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JackBurley

Top Ten Taps To Titilate Toes

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I'm always looking for the consummate tap number. What are your favorites? Here's my top ten (which I imagine I'll be updating over time):

 

Gold Diggers of 1935- "Lullaby of Broadway" Cast of "Thousands".

A narrative in tap; it's disturbing, creepy and exquisite, exposing the dark underbelly of the upper classes. The deco simplicity of a nightclub for two, which is overtaken by a stomping army of debauched dancers. It includes Busby Berkeley's patented dizzying camera angles. We see dancers from above and below (tapping on a plexiglass floor!). The rhythms are intoxicating and the entire number is breathtaking, right up to the suprise ending.

 

The Little Colonel- Bill Robinson and Shirley Temple.

 

Swing Time- "Pick Yourself Up" Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

The introduction to this number is involved -- a tease really -- combining comedic brilliance of Eric Blore and Helen Broderick with Mr. Astaire's mockery of dancing. Ginger Rogers gets to sing the chorus of this Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields song, and she never sounded better. Sung in a lower key than we'd normally heard her previous to this, it lends a velvet shading to her timbre. When the real number begins it seems as if it will be a ballroom number, but in mid-turn the couple bursts into resplendent tap. I have to admit I'm enchanted by Miss Rogers in this number. Just watch her port de bras: her mock delicacy as she lifts her skirts, the dainty pose of her fingertips on Astaire's arm. There's a relaxed freedom to her style. They both give so many little details in such a short number. Their exit, as they float over the banisters shows an otherworldly grace.

 

Lady Be Good- "Fascinating Rhythm" Eleanor Powell.

 

Broadway Meloday of 1940- "Begin the Beguine" Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell.

The greatest tap duet of all time. Introduced by the close-harmony Music Maids (with cross-marketing reference to the The Wizard of Oz) singing Cole Porter's sublime hit. The white costumes of the duo set against the glimmering, inky black mirrored set is striking. Once Miss Powell and Mr. Astaire appear, the camera work is simplicity itself. This number was photographed in only two long shots. This would be unheard of today. First because Hollywood doesn't believe audiences have the attention span for long takes; and secondly, because of the virtuosity that long takes demand. One mistake and the entire shot must be done over from the beginning. And the dancing? Amazing. The two are perfectly matched; so assured. The complex rhythms are flawlessly performed and the pace is perfection; building to their cadenza. It leaves one breathless.

 

Orchestra Wives- "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo" The Nicholas Brothers.

A superb introduction by The Glenn Miller Orchestra (with glimpses of a young Jackie Gleason and Cesar Romero with the band!) and vocals by Tex Beneke and The Modernaires (including the vivacious Marion Hutton [sister of Betty]) leads to this spirited dance number featuring Fayard and Harold Nicholas. So dapper in white tie, they sing the song and then sell it with one of most energetic tap numbers captured on film. A perfect blend of elegance and acrobatics; these brothers defy gravity running up walls to a back flip years before Donald O'Connor's famed stunt in Singin' in the Rain. Fayard's double tours en l'air is a thrill to behold. A priceless number.

 

Barkleys of Broadway- "Bouncin' the Blues" Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

It's great to see Fred & Ginger again after ten years apart; and this time we get them in glorious Technicolor. This is a pure celebration of rhythm, and it begins appropriately enough with a fanfare from the drum set. The musical arrangement is simple and understated jazz so that the taps really "pop". I love the endearing moment when he "chucks" her chin at the beginning of this percussive pas de deux. Clean and precise.

 

Singing in the Rain- "Fit as a Fiddle" Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor.

 

Singin' in the Rain- "Good Morning" Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor

Here's a song from 1929 by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed (who also produced Singin' in the Rain), featured in a miraculously high spirited number that takes place that same year. The miracle is 19 year old Debbie Reynolds, who had done some gymnastics as Miss Burbank of 1948, but until now was not a dancer. Gene Kelly, Ernie Flatt and Jeanne Coyne drilled her [reportedly] until her feet bled, and then worked her some more. The result is this joyous and optimistic number with Miss Reynolds' bleeding feet joining the energetic steps of Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor. The number begins with us leaving the foreshadowing rain and entering Don Lockwood's house where the trio is in the midst of an epiphany -- how to save their movie-within-the-movie. It's a new day and they have a new idea; let's celebrate with dance! This dance leads the terpischorian trio through Don's house from kitchen, over furniture, up stairs, down stairs, climbing ballustrades and sends them musically around the world (including pseudo-Irish jigs, a quick homage to Kelly's An American in Paris, a Hawai'ian "hula" and a Spanish flamenco) before returning to the flapper's America. Visual puns abound. For instance, Don's "bar" becomes Don's "barre" as they combine tap with a ballet corp's plie routine. The sometimes frenetic tapping is precise, varied in rhythm and style. This tour de force ends with the gang giggling and exhausted on a trodden davenport. Behind them we can see through a window, and are reminded once again, that it's raining outside...

