(Certain portions of the following were taken from an article written in the LA Times by Susan King on 8/3/19)
Think of rubber-legged Ray Bolger in 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” and 1952’s “Where’s Charley?”; long-limbed Charlotte Greenwood, whose trademark high kicks entertained audiences in such musicals as 1940’s “Young People” and 1955’s “Oklahoma!”; and the gravity-defying Nicholas Brothers — Fayard and Harold — whose leaps and astonishing splits were the high points of numerous musicals including 1940’s “Down Argentine Way” and 1941’s “Sun Valley Serenade.”
It was wacky and wild, dazzling to watch, funny and fearless. It wasn’t modern dance, and it certainly wasn’t ballet. The only word for it was “eccentric.”
On 8/5/19 at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences shined a spotlight on eccentric dancing and how the art form has also played an important role in animation.
“What eccentric dance is, by definition, is very broad,” said dance historian Betsy Baytos, the curator and host of the evening, who is also an animator and eccentric dancer and choreographer. “It’s loose-limbed. It’s a pantomimic kind of movement, and it’s usually comic by nature. It’s essentially wrapped around the character.” Since animated characters can have unique features and movements, choreographers must come up with over exaggerated steps that regular humans don’t make.
“We’re trying to convince you that there’re certain things our characters can do that you find illogical but look completely believable,” says animator Eric Goldberg. “You have to animate a character with a certain amount of weight and intent and all the things that actually make it completely believable for an audience.” Think of trying to incorporate the movement of a tail or the long neck of a giraffe.
The famous Nicholas brothers will be featured as well. Tony Nicholas, the son of Fayard, was excited to show Nicholas Brothers home movies that evening because they are “something to behold.” He screened some “exciting new footage we have discovered that no one has ever seen.”
So while Hollywood has honored more traditional styles of dance like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly to the John Travolta disco and Fame and Flashdance to Footloose and High School Musical, it’s nice to see the art of the eccentric dance get it’s due.