Saturday, December 09, 2023

WEEKENDER: The Golden Age of Dance, by Wiggia

It is not the first time that a compilation of top dancers on the screen has been put together, in fact it has been done many times. One of the reasons is nostalgia, for an age when entertainment was almost solely reliant on the big screen or the theatre.

The dancers who became household names and huge stars were often multi-talented and had learned   their craft as part of the necessities  required to earn a living on the stage. Many who became famous went on to become stars of the big screen as actors and their dancing days have faded from memory.

My wife was a very good dancer even  at competition level, and it was the reason she first came to my notice at a dance hall; me, not so much but one day whilst at an upstairs bar I espied a crowd in front of the bandstand and in the middle of all those watching was a couple practising dance moves; a distinctive style stood out; we met a week later and the rest is history.

It was while talking about those great dancing stars of mainly yesteryear that she remarked on all the others that are so often forgotten today. The greats such as Astaire are are a go-to for the pinnacle of dancing in that age but others have been largely forgotten for their dancing prowess.

So for a Christmas treat we have the known and the not so known in examples of this Golden Age and a couple from later musicals.

No compilation of screen dancers could leave out Astaire and there are many examples of him with all the leading ladies of the time. This is not shown quite as much - the famous solo ceiling dance.

You could fill pages of dance numbers with Astaire classics but this is an attempt, however feeble to show something a little different.

Gene Kelly was to many the best of the male dancers, very balletic when the occasion demanded and as versatile as any of them. This was one of his best screen efforts, from the 1955 film It’s Always Fair Weather:

The first of the dancers who are not so well remembered for their dancing, outside of aficionados, is Russ Tamblyn. He had exceptional acrobatic skills which he used to great effect in his dancing as here in the never to be forgotten, for us of a certain age, film Tom Thumb.

And while we are in that area of almost forgotten dancers or little known for their dancing skills, this is a delight: Ricardo Montalban dancing with the beautiful Cyd Charisse - he even did a few moves on Fantasy Island!

Cyd Charisse had the looks, the legs as well as the skill which sets her apart from her contemporaries. All can be seen in this solo dance from Silk Stockings (1957) - you have to go to 5.00 for the dance sequence, but it is worth it.

Many believed Eleanor Powell was the best female tap dancer of all. This clip is a showcase for all her talents and it was said she was the only female dancer with tap that Fred Astaire did not outshine. Whatever the truth of that she was superb and this dance proves it, from the film ‘Ship Ahoy’ with Buddy Rich on drums as a bonus:

Rita Hayworth made quite a few dance based films, sadly most have been buggered about, edited, had inappropriate music added or all of these. Just a clip with Astaire shows her talent. She came from a dancing background: both her parents were dancers and she was taught to dance from a very early age, at 12 she was part of the family act, the Dancing Cansinos, so was no slouch in the dancing department.

James Cagney was a terrific dancer. His Yankee Doodle Dandy routine is the stuff of legends, but something a little different here and the chance to show a surprising Bob Hope strutting his stuff:

This little piece of Cagney descending the stairs in the film Out of the Blue from 1937 is as good an example of old twinkle-toes as any:

Donald O’Connor was another who failed to get the recognition he undoubtedly deserved. This scene includes Lew Parker and the bartender was actually O’Connor's tap teacher:

George Raft will always be associated with his gangster roles, yet is another who in his early career had dancing at the forefront of his talents. Taught to dance by his mother, his early dancing was at carnivals and amusement parks with his parents but he won a Charleston competition and became a professional dancer. His dancing fame came about with his promotion of the tango in the States and abroad. His life could never be described as dull.

A live duet with Anne Miller and Ray Bolger - a long way from the scarecrow role in the Wizard of Oz. His elastic leg routine is worth seeking out but here in later life he shows he can still make it:

And finally a modern classic. I was fortunate to see the original version on stage in London, it was and is fabulous. This is from the movie which I haven’t seen but is a tribute to all the boys and girls without whom no musical would be possible. The work they put in is astounding to get the end product, so a thank you to all those unsung dancers of the Chorus Line:

No wine piece this year: a year ago I nearly died and it has taken all this time to get back to somewhere approaching normal. One of the items I have had to ‘refine’ is my wine drinking: although I was told I should in moderation be back to imbibing as before in reality it has not worked out like that. I had a negative reaction to red wine the first time I attempted to drink it and subsequent efforts proved to be not worth the risk, so only white wine has filled my glass and in much smaller quantities. So no, with no sampling a Christmas wine piece was out of the question, we shall see if things right themselves in coming months. 

A Merry Christmas to all!

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