If someone were to compile a list (and I’m sure some people have) of the greatest dance scenes in cinematic history, several additions to the list will undeniably belong to the great Fred Astaire. The man transformed how dance scenes are filmed, pioneering new methods like filming a dancer from head to toe and using one continuous long shot with no cuts. This method truly shows the brilliance of Astaire’s form. He managed to make the most complex, inventive dance moves look easy. His movies are pure escapism and I enjoy getting lost in every moment.
So without further ado, here are the top 10 Fred Astaire dance scenes from films.
10) “Shoes With Wings” – The Barkleys on Broadway
Fred Astaire enchants in this musical within a musical. He plays a clerk in a shoe shop that tries out a new pair of shoes and then starts dancing with the other shoes – weaving in and out from them in a sort of whimsical dance competition.
9) “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” – Shall We Dance?
This song has been performed so frequently throughout movies and television that very few realize that it was originated by the dynamic dancing duo of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It also happens to be one of their best dance moments as the gracefully float about on roller skates in perfect harmony. Like all of their dances, this one tells a story and its the story of two people who are in love, but won’t admit it. To show that there is kind of a call and answer between Astaire and Rogers with Astaire leading the charge.
8) “Cheek to Cheek” – Top Hat
Arguably the most famous of the Astaire – Rogers dances, it is definitely the most romantic. It starts with innocence and confusion as Ms. Rogers’ character is confused and befuddled, mistaking Mr. Astaire’s character for a married man. She reluctantly begins to dance and is soon taken over by Fred Astaire’s undeniable charm. The best dancing parts come towards the end when they find a space to be alone on the dance floor and break into swift and sweeping dance moves that are full of passion. The perfect unison of the dance partners shows their characters’ love as the dance erupts into a climax where Fred throws Ginger, catches her and dips her in a seamless and beautiful maneuver.
7) “Hat Rack Dance” – Royal Wedding
There is probably only one actor in the history of movies who can dance with an inanimate object and make it seem just as magical as if it were a real-life partner. Starting with naught but a metronome, Fred Astaire makes the music catch up to him in this inventive dance number where he romances a hat rack. Fred really makes you believe that he can dance anywhere, with any music, and with any thing.
6) “So Near Yet So Far” – You’ll Never Get Rich
This musical number from the 1941 film You’ll Never Get Rich opposite the radiant Rita Hayworth is certainly one of Astaire’s best. Rita has a more loose quality than the clean form of Ginger Rogers and that style seems to open Fred up a bit as he manages to look too relaxed for his tuxedo in this fun dance number.
5) “Dem Bones Cafe” – The Band Wagon
One of my personal favorite dance partner’s of Fred is the late Cyd Charisse. One of their most fun and inventive films was The Band Wagon from 1953 which features several dream-like dance scenes that tell complete stories without any dialogue. One of the reasons that I like Cyd is because she brings out the bad boy side of Fred Astaire. Instead of playing the squeaky clean charmer like he does in his Ginger Rogers collaborations, in The Band Wagon, he is the bad guy. The resulting dance is a different form than we normally see from Fred, but just like any type of dance – he nails it.
4) “Puttin on the Ritz” – Blue Skies
When Fred Astaire prematurely announced his retirement from film in 1946 he chose “Puttin’ on the Ritz” as his swan song. In many ways the dance number is the most recognizable Astaire that we ever see. He is complete with his iconic top hat and tuxedo and he taps just as good as you’ll ever see him. Also, what’s better than Fred Astaire dancing? A whole room full of Fred Astaires dancing. You get that at the end of this musical number with a creative mirror routine.
3) “Pick Yourself Up” – Swing Time
Fred and Ginger have too many great scenes to fit in just one list, but many of their best moments come in the film Swing Time where the dancing is less about calls and answers and more about perfect synergy. This scene comes at the beginning of the film and shows exactly why Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are a legendary dancing duo. Fred is as suave as he ever has been with his tuxedo and tap shoes and Ginger is dripping with sex appeal. When you re-watch this scene you can really notice how smooth their transitions from side by side to partner dancing. It is absolutely amazing and I firmly believe that no film duo ever has or ever will create such dance chemistry on the screen.
2) “You’re All the World to Me” – Royal Wedding
A dance scene that is still a heavy source of debate among film scholars is this gem from Royal Wedding where a lovestruck Astaire finds himself dancing on the walls and ceiling of a room. The excellence from the scene does not come from the set-spinning gimmick, but the graceful and clever way in which Fred moves about the room. Just to move about the room while it is spinning would have been effect enough, but Fred delivers an energetic and humorous dance where he playfully teases the viewer. The technology may exist to re-create this scene today, but no spirit like Fred exists that could make the scene such a beautifully choreographed joy to behold.
1) “Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails” – Top Hat
At the 2009 Oscar ceremony, Hugh Jackman replicated one of the most inventive and iconic dance scenes of all-time. Jackman did a good job at paying tribute, but nobody does it like Fred Astaire. Amongst a chorus of look-alikes Fred Astaire shines and you never for a moment forget who is the star. The most inventive and enjoyable part of the dance comes at the end with a creative bit where Fred’s incredibly fast-moving feet act like a machine gun. If anyone ever wants to know why I love Fred Astaire, all I have to do is show them this video and its abundantly clear.
What about you, what are your favorite Fred Astaire movie moments?