One of the greatest dancers to ever tap his way into my heart was the late great Gene Kelly. I have shared the musical “Singing in the Rain” with every friend or relative I could shanghai long enough to sit down and watch it. Not many take time for the finer things in life these days.
I missed Gene Kelly’s 100th anniversary celebration last week, but, better late than never, right? And what to my wondering eyes should appear (as I Googled him), but a video of him tap dancing on roller skates. I stared at the screen in utter amazement. As a teenager I could barely shove myself along on roller skates. And as my center of gravity gets worse with the years, I can barely manage to walk upright in plain old pedestrian shoes.
It wasn’t always that way. I couldn’t manage skates because they seemed to have a mind of their own. They took off without me, ready or not. But I grew up in the wooded mountains. I could climb any tree, swing on vines over deep-gullied streams from one embankment to another, walk steadily and without concern across fallen logs over washouts deep enough to break a few things if you fell, and just generally took all this aerodynamic freedom for granted. Not anymore.
Now I stare at Gene Kelly’s effortless flying feet with open-mouthed amazement that such a being ever inhabited the same planet on which I live. But I learned that those “effortless” moves cost him plenty in time and dedication. From an article in the Wall Street Journal —
“Patricia Ward Kelly said that when her husband was asked to name his favorite dance partner, he often would say Jerry the mouse ‘because he showed up on time and worked his little tail off.’” [“Anchors Aweigh – 1945].
I also read in one article that, as Van Johnson was leaving after hours and hours of rehearsal, from early morning to after 8 p.m., he heard someone still tapping and went to investigate. It was Gene Kelly still hoofing it to get his steps absolutely perfect. THAT is the secret of Gene Kelly’s “effortless” success.
Gene Kelly danced with a veritable host of household-name dance partners. But of them all I love Donald O’Connor the best. Together they “razzle-dazzled” with their over-the-top, sheer physicality and just plain old FUN entertainment. Every time I watch them they bring joy to my heart and a smile to my face. Kelly once told his wife that of all his dance partners Donald O’Connor “was the most unsung.” (Wall Street Journal – Speakeasy).
Watching his tap dancing on skates routine from “It’s Always Fair Weather” — 1955, I (who suffer from a terrible mathematical affliction) could perceive enough to know that some kind of spirit of computational genius had to be going on. Here is the video. He sings and skates (effortlessly) for a couple of minutes before he goes into the tap dance part of the routine, so wait for it. If you haven’t seen it before, prepare to be amazed. If you have, enjoy it again (compliments of You Tube). If you enlarge it, it loses film quality, but you will certainly get the picture.