Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Top 10 Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers Dance Scenes


#10 - They Can't Take That Away From Me


Music by George Gershwin
Lyrics by Ira Gershwin
'The Barkley's of Broadway' (1949)

"It had double significance for Fred and me, because we had done nine previous films together and this was a reprise from one of them, a real musical memory for us, and the audiences who knew us, to savor" - Ginger Rogers



In 1937, Fred Astaire sang "They Can't Take That Away to Me" to Ginger Rogers in their seventh picture together, 'Shall We Dance'. Despite being nominated for an Academy Award, Fred and Ginger didn't dance to what was one of the most popular songs to come out of film's George and Ira Gershwin soundtrack. Twelve years later, Ginger Rogers suggested they re-use the song for "The Barkley's of Broadway", effectively bringing their film partnership full circle with this dazzling ballroom dance number.


#9 - Isn't this a Lovely Day (To Be Caught in the Rain)


Words and Music by Irving Berlin
'Top Hat' (1935)

This silly dance number set to an Irving Berlin standard is one of my all-time favourite dance numbers performed by the pair. By the time they made "Top Hat" (their fourth film together), Astaire and Rogers had an almost mechanical working relationship and their synchronicity was at an all-time high. I think the reason I enjoy this number so much is because of how playful it is. Ginger's incredible comedic timing makes this one to remember, as she playfully copies Fred's every dance move (much to his amusement).


"During rehearsals, Fred suggested that for the second chorus I get up from my seated position and follow him around the gazebo. I in turn suggested that I copy whatever Fred was doing with his hands; if he put his hand into his left pocket, I would follow suit. I thought my "shadowing" of Fred's movements added another dimension"- Ginger Rogers

#8 - The Carioca


Music by Vincent Youmans
Lyrics by Gus Kahn and Edward Eliscu
'Flying Down to Rio' (1933)

"Ask me today if I had any notion of what would spring from "The Carioca"and I'd have to say no. Even looking at "Flying Down to Rio" now, it is hard to believe that our brief assay onto the dance floor led to a string of musical films" - Ginger Rogers

This is purely a sentimental selection. While not their most technical or entertaining musical number, it is the dance that started it all. Choreographed by Hermes Pan (who choreographed all ten of the Astaire/Rogers features), Fred and Ginger only dance together for a total of two minutes (the entire "Carioca" musical number runs in excess of twelve minutes)- but those two minutes made two fledgling actors immortal (and, as we know, spawned nine subsequent films). 

Their chemistry is evident from their very first dance step and the smiles on their faces tell it all.




"I thought Ginger and I looked all right together but I was under the impression that we weren't doing anything particularly outstanding in "The Carioca" - Fred Astaire

#7 - Let's Face the Music and Dance


Words and Music by Irving Berlin
'Follow the Fleet' (1936)

"Bernard Newman created a pale blue beaded dress for me; it weighed about twenty-five pounds. Every time I whirled, the weight of the skirt would flare out and slap me, throwing me off balance. I had to learn to steel myself against the onslaught of the "third person" in our dance, my dress. Fred had to face a little music concerning my dress, too. On the first take, my bell sleeves slapped him in the jaw when I twirled. Fred winced and continued. I was completely unaware of what was happening. We spent several hours trying to get a take in which my sleeves didn't hit Fred. Nothing worked and Mark (Sandrich) finally used the very first take"- Ginger Rogers

It is a credit to the work of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers that this sensational dance only comes in at #7 on my list.

"Let's Face the Music and Dance" is easily one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs Irving Berlin ever wrote and, accordingly, the set design is the most elaborate to appear in any Astaire/Rogers dance sequence (to date at least). Designed by Carroll Clark, an Oscar nominated Production Designer and Art Director (who designed the sets for "Top Hat" (1935), Swing Time" (1936), "Notorious" (1946), "Mary Poppins" (1964) and many others), this musical number set the bar high for the Astaire/Rogers films to come.



