How Did Fred Astaire Help Debbie Reynolds Learn to Dance?
After the spooky mother-daughter passing of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher last week, the Internet is aglow with clips of one or the other or both. Focusing on one great scene, the “Good Morning" song from Singin' in the Rain, one might assume that Reynolds was as experienced a dancer as the formidable Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor.
But no. In 1951, when Debbie Reynolds was chosen to star with Gene Kelly in MGM's Singin' in the Rain, she was 19 and had almost no experience dancing or singing. Kelly, understandably, was furious. But Louis B. Mayer had made the decision and that was that.
Reynolds was given three months to “learn to dance." Three teachers would alternate giving her private lessons. “I was dancing eight hours a day, nonstop," she writes in her memoir, which is excerpted in Reading Dancing, the wonderful anthology edited by Robert Gottlieb. She was so frustrated that she threw her tap shoes at the mirror, shattering it. She would spend all her studio time holding back tears. And then…“One day I was lying under the piano sobbing when I heard a voice ask, 'Why are you crying?'" She vented her frustration: “I feel like I'm going to die, it's so hard. I can't…I can't…"
The voice gently calmed her down. She looked up and saw Fred Astaire, standing next to the piano, with concern on his face. He told her that he gets frustrated and upset too, and invited her to watch a rehearsal with Hermes Pan while they prepared for Royal Wedding. She saw how hard he worked and left the studio feeling less alone.
And of course, in the final movie, she miraculously keeps up with Kelly and O'Connor—and adds her own effervescence. Take a look at her in the happy-go-lucky “Good Morning" number. She's quick, effortless and bubbling with joy and camaraderie.
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.