On this Women’s Day, I want to talk about the ladies of the classical movie musical era: Ann Miller, Ginger Rogers, Eleanor Powell, Rita Hayworth, Judy Garland, Vera-Ellen, Ann-Margaret, and many more (expect some posts devoted to them alone later) that are often overshadowed by their male counterparts such as Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. While many people associate Ginger Rogers with Fred Astaire, the truth is that while his career was long, Ginger Rogers and other partners he danced with were constantly being replaced with younger models…. Maybe this is the reason that if asked for a favorite tap dancer? the answer is usually a male. Their careers tended to last longer and they were seen as distinguished as they grew older, unlike women who end up just old; a sad fact about our culture and one that is hopefully going away.
For Women’s Day, I want to acknowledge these women whose careers were hidden behind the men and need more recognition. I know growing up I lacked a female tap dancer’s influence. There were only two I had ever watched, Ann Miller and Vera-Ellen, actually tapping (since they usually did other styles and the men did the tapping), and while I enjoyed their performances and wanted more, it was very difficult to find. YouTube has helped, but the fact remains that for the golden age of movie musicals, the men’s careers were longer and thus helped them to be remembered as legends of musicals.
Even as much as it pains me (because I love watching him), Gene Kelly stated “I think dancing is a man’s game and if he does it well he does it better than a woman.” He did an episode on Omnibus in 1958 titled Dancing is a Man’s Game, where he showed the athleticism involved in dance and performed with various athletes such as Edward Villella, Dick Button, Mickey Mantel, Sugar Ray Robinson and Johnny Unitas. Again, this shows a change in culture since many athletes would not be caught dancing these days (though I love those who do Dancing with the Stars).
I do find it funny how dance is seen as a woman’s game in most genres, but tap and hip-hop seem to possess some masculinity that allow men to enjoy it without ridicule as well these days (as compared to Ballet), but seem to have created a barrier for women to succeed in these styles as well. Recently, the Syncopated Ladies created by Chloe Arnold have brought tap dance to the media and feature a full female tap group! I love this group and they have so many fantastic videos for you to watch on their YouTube channel. I choose the link below in honor of Women’s Day, but please check out more!
Here’s a taste of Girl Power Tap Dancing to celebrate Women’s Day!
And in case you still want more, here is one of my favorite numbers in memory of an amazing legend! A tribute to Prince by the Syncopated Ladies.
Now check out my first podcast where I talk about all things tap with an emphasis on Women’s Day!