Despite the myriad of problems it caused during production, Ginger's beaded gown is one of the most beautiful she ever wore and works perfectly with this particular routine (regardless of how many times it slapped Fred in the face!).


'When Ginger did a quick turn, the sleeves, which must have weighed a few pounds each, would fly - necessitating a quick dodge by me. If I didn't duck I'd get the sleeve in the face"- Fred Astaire

#6 - Never Gonna Dance



Music by Jerome Kern
'Swing Time' (1936)


"During a break, I went to the sidelines and took my shoes off; they were filled with blood. I had danced my feet raw. Hermes (Pan) saw what had happened and offered to stop the shooting. I refused. I wanted to get the thing done"- Ginger Rogers

Both Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers gave more to this number than they'd ever given before- and it shows. This breathtaking dance was shot a total of 47 times during the course of one grueling day on the RKO lot (with an estimated 18 consecutive hours spent on this one number). The gorgeous Art Deco set, again constructed by Carroll Clark, was the most elaborate and impressive ever to be constructed for an Astaire and Rogers musical (and my personal favourite).


The music they dance to is an elegantly orchestrated combination of Jereome Kern's "Never Gonna Dance" (which Fred sings just prior to the dance) and "The Way You Look Tonight" (which won the Academy Award for Best Song in 1936).

#5 - Bouncing the Blues


Music by Harry Warren
'The Barkley's of Broadway' (1949)

"Once Fred and I began rehearsing in earnest, the ten years fell away; honestly, it seemed a matter of mere weeks since we'd been on the dance floor"- Ginger Rogers



This is easily the best scene in "The Barkley's of Broadway". Not just the best dancing scene but the best scene, period. While "They Can't Take That Away From Me" is a wonderful throwback to the pairs days at RKO, "Bouncing the Blues" is more impressive in terms of execution of complex choreography. It is even more impressive when you consider that, although Fred had been exclusively starring in musicals since the pair went their separate ways, Ginger had successfully transitioned into dramatic roles and only made one musical after "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle" in 1939 ("Lady in the Dark", directed by Mitchell Leisen). While Ginger's tap dancing isn't quite as sharp as it once was, she holds her own with Astaire, never once appearing outclassed or outmatched. 


"It was hard for Gin and me to realise that nearly ten years had passed since our last show together"- Fred Astaire

#4 - Pick Yourself Up


Music by Jerome Kern
'Swing Time' (1936)

""Swing Time" had ample values. There were many dance numbers and we tried our best to keep things new and fresh. I have always tried to carry out my steadfast true of not repeating anything in dance that I've done before"- Fred Astaire



This musical number holds a special place in my heart as it was the first time I ever saw Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance together. While it was a few years ago now, I distinctly remember being astounded that Ginger could dance in those heels! She made it look absolutely effortless (though I'm sure it was anything but). 

I love Fred's expression here- it's as if he's saying 'How good am I?!'
From a pure dancing perspective, this is the smoothest routine they ever performed together. They are so in sync with one another- it's absolutely breathtaking to watch. The fact that this routine is light on production values means that the eye is drawn only to their dance steps.

#3 - I'll Be Hard to Handle


Music by Jerome Kern
'Roberta' (1935)

"The engaging "I'll Be Hard to Handle" was the first number Fred and I did in the film. This was also the first time a number was done direct; the taps were just as we did them, with no additions. Fred's and my laughter and giggling as we got into the throes of the dance were not added, either. They were real. The two of us enjoyed dancing together"- Ginger Rogers



I think Ginger Rogers described this dance best. "I'll Be Hard to Handle" comes in at #3 on my list because, more so than any other number they did together, the emotions being displayed to the audience are real. All throughout you can hear both Fred and Ginger laughing and whispering to one another as they swing around the dance floor, arm in arm. There are even moments when you can hear Fred humming the tune of the song! 


