Chapter

Dancing Comedians

Kathleen Riley

in The Astaires

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780199738410
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199932955 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199738410.003.0003
Dancing Comedians

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This chapter begins at the lowest point of the Astaires’ vaudeville career, their dispiriting two years on the small-time circuits, often playing ‘split’ weeks. Their fortunes changed when, at their father Fritz’s instigation, they acquired a new teacher in Aurelio Coccia, a vaudeville headliner and originator on the American stage of the ‘apache’ dance. Coccia radically retrained Fred and Adele and revolutionized their act, introducing them to new styles and rhythms such as the tango. He created a more sophisticated and streamlined act for them, entitled ‘New Songs and Smart Dances’, with which they toured for four years, gradually finding success on the big-time circuits. At the Palace Theatre in Chicago, despite opening the bill, the Astaires stopped the show. The chapter also examines the influence of Vernon and Irene Castle and of Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson; Fred’s nascent interest in songwriting; his fateful meeting with the young George Gershwin; and the tangential effects of the First World War. Finally the chapter looks at the Astaires’ transition from vaudeville to Broadway and their first two Broadway shows, Over the Top (1917) and The Passing Show of 1918, both for the Shuberts.

Keywords: astaire; fred; adele; aurelio Coccia; vernon and Irene Castle; bill bojangles; robinson; george Gerswhin; over the top; the passing show of 1918; shuberts

Chapter.  9181 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Dance

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