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August 30, 2012

Slate: Why they still dance like Gene Kelly


Kelly also embraced stunts and acrobatics. One of his most physically demanding films, "The Pirate," included "Be a Clown," a performance with the renowned Nicholas Brothers — who, as black performers in a time of limited opportunity, never got their full artistic due — and a ballet that finds him swinging from the "sails" of a ship and dancing with a giant baton. Usher, who has paid explicit tribute to Kelly, and his direct descendant, Chris Brown, show Kelly's influence in their athletic displays, incorporating flips and leaps upon giant stage sets into their routines.

Director Kenny Ortega — who choreographed Kelly in Xanadu, his last big screen role — called Kelly his mentor at a 100th Birthday event for Kelly back in May. The star's influence shines in much of Ortega's work, from Patrick Swayze's macho moves in "Dirty Dancing" to his kid-friendly "High School Musical" franchise. In the second installment of that Disney trilogy, an energetic dance number on a baseball field draws a direct line to one of Kelly's greatest artistic crusades: to show that guys who play sports could and should enjoy dance, which is itself an athletic activity.

Kelly showcased this most notably in a 1958 television special called "Dancing is a Man's Game," which featured boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. While there will never be another like Kelly, his work continues to resonate with generation after generation of American dancers.

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