age where television was unknown, going to the cinema was one of
the most popular forms of entertainment. Cinema audiences were hungry
for light hearted, 'feel good' romantic escapism with lavish sets,
glorious costumes, memorable songs and spectacular dance routines.
In the 1930s, tap musicals, such as those choreographed by Busby
Berkeley, featured hundreds of young women dancing en masse in spectacular
formation. Close ups reveal that the skill of the individual dancers
may have been somewhat lacking, but the overall effect captivated
Robinson made a screen name for himself appearing alongside child
star, Shirley Temple. Racial segregation rules prohibited a black
man from appearing on screen dancing with a white female, unless,
as in this case, she was a child and he was playing the role of
a servant. These prejudices prevented black performers from taking
leading roles or even appearing alongside white artists as equals.
The first film musical with an all black cast was 'Stormy Weather'
(1943), starring Billl 'Bojangles' Robinson, the Nicholas Brothers,
Lena Horne and Fats Waller.
Fred Astaire is the one most frequently associated with the era
of the lavish Hollywood musical. His consummate skill as a tap dancer
is beyond question; a combination of immense talent and extreme
hard work (his perfectionism is legendary). An element of luck ensured
that he was born at the right time, met the right people, and the
rest is history. The epitome of elegance, style and charm, Fred
Astaire worked alongside choreographer Hermes Pan to produce some
of the screen's finest tap routines. Astaire's beat clarity, dance
quality and musicianship is legendary.
1950's, Gene Kelly's more 'macho' image reflected the fashions of
the time and his background in sport. Instead of Astaire's top hat
and tails, smoking jackets and suits, Kelly's muscular physique
is much more visible through slim fitting t-shirts and trousers.
By the time Gene Kelly appeared on screen, the heyday of the Hollywood
musical had only about another ten years to run; however, his distinguished
movie career saw him star in some of the all time greats such as
'An American in Paris' and 'Singin' in the Rain'.
Kelly's true passion for dance as an art form later prompted him
to move into television, and his choreography included ballet and