Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Queen of Taps

Out of cinema's three best solo tap dancers (in terms of innovation, creativity and high degree of expertise) only Eleanor Powell remains largely forgotten, despite being heavily featured in That's Dancing and all three parts of That's Entertainment.
The only reason I can find for this is that there are no books about her, few of her films are on DVD and TCM rarely shows them (Born To Dance was on yesterday and the next showing of one of her films is not until the middle of January).
Although she only made a handful of films before retiring and moving into a nightclub act after divorcing Glenn Ford, she was the only female tap dancer to have the starring part and for the plot to be based around her dances.
Even though it's been said that Ginger Rogers did everything backwards and in heels, Miss Powell did choreograph most of her dances and they usually featured a skill feature, such as rope, Morse code or this dog (which she trained herself):

I love watching her films because you can see the level of work that she put into making them look effortless. And also because she is often costumed in the best examples of late 1930's sport fashions. The plots may be similar but like all musicals you know that the choreography will be different and everything always turns out right in the end. And one of her costars was the young Jimmy Stewart who sang (with a fair voice) several songs.
This is the Fascinatin' Rhythm number, which you might remember from the behind the scenes footage shown in That's Entertainment 3

Although she never danced with Gene Kelly, she is the only dancing partner of Mr Astaire who was able to out dance him, not by much but he is occasionally slightly off the beat.

I would love to see a biography of her to come out and for her talents to be rediscovered, but until then I can make do with the good selection of her dances on YouTube.
This is the long version of the Begin the Beguine number (the short, quality versions keep getting taken down) from Broadway Melody of 1940. Skip to the 6:09 mark and you'll see the best tap dance ever filmed.

1 comment:

Ms. B said...

I took tap for 10 years and became quite good at it but had to stop because of school and now there aren't any adult tap classes in my area. I miss it so much! Eleanor Powell was always one of my idols as was Ann Miller. I really wish more people knew about them both, they were both remarkable dancers!!