David Bruce: The Funniest People in Dance — Movies, Names, Native Americans, Nudity


• As a ballerina in the former Soviet Union, Natalia Makarova was asked to star in a movie of Swan Lake. However, she discovered the movie director lacked taste, although he thought he was capable of teaching her how to dance the role of Odile. When he told her, “Dance as if you wanted to seduce me,” she replied, “I haven’t the slightest desire to do that to you,” and then she walked off the set and refused to return. The director was forced to find another ballerina to dance the role of Odile.

• Whenever Fred Astaire was ready to shoot a big dance number for one of his films, word would go out across the studio, and lots of people would come around to watch the dancing. Anthony Perkins was doing a Western while Mr. Astaire was filming Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn, and he remembers lots of gunslingers watching the filming of “Clap Yo’ Hands.”

• The year 1940 was a very bad year for Fred Astaire, who starred in the turkey Second Chorus, but it was a very good year for his former dance partner Ginger Rogers. When she won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Kitty Foyle, Mr. Astaire sent her this one-word telegram: “OUCH.”


• The mother of the great tap dancer Savion Glover, one of the creators of Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk, knew he was special when she was pregnant with him. In fact, his name comes from a religious vision his mother had — she saw God writing a name on a blackboard: SAVIOR. She read the name, then said, “Now, You know I can’t name him Savior.” Therefore, she substituted an “n” for the “r.” To a great extent, Mr. Glover has been the savior of modern-day tap dancing, bringing it into the era of hip-hop.

• Edward Villella and other dancers called ballerina Melissa Hayden “Old Ironsides” as an affectionate mark of respect for her hard work and determination. One of the things she did to get energy for dancing was to inject herself with vitamin B12. One day, thinking Mr. Villella needed some extra energy, she told him, “Honey, take down your pants.” He obeyed her — and was rewarded with a needle in his butt.

• Russian ballet dancer Elena Lukom ran into a problem when she performed in Sweden because audience members laughed when she was introduced. Fortunately, she was able to solve that problem easily. She discovered that in Swedish her last name meant “rest room,” so whenever she toured in Sweden she changed her last name to Lukova.

• Loïe Fuller started a dancing school whose pupils danced for her. The pupils’ real names were kept secret from the general public on the grounds that they were from prominent families that might be embarrassed by the publicity, and on the dance programs they were given pseudonyms such as Buttercup, Chocolate, Peach, Pinky, and Smiles.

Native Americans

• When the Native American tribe known as the Wampanoag dance, they dance both clockwise and counterclockwise. When they dance clockwise, they are thanking the good spirits. When they dance counterclockwise, they are paying respect to the other spirits — the evil ones.

• According to many Native Americans of Canada, the Northern Lights are actually a dance. When the Northern Lights appear in the sky, one sees the spirits of the ancestors dancing.


• The costumes for Bronislava Nijinska’s Les Biches underwent several changes before the ballet’s premiere. The costume worn by dancer Vera Nemchinova originally was a full-length evening dress; however, costume designer Marie Laurencin very quickly cut off the train. Ballet producer Sergei Diaghilev then cut off the rest of the skirt. When Ms. Nemchinova complained that the costume made her feel naked, Mr. Diaghilev told her to buy a pair of gloves.

• Sometimes what you think you see is not what you actually see. To create an illusion of nudity, female dancers sometimes wear flesh-colored costumes on which nipples and navels have been painted. Sometimes what you think you see is what you actually see. In 1978, Vivi Flindt stripped off all of her clothing to perform the dance of Salome for the Royal Danish Ballet. Her husband, Flemming Flindt, danced the role of Herod.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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