Cyd Charisse and a Life of Dancing

Former President Teddy Roosevelt and Hollywood dance legend Cyd Charisse, aka Tula Ellice Finklea, had a few things in common – great charisma, multiple marriages – and both turned to intense physical training to overcome childhood illness. While Teddy took to horsemanship and hunting, Charisse, who died six years ago today, turned to dance to build up her strength after surviving polio as a child. At age 6, the Amarillo, Texas, native found her calling.

According to the Texas State Historical Association, Charisse did not stay in Amarillo for long and was soon studying ballet in California. She joined a professional company while still a teen and eventually married one of her instructors, Nico Charisse. He was 32, she still in her teens. The pair moved to Hollywood and taught together, but soon Charisse was turning more toward film, appearing in several small films and eventually abandoning her dreams of being a touring ballerina with the birth of her son, Nicky, in 1942. Fortunately, by 1946 Charisse signed a contract with MGM and began appearing in major films such as The Harvey Girls and Ziegfeld Follies. Here she is in The Harvey Girls, dancing as Kenny Baker sings to her.

Soon after Charisse became a Hollywood star, she and her husband split (she kept his last name). She remarried a year later in 1948. Her career stalled, unfortunately, because of a combination of injury, pregnancy and a poorly received film. In 1952, her luck turned around when she won a role as Gene Kelly's dance partner in the famous "Broadway Melody Ballet" from Singin' in the Rain.

Charisse kept hoofing it in Hollywood for decades to come, cementing her legacy as one of the great dancers of movie musicals. She died in 2008 of a heart attack after a lifetime spent dancing.

Written by Seth Joseph. Find him on Google+.