Fred Astaire was a 20th
century stage and musical film legend who captivated the
imagination of the American public through his unique dance
routines, toe-tapping rhythms, and magically graceful movements.
Even Americans today who have never seen Astaire dance know that
his name means something special and is spoken of with a
reverence that credits him as the best of the best.
Astaire was born in 1899 in Omaha
where he lived with his parents and older sister Adele. From
1905 to 1932, he and Adele formed a famous dancing duo that
charmed audiences from Omaha to New York to London. When Adele
retired in 1932, Astaire left for Hollywood. His first job was
co-starring in a movie musical with Ginger Rogers. This began
Astaire’s forty years of dancing on the movie screen and his
ascent to becoming one of the most admired dancers of all time.
Although he frequently referred to himself as “just a hoofer,” Astaire
presented to the world his own innovative style of dance that he
liked to call his “outlaw style.” With minimal help from
professional choreographers, Astaire composed dance routines
that were a unique fusion of ballet, ballroom and tap. He also
brought a level of perfected performance that has yet to be
surpassed by another dancer.
Astaire loved to dance, but it was his creativity, hard work and
uncompromising commitment to excellence that made him
successful. In 1949, Astaire was given a special award for his
“unique artistry and his contributions to the technique of
musical pictures.” In 1981, he received the American Film
Institutes Life Achievement Award.
Astaire revolutionized the movie musical industry and changed the dancing
community forever. From Gene Kelly to Michael Jackson, Astaire’s
work influenced hundreds of dancers. Famous ballet choreographer
George Balanchine once said, “Astaire’s best was
unsurpassed...He is the most inventive, the most elegant dancer
of our times…You see a little bit of Astaire in everybody’s
dancing – a pause here, a move there. It was all Astaire’s
— Elisabeth Richert
Vertical Files, Douglas County Historical Society Library