Mean feet: the tap-dancing duo who were Fred Astaire's heroes

Blending a floating grace with a fierce athleticism, the Fabulous Nicholas Brothers won fans from Gene Kelly to Michael Jackson. Now a cinematic retrospective celebrates their talents

When connoisseurs of dance are asked to compile a list of the world’s greatest movers, Fred Astaire is nearly always close to the top. As a dancer, he brought a ballroom finesse and a loose-knit debonair grace to the grounded rhythms of tap. As a choreographer, he was remarkable for the puckish playfulness of his imagination: playing the drums while he danced in the 1937 film A Damsel in Distress; dancing with his shadow in Swing Time (1936); and revelling in the possibilities of trick photography as he danced up the walls and across the ceiling in Royal Wedding (1951).

Yet Astaire himself declared that his own tap heroes were Fayard and Harold Nicholas, two black dancers who became one of the most popular double acts of the mid 20th century. During the 1930s and 40s, the brothers toured the world and acquired an international public through Hollywood movies such as Down Argentine Way and Stormy Weather. Nor was it just Astaire who rated them professionally – over the years, dance luminaries such as Gene Kelly, George Balanchine, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Michael Jackson added their own accolades. Tap devotees still prize the Fabulous Nicholas Brothers, but to the general public their names have become less well known. Picturehouse Cinemas’ retrospective of their work should lead to a deserved reappraisal of their importance.

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Source: Guardian Dance News

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