Fred Astaire's solo and partnered dances

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Main article: Fred Astaire
Fred Astaire dance-conducting the Artie Shaw Orchestra in Second Chorus

This is a comprehensive guide to over one hundred and fifty of Fred Astaire's solo and partnered dances compiled from his thirty-one Hollywood musical comedy films produced between 1933 and 1968, his four television specials and his television appearances on The Hollywood Palace and Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre which cover the period from 1958 to 1968. Further information on the dance routines may be obtained, where available, by clicking on the film links.

While Fred Astaire remains the most prolific and influential dancer in cinema history, his corpus is also valued for its inventiveness, virtuosity and precision of execution, indeed a hallmark of Astaire was his determination never to repeat himself. In the field of motion-picture dance, only Gene Kelly is considered to have created work of comparable quality and importance, and even he was unable to match the sheer volume of Astaire's output.

Roberta (1935) was the last film where the taps were all recorded live, after this virtually all of Fred Astaire's taps were re-recorded by him in post production, and while this was common practice in Hollywood musicals of the time - for example Ginger Rogers' taps on the Astaire-Rogers pictures were post-recorded by Astaire's collaborator Hermes Pan - it was unusual for a major star to undertake such a tedious and time-consuming task. It was the act of a perfectionist who was by no means a workaholic - between films he would seldom dance, devoting himself instead to his family and favourite pastimes of horseracing and golf.

The controversy over the use of film clips of Astaire's dances[edit]

Clips showing Astaire's filmed dances are rarely shown in public today, although they have featured in films such as The Green Mile and, more controversially,[1] in 1997 Dirt Devil commercials. Astaire always retained the sole rights to film clips of his dances and after his death, these rights - which are essentially rights of publicity - passed to his widow Robyn Smith Astaire - who charges a fee schedule for the airing of these clips that some program producers consider uneconomic. Mrs. Astaire has contended that the license fees are moderate and are used to help fund litigation to defend against copyright infringement of her late husband's estate.

In recent years, following the issuance of most of Astaire's films on DVD and the advent of sites such as YouTube which feature many of his most famous dance clips, the public is becoming increasingly exposed to his work.

Solo dances[edit]

The solo dances are classified according to genre. An asterisk (*) after the entry indicates the backing presence of chorus dancers for at least part of the routine. A (w/ song) after the entry indicates that Astaire sings the song as an introduction or accompaniment to the dance. For the purposes of this classification a tap solo is defined as a routine where a substantial part of the routine is taken up with tap steps.

Tap solos without props[edit]

  • "It's Just Like Looking For A Needle In A Haystack" from The Gay Divorcee. (w/ song)
  • "Since I Kissed My Baby Goodbye" from You'll Never Get Rich.
  • "March Milastaire (A-Stairable Rag)" from You'll Never Get Rich.

Solo sand dances[edit]

Solos with cane[edit]

see also "Puttin' On The Ritz" and "Steppin' Out With My Baby" below.

Solos with drums[edit]

Solos using special photographic effects[edit]

Fred Astaire in "You're All the World to Me"
  • "Bojangles Of Harlem" from Swing Time (1936). (*) (tap solo)
  • "Say It With Firecrackers" from Holiday Inn (1942). (tap solo with fireworks)
  • "You're All The World To Me" from Royal Wedding (1951). (w/ song)

Other solos[edit]

  • "When The Idle Poor Become The Idle Rich" from Finian's Rainbow (1968). (w/ song)

Partnered dances[edit]

Dance routines are grouped by dance partner who, in turn, are listed alphabetically. Astaire also created a number of routines where he danced in turn with a sequence of partners and these are grouped separately.

For many years, Fred Astaire was plagued by interviewers who wished to know who his favourite dance partner was. Ever the gentleman, Astaire would reply either "Bing Crosby" or "Gene Kelly". The closest he may have come to identifying a possible favourite was in Interview magazine in June 1973 where he said: "Barrie Chase is the best partner - she's the latest partner that I've had, and believe me, that girl has got it - that girl can dance."

Dances grouped by dance partner[edit]

Astaire and Goddard in "I Ain't Hep To That Step But I'll Dig It"
  • Judy Garland in "Beautiful Faces", "Rehearsal/Performance/Audition Medley", "A Couple Of Swells" and "Easter Parade" from Easter Parade (1948).
  • Betty Hutton in "Can't Stop Talking", "Oh Them Dudes", "Why Fight The Feeling" and "Tunnel Of Love" from Let's Dance (1950).
  • Jane Powell in "Ev'ry Night At Seven", "Open Your Eyes", "How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I've Been A Liar All My Life" and "I Left My Hat In Haiti" from Royal Wedding (1951).

Dances with two or more partners[edit]

  • "Steppin' Out With My Baby" (w/ Patricia Jackson, Bobbie Priest and Dee Turnell) from Easter Parade (1948).

Choreographic collaborators[edit]

Astaire nearly always collaborated with other choreographers, and except for the choreography of choruses which Astaire avoided, it is generally not possible to determine with any certainty the extent of Astaire's contribution vs that of his collaborators. This is particularly true in the case of his principal collaborator, Hermes Pan, where the seamless nature of the collaboration has been described by Astaire's rehearsal pianist Hal Borne, the only independent witness present throughout the entire process of dance creation of the Astaire-Rogers films: "It was hard to figure who contributed what to the choreography". Borne also describes the working atmosphere of such collaborations: "It was always pleasant. Never a hint of unpleasantness."

Given the consistency of Astaire's dance style in subsequent films made with or without the assistance of Pan, and the fact that he choreographed all the routines during his Broadway career with his sister Adele, dance historian John Mueller is of the opinion that, on balance, Astaire probably acted as lead choreographer in his solos and partnered dances throughout his career. Later in his career he became a little more amenable to accepting the direction of his collaborators, however this was almost always confined to the area of extended fantasy sequences, or "dream ballets".

Occasionally Astaire took joint screen credit for choreography or "dance direction" as it was known in the 1930s and 1940s but, as was the custom in musical films of the period, he generally left the screen credit to his collaborator. This can lead to the completely misleading impression that Astaire merely performed the choreography of others. The only occasion he worked without any collaborator was in The Sky's the Limit (1943).

Astaire and Pan (standing third from left) in Second Chorus (1940)

References[edit]

  • Fred Astaire: Steps in Time, 1959, multiple reprints.
  • Carol Saltus: Astaire!, Interview Magazine, June 1973.
  • John Mueller: Astaire Dancing - The Musical Films of Fred Astaire, Knopf 1985, ISBN 0-394-51654-0
  • Larry Billman: Fred Astaire - A Bio-bibliography, Greenwood Press 1997, ISBN 0-313-29010-5