Dance Teachers Trending

Fred Astaire: The king of movie musicals

Fred and Ginger—so successful as a pair, they made 10 films together. Photo by Jay Dindrell, courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

Fred Astaire was one of the most famous movie-musical dance stars of the 20th century. His remarkable ease of movement, innovative filming techniques and legendary partnership with Ginger Rogers had a lasting impact on dance in motion pictures.


Astaire was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1899. As a child he learned ballet, tap and ballroom dance from his older sister, Adele. Their mother took them to New York in 1904 to perform as a vaudeville duet, and their comedic dance act was a hit. In 1917, they left vaudeville to debut on Broadway in the revue Over the Top.

But after 15 successful years as a duo on Broadway, Adele retired from performing. Without her, Astaire quickly became dissatisfied with stage life and, in 1933, headed to Hollywood. Though he didn't look like a leading man, film executives were won over by his charming personality and phenomenal dance skills. His film debut took place in Dancing Lady with Joan Crawford and Clark Gable.

It was his next film, Flying Down to Rio, that introduced audiences to the legendary partnership that became known as “Fred and Ginger." In only 90 seconds on screen, the chemistry between the two as dance partners was undeniable. Ginger Rogers had the perfect glamour and comic appeal to match Astaire's debonair charisma.They went on to star in 10 films together.

Over his 35-year film career, Astaire performed in 31 movie musicals. He changed the way dance was filmed, insisting the focus be on the dance steps themselves, using a stationary camera shot—rather than the then-popular technique of frequent cuts and a constantly roving camera. His final film, Un Taxi Mauve, came out in 1977, and he died in 1987 at age 88.

Astaire's wall-climbing scene in Royal Wedding. Photo ©1974, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

The Work

Top Hat (1935) Astaire debuted his signature top-hat-and-tails look in this 1935 hit. His duet with Rogers, “Cheek to Cheek," mixed side-by-side tap dancing with intimate moments of twirling in each other's arms.

Swing Time (1936) A memorable scene shows Astaire paying homage to legendary hoofer Bill “Bojangles" Robinson, tap dancing in and out of sync with three shadows of himself on a wall.

Royal Wedding (1951) In one of Astaire's most iconic routines, he danced on the walls and ceiling of a hotel room. The sequence was shot with the furniture fixed to the floor as the room revolved.

Fun Facts

  • Although Fred ended up becoming more famous than his sister, when he partnered Adele, he was considered the less talented of the two.
  • To challenge himself, Astaire chose unusual settings to dance in, like a roller-skating rink (Shall We Dance, 1937) or a rocking ship deck (Royal Wedding, 1951).

Style

Astaire had a fluid style that melded tap, ballroom and ballet. He was inspired by rhythm tap dancers like John Bubbles and developed a fondness for uneven rhythms. Full-bodied and highly complex, his dancing always looked easy. In his movies, Astaire had significant control over how his dancing was filmed, insisting that dance sequences be filmed in their entirety with stationary cameras. He had the camera frame his entire body tightly so the audience could see every step clearly.

The Legacy Lives On

Astaire inspired many dancers and choreographers, several of whom paid tribute to him in their work. Jerome Robbins, for example, included film footage of Astaire and Rita Hayworth in his 1983 New York City Ballet piece I'm Old Fashioned. Rudolf Nureyev, Merce Cunningham and Mikhail Baryshnikov all referred to Astaire as a genius. Today, aspiring ballroom dancers can take class at any one of the many Fred Astaire Dance Studios. Co-founded by Astaire in 1947, the franchise now has more than 150 studios worldwide.

Resources:

Print:

American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle, by Gerald Bordman, Oxford University Press, 1992

Fred Astaire, by Benny Green, Exeter Books, 1979

No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century, by Nancy Reynolds and Malcolm McCormick, Yale University Press, 2003

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Lani Corson. Photo by Royce Burgess, courtesy of Corson

Aerial work is growing in popularity in the dance world these days. Don't believe us? Check out this Dance Magazine article! If you're a studio owner who didn't grow up with aerial training (let's face it, how many of us really did?), then you may be feeling a little apprehensive about what to look for when bringing on a new aerialist faculty member. You know exactly what you want from your ballet teachers, your jazz teachers, your tap teachers, heck—even your tumbling teachers! Aerial, however, is a whole other ballgame.

To help you feel confident you're bringing in a teacher who is safe for your dancers, we sat down with Lani Corson, NYC aerialist, circus performer, adjunct professor at Pace University and teacher at Aerial Arts NYC, to get the inside scoop on exactly what you should be looking for.

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Dance teachers have a lot of strengths (communicating corrections, choreographing gorgeous movement, planning excellent recitals, cleaning technique—just to name a few) but when it comes to interior design—talent isn't exactly a given. So when studio owners remodel or build, worrying about the decor can feel a little overwhelming (you've got just a few too many other things to worry about, don't you?).

No need to fear! In 2019 we have Pinterest, which shows us all the latest trends we should know about. To help you make the best design decisions for your studio, we've compiled a list of public Pinterest pins we think you'll love.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Unsplash

Is dance a sport? Should it be in the Olympics? They're complicated questions that tend to spark heated debate. But many dance fans will be excited to hear that breaking (please don't call it breakdancing) has been provisionally added to the program for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Vanessa Zahorian. Photo by Erik Larson, courtesy of Pennsylvania Ballet Academy

At the LINES Ballet Dance Center in San Francisco, faculty member Erik Wagner leads his class through an adagio combination in center. He encourages dancers to root their standing legs, using imagery of a seed germinating, so that they feel more grounded. "Our studios are on the fifth floor, so I'll often tell them to push down to Market Street," says Wagner. "They know that they should push their energy down to the street level." By using this oppositional force, he says, dancers can lengthen their bodies to create any desired shape.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

After years of throwing summer parties at your studio, you're likely fatigued by coming up with themes and event details. You want your students to have a good time, but you're also up to your eyeballs in choreography and costume decisions.

Never fear! We've come up with party themes and activities to do during the event. Delegate tasks to your teachers and office managers, and voilà! You have a stress-free party ready to go.

Have a blast, people!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: I recently returned to a modern dance class after a long absence. While I didn't feel any acute pain at the end of class, the next morning I could barely walk from the soreness in both my Achilles. What can I do to fix this?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Q: I'm trying to think of ways to maximize studio space and revenue during the summer. What has worked for you?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox