As a designer and a fashion lover, I have always had a deep appreciation for a beautiful shoe. I have also always been fascinated by dance shoes in particular. And classic musicals are a feast for the eyes when it comes to dance shoes. When you see dance (other than ballet) on film today, quite often you see a variation on the ballroom dance shoe. Many of the styles would seem right at home on Dancing with the Stars. And don’t get me wrong, ballroom shoes are gorgeous. I have often been tempted to get a pair for myself, even though I am not a dancer. But the classic musicals seem to have had a lot more variety.
Often when you see the greats dancing in the classics, they seem to be wearing the regular high-heeled styles of the day, from pumps to elegant peep-toe and ankle-strap shoes. Ginger Rogers wore a huge variety of styles to match her fantastic gowns. Vera Ellen often wore similar shoes in a variety of colors – usually they had a slightly pointed toe, and an ankle strap with an open heel. Ann Miller often wore pumps with an ankle strap. And no matter what style she chose, Miller’s tapping always had the same distinctive sound. You can almost recognize it without even having to look at the screen. I’ve often wondered how much of that sound came from her style, the type of taps she used, or enhancements put in later by a sound engineer. (It was probably a combination of all three.)
And then there was Gene Kelly. He made dancing look effortless, most often in loafers. Sometimes he branched out and wore oxfords, but more often than not, when you think of his classic dances, you picture him in his loafers. Having walked in loafers on more than one occasion, I would imaging tapping in them might not be as easy as he made it look. But Kelly was such a perfectionist when it came to his dancing, I’m sure he had them custom-made especially for him. (Can you imagine having that lucky job? I recently attended the exhibit for Debbie Reynolds’ costume auction and saw a pair of Kelly’s shoes from Singin’ in the Rain. I could feel the magic just standing next to those shoes – imagine helping create them!)
One final side note on heel height. I always find it fascinating to look at the height of the women’s shoes in classic musicals, particularly when they’re dancing with a partner. You can often tell that a gentleman must have been on the short side when an actress (especially one you’ve seen in higher heels for a different number) suddenly appears in flats or very low heels. I’m sure that could have been due to injuries from time to time, but usually it was a trick to even out a significant height difference. It did happen when women were paired together too – Rosemary Clooney was 2 inches taller than Vera-Ellen, but in the “Sisters” number in White Christmas they appear to be the exact same height. If you look closely, you can see that, even though they’re technically wearing matching shoes, the heels on Rosemary’s are just a little bit shorter.
And, of course, I haven’t even touched on classic movie ballet shoes, and all the beautiful colors and fabrics designers used to make them. I could do another whole post about that… Maybe I will – stay tuned!