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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Who’s Greater: Fred Astaire Or Gene Kelly?

FredAstaire, left, and GeneKelly talk during MGM's musical extravaganza "That's Entertainment" Part II in this 1976 handout photo. (AP)

FredAstaire, left, and GeneKelly talk during MGM’s musical extravaganza “That’s Entertainment” Part II in this 1976 handout photo. (AP)

This year Gene Kelly would have turned 100. But of course he’ll always be young and vibrant and “Singin’ in the Rain.”

So we thought we’d spend a few minutes in appreciation. And we thought we’d ask the question: was Gene Kelly the greatest dancer and innovator in American movie musical history, or was Fred Astaire – who was 13 years older than Kelly?

Historian and theater and dance critic Iris Fanger told Here & Now, “They were both great… what makes us very lucky is that these are the only 2 major dance artists of the 20th century… that we have the greater body of their work on film.”

Let us know what you think in the comments below, or join the debate on our Facebook page.


  • Iris Fanger, dance and theater critic and historian.

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  • JFerreira

    There’s no direct comparison.  Astaire was elegant, sophisticated, a pure joy to watch in motion, especially with Ginger Rogers in his arms.  Kelly had more power and intensity and was fascinating on the strength of his dance motions alone.  Both were in their own category of greatness, however, as the saying goes, remember that Ginger Rogers or Leslie Caron had to do what each of them did only backwards and in a dress and heels…

  • Jlbcar

       Not sure how you can have a conversation about the best American dancers (as opposed to who was better Astaire or Kelly) without mentioning the Nicholas Brothers.


    • Lynn

      Producer Lynn here, I LOVE the Nicholas Brothers, this is one of my all-time favorite dance clips!  I’ll find a way to talk about them too!

    • jondaly

      the nicholas brothers were the greatest TAP dancers. but that is all they did. and i don’t say that to denigrate them, but you really can’t compare their repertoire to Astaire’s.

  • bellbird

    Between those 2 it’s Gene Kelly in my book–handsome, sexy, athletic, powerful!  Sigh…  It always gave me the creeps when Fred Astaire was with some much younger woman (like Audrey Hepburn).  He looked like some skinny old uncle. yuck

    • jondaly

      hmmm….audrey hepburn had casting authority and she wanted Fred Astaire. and they are magical together … dancing on a lake. and his solo with the bull fighter’s cape… fantastic.

  • mr. twicky

    Absolutely silly to discuss which of these two men was greater.  It’s like asking who was greater Mozart or Beethoven.  The answer is that, although some may have a preference for one or the other, neither is “greater” than the other.  Kelly and Astaire were both innovators who advanced the art of dance and dance on film.  It could be said that Gene Kelly likely would have had quite a different career without the advances already made by Astaire.  To dismiss Astaire as nothing more than a “ballroom” dancer is pure baloney, as was much of this discussion.  I don’t think this sort of nonsensical comparison does much to honor Kelly on his milestone birthday.

    • disqus_FhtjYMEK1n

      Blah, blah, blah.

  • Susie B

    Asking who is the greater dancer is as ridiculous as picking a “best actor” at the Oscars; every great artist makes a unique contribution. It is perfectly acceptable, though, to ask “Who is your favorite?” and for me it will always be Fred Astaire because of his supremely gracious and gentle persona in addition to his sublime dancing.

  • Angelina

    Of course they were both unique in their own ways…Angelina

  • John

    Robin,  Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly were both great dancers but were from different times. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made their  movies while the country was trying to recover from  the Great Depression. It was a time of great innovation in cinema and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers brought to the screen a break from the hard times.  Let’s just look at “Swing Time” from 1936. Fred takes dancing lessons just to meet Penny(Ginger) and miss steps and falls down just to make the sample lesson take longer. They start singing “Pick yourself up, dust your self off, start all over again”. A song everyone knows and  The Great Depression metaphor. Penny gets fired when her boss over  hears her  telling Fred to save his money, that he’s too clumsy to ever learn to dance.  You should see her face when Fred reclaims her job by going into a fantastic dance routine with her. And the movie goes on from there and the song, “The way you look tonight” gets the academy award.

  • Hal88

    There is no comparrison. They were so completely different in style and both uniquely brilliant. But, in 2012 the fact that we’re even discussing this is brilliant in itself. Unfortunately there are generations growing up without the knowledge of what these two men did or who they were.
    I wish there was a way to expose more people to their extraordinary talents. And to the Nicholas Brothers, and everyone else of their generation who were so truly talented.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000369743327 Jamie Huntington-Meath


  • Bonnie Hillman

    Apples and Oranges !
    But both are delicious !
    Cyd Charrise said that of her dance partners .
    She is right .
    two different styles of dance

  • Olson_ad

    Two completely different dance styles, equally gifted and exciting to watch. They both made you feel that it was effortless, like breathing. Mr. Kelly was very athletic, almost gymnastic in some of his dances. Mr. Astaire was graceful, every move flowed to the next with ease. Mr. Kelly was a blue collar dancer, Mr. Astaire a white collar dancer.

  • irv miller

    this astair-kelly thing is rediculous. Compare to baseball where the hall of fame cocsists of a pitcher who doesm’t his and a hitter who can’t pitch. Both are there specializing in doing different things with amazing talent. Don’t applaud one and denegrate the other. As the saying goes “different strokes for different folks”  Stop grousing and enjoy the great talent of both.

  • J97219

    Ellie Powell was greater

  • jondaly

    fred astaire. no one danced as long, in as many different forums, exhibiting as much versatility. he was a star in vaudeville, on broadway in films, and on television. e excelled as a soloist and dancing with a partner. he excelled at tap, ballroom dancing, and more modern styles of dancing. he danced from the age of five to the age of 76.
    effortless charm and sophistication.

  • disqus_FhtjYMEK1n

    I don’t think it’s silly to compare and choose the greater of these two, it’s human nature. So rotten tomatoes to the dorks below who start their commentary hypocritically protesting their own participation in this forum. Shut up already!

    For me, Fred Astaire is the better of the two. He was a dancer who danced all the dances in classic fashion, but also put comedy and dancing feats into his routines.

    Gene Kelly improvised away from straight dancing at every turn and added trick moves to every performance. I don’t think they ever filmed him doing a ballroom dance. I don’t like his showoff style or his voice. His style seems much more dated than the older Astaire’s. Corny and hammy, and he was limited as an actor. Fred Astaire was always completely convincing as an actor, maybe because he didn’t show off. Kelly made a big deal about how superior men were in the physical act of dancing, but then he measures in at all of 5′ 7″ – no thanks, shorty. He also gave up sooner, it’s just an excuse to say it was because musicals were ending, he could have kept making dance movies. Kelly was good when he was serious as an actor. It’s fun to watch his stunts and athleticism, and dancing with animations, he was genuinely goofy in all that, but it’s not dancing, exactly and not just light-hearted entertainment either, he wanted to be taken seriously as a


  • Greg Logan

    Every body is looking at style or their preferences – the real issue is which was a technically stronger dancer. I have danced with some emphasis on technique – and based on a fairly limited review of both, my basic impression is that Kelly is a stronger technical dancer. His movement from his core is superior – he is very pulled up all the time. It seems I have seen Astair being sloppy in the technical fundamentals more than once – I never did with Kelly.

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