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I would like some of you with dance backgrounds to help me understand some of the technical differences between these two great dancers. This has long intrigued me. Having so many of their films available for comparison and new learning through this course has impelled me to write up the differences. So, attached is my understanding of their styles but I would like more information about their footwork, etc. that only dancers can explain.

 

Kelly vs Astaire.pdf

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 I have thought about this for a long time because the backgrounds of the two dancers are so different,  yet they both were well grounded in ballet.

Gene Kelly came from an Irish American background where the family did Irish step dancing together for fun. Irish step dancing is one of the colloquial folk dances which became part of the foundation for tap dancing.

What really got Gene Kelly into dance was that his father lost his job in the Depression and the family enjoyed dance. So they opened a dance studio to make a living. Gene hired instructors and he learned from them, yet he already had a fantastic athletic background,  which included roller skating and acrobatics. Gene idolized Douglas Fairbanks in the silent movies.

In spite of doing a college degree , Gene continued on with dance and was good enough in ballet that he auditioned for the Ballet Russe and was accepted. But instead he decided to try his luck on Broadway and continue to be a song and dance man in musical comedy.

***

Fred Astaire was simply a brother who accompanied his sister to dance school and they discovered that he had a natural talent and ability. His father was from Austria so he came from a background of the waltz and ballroom dancing.  He studied all the dance forms in dance school and was Adept in ballet, but tap dancing was popular and that's what was stressed.

He was most proficient in Ballroom because of his ethnic background and because he had to accompany his sister in their Vaudeville Act and then on to Broadway.

 

Tap dancing is a vernacular dance that people bring to it what they have-- if they have anything to bring to it.

In Gene Kelly you will see a ballet dancer who is an excellent tap dancer and Adept at acrobatics.

 In Fred Astaire you will see an excellent tap dancer who is equally proficient in ballroom dancing and mixes the both of them together within the structure of ballet.

Tap dancing is jazz dancing and as Jazz became more popular as a dance form and became more structured in the late forties and the 50s both of them  started to include more jazz dance styles in there non tap-dance work.

 

It really is difficult to explain how different they are, but it has more to do with their style, than their technique because both of them are fundamentally great ballet dancers and great tap dancers,  who know how to professionally partner women, while utilizing Jazz technique to their advantage.

 

  The only other thing I could say about both of them is:

Each had a uniquely different style, unique from anybody else and uniquefrom each other,

yet at the same time they relied on all the same dance techniques, in ways that suited their own individual dance style best.

 

*Maybe I can use Cyd Charisse as an example: Cyd Charisse was perfect to dance with Fred Astaire because she was a highly, trained professional ballet dancer.

However, in order for Gene Kelly to use her in Singin' in the Rain and to get her up to speed for the modern Jazz technique that was going to be utilized in other films like The Band Wagon, for example,  Gene Kelly had to teach Cyd jazz dance technique and style.

So while Gene Kelly's assistants were teaching Debbie Reynolds how to tap dance,

Gene Kelly was teaching Cyd Charisse how to perform jazz dance.

So when Cyd came to do The Band Wagon, she was ready for the jazz style in The Girl Hunt Ballet and she had always been ready for the Fred Astaire style of Dancing in the Dark. Their collaboration continued in Silk Stockings with both types of dance styles.

 

BTW--  Your PDF was  well structured and well researched. I would be curious to see some of the conclusions that you've reached.

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1 hour ago, Scrappinsteph said:

One explanation that I’ve heard holds that Fred danced high and Gene danced low. 

I don't really know what you mean by that at all.

Jazz dance, which includes tap dance, is usually low, unless you've got a ballet line and you go up on the balls of your feet for some steps.

Any ballet type stuff is going to be high, like a leap or a pirouette.

Both dancers had a ballet line and both dancers knew how to get close to the floor for the jazz style-- but at a moment's notice rise up for a ballet style turn.

 

 

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I heard a ballet dancer speak about Mr. Kelly and Mr. Astaire. He said that dancers tended to think that with a lot of very hard work, they MIGHT be able to dance like Mr. Kelly. But Mr. Astaire...his style was completely his own.

I don't want a world without Gene Kelly any more than I want one without Fred Astaire, but I am more an Astaire fan. That may simply be because I saw Mr. Astaire first.

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I'd be very curious to read what people with professional dance training or experience have to say on this.

To my uneducated eye: Kelly's style strikes me as more clearly athletic and hard-working. He's also got a stronger build.Maybe there's a number of Astaire movies I haven't seen where he does numbers that disprove this, but I'm not sure you see Astaire doing as many moves with lifts or carrying people on his back as Kelly sometimes does. Kelly seems to also favor doing broader moves with his body or steps or landing with his legs farther apart and knees bent. Maybe I'm talking from too small a sample size, and that's more a choreography difference vs. style difference.

Astaire's is more graceful and smooth. Obviously, there's a ton of athleticism and showmanship there too, but Astaire seems more like he can conceal and trick audiences with it. At times you almost think to yourself...this guy must've rehearsed this 100s of times and meticulously planned. He's got a less animated, more within himself/naturalistic sort of vibe, at least to me.

edit: Great PDF btw. Other thing I've noticed is that Astaire tends to stays more upright, whereas Kelly will bend more forward or at the knees during numbers, and more extremely to the sides as well.

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20 minutes ago, Pat221b said:

I heard a ballet dancer speak about Mr. Kelly and Mr. Astaire. He said that dancers tended to think that with a lot of very hard work, they MIGHT be able to dance like Mr. Kelly. But Mr. Astaire...his style was completely his own.

