Musical 101: Fred and Ginger, The Reigning Royalty of Dance
Without a doubt, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are the king and queen of the movie musical. Although absolutely wonderful on their own, together the two add up to far more than the sum of their parts. But why were they so prefect for each other? Well, I suppose it can be summed up by that ever-famous Katharine Hepburn quote. You know the one, it goes something like “Fred gave Ginger class, and Ginger gave Fred sex.” They complimented each other, offering each other that certain something that was previously missing from their on-screen personas.
Although Fred Astaire’s talent as a dancer was second to none, he initially lacked what we in the business like to call “sex appeal.” Sure, he had a sort-of goofy, aristocratic charm about him but that’s where it ended. He was essentially the affable neuter, that good-natured, if somewhat awkward wingman for the Clark Gables of the filmic world — a far cry from the stylish, swoon-inducing leading man we think of today. Rogers, on the other hand, was pretty much the opposite. Although she was cute, comical and most definitely sexy, she lacked the refinement of both Astaire’s on-screen persona and disciplined dance technique. She did, however, possess the skill of acting and that is where the strength of this dancing duo lies.
Because of Astaire’s fluidity and ease as a dancer, he was able to elevate Ginger’s skill, giving her a grace and sophistication she lacked on her own. And because Ginger was an actress first, dancer second; she was always focused on Astaire. Instead of simply dancing with Astaire, she was reacting to Astaire, allowing herself to be courted, seduced, and eventually, fall in love. Without the dancers need to focus on the technicalities of the perfect dance, her attention was focused on Astaire. She wanted him and because of that, we wanted him.
It’s no surprise they were one of the most successful pairings of the 1930’s. With more people in bread lines than factory lines, Astaire and Rogers offered the audience a chance to participate in the world of luxury, to see the king and queen reign over their glimmering kingdom. They offered the audience something that was needed in their lives: the too short reprieve from the horrors of the depression.
Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub