Jazz Dance Legend: Gene Kelly

“You dance love, and you dance joy, and you dance dreams. And I know if I can make you smile by jumping over a couple of couches or running through a rainstorm, then I’ll be very glad to be a song and dance man.” – Gene Kelly


Gene Kelly

Gene kelly” by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

It’s hard to imagine a man who performed on Broadway and in some of the most iconic movie musicals in history saying he never wanted to be a dancer. But defying normal expectations was just Gene Kelly’s way.

The man who is cherished to this day for his roles in movies such as “Singing in the Rain” and “An American in Paris” not only graced the big screen with his dance talent – he changed the way dance was perceived on film and made his athletic style a staple of American dance.


From Baseball to Ballet

Gene Kelly was born in the Highland Park district of Pittsburgh on August 23, 1912. The third of five children, Kelly was a sports fanatic and dreamed of playing shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates. His mother was determined that her children be educated in the arts, however, so Kelly began taking dance classes at a young age – and proved to be a natural.

Kelly’s mother also prioritized education, so Kelly went on to study economics at Penn State University. Only a year had gone by when the Great Depression hit and Kelly was forced to leave school to earn money. Throughout this time he worked as a bricklayer and soda jerk in addition to dancing in various Pittsburgh clubs and theaters. Kelly ultimately completed his economics degree at the University of Pittsburgh in 1933 and headed for law school, but it didn’t take long before he realized law wasn’t for him. Thankfully for the rest of us, he decided to pursue his dance career instead.

Kelly immersed himself in teaching at his family’s dance school, which became known as the Gene Kelly School of Dance. He did this all while performing, directing, and choreographing for shows throughout Pittsburgh. But by 1938, Kelly was on the move again. Feeling that he’d done all he could for his career in the teaching department, Kelly made his way to Broadway. Unsurprisingly, he was met with success soon after.


Broadway and Beyond

Starting with small roles in “Leave it to Me!” And “One for the Money,” Kelly’s Broadway career escalated after Hollywood executive Louis B. Mayer saw him in the lead role of “Pal Joey” and offered him a movie contract with MGM. Kelly made his film debut in 1942 in “Me and My Gal,” which costarred Judy Garland.

Kelly’s movie career truly took off after his groundbreaking “Alter Ego” performance in Columbia Pictures’ “Cover Girl” (1944), in which he performed with himself thanks to the double exposure of the film. It was not only the first time such a feat had ever been done, but it was also the first time a dance number actually moved the movie’s plot along instead of merely being tossed into the picture. It was also the last time MGM lent Kelly to any other studio.

MGM cast Kelly in a variety of musicals after, one of the most memorable being “Anchors Aweigh.” World War II put Kelly’s career on pause as he enlisted in the Navy from 1944 – 1946, but he was back on the dance floor soon enough upon his return.

From showing off his jazz skills in “On the Town” (1949) to choreographing a lengthy ballet in “An American in Paris” (1951) to tapping through puddles in “Singing in the Rain” (1952), Kelly displayed versatility and athleticism in all the movies he went on to make. The man of many talents contributed as much behind the camera as he did in front of it, choreographing, writing, producing and directing a number of his films. Not only did an array of awards follow his path, but he also made groundbreaking achievements in that he made dance a more popular skill, particularly for men, and forever changed the Hollywood musical with his perspective and style.


By film trailer screenshot (MGM) (An American in Paris trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By film trailer screenshot (MGM) (An American in Paris trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The Show Must Go On

Although his career slowed down in the 1960s as the popularity of movie musicals began to fade, Kelly continued performing in TV programs such as the short lived “Going My Way” (1962 – 1963, based on the 1944 Bing Crosby movie) and the variety show “The Funny Side” (1971). He also directed, produced and starred in the TV movie “Jack and the Beanstalk” (1967), which won him an Emmy Award, and hosted the 1970s documentary “That’s Entertainment!” He made his final movie appearance in 1980 in “Xanadu” with Olivia Netwon-John. Besides occasional guest appearances on shows such as “The Muppet Show” and “The Love Boat,” Kelly mostly retired from performing in the 1980s.

Kelly died at his home in Beverly Hills, California on February 2, 1996 after a series of strokes. He will forever be remembered as one of America’s most beloved dancers whose style and vision made a lasting impacting on movies, musicals and dance lovers everywhere.

Mitzi Gaynor, Taina Elg, Kay Kendall & Gene Kelly in Les Girls - publicity still (cropped)

Mitzi Gaynor, Taina Elg, Kay Kendall & Gene Kelly in Les Girls – publicity still (cropped)


Fun Facts:

  • To fix dance’s two-dimensional appearance on film, Kelly’s choreography always had dancers moving toward the camera. The dances also weren’t as long as usually done on stage and were aided by light and color to create the feeling of a third dimension.
  • Kelly always made sure his dancer’s full body was filmed and that the film was cut on a dancer’s turn so the transition would be less obvious.
  • He had a 103 degree fever when he filmed his famous “Singing in the Rain” scene. Kelly dubbed the taps later, as well as the taps of his co-star, Debbie Reynolds.
  • In “Anchors Aweigh,” Kelly danced a duet with Jerry the Mouse (from the cartoon “Tom and Jerry”), who required 24 drawings per second of the dance to come to life. It was the first time anyone danced with an animated character. Kelly’s wife said he often referred to Jerry as his favorite dance partner “because he showed up on time and worked his little tail off.”
  • Kelly took his inspiration not from other forms of dance, but from sports – particularly hockey, his favorite.
  • “On the Town” was the first musical to be shot outside a studio.
  • Both the dancing and the camera movements in “Cover Girl” and “Anchors Aweigh” were synchronized with the beat of the music.


For more fun facts about Gene Kelly, check out this article.


Gene Kelly: The Legacy (An Evening With Patricia Ward Kelly)

Biographer and film historian, Patricia Ward Kelly takes audiences behind the scenes and shares an intimate story of her late husband Gene Kelly, the man who helped create some of the most memorable scenes in film history. This unique, LIVE performance—praised as “a real treat” by Variety—combines rare and familiar film clips, never released audio recordings, memorabilia, and personal insights culled from hours of interviews with her husband. Mrs. Kelly, whose presentation has been described as “mesmerizing,” reveals a very personal side of this American legend and his perspective on the innovative work for which he wished to be remembered.

Gene Kelly: The Legacy “An Evening With Patricia Ward Kelly” is currently touring. Learn more about upcoming shows on the Facebook page or at genekelly.com.


Gene Kelly Videos

Of course, there’s plenty of great footage of Gene Kelly to be discovered via YouTube (fleeting though it may be due to copyright infringement). Here he is talking about Singing in the Rain, directing, and movie-making:


Watch Gene in a duet with himself in Cover Girl:


Can’t get enough of Gene Kelly? Follow his fan pages on social media:


The Bolshoi’s Alexander Volchkov on Dancing Romeo

What is it like to play Romeo?

Bolshoi Ballet principal, Alexander Volchkov tells us of the preparation and experience of giving an emotional performance as Romeo.

Photo by Damir Yusupov courtesy Fathom Entertainment

Photo by Damir Yusupov courtesy Fathom Entertainment

Dance Advantage: What is the most challenging aspect of dancing the role of Romeo?

Alexander Volchkov: The most difficult part of Romeo is the period of emotional preparation. To get yourself in that mindset. And of course in rehearsal as obviously, it is physically challenging. But the most challenging is to emotionally become Romeo.


DA: What do you enjoy most about portraying Romeo, and how is it different than other lead roles?

AV: I think what sets this role apart from others is that Romeo and what happens to him is what I could imagine happening to me, and the difficulty I have definitely experienced. It is easy to imagine. My Romeo is someone who truly loves, he is not a Prince or Count, those are roles that you really have to imagine and create for yourself, but with Romeo it is all very straightforward and clear – he is in love and has to love.


DA: As Romeo you share intense and emotional moments on stage with Juliet. What must happen off-stage or in rehearsals with your partner to convincingly create these moments for an audience?

AV: You have to morally and truly fall in love with Juliet and believe that you love her and that she is the only one. And only then, when you believe it, then the audience will believe it. Otherwise they will know that the feeling is false.


DA: The Pokofiev score is much beloved among audiences and musicians. As a dancer, how do you feel about the music of Romeo and Juliet?

AV: Audiences and of course dancers love the music of Prokofiev. It is genius music and it helps you get into the role and the more you dance it, starting with the first act and leading into second act, then you really succumb to it. In terms of emotions, it gives you a minimum of 50% to lead you through, and the audience loves it and of course the artists do as well.


DA: You spend plenty of time on stage with Juliet in your arms but which section of this ballet, that is not a love scene, is your favorite to dance?

AV: I love the emotional scenes, for instance the murder of Tybalt and the final death scene in the crypt. The emotional scenes are the most interesting  to dance and perform. There are of course happy moments which are easier to portray but these more tragic and emotional scenes are very difficult because they get inside of you, start to make your blood run, your body trembles at what you are experiencing on stage and the emotional result which is what I love most.

What is it like to play Juliet?

Visit 4dancers where Bolshoi Ballet’s Anna Nikulina gives her perspective.

Hear more from these dancers:

Bolshoi Ballet Romeo and Juliet Dancer Interview

Watch this video on YouTube.

See Alexander Vochokov at the cinema

Viewers across the US have the opportunity to see Alexander Volchkov perform the role of Romeo when the Bolshoi Ballet hits the big screen for one performance only on MARCH 8th. Search here for a theater near you.

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d


Alexander Volchkov - photo by ShirokovAlexander Volchkov was born in Moscow. In 1997, having trained at the Moscow Choreographic College (today the Moscow Choreographic Academy), in Leonid Zhdanov’s class, he joined the BolshoiBallet Company. His constant coach is Vladimir Nikonov.

In 2001, Mr. Volchkov won the 2nd prize at the International Competition of Young Ballet Dancers, in Kazan. The following year, he danced the title role in Yuri Grigorovich’s Romeo and Juliet for the Kremlin Ballet Company — in a performance to mark the choreographer’s jubilee.

He originated principal roles in Mr. Ratmansky’s The Flames of Paris (Philippe), Mr. Burlaka’s La Esmeralda (Phoebus), Francesco Ventriglia’s Zakharova Super Game (Lambda), and Declan Donnellan – Radu Poklitaru’s Romeo and Juliet (Paris).

Mr. Volchkov’s has appeared as a guest artist with the Paris Opera Ballet (Jeanne de Brienne in Nureyev’s Raymonda), The Kremlin Ballet Theatre (Romeo in Grigorovich’s Romeo and Juliet), Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre (Swan Lake, The Nutcracker), and Bashkiria’s State Opera and Ballet Theatre (The Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet).

In 2008, after a performance in Alexei Ratmansky’s The Flames of Paris, he was promoted to the rank of Principal dancer. He is an Honored Artist of Russia (2010).


Disclosure: Dance Advantage accepts compensation for promoting the Bolshoi Ballet Cinema Season.

Ode to the Pointe Shoe

"decorated pointe shoes" is licensed CC BY 2.0

“decorated pointe shoes” is licensed CC BY 2.0


Corina Chan - Adult dancerWe asked you to submit a poem of love for your pointe shoes and we weren’t disappointed! Thank you for your submissions. Our featured poet is Corina Chan.

