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Tap dancing sfx?


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I'm watching all these great Astaire-Rogers films today and I begin to wonder; how did they record the sound of them tap dancing? I have to assume that they danced to a playback of the music in the studio when they were shooting, so how did they get the tap sounds? They couldn't very well record the tap dancing at the same time that a playback was occurring? Did they do folly later on?

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> {quote:title=overeasy wrote:}{quote}

> Did they do folly later on?

 

I do remember hearing or reading somewhere that folly was indeed the way it was done - they'd go back once the movie had been filmed and dub in all the tap dancing. Obviously they had to be really good to make every single tap match what was on-screen.

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I don't know if this applies, but Arthur Duncan, the tap dancer for years on The Lawrence Welk Show, said in an interview that Lawrence made him do the number first so that the taps could be recorded, then repeat the routine for the filming "tap-synching" to the prerecorded track. It shows how well-rehearsed he was. Same could be said of Astaire and Rogers, I'm sure.

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It is absolutely true that many of the musical films incorporating tap dancing had the sound effects of the tapping enhanced by technical means. The best known or talked about was for Gene Kelly in ?Singin? in The Rain.? The famous dance number of Gene in the rain was all technically enhanced by the sound department. Gene had the dance number simply shot first and then the sound department had dancers Gwen Verdon and Carol Haney add in all the splashes and spattering of the sounds, all appearing as if it was coming from Gene?s footsteps! It?s only been recently that millions of fans have come to realize that hardly any of the tap dancing sounds were not naturally or so easily heard without the use of some technical help!

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ziggyelman wrote:

> I could have sworn reading in the liner notes of a 2 cd Astaire set that it mentioned him having to watch the film and match the taps...but it wasn't there.

 

Ok . . . In terms of Fred, at the beginning of his career at RKO Pictures, the sound department had mics placed everywhere around the dance area. However, this method proved to be too tedious and problematic, with the mics picking up other sounds, if not, distortion. So, it was then decided to have Fred dance out his numbers first to be recorded for sound, usually during a simple rehearsal. Later on, the sound of Fred's tap dancing was edited onto the finish or accepted film strip. The engineers at RKO were terrific, never making a mistake or got out of synchronization, once they had to retrace Fred's steps.

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> HollywoodGolightly wrote:

> Awww.. that sort of destroys the magic, doesn't it. :P

 

Well, I?ve wondered about this issue for some years. Does it in fact mean that the whole musical genre for film is of an artificial means; whereas a performer can extend themselves beyond any required talents? Certainly, most of the musical stars of classic Hollywood all had pervious experience or the necessary abilities to sing, dance and give off with adequate acting skills. Despite the illusionism that has now been brought out into the forefront, it doesn?t really equate with anything towards sleight-of-hand or tricks. Fred and just about everybody who worked at a major studio could have proved themselves, by way of their talents at any given time to a live audience. So, the idea that just simple sound effects had to be employed in this situation doesn?t at all affect the quality or legitimacy of the entertainment at hand. It was all part of what we can reasonably consider a magic of the movies; allowing us to get into the whole aura of the scene or moment we are watching what we know is someone who is really talented beyond all our dreams.

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In one of David Niven's books, he had a little chapter about Fred Astaire. He said that yes, Fred would do his tap routines, and the re-do them in the sound studio to get all the taps perfectly recorded. Apparently Fred was so precise and aware of his dancing that he had the taps accurate to the fraction of a second, and could tell if the soundtrack was slightly out of synch. Niven even wrote about the time Astaire called up from a film premiere, hysterical because the soundtrack was three frames out of synch or something!

 

Niven did exaggerate a few things, but after reading that I was more impressed with Astaire than I had been when I thought the routines were recorded 100% live. Fred could see precise detail in what is a blur to you and me, he was so good at what he did.

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As I just posted in the General Discussion in reply to favorite movies, etc., and am a major Fred & Ginger fan, I missed their marathon on Thanksgiving day as I was busy in the kitchen. Such is life. I did know that the taps were added in their films but it didn't destroy the magic. I also liked Eleanor Powell & Astair in their wonderful sequence in "Broadway Melody of 1940" to Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine." More magic...

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In general, tap dancing in all films was later dubbed in for recording quality. Only the very best tap dancers dubbed their own taps, i.e. Bojangles, Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell or Gene Kelly. Actors who were not professional tap dancers were also dubbed. For example, Astaire's Assistant, Hermes Pan, always dubbed Ginger Rogers. In fact, many great Black Tap Dancers made a living in Hollywood dubbing for White Actors.

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HollywoodGolightly wrote:

> When you think about it, it's kind of amazing that you didn't even need to be a professional tap dancer to be able to be in a movie back then and make it look convincing.

 

This is an issue that is very, very true. While some performers were given a bit of dance training for their film work, the idea that they were usually technically enhanced, gives credence to feel that there was no real ability, let alone talent. Several classic stars of Hollywood, who started out having roles in the chorus of various Broadway shows, can?t be considered real, bona fide dancers. A good example are such stars as Joan Crawford, Van Johnson, Mel Ferrer, Dan Dailey, Myrna Loy, Ann Sheridan, Esther Williams, Ann Sothern, June Allyson, John Payne, Rags Ragland, Cesar Romero, Phil Silvers, Alice Faye and many others. This is not to say that numerous stars didn?t have the necessary experience, but they simply didn?t really dwell in the area of dance or made it the main focus of their careers in motion pictures.

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*Dan Dailey*

 

Dan Dailey had quite a career in the 1950s as a song and dance man both in the movies and around the country in nightclubs from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to Miami.

 

And from most accounts was quite an accomplished hoofer.

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I guess everyone in the movies knew somewhat how to sing & dance. So many of them came from vaudeville. Joan Crawford evidently won many Charleston contests but boy oh boy, when she tried to tap she looked as if she was doing 'The Chicken" flapping those elbows & shoving her legs around.

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