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A Dance with Gene Kelly

Published: 8/23/2012
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Gene Kelly performs in the 1952 film "Singin' in the Rain" (AP Photo)

One hundred years ago today, a dance legend was born.

Gene Kelly's stunning talent and grace made him one of the greatest dancers of all time. He brought ballet to the masses and created unique and groundbreaking choreography… and all this started with a little boy who hated his dance lessons. When Kelly's mother enrolled the 8-year-old and his older brother in dance classes, the two rebelled. "We didn't like it much and were continually involved in fistfights with the neighborhood boys who called us sissies," he later recalled.

We can thank romance for bringing young Kelly back into the dance world. At 15, Kelly realized that dancing might help him win the hearts of the girls he admired, so he took it up again. He took his newfound talent seriously, creating dance routines with his brother and performing in talent shows for prize money. Within a few years, he was teaching others to dance and moved to New York to find his fortune as a choreographer.

Kelly was, indeed, a brilliant choreographer, and his work creating dances eventually led to performing on Broadway. With starring turns on the stage, Hollywood came calling.

It was as a movie star that most of us got to know Kelly and his dancing, and it's through movies that we're remembering him today – with five of the most iconic Gene Kelly dance scenes ever to grace the silver screen.

It all starts with his breakthrough role in Cover Girl opposite Rita Hayworth. Kelly choreographed a lighthearted routine with himself as partner, making the audience marvel and smile.

Kelly's next film earned him an Oscar for best actor, gave him the opportunity to co-star with Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson, and featured an unusual dance partner a cartoon mouse. After the success of Cover Girl, Kelly was given free rein to create the dance routines for Anchors Aweigh, and the results were spectacular.

In Summer Stock with Judy Garland, Kelly offered yet another unforgettable dance – this time, using a squeaky board and a newspaper as key props.

An American in Paris ushered in Kelly's Hollywood peak, a time of unmatchable choreography and dancing. The movie's title ballet sequence was 17 minutes long, stunningly beautiful, and quite pricey: at the time, it was the most expensive production number ever filmed.

And of course, there's the best of the best – Singin' in the Rain. The American Film Institute calls it the best musical of all time and the fifth best movie of all time – and we're inclined to agree. With so many show-stopping performances – from Kelly's tap dance duet with Donald O'Connor in "Moses, Moses" to Kelly's sultry sway with Cyd Charisse in "Broadway Melody Ballet" – Singin' in the Rain has some of the best big-screen dancing ever. Even so, one number stands out: According to Hollywood legend, Kelly was sick with a 103-degree fever when he performed the inimitable title sequence… but he still made it shine.

Written by Linnea Crowther

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