Betty Grable


Gene KellySo a while back Anna suggested something that might help conquer my self-consciousness on the dance floor. I could pick someone I really admired from stage or screen and try to dance like them, maybe one of the movie stars from the old movies I like so much. I started thinking about this, and decided that I wanted to dance like Betty Grable. I didn’t know much about her, but I had an image of her in my head mostly inspired by her classic WW II pinup photo. It was cute, sassy, and classic. Right away it gave me an idea for styling my Balboa basic. Perfect. I made that photo the desktop image on my computer, and started looking for clips of her dancing that I could mine for inspiration.

I started on youtube, where I quickly found several clips. The dancing in them was… ok, but not really inspirational. Maybe she was better in the movies? I raided my local library, coming home with How To Marry A Millionaire and DuBarry Was A Lady. Millionaire is a great movie, but there was no dancing in it. Plus, Grable’s character was kindof annoying – the kind of cutely perky that would make me want to strangle a girl in real life. So I tried DuBarry. Unfortunately, although the Broadway show of DuBarry Was A Lady made Grable’s career, when they made the movie they cast Lucille Ball in her part. Friends, I hated that movie. It was just stupid all the way through. The only really good thing about it was an incredibly young Gene Kelly. There came this moment after the girl finally said she loved him, when he tap danced pure happiness. No, really, he did. It gave me goosebumps. Twelve seconds of pure magic, the best twelve seconds in the movie. I started browsing Gene Kelly dancing vids on youtube, and came across one from Les Demoiselles de Rochefort. There was one point where he dances with some young girls, and it looks like they do a bit of a Charleston routine. I watched that and thought, hey, I can do that! Then I got up from my computer and tried. I sortof could. It was awesome.

That was when I realized that I don’t need another dancing muse, I’ve always had one. My sister has a theory that every woman imprints at a very young age on someone from the screen who becomes her own personal archetype of what a man should be. She thinks that she imprinted on Tony Curtis playing the Great Leslie in The Great Race. I’ve always known that I imprinted on Gene Kelly. Only, I’ve always wanted to dance with him, not necessarily like him. Plus, I don’t think there’s any way I could even begin to imitate his athletic style. I’m just not built that way. Still, I could watch him dance forever and be perfectly happy. He amazes me.

So I’m not sure what I’ll do with this. Maybe some footwork variations working off some of the tap stuff he did so well? Maybe something else I’ll pick up? I don’t know. All I know is that I don’t really want to dance like Betty Grable, I want to dance like Gene Kelly. If he were a woman. I’m not sure what that means in practical terms. I’ll have to let you guys know.

On the subject of polyandry, here’s Betty Grable’s thoughts on the matter. I love how she manages to look like Doris Day the whole time, even when she’s crawling into bed with two of them at the end. Also I would like to note that, while I mused on the possibilities of only three men in my life, Betty’s daydreaming about a whole sound stage full!

Down Boy!

Betty Grable ClassicI’ve been getting very discouraged about my dancing the last couple of months. While intellectually I know that I’ve improved enormously (I dip now. My Charleston, both solo and partner, looks infinitely better. My Lindy basic is lighter and more controlled than ever before. I’m having dances I could only have dreamed of six months ago.), emotionally all I know is how far I still fall short of where I want to be.

Part of the problem is that as I’ve gotten better, and especially as I’ve begun being groomed to become an instructor for the local scene, I’ve accumulated perhaps too many people who want to help me improve even more. So I have Jack telling me that I’m still anticipating a little on the one and going off the slot, Anna wanting me to correct my knees and make my spins intentional, Mark saying that my hand connection needs work, and Trey telling me that the way I keep my frame is all wrong (it should be more with the muscles in my back and less with my biceps). And then there’s my perennial problems with balance and keeping my feet underneath me. It’s a lot. In the end I feel like everything is wrong, trying to fix it all at once, and feeling like a failure when I don’t see immediate improvement.

This has been heightened by the teacher training process. Chiara had been teaching Swing I for a long time, so when she moved to Indianapolis, everyone was curious who would take her place. It had to be either myself or Alice. I’m a better teacher and I’ve objectively fulfilled more of the requirements, but Alice is a better dancer. It was taking Anna forever to make the announcement, and meanwhile I was continually conscious of having my dancing evaluated and falling short. Even when it was announced that Alice would teach in September and I would teach in October my feelings of failure and discouragement didn’t go away.

The thing that finally really helped was having a heart to heart about my dancing with Anna on Sunday. We agreed that I have too many chefs in my kitchen right now, and it’s spoiling the dish. So I’m telling all my instructors to back off for a little while and let me just dance. I also asked Anna what she sees when she watches me dance. One of the big things that’s holding me back is my lack of confidence, which really comes through in my dancing. Technically I’m pretty good. All the things I’m trying to work on are really little, tweaky things. However, my lack of confidence makes my dancing rather hesitant, which comes through as oddly delicate. It just doesn’t look right on a girl my size. Anna said that something that helped her have confidence when she started dancing was pretending to be someone else while she was on the dance floor. She loved Cyd Charisse, and would try to be her while she danced. She encouraged me to find someone I liked, maybe one of the great ladies from the old movies I love, and be them while I danced.

I went home and thought about this. If I could dance like anyone from the old movies, who would I dance like? Myrna Loy is awesome, but I’ve never thought of her as a dancer. Katherine Hepburn would be much too stiff. Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe are too vulnerable, too much at the mercy of their own beauty. Bette Davis is pretty formidable, but again, I don’t know that she’s much of a dancer. Then I hit on it – Betty Grable, the girl with the Million Dollar Legs, the pin-up darling of WWII, cute and fun and not someone to be messed with. So now the question is: What Would Betty Grable Dance?