Fred Astaire is regarded by many as one of the most influential dancers in musical films because of the three crucial performance points that made his career: his musicality, his style and posture, and his use of props and surroundings.
For a dancer, musicality is the ability to translate audio to physical, or sound to movement. Astaire’s theatrical facials and ability to drastically change his posture allowed him to accomplish musicality easily. Astaire’s vocal performances within his films helped advance his musicality, as this skill is often found in dancers that also study music technically and in ways other than dancing. Astaire’s performances also helped to change the idea of tap dancing as a genre of dance to a type of musical instrument. Tappers can create their own music with their own instrument – their feet.
Astaire’s style was unique for his time (1930s-1950s) because he did not remain under himself as he danced. He jumped over walls, danced in circles around entire ballroom floors, and even danced on a ceiling in his famous “Ceiling Dance.”
Overall, there are so many ideas to be drawn from Astaire’s choreography and performance quality, and there is so much to learn from studying his films from a dancer’s perspective. Those studying musical theatre and films from 1930-1950 must study Astaire to understand his lasting legacy on film and stage.