Our friend of the blog, Dennis Mayne, wrote me and said that since I like tap dancers so much I just had to read Rusty Frank’s book, TAP!: The Greatest Tap Dance Stars & Their Stories, where she interviewed all the tap dancing legends! Well, I got the book, and for the last month every morning with my coffee I have been delightedly reading these wonderful primary source interviews with Bunny Briggs, Jimmy Slyde, Hermes Pan, Shirley Temple, Ann Miller and so many more. Fortunately I was able to contact Rusty and we had a delightful interview about her book and she even gave me a little on-air tap dancing lesson!
Click on the triangle or mp3 link above to hear my interview with Rusty Frank as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI FM NYC and Pacifica affiliates across the nation.
And let’s end the year with this amazing clip of Eleanor Powell tap dancing. What she does, just from a percussion point of view, is incredible. I recently interviewed tap dancer Rusty Frank, a tap dance historian and preservationist, and a tap dancer herself, who maintains that it was the tap dancers who moved popular music forward with their taps. The innovative percussive rhythm steps of the tap dancers were picked up by the drummers, pianists and guitar players of the bands who in turn shaped the new ideas in music. Watch and listen to what Eleanor Powell does with this George Gershwin song from Lady Be Good. It’s a long way from “Tea for Two.”
I’ve previously posted video of Sammy Davis Jr. as a child dancing. Here he is, later in his career. The opening clip as part of the Will Mastin Trio sure convinces me that breakdancing isn’t anything new. Later in the video, Sammy can be seen tapping with some of the other tap dancing greats.
Another of the great, but lesser known, film dance stars, Tommy Rall, who died this month. As a youngster, he was in a group of dancing teens called the “Jivin’ Jacks and Jills” at Universal Studios, which included Donald O’Connor. He was trained in ballet, and his amazing high jumps, pirouettes, and flips rival anything else seen on the screen. He appeared in movie musicals almost every year in the 50s, but somehow he never made it into super-stardom. O’Connor thought Rall was one of the greatest dancers living, a better dancer than either Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire.
Here he is with Ann Miller in “Why Can’t You Behave?” from Kiss Me Kate, where he mixes dance with some practical jokes in a fun character piece.
The amazing African-American tap dancer, Lois Bright. She was married to Dan Miller one of the two tap-dancing Miller Brothers that you see in the clip above. Unfortunately, Lois Bright Miller never got her full recognition in show business, as the act was called simply, The Miller Brothers and Lois. But as you can see, she did everything that the brothers did and more.
Clearly, if you’re talking about the great female tap dancers of the last century such as Ann Miller and Eleanor Powell, then Lois Bright Miller is right up there.
Three minutes of heaven as Eleanor Powell, in heels, gives Fred Astaire a run for his money.
The clip above is from the film Broadway Melody of 1940. Powell was probably Astaire’s most accomplished tap partner. Astaire reportedly claimed he would never work with Powell again because Astaire (himself a notorious perfectionist) never wanted to work as hard again.
The one time Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly danced together on the big screen (except for the That’s Entertainment series) was in the 1946 film The Ziegfield Follies. Just sublime. Take a look at this utterly delightful clip.
Mikhail Baryshnikov called the Nicholas Brothers the greatest dancers he had ever seen in his life. Fred Astaire called the dance number in the clip above the greatest musical dance sequence ever captured on film. Who am I to argue?
Cab Calloway starts off the madness singing “Jumpin Jive” from the film Stormy Weather.
I’ve always been fascinated by rehearsals, both as a spectator and performer. Sometimes, as an actor, I enjoy rehearsals more than performances. The most amazing things can happen in rehearsal that somehow are never re-captured in performance.
A few weeks ago I attended a rehearsal of the Amanda Selwyn Dance Theatre. Here’s my report as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI 99.5 FM NYC and Pacifica affiliates across the country.
Gene Kelly, Michael Kidd, and Dan Duryea as three GIs about to be discharged, set out on a binge and do an incredible dance number with trash can lids. From the film, It’s Always Fair Weather, the last Gene Kelly–Stanley Donen collaboration.
Monday morning, the extraordinary Cyd Charisse floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee, and schools the boys in boxing lore in this dance clip from It’s Always Fair Weather. Music and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
Angela Lansbury in one of her signature roles at the 1975 Tony Awards.
About two-thirds of the way through the clip, Lansbury gets surprised by a guest dancer. Don’t miss it. The look on her face is wonderful. (If you don’t recognize who it is, I’ll post his identity in the comments.)