Dabbler Heroes: Fred Astaire

Nige pays tribute to the greatest dancer…

Fred Astaire – especially when dancing with Ginger Rogers – is (and I admit to a sizeable blind spot in the area marked Dance) almost the only dancer I can watch with that rush of aesthetic pleasure, the tingle at the nape of the neck, the amazed gasp that signify the presence of great art. Why him? I think it’s the sheer effortless elegance; he is the least muscular of dancers. He doesn’t throw himself into a dance – he stroll into it.

This, I think, is because he is always dancing – whether he’s ‘dancing’ or just moving around, walking, running, lighting a cigarette, lifting a glass, patting his hair, anything. Every part of his body is engaged in a kind of continual dance – every part except that extraordinary, outsize, lantern-jawed head that hangs above the action, quite detached – embodying (as I see it) the detachment of the true artist, the cool still centre.

Similarly, I think Astaire was a very great singer – not a very good one in a technical sense (he has little ‘voice’), but he slips into song as easily and beautifully as he slips into dance. Again his style is entirely unforced and unshowy, he does enough and no more, his phrasing is perfect, and as a result he is devastatingly effective at putting a song across – which is why he was so popular with songwriters. Watch him in action with Ginger Rogers here, and marvel…

This sequence never fails to take my breath away – and what an ending! The look on Ginger’s face… Something much more than a dance has happened here.

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About Author Profile: Nige

Cravat-Wearer of the Year Nige, who, like Mr Kenneth Horne, prefers to remain anonymous, is a founder blogger of The Dabbler and has been a co-blogger on the Bryan Appleyard Thought Experiments blog. He is the sole blogger on Nigeness, and (for now) a wholly owned subsidiary of NigeCorp. His principal aim is to share various of life's pleasures.

7 thoughts on “Dabbler Heroes: Fred Astaire

  1. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    May 15, 2012 at 09:21

    Had you down as an Astaire man, Nige. Strange that there has not been, as yet, an Astaire diet. It’s the fitness as well as the finesse that astounds, these people earned their dollars the hard way. A lean, mean dancing machine, with style, a class act, rare for Hollywood.

    Bring back the claw hammer jacket and spats.

  2. finalcurtain@gmail.com'
    May 15, 2012 at 15:16

    My mum had a big crush on ‘the other one’ – the more muscular Gene Kelly – but my palm also follows your’s Nige. Broken down into his various parts (as the famous comment about his talents) it should never have worked – but miraculously it did. And it is worth remembering that the greatest classical dancers of his time, and the following years (Balanchine, Nureyev, Baryshnikov) rated him not just the greatest ‘ballroom’ dancer, but the greatest dancer ‘full stop’. He worked like a dog to achieve that perfection and, when it came to the actual filming, he could relax, knowing that he could ‘do it’. We will not see his like again, methinks.

  3. shavers@crc.losrios.edu'
    May 15, 2012 at 17:12

    That picture!

    I always like to watch his hands (which, as I’ve heard, he disliked, and tried to minimize)–the arm line/hand line is always graceful: like watching the NYC Ballet.

  4. nigeandrew@gmail.com'
    May 15, 2012 at 17:17

    Absolutely! His control of his hands is amazing (and carries on when he’s not dancing). That right hand early on in Night and Day – what artistry…

  5. julian_snowdon@hotmail.co.uk'
    May 15, 2012 at 21:50


  6. andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
    May 16, 2012 at 13:09

    Yes, but don’t forget that Ginger did everything Fred did, but backwards, and in high heels…

  7. meehanmiddlemarch@googlemail.com'
    May 17, 2012 at 01:27

    when I was about 12-13, I had a black and white poster of a full Fred showing the perfect balance (may have been a still from Top Hat).
    And, the word on Fred ‘n’ Ginge which I’m surprised no-one has mentioned: “He gave her class, she gave him sex” supposed to have been said by Katherine Hepburn.

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