Cyd Charisse dancing with Gene Kelley and Fred Astaire -- we've seen her dancing with them in films that we've seem over and over. My favorites are "Singing in the Rain" and "The Band Wagon."
She gave me a gift. I didn't know it till the other day.
I've seen most of her films. I see her photos -- she must have posed for how many photographs?
I have a 2 X 3 foot carton, jam-packed with my dance photos. There must be thousands of Cyd Charisse photos -- 10 cartons? Hours go into creating one single dance photo. She must have spent -- golly -- a hundred thousand hours of her life just posing.
Posing for photos is hell -- each photo involves makeup, hair-do, checking out various costumes, and trial poses -- 10, 20 rolls of film, as the photographer does his work, coordinating lights while the dancer positions head, arms, hands, torso, feet, and facial expression -- happy smile, thoughtful look – click, click.
One of my teachers was Nanette Charisse, Cyd's sister-in-law, when Cyd was married to Nico Charisse, Nanette brother. Nanette taught daily classes in room 404 in the Ed Sullivan Building, where David Letterman's show is now filmed. Room 404 was home to me over the years, between tours.
Nanette's class was like a coffee klatch – chorus kids, Broadway stars, famous dancers from all over the world dropped in. That's how I met Cyd Charisse, as well as Alicia Alonso, Vera Ellen, Tommy Tune, Donald O'Connor, and others, including Nanette's husband, Bob Tucker, dancer-choreographer. He choreographed the musical "Shenandoah," the Broadway production that starred John Cullum, my husband.
One morning, I happened to stand behind Cyd Charisse, when she dropped in for "barre." No matter where you are or what you're doing professionally, most dancers do some kind of daily workout "barre" to maintain technique.
I didn't pay much attention to Cyd. just squinted at her, the way I did with other dancers -- comparing myself to them, looking for ways to make my choices of style different, more interesting than theirs.
She seemed to be a typical classical dancer, not very interesting or exceptional.
Boom! The other night, I watched "The Band Wagon," on AMC. I was riveted.
I'd been working on "Stand Tall," writing a blog post about its importance. I had added a "Stand Tall" routine to my daily schedule.
Cyd Charisse suddenly amazed me. Not just because she pointed her feet, so well, so reflexively, articulating them before every step. (Articulate feet are why other dancers watch ballet performances with opera glasses -- expressive feet are prized and envied.)
Yes, I'd noticed her feet before. Yes, I knew that Cyd Charisse, who'd become even more famous as singer Tony Martin's wife, had left the world of the living about four years ago.
What stunned me -- it was the fluid way her arms moved up and back over her head.
Standing tall, for 10 seconds, a dozen times a day, I'd been raising my arms up and back over my head. OUCH! It was something I'd rarely bothered with, never worked on -- it was a movement I ought to be able to do freely.
Cyd Charisse, in the film, lifting her arms so effortlessly, so coordinately -- so freely and beautifully -- what it meant. Oh my God, I thought -- how how she must have worked to achieve what she achieved with that movement, with all her movements.
That girl, on the screen was amazing. Her body was amazing. Her ability was amazing. She could sing, dance, act, and be beautiful, and though I'd see her dancing in films, seen hundreds of photos of her, I'd missed what she could do, really do.
Distracted by her technique, her feet, fantastic legs, her beauty, her making it in movies, her fame -- the most important thing was -- IS -- her amazing dancing.
Thank you for what you gave me, Cyd Charisse.
Thank for your dancing.
If you have time, here's a huge batch of her photos. Imagine what she had to do, to prepare for each photo, what was involved to take the pose, make it perfect for the person behind the camera.