 

Kiss Me Kate- "It's Too Darn Hot" Ann Miller.

Annie starts off the number with "Go boys, go!". It's apparent she's having a ball in this scene; effervescent and using every inch of the small living room set. Shot in 3-D, Miss Miller teases the audience by stripping off her gloves, scarf, jewels and tossing them at the anaglyph-bespectacled audience. This is Ann at her most flirtatious and sexy. Her cadenza is expeditiously shot in front of a double-angled mirror. And the close-up of her fanning herself while tantalizing the audience? Well, it's too darned hot!

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In no particular order:

 

1. The Nicholas Brothers' "Jumpin' Jive" from Stormy Weather leaves me speechless.

 

2. Fred Astaire claiming "I Won't Dance" in Roberta. As Baryshnikov said, "We are dancing. He is doing something else..."

 

3. Ann Miller doing "Hallelujah" at the end of Hit the Deck

 

4. Bill Robinson's stair dance (I think the most amazing version I saw was in a short)

 

5. Gene Kelly tapping on roller skates ("I Like Myself") in It's Always Fair Weather

 

6. Donald O'Connor and Kelly in "Moses Supposes," Singin' in the Rain

 

7. Astaire and Rogers doing "I'll Be Hard to Handle" from Roberta (the thing that really makes me flip--I know I've mentioned this at least twice before, so bear with me if I'm repeating myself--is that all the numbers in this movie were recorded on the soundstage, not dubbed!)

 

8. Both tap numbers Astaire and Powell do together in Broadway Melody of 1940--I love the jukebox one, too!

 

9. Ray Bolger performing "The Girl I Love to Leave Behind" in Stage Door Canteen

 

10. Joan Leslie and Fred Astaire proclaiming, "I've Got a Lot in Common with You" from The Sky's the Limit, a forgotten gem

 

11. Oh-oh--I knew I'd exceed the requested number...can't leave out James Cagney as Cohan. I've seen film of Cohan dancing, and Cagney nailed it!

 

Then there are the tappers I think highly of, though I must admit I can't recall a particular number of theirs, like Dan Dailey or Hal LeRoy...

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"The Forgotten Man", sequence with Joan Blondell, in Gold Diggers of 1933.Joan Blondell is one of the, nearly forgotten, gems of American films.

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I always liked the two solo sequences for Fred Astaire in "Royal Wedding"--the one where he dances on the ceiling (fascinated me as a kid) and when he dances with the coatrack. Actually, any time he tap dances is ok by me.

 

There was a movie in the 80's I think that had a lot of tapdancing in it--something about Russia and a black dancer wanting to defect to Russia? Or did I hallucinate that?

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The movie was 1985's "White Nights" starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines. Baryshnikov defected to the US, but finds himself back in the USSR. Hines is sent over there to break down his resistance to defecting again, according to Leonard Maltin.

 

I was thinking that the Nicholas brothers also did a tap routine to Chattanooga Choo Choo in Sun Valley Serenade, although it wasn't as impressive as the one in Orchestra Wives.

 

CharlieT

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> The movie was 1985's "White Nights" starring Mikhail

> Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines. Baryshnikov defected

> to the US, but finds himself back in the USSR. Hines

> is sent over there to break down his resistance to

> defecting again, according to Leonard Maltin.

 

CharlieT...have you seen Gregory Hines in Taps?

 

 

Some favorites of mine.....

 

Ziegfeld Follies...Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in ?The Babbit and the Bromide?.

Swing Time...Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers...?Pick yourself up, Dust Yourself off'.

Easter Parade....Ann Miller in ?Shakin' the Blues Away?.

Small Town Girl....Ann Miller in ?You Gotta Hear that Beat?.

Singin' in the Rain....Gene Kelly and Donald O?Conner...?Fit as a Fiddle? and ?Moses Supposes?.

Down Argentine Way....The Nicholas Brothers...their number is only reason to watch this movie. They were fabulous.

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I've only seen bits and pieces on TV. Never got to see the entire movie. As a kid, I was always impressed with anyone who could keep such a syncopated beat with their feet. I'm glad that tap hasn't died out and is kept alive for us and future generations. Me? I was blessed with two left feet. I don't mind not being able to dance, but buying shoes is murder. :)

 

CharlieT

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The whole cast from Taps. I love when the old guys (Sammy Davis, Sandman, etc) are dancing. That was awesome.

