Famous choreographer George Balanchine once said, “He is the most interesting, the most inventive, the most elegant dancer of our times” and noted dancer Rudolph Nureyev also said, “He was not just the best ballroom dancer, or tap dancer, he was simply the greatest, most imaginative, dancer of our time.” These famous dancers were referring to Fred Astaire, who has been known as one of the greatest dancers of all time. His light, artistic joyful style of dancing has impacted dance in an extremely unique way. Astaire used techniques in films as well as in dance that have shaped society. Astaire was mostly prominent throughout the 1930s during the Great Depression. Everywhere, Americans were looking for some joy in their lives, and Astaire was able to give them hope in a period of history that lacked optimism. Fred Astaire’s carefree dance movement style and techniques, specifically in the films Swing Time and The Gay Divorcee, help America through the Great Depression and signifies the importance of art in this time period.
The arts played a significant role in the Great Depression- not only as a means of escapism for some people, but also a psychological and ideological role that provided inspiration and optimism in a time of severe doubt and fear. For example, film provided an escape for a couple of hours, but also portrayed success during this time period. Many films focused on social realities of the time period, so that people could relate to these films. Films gave images of hope and success because they portrayed ordinary people, such as a girl winning a role in a play, or a man and a woman randomly meeting and falling in love. Andrew Bergman explains the effect of these films in his article Hollywood and the Great Depression when he says, “Out of these simple plots, Hollywood restored faith in individual initiative, in the efficacy of government, and in a common American identity transcending social class.” Film played an extremely important role lifting people’s spirits throughout this time period, and dance did as well.
Dance displayed happiness, joy and elegance throughout the Great Depression. When people danced or even just watched dance it provided them with a physical and psychological energy that impassioned people and gave them optimism. Fred Astaire conveyed this inspiration and hope during the Great Depression through his film and his dancing. Morris Dickstein, in his article Facing the Music, states, “they gradually promoted dance into a plot device, enabling a bickering couple to achieve not only perfect harmony but a rarefied ease and elegance, something missing from the audience’s encumbered lives”. Astaire had a style that displayed elegance and class and therefore reassured and inspired people. His films with Ginger Rogers especially helped to provide a distinctly up-lifting spirit and harmony that was hard to convey during a time of great struggle.
Fred Astaire had a distinct dancing style- one of lightness and grace....