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.

Latest Posts


Dada Masilo and Misty Copeland. Photos courtesy Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County

Join Us to Watch Misty Copeland Chat With Dada Masilo

American Ballet Theatre star Misty Copeland has reshaped the world's ideas of what a ballerina can look like. Meanwhile, South African choreographer/dancer Dada Masilo has reshaped what ballets themselves can look like. Their career paths have never formally crossed, but The Music Center in Los Angeles recently brought these two artists together for an intimate conversation, and we're inviting you to be a fly on the wall.

INSIDE LOOK: misty copeland + dada masilo/changing narratives in dance was curated and produced by The Music Center exclusively for premiere by Dance Magazine. You can save your spot to watch it for free on May 6, at 8 pm Eastern here.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
February 2021