#2 - Night and Day


Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
'The Gay Divorcee' (1934)

While "The Carioca" allowed Fred and Ginger to dance into our hearts, it was "Night and Day" that made sure they stayed there. Permanently. It takes Fred and Ginger roughly 53 minutes to dance with one another in "The Gay Divorcee" (1934)- their first dance together since "The Carioca" in "Flying Down to Rio" (1933). When they do, it is fittingly one of the most spectacular musical numbers of their entire joint filmography (eclipsed only by my number one selection). 


This dance (like most of their dances) is a perfect representation of the plot up to that point of the movie. Ginger resists Fred's advances for as long as she can, until finally she relents and is drawn into his arms. "Night and Day" is also the finest representation of their outstanding on-screen chemistry. The passion has been building throughout the film for 53 minutes- so when thy finally dance, it is an explosion of electricity. No wonder Phyllis Astaire was so jealous of Ginger!

#1 - Cheek to Cheek


Words and Music by Irving Berlin
'Top Hat' (1935)

"Feathers- I hate feathers-
And I hate them so that I can hardly speak,
And I never find the happiness I seek
With those chicken feathers dancing
Cheek to Cheek" 

Of course, number #1 is "Cheek to Cheek". It is the quintessential Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical number- enhanced by Ginger's infamous feathered dress. Ironically, Fred Astaire thought the dress would hinder the number due to the plethora of feathers flying throughout the set (and attaching themselves to his tuxedo- nobody messes with Fred's tails!). In reality, it is one of the reasons this dance stands above all the rest. The way Ginger's dress moves as her body sways is, quite simply, magical.


"As I saw my beautiful dress in motion, I was pleased and happy. I was enthralled, just watching it move across the screen"- Ginger Rogers

When "Top Hat" was released, the Astaire and Rogers partnership was at it's peak and it shows in their dancing. This sensational dance number has often been imitated, but never duplicated. Many dance teams tried but there is no recreating the magic that occurred when Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced together. There has never been anyone like them- before or since.



Honorable Mentions: The Continental (from 'The Gay Divorcee'), Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (from 'Roberta'), Waltz in Swing Time (from 'Swing Time') and Let's Call the Whole Thing Off (from 'Shall We Dance').





Do you agree with my choices? Did I leave one of your favourites out? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

5 comments:

  1. I haven't seen all of their films yet (shame on me, I know), but I think my favorite dance scene so far is possibly "Never Gonna Dance". I love how romantic and sad it is, and Ginger's dress in that scene is simply beautiful. I also really like the playfulness of "Pick Yourself Up".

    I completely agree with you. That woman could dance in high heels! For someone who can barely walk two steps in heels, I'm amazed every time I see her dance in shoes like that. She makes it looks so easy.

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    1. You definitely should see all of their films. While they aren't all cinematic masterpieces, it's worth watching them for their incredible chemistry (and, of course, THEIR DANCING!).

      It's funny you mentioned the dress from "Never Gonna Dance". If I ever get married, I would love to wear a replica of that dress. It is the most stunning she ever wore :)

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  2. Hi,my ranking is rather different,my top five is:

    1 Bouncin' the Blues(The Barkleys of Broadway)
    2 The Yam(Carefree)
    3 Smoke Gets in Your Eyes(Roberta)
    4 Let Yourself Go(Follow the Fleet)
    5 The Piccolino(Top Hat)

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  3. Never was a more beautiful dance team, and I agree we'll never see anything to compare. Though I love and enjoy all their dance performance, nothing can beat Night and Day from The Gay Divorcee 1934. Look at Ginger's face, hair, dress. Absolutely beautiful especially with that gorgeous music. It takes my breath away every time I see it. A woman with shorter soft fluffy hair (as in many early 1930's movies) in a gorgeous flowing gown dancing to beautiful music does it for me every time. I don't think the boring floor mop hair that most all women wear today is attractive at all. We won't see the likes of those beautiful hair styles from the early 1930s again.

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  4. How can anyone pick a favorite? They were indescribable! And the chemistry....Amazing!

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