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I have a vague recollection of Tap. Thanks for the reminder! Harold Nicholas of The Nicholas Brothers (see my top ten below) is in that, along with Sandman Sims, Sammy Davis, Jr., Gregory Hines and Savion Glover (the youngster who will one day be remembered as the guy who saved "tap"). Thanks again for bringing this up; I'm going to keep my eye out for it...

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Wow! All the mentioned numbers are great. What about the "From This Moment On" number from "Kiss Me Kate"; all 3 couples are fantastic, but I especially love Bob Fosse and Carol Haney's "pas-de-deux".

 

Other favorites I play over and over again are (I'm not sure if they fit into the "tap" category): "The Girl Hunt" number with Cyd and Fred from "The Band Wagon"; "The Red Blues" with Cyd and Fred's "Ritz and Roll Rock", both from "Silk Stockings".

 

Message was edited by:

feaito

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I'm certainly with you on that, feaito--"From This Moment On" is my favorite non-Astaire dance number, hands down. But I don't think of it as a tap number, which is why I didn't include it in my list.

 

We seldom see Cyd Charisse tap dancing, but she's still my favorite female dancer. Amazing grace, and just a perfect specimen of a woman.

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You are right Ayres, Carol and Bob's number is more jazz-oriented. Thanks for replying.

 

Another number that now comes to my mind is Eleanor Powell's (my fave female tap dancer) mammoth number around the song "Rosalie" in the same title film.

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"From This Moment On" is a favorite of mine too, feaito, but I didn't include it because it wasn't pure tap. It's funny you mentioned the "Rosalie" number. You see, last night I was going to write out a description for Eleanor Powell's "Fascinating Rhythm" number, but began having second thoughts. I thought I might put in "Rosalie" instead. I watched it again last night and it's great spectacle, but I think she's done other numbers that are better examples of her tap work. I wish I had Easy to Love and Broadway Melody of 1936 at hand... What do you think is her best solo tap effort?

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I'm so annoyed! I wrote almost seven paragraphs answering your question and I pressed "post" and it was all LOST! I can't believe it! This site has always had terrible technical flaws when one writes longer posts and I forgot about it.

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Oh feaito, I empathize with you. What a terrible feeling! I've had this happen in the past too. Now I always copy my text before committing to "post message" just in case something goes awry. I hope you'll muster the energy to bring your thoughts back to this thread...

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Well Jack, what's done is done....I'll try to elaborate again....

 

I was telling you that I have not seen many of Eleanor Powell's films, only "Broadway Melody of 1940", "Rosalie" and "Born To Dance"....Oh! and a specialty number she did in cameo in "Duchess of Idaho", I believe. I've also seen some excerpts of numbers she did in the "Broadway Melodies" of 1936 and 1938, "Honolulu" and sequences or out-takes of her "Fascinating Rhythm" number from "Lady Be Good" (that's one of my fave Gershwin songs), all these thanks to the fact that they are featured in the Extras of the "Singing in the Rain" Special DVD Edition and in the three "That's Entertainment" films and "That's Dancing" (I bought the DVD Boxed Set of "That's Ent." a while ago; I already had them on VHS, but not all the great extras included in the Set!!!).

 

Of Ellie's numbers I've seen, I think that maybe "Begin the Beguine", from "B. Melody of 1940" is the best, (although "Jukebox Dance" and "All Shore", both from the same film, are quite grand too).

 

Talking about the "Rosalie" number, it was the first Ellie Powell dance sequence I ever saw (in That's Entertainment I). I was very young and was absolutely entranced, impressed, in awe, especially because of the dimensions of the elephantine, jaw-dropping huge production that surrounded the number. "Broadway Rhythm" and "I've Got a Feeling You're Fooling", from "B. Melody from 1940" are quite great too! The same can be said of "Born To Dance's" "Swinging the Jinx Away" .....I can't recall Ellie's dancing number for "Easy To Love"; I only remember the sequence in which Jimmy Stewart sang it to her; I'll Have to watch it again.....I also wish I could see the complete "Fascinating Rhythm" number.......There should be more of Ellie's films on DVD!!

 

Have you ever seen the number in which Ellie tapped out a Morse Code message in "Ship Ahoy"? I've read that it's quite sth!

 

John Kobal, who was a super fan of Eleanor Powell, wrote prominently in his book "Gotta Sing Gotta Dance", about her pairing with Astaire in "B. Melody of 1940 and analyzed thoroughly their meeting and how they worked out their routines together, especially "Begin the Beguine". Kobal said that Ellie was Fred's best dancing partner ever. A one of a kind meeting!

