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    Off the Wahl: Gotta Dance!

    By Jan Wahl–

    When dialogue fails, dancing begins. Dancing takes us beyond conversation. It moves along the plot, settles conflicts, romances characters, expresses joy. From Singin’ in the Rain to Dirty Dancing, there are too many great dancing moments in film history. Let’s enter stage left with a few favorites.

    Lala Land

    2016’s La La Land’s opening number, “Another Day of Sun,” is a living celebration of film dance history. The frustration of being stuck in a Los Angeles freeway traffic jam turns into bliss as dancers spin, stomp, swing. This is the number I often listen to in my own car, always uplifting with the dance memories to go with it. 

    They were the miracle in tap shoes: Fayard and Harold Nicholas hoofed it from The Cotton Club to Hollywood, astounding everyone fortunate to see The Nicholas Brothers. For an experience yourself, see the “Jumpin Jive” number from 1943’s Stormy Weather. Their daring leapfrogging, graceful taps, and gliding moves made them the favorites of both Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. They did “Jumpin Jive” in one take, as they often performed their numbers. Anytime you can watch The Nicholas Brothers, give yourself a gift of, “How’d they do that?” Nobody has done it since.

    Eleanor Powell has been called the screen’s greatest tap dancer. Tapping queen Ann Miller told me she thought so, too! In the perfect dancing duet with Fred Astaire, the “Begin the Beguine” in The Broadway Melody of 1940 is a synchronized spin of turns, taps, and spiraling, with exact yet giddy ease. Powell shows her solo skills in many films, including 1942’s Ship Ahoy in the “I’ll Take Tallulah” number. Working with Tommy Dorsey’s Orchestra and the great Buddy Rich on drums, Powell cartwheels, swan-dives, wings, and spins. As the daughter of a drum lover, this is a number I watch constantly. YouTube has it all.

    It’s time to go very sexy with Bob Fosse’s brilliant semi-autobiographical movie All That Jazz (1979). In a memorable number, we experience a flight attendant heading for Broadway. It has all the Fosse trademarks: tight small steps, tension, and control, snapping, hats. This is sizzle and sexuality set to dancing. Not for kids. 

    Michael Kidd’s choreography and dancing by Russ Tamblyn (seven years before West Side Story), ballet’s Jacque d’Amboise and studly others gives us the classic “Barn Dance” in 1954’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Athletic yet graceful, from a picnic table to rolling beams of wood, this is one that is always talked about in dance circles. Adding macho competition to the amazing balancing bodies makes this one for the ages.

    The exuberant “America” number in West Side Story (1961) takes on a gender war combined with a layering of Latin motifs.

    The final ballet in An American in Paris (1951) uses lush Technicolor as gorgeous paintings come to life with moonlit flowers and fountains. 

    Fred Astaire miraculously dances on a ceiling in 1951’s Royal Wedding

    From Dirty Dancing to Singin’ in the Rain, Fred and Ginger to Saturday Night Fever and the wonderful composites of That’s Entertainment (includes That’s Dancing!), get on Google or YouTube and start your own dance party.

    Emmy Award-winner Jan Wahl is a renowned entertainment reporter, producer, and teacher. A member of the prestigious Directors Guild of America, she is regularly featured on KPIX television (every Monday morning starting at 6:15 am) and on KCBS AM & FM and other media outlets. To read and listen to her reviews for KCBS, go to: https://kcbsradio.radio.com/authors/jan-wahl For more info about her remarkable life and career: http://www.janwahl.com/ Check out her entertaining and informative videos at http://sfbaytimes.com/


    Spotlight Film for SF Pride 50 Tab Hunter: Confidential (2015)

    By Jan Wahl–

    Tab Hunter: Confidential (2015) is just as good as the book it was inspired by. I’m trying to separate my affection for Tab when I was fortunate enough to interview him a number of times. But this one stands on its own as a complicated life is explored. From stable boy to matinee idol, it was a long journey for a closeted golden boy of the movies. 

    Social and sexual context is provided by John Waters, George Takei, Debbie Reynolds, and others as we feel Tab’s pain and root for him to find a way out of the lies. See the movie; read the book. He was a kind, talented man who finally found his way to freedom.  

    Published on August 13, 2020