You Should Dance Like Gene Kelly Today

Kelli Marshall

In the glut of new "holidates", April and May offer two holidays celebrating the millions who preserve and promote the art of dance

Singin' in the Rain

Director: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly
Cast: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds
MPAA Rating: G
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Year: 1952
US Release Date: 1952-04-11 (General)

In this era of social media, it seems everything needs to be celebrated: Margaritas! Siblings! Onion rings! Masturbation! Talking like pirates! Yes, today, virtually anything that prompts a thinkpiece, a hot take, or a viral tweet is up for grabs.

With the exception of National Margarita Day of course (yum), these are relatively silly holidays, or "holidates" as one founder calls them. What about a more established day of observance, however, like International Dance Day, which the French introduced in 1982 and "millions of dancers, professional as well as amateur" celebrate annually on 29 April? Or National Tap Dance Day, which President George H.W. Bush signed into law in 1989 to honor the talent of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, which is celebrated today, 25 May. (Places like New York City have been known to celebrate National Tap Dance Day for an entire month.)

If we're not careful, such reminders of the importance of the arts and humanities could get lost among all the silly celebrations of lumpy rugs, lost socks, and lucky pennies. Were he alive, someone who'd unequivocally back International Dance Day and National Tap Dance Day is Gene Kelly, a teacher of ballet and tap as well as an innovator of dance onscreen. (For the record, as one of the stars of The Pirate (1948), he'd also likely support Talk Like a Pirate Day.)

One of my favorite descriptions of Kelly's memorable dance number from Singin' in the Rain (1952) comes from a column in The Boston Globe:

There are so many things to cherish in the number  -- how Kelly hums his way into the song, how he grins under that downspout, how he splashes in those puddles, how he turns his umbrella into a dance partner  --  but there may be nothing more exhilarating than the utter ease with which he leaps up onto that light pole at the very beginning. Kelly's control of his kineticism is at once lovely in itself and an italicization of his athleticism.

It's the last bit about "kineticism" and leaping onto that lamppost that especially makes me smile, as it reminds me of Kelly's own writings,  and why holidays like International Dance Day and National Tap Dance Day are still worthy of our notice.

In Kelly's archives at the Boston University Library rests a box of essays he wrote for many Hollywood fan magazines, as well as publications like Sports Illustrated and Seventeen (yep, that one). In these papers on cinematic dance (or "cine-dance"), Kelly writes eloquently and knowledgeably about his body, the dancer's body, and its relationship to the camera, frame, and narrative.

For example, in one essay for Sound Stage (1965), Kelly informs his readers that because dancing is "a three-dimensional art-like sculpture", it's actually not a good medium for motion pictures. In fact, he continues, when such movement is transferred to screen, "you lose most of the muscular or physical force (dancers call it 'kinetic' force)." Yet, we'd never know that from watching Kelly's dance numbers on film.

That’s not the only problem with filming dance, Kelly tells us: "You also lose the presence of the dancer, which might be termed his three-dimensional personality  -- not necessarily the facial expressions, the look, or the feelings, but the personality of the dancer's whole body, which coupled with line and style, form the basis of a dance performance."

First, the body is a sculpture. Second, dance is three-dimensional (while film isn't). Third, the camera can negate an entire performance. These are some of the reasons Kelly and his frequent co-director, Stanley Donen, worked so arduously to modify the way dance numbers were shot onscreen. Indeed, because the two appreciated and studied all forms of dance -- tap, ballet, jazz, and more -- they learned that both bodies and camera necessitated choreography (hence the term cine-dance).

See, for example, the simultaneous upward craning of the camera and downward bodily movement in Singin' in the Rain's "Broadway Melody" number:

Or the way the mobile camera showcases Kelly's turns and emphasizes his character's joy during the climax of Singin' in the Rain:

Or how the camera dollies backward as the three dancers move forward in "Good Morning":

Or you could tune in to ABC and witness some of the dynamic camerawork on Dancing with the Stars . It's not only a product of Kelly's and Donen's engagement with the art of onscreen dance, but also an incarnation of International Dance Day’s overriding mission "to attract the attention of the wider public to the art of dance" and National Tap Dance Day's aim "to preserve, promote, and celebrate" the form.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.