Corina performs with Kathy Mata Ballet, a volunteer-based dance company. Their mission is to provide free shows at senior citizen facilities in San Francisco for seniors who may not otherwise have opportunities to enjoy dance performances. The motto of our company is “Dance is for Everyone.” This idea is true for both audiences and dancers, as Corina did not start her dance training until her mid 30s. In dance, as in all important matters in life, better late than never.

Without further ado, Corina’s Ode to the Pointe Shoe:


Ode to the Pointe ShoeOde to the Pointe Shoe


How do I love you?

Let me count the ways.


I love you out of the box, so shiny, pink, and new

I love you with every pique, pirouette, tendu


Second skin of my feet, keeper of my sole

Every step I take, your virtues I extol


The lines you draw, the patterns you trace

At the barre and in the center, you fill a sacred space


Adorned with ribbon like a satin-wrapped prize

Hiding within elegance the pain you disguise


I love you in class, in rehearsal, and on stage

Treasure beyond measure, my spirits you raise


My road to ballet is paved with blood, sweat and tears

You are my companion persistent through the years


Vertical suspension, the summit of my desire

You beneath me, the wings beneath my fire


From toil and struggle, the suffering for your sake

Comes dance so joyous, ever-worthy to create


Do you have dance poetry you’d like to share?

Leave a link or submit it to us. Your poem may be published, too!


Ballet Primer: The Legend of Love

Tomorrow afternoon, Bolshoi Ballet will kick off a season of special events in movie theaters all over the U.S.

They are leading with the ballet The Legend of Love, which, I admit, I knew very little about. How about you?

Bolshoi Ballet - The Legend of Love in Cinemas

I figured we might all need a little primer before heading out to the Sunday matinée. So, here’s what I found out:


A Hint of History

The Legend of Love premiered for the first time in 1961 in St Petersburg at the Kirov Theatre (now Mariinsky) and then in Moscow for the first time in 1965. The cast in this premiere in Moscow featured international superstar Maya Plisetskaya as Mekhmene Banu; prima ballerina, Natalia Bessmertnova as Shyrin; and celebrated male dancer, Maris Liepa as Ferkhad.

The Legend of Love is choreographed by Russian master, Yuri Grigorovich. It is one of his earliest ballets (preceded by The Stone Flower) and secured his promise and status as a famous choreographer, helping to launch a 30-year career as artistic director of Bolshoi Ballet.


What’s the Story?

The royal apartments of Queen Mekhmene Banu are plunged into mourning – her younger sister, Princess Shyrin, is dying. The Princess will only be saved if the Queen gives Shyrin her beauty. The Queen decides to sacrifice herself, but later regrets her action when she is disfigured and Shyrin falls in love with the Queen’s own lover, the painter Ferkhad.

The overriding theme of The Legend of Love is self-sacrifice. In the story each character sacrifices something. Mekhmene sacrifices her beauty for her dying sister Shyrin. Ferkhad sacrifices his love for Shyrin in order to save the people of his land from thirst. Shyrin gives up her love for Ferkhad, realizing that his mission is more important.


One-day Only Broadcast

The performance of The Legend of Love you’ll see in theaters is captured earlier the same day from Moscow. This live broadcast stars prima ballerina, Svetlana Zakharova as Queen Mekhmene Banu, and soloists Anna Nikulina as Shyrin, and Denis Rodkin as Ferkhad.

Zakharova was born in Ukraine and grew up studying at the Vaganova School in St. Petersburg where she graduated. She quickly was given leading roles at Kirov Theatre before joining the Bolshoi as Principal Dancer several years later. This is the first time she is dancing in this role.

The sets, which open up almost like a book on the stage, were designed by Simon Virsaladze, one of Yuri Grigorovich’s frequent and most favorite collaborators.

The Legends of Love showing is on Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014 at 12:55 p.m. ET / 11:55 a.m. CT / 10:55 a.m. MT and tape-delayed to 12:55 p.m. PT/AK/HI

Find out where to see the ballet at a theater near you.

Disclosure – Dance Advantage receives compensation for promoting this series