 

Onthe other hand, in other books I have read, some authors have stated that although Fred and Ellie are probably the best tap dancers of all time, when they worked together their unique individual talents did not properly "blend" in the routines they did together, as a "couple", but they rather were individual dances done together by two masters. They felt there was no real "partnership", but more a competition, a battle of talents between two pros, who showcased their individual skills together, not really "blending" into a perfect "coupling". I'm not an expert in this area, so it's hard for me to tell for sure, but what do you think about these statements?

 

These authors have also stated that Fred was complemented in a better way by ladies like Ginger Rogers and Rita Hayworth, who while not the best dancers in the world, danced very well with him and complemented Fred's innate elegance and awesome skills perfectly, forming real "couples", blending into a perfect partnership. It has also been stated that Cyd Charisse was Fred's best dancing partner; Again, What do you think about it?

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"what's done is done...

 

Or in our case, what's done is undone...

 

What a nice reply. Thank you for the many ideas of reference. I'd forgotten that I could find some of Miss Powell's work on the Singin' in the Rain supplemental disk; then I pulled out the That's Entertainment disks, and then I got my copy of Kobal's Gotta Sing Gotta Dance. Which edition of Kobal's book do you have? I couldn't find his writing on the "Begin the Beguine" number other than a quick mention. But I have the first (1972) edition; and I understand that later editions were published in 1983 and 1990.

 

I was lucky enough to see the Broadway Melody series on the big screen about fifteen years ago. I saw Rosalie on video long ago. Just the other day, TCM showed The Great Morgan with Miss Powell's scene that was excised from Honolulu; it was the highpoint of this often ponderous mess of a movie. I've never seen any of Ship Ahoy, the finished Honolulu nor I Dood It. I'd love to see an Eleanor Powell set of DVDs released.

 

To be sure, there's a physicality of Astaire's coupling with Rogers, Garland, Charisse, Chase, etc. that doesn't exist in "Begin the Beguine". The elegance of the ballroom works with Rogers are exquisite; and his pairing with Cyd Charisse for The Band Wagon's "Dancing in the Dark" is perfection. But his work with Eleanor Powell is one of mutual [and perhaps a little competitive] respect. They barely touch in the two tap numbers, but one gets a sense that they challenge each other to higher precision and virtuosity. They bring out the best in each other, but they're a team rather than a couple; akin to Astaire with Kelly in "Babbit and the Bromide". The grace of his ballroom work with Rogers is unarguable; but when it comes to tap, there's no beating the pairing of the tap meisters Astaire and Powell.

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I agree with you Jack. Very good analysis!

 

I checked my "Gotta Sing Gotta Dance" book and yes, the mention of Begin the Beguine was much shorter than I remembered. There is small prologue or introduction at the beginning titled "How Fred and Ellie Began Begin the Beguine", and it's two pages long.... In my memory it was much longer! And yes, later the number is mentioned three times or so, especially when Eleanor Powell is interviewed by Kobal. A great book; he also interviewed many of the Berkeley girls; It was my first book on musicals and I had such a good time reading it!

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"I always liked the two solo sequences for Fred Astaire in "Royal Wedding"--the one where he dances on the ceiling (fascinated me as a kid) and when he dances with the coat-rack. ..."

 

Hey Tracy! I love those two numbers too! I thought about including them in my top 10, but I didn't remember them as being tap numbers. Isn't the coat-rack dance a "soft-shoe" number? I don't remember tapping on the ceiling either. Please correct me if I'm wrong, it's been a while since I've seen these two numbers. In fact, I was trying to remember in which movie he danced with the rack. I can see it in my mind, and the colorful tie in his belt loops, but couldn't remember which pic featured this novelty number.

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Ok, I finally found the thread! And, no one has put in my favoites, yet! So, here goes:

 

Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth in You Were Never Lovelier.

 

Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth in Cover Girl.

 

OH! THOSE AREN'T TAP DANCING NUMBERS!!!

 

NEVERMIND!

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I like the bit that Gene Kelly does with the kids in An American in Paris.

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Great news for tap and Eleanor Powell fans: Tuesday, November 21 will be Eleanor Powell day on TCM featuring:

 

Born To Dance (1936)

Broadway Melody Of 1936 (1935)

Broadway Melody Of 1938 (1937)

Rosalie (1937)

Honolulu (1939)

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I've only seen Powell in a couple of movies, but I loved the routine with the dog in "Lady Be Good". I'll have to ask for reminders for those to see more of her. And of course to see Judy in "Broadway Melody of 1938"!

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