It may have only lasted 2 minutes and 45 seconds but the stunning dancing scene performed by the brilliant Fred Astaire in 1938 is now the most famous demonstration of flow, rhythm, balance, and timing the golfing world has ever seen.
30x21 inches(75x55cm) screen print."Totally carefree." 300g Somerset art paper. Click image to enlarge.
It was wonderfully recorded for posterity on the film set of "Carefree," which was in production from the 14th of April 1938 until the end of July that year. Location filming was done at Busch Gardens in Pasadena, California, and the Columbia Ranch.
Little detail was known (like much of Astaire`s dance scenes at the time) until later on in his career when he explained to an audience how the scene had been developed. In between shoots for the film the passionate golfer Astaire had been trying a few dance steps for fun while at the same time practicing on his local golf club driving range. At the end of each short dance, he found it easy to finish with a golf shot, which was invariably good. After a little more practice he decided to show it to the director of the film.
The Hoof step in the sketch is called a wing by the dancing profession
The director, Mark Sandrich, warmed immediately to the idea, maybe because "Carefree" was the shortest of the Astaire-Rogers films and the new scene would become only the fourth musical number to be performed.
" We had to do a lot of rehearsals over two weeks where we pieced together the best bits for the film itself," said Astaire. The dance is a complicated combination of short steps and routines combined with high-speed interaction using various golf clubs, which Astaire swirled around his body like a snake-charmer. He gently begins the whole action by pulling out a harmonica and tap dancing while he plays it, throwing in a pirouette from ballet for good measure. Crossing two irons, he then performs a Highland sword dance, before finally beginning a set of golfing trick shot routines that Paul Hahn (the trick shot king of the next era) would have been proud of.
The fact that the whole scene has such a beautiful flow and looks spontaneous is almost completely down to the creativity and inventiveness of Astaire as he took part in editing which bits to keep and what should be removed.
This eliminates the story that Astaire finished the scene in one take and his shots all ended in a close circle of just eight feet.
Another aspect that tends to be overlooked when enjoying the beauty of the dance is the set design. A carefully constructed background with a stone wall eventually moves on to a distanced area that suggests a deep space of green.
Astaire the dancer
"Dancers are the athletes of God"-Einstein
It is with good reason that all of the greatest dancers and teachers of the last century have expressed their adulation of Fred Astaire's dancing genius at one time or another.
The famous British ballet teacher Richard Glasstone maintains that the three greatest dancers he ever saw were Fred Astaire, Margot Fonteyn, and Merce Cunningham.
Although celebrated as one of the greats in dancing choreography himself it was when Cunningham presented Astaire with an Award in 1987, that he commended the unique character of Astaire's ability: "The sheer pleasure of his dancing, a quality that makes us lose track of mental gymnastics. It gives the mind a rest and the spirit a big boost" (via The New York Times).
Nureyev was also a big Astaire fan.
Although I have no proof of this I believe Astaire had greater difficulty with the golfing dance scene than nearly all others he has done.
One of the earliest and greatest trick shot kings Joe Kirkwood.