Powell, as Nora Paige in Born to Dance's Rap Tap on Wood is to really smile with her face and her whole body. She really dances joy! In the number, while she does do the traditional bank step, cramp roll, shuffles and flaps, to keep the basic rhythm, she also gives them extra swing flavor by using her lovely white outfit, specifically the skirt, as an elegant prop. 

42ndStreet72 (2).png

Ruby Keeler in 42nd Street 2.jpg

Ruby Keeler in 42nd Street (2).png

Annex - Powell, Eleanor (Born to Dance)_NRFPT_02 (2).jpg

borntodance_raptaponwood_FC_470x264_012720170810.jpg

Eleanor Powell.jpg

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ruby Keeler and Eleanor Powell are both great dancers and performers but very different styles. Keeper is more of a hoofer and a female Cagney when it comes to tapping, heavy footed and bent over.  Powell is lighter on her feet and graceful.  I know Powell is a more rounded dancer because she is more acrobatic and trained in ballet (Broadway Melody 1940).  Keeler is adorable tapping and I can see why movie goers in the 1930s loved here.  Powell is a fantastic dancer and her routines are well choreographed for her talent and abilities. I like watching her dance solo or with partners. I just wish she would keep her mouth closed more when dancing. It is distracting. Both dancers seem to enjoy performing and you can’t help enjoy watching them. Question - can anyone imagine Keeler and Powell dancing together?  

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Powell is graceful, flowing, and energetic and seems to bring her ballet background and, most importantly, her whole personality into her routine.  Keeler didn't seem at all comfortable with being in front of the camera, and in my opinion was only dancing with her feet, and not her personality. I suppose there's some honesty in a "let-my-feet-do-the-talking" attitude, but she misses the mark for me.  Has anyone noticed how often she looks down at her feet while she's dancing in both movies this week?

 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

© 2020 Turner Classic Movies Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Cookie Settings
×
×
  • Create New...