I don't want a world without Gene Kelly any more than I want one without Fred Astaire, but I am more an Astaire fan. That may simply be because I saw Mr. Astaire first.

That is exactly how I feel too except, I doubt that very many dancers could ever reach that ability or that height of professionalism where Gene Kelly was. I taught dance studio tap dancing for many years and it was very similar to the kind of tap dancing that Gene Kelly did--but on a lower level. The students who were on the higher level  danced very similar, in style, to  him or Donald O'Connor.

Tap dance studio dancing is like learning a foreign language or algebra. You have a glossary of steps and you just put them all together. That's not taking anything away from Gene's extraordinary tap style and extraordinary ballet technique and acrobatic abilities.

 Fred Astaire had come up as a child on the stage and he developed his own style. It's such a unique and artistic way that you would have to say he was a genius and that no one could ever really copy him or do what he was doing.

You can't teach a person to dance like Fred Astaire--but you can, and I have, taught people to pretty much do all those steps in Singing' in the Rain or I Got Rhythm-- which are the ABCs of studio tap dancing. However, Gene's special charisma and professionalism was second to none.

Most of the time, I can look at Gene Kelly and I could tell you what he was doing--even if I couldn't do it that fast. LOL 

  But when  you look at Fred Astaire,  you're not too sure what he's doing, or how he does it, or why he does it that way or  how he can go on doing it as long as he does, but he's wonderful! 

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I'm not a professional dancer. BUT - As an observer, I'd say that Astaire's build was slighter than Kelly's.

Kelly makes the dances look easy, while Astaire makes them precisioned perfection.

Kelly is more fluid in his movements, perhaps because he leans forward more, uses his torso more

Astaire does remain more upright, but that has to do with build as well as style/training.

Both are fabulous no matter what.

 

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Scrappinsteph said "One explanation that I’ve heard holds that Fred danced high and Gene danced low. "

Here's part of an explanation from another fan that may relate to "high/low"  [Fred Astaire vs. Gene Kelly]

Quote

Fred’s body was longer and leaner than Gene’s, and this higher center of gravity contributes to an overall lightness of form and movement. No matter how fast Astaire moves, he never seems to be working very hard. In spite of his affability and his warm smile, this effortlessness gives him a remote, untouchable quality.

Gene’s dancing is in a different dimension, poles apart from Fred’s. Where Fred is light and airy, Gene is powerful and earthy.

Gene was a bit shorter (5’7″ to Fred’s 5’9″) and more muscular and, therefore, he always seems bound to the ground. He had a greater desire than Fred to incorporate different styles of dancing into the mainstream musical, particularly ballet. But when Gene leaps and soars he never quite takes off because his thick and powerful legs anchor him to the terrestrial plain. 

 

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I can never really choose between the two.   Both were amazing dancers the likes of which we'll most likely never see again, and both were fiercely dedicated perfectionists.   Really the major difference was their styles of dancing;  Gene was athletic and flexible, and almost always wore more form fitting and casual clothes.   Fred was sophisticated, elegant and preferred suits.   Gene once said, "If Fred Astaire is the Cary Grant of dance, I'm the Marlon Brando."

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On 6/17/2018 at 1:38 AM, Princess of Tap said:

Tap dancing is jazz dancing and as Jazz became more popular as a dance form and became more structured in the late forties and the 50s both of them  started to include more jazz dance styles in there non tap-dance work.

 

I know nothing about dance and I can't dance. This stuck out to me. How and why did Jazz dance become more structured? My only reference point of Jazz dancing is the 1920s and the Charleston, black bottom and those sorts of dances. Idk what you would call them Popular/fad  or vernacular (I assume since those dances as well as jazz as a musical form began in black communities). But it seems like you're talking about something technical and professional standard when you say jazz dances.

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20 minutes ago, Brittany Ashley said:

I know nothing about dance and I can't dance. This stuck out to me. How and why did Jazz dance become more structured? My only reference point of Jazz dancing is the 1920s and the Charleston, black bottom and those sorts of dances. Idk what you would call them Popular/fad  or vernacular (I assume since those dances as well as jazz as a musical form began in black communities). But it seems like you're talking about something technical and professional standard when you say jazz dances.

It seems like first you had people like Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn and Martha Graham creating a technical and professional standard of contemporary dance that the public called modern dance.

Going in that same direction dance professionals like Jack Cole who choreographed Marilyn Monroe in the movies and worked for the studios did something similar with jazz-- and not just American Jazz Dance,  but they also used vernacular dance from other countries for their  curriculum - - like India, Thailand and Egypt.

I would suggest you look up these Jazz professionals like Jack Cole, Luigi, and some that I studied with in Chicago: Lou Conte, Joel Hall and Gus Giordano.

There were many others as well, but what was done primarily, just like what they did with contemporary dance, they had to have a structured jazz barre and/or  jazz floor as well as a jazz curriculum or alphabet to call it truly a technical dance form.

Some of these dancers utilized ballet, While others utilized more modern dance type techniques.  But what they were going for, like ballet, was some kind of a Anatomy- based technique that would allow the dancer to have complete body control and center, which of course includes head and arm movements.

You can probably find some of these techniques in video/ book form for Luigi,  and Gus Giordano and others.

Now Bob Fosse and Michael Bennett are great jazz dance choreographers on Broadway. But I don't know if they ever really created their own techniques.  What they had was a dance style.  It looked as though they used primarily ballet to get to where they were going.

It's a little hard to describe unless you can actually watch one of these jazz dance classes. Then you get an idea of how so much is put together and borrowed from so many different cultures and dance genres.

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