“Dancing in Tijuana when I was 13 — that was my ‘summer camp.’ How else do you think I could keep up with Fred Astaire when I was 19?” — Rita Hayworth

It’s her birthday today!

In early 2016, it was all Rita Hayworth all the time at my humble abode, due to the research I did for my essay on Gilda, included in the Criterion Collection release of Gilda.

Gilda represented a breakthrough. The radical nature of the breakthrough in Gilda is startling when you watch her films in chronological order. Not only did Gilda make Hayworth a white-hot supernova-star, the role was different from any other role she had ever played (although you could see glimpses of it in Howard Hawks’ 1939 film Only Angels Have Wings, one of my all-time favorite movies. I wrote extensively about Hayworth in that film here.) Gilda came 9 years after Only Angels Have Wings. In the interim, she played plucky ingenues, rosy-cheeked young women who went toe to toe with the best male dancers of her day (and any day). (She also was great at clowning around, as this wonderful number from 1944’s Cover Girl shows.)

And here:

A famous mash-up, showing various clips of Rita Hayworth dancing throughout her career, all to the disco-beat of The Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.”

This was a woman who started dancing, every day, all day, before she learned to read. Her “way in” to Hollywood was as a dancer. Late in his life, Fred Astaire admitted, reluctantly (probably not wanting to piss off Ginger Rogers), that Rita Hayworth was his favorite dance partner. (There are multiple clips of her dances with Astaire – they appeared in two movies together – in the above mashup. Here’s one of the dances in full.) I linked to her most famous number, “Put the Blame on Mama” from Gilda, on Facebook and my pal Greg Santos commented:

To me, she always was ‘full out’. Almost to the point of ‘reckless abandon’. The arm bends a little too much. The hair flips a little longer than expected. Terribly exciting and so. damn. HOT.

Extremely insightful. Despite her technical brilliance, there was a certain beautiful mess in her style. It made her such an exciting performer. Compare Hayworth to the other dancers of her day, equally as brilliant, but with different styles and energies: Cyd Charisse, with her legs for days, and an almost celestial sense of self. She was sexy as hell but in a contained way: like fire in a bottle. (Check out my favorite Cyd Charisse number here.). Or Ginger Rogers, who floated when she danced. It’s hard to believe her feet were actually doing all those steps, her style was so airy. Then there was someone like Ann Miller (Miller and Hayworth were lifelong friends), a furious tapper, arms always out, athletic and extroverted. Each of these ladies brought something different to the table.

Hayworth danced like a natural phenomenon, like a volcano blowing its top, a tidal wave crashing into shore. It’s tremendously exciting watching her: she’s so good in all the essentials (specificity of step, appropriate and fluid gestures, perfectly-timed head-flips and turns) but she brings to it a wild unfettered energy. Because Hayworth did not hold anything back, and because her internal engine was always so activated, there was something truly personal going on for in her dancing. I’m not saying that Cyd/Ginger/Ann didn’t bring their own personality to their work. They clearly did. I am not saying any of this to set up an “either/or” with other dancers. I know the Internet (and people, in general) gravitate towards “either/or” like a magnet, but I am not interested in that at all.

I am trying to point out what made Hayworth unique.

Here is one of the famous Rita Hayworth pin-ups beloved by American GIs during WWII.


You can see why a soldier, 18, 19 years old, crouched in a wet jungle, stationed thousands of miles away from everything he knew and loved, unsure if he would die the next day, would look at that photo and become determined to make it home.

This entry was posted in Actors, Movies, On This Day and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to “Dancing in Tijuana when I was 13 — that was my ‘summer camp.’ How else do you think I could keep up with Fred Astaire when I was 19?” — Rita Hayworth

  1. Lizzie says:

    Congratulations on the Gilda essay! That is so exciting!

    And this video is actually pretty charming and well synchronized. I loved watching how she interacts with her dance partner (I almost typed scene partner, which is almost more accurate)–she looks at Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly or whomever and smiles to herself, or thinks something new and private, and each time she glances she also seems to take in their energy and respond what they’re doing. What a mark of complete confidence in herself (her body knows what to do, so her mind can briefly focus elsewhere, and then she takes that new information to inform the next moves she does)–and so compelling to watch her internal monologue!

    • sheila says:

      Lizzie – I love your very specific observations about what she’s doing.

      “take in their energy” – yes – she feeds off it, they feed off her, and then the energy gets more intense – and so it goes …

      It’s almost (almost) like she’s NOT dancing, if that makes any sense. It’s pure communication.

  2. stevie says:

    Her shoulders and upper arms are in constant movement. Compared to Ginger Rogers where she was frozen in that area and would move her lower arms. The whole Gilda moment where she throws her arms up and you get armpit and upper arms and shoulders and upper torso movement………unique I think and maybe it’s particular to someone who didn’t go to ballet class, or didn’t get processed by some tap dance school in Poughkeepsie. Joie de vivre. I just love her.

    • sheila says:

      // particular to someone who didn’t go to ballet class, or didn’t get processed by some tap dance school in Poughkeepsie. //

      Very nice observation!! She’s kind of a classic “gypsy” – the 8 shows a week dancer in New York, who can step into any show, last-minute, pick it up, perform that night, etc. Not that she’s not trained – but there’s a certain sense of … gusto in what she does, maybe? And totally letting that show.

      Armpit stuff – especially in that Jean Louis dress – is so erotic that it’s even sexier than if she were totally nude.

      I love her too!

    • sheila says:

      and without getting too psychological – which I dislike because she was flat out enormously talented either way – but the fact that the overall impression one gets from her dancing is “joie de vivre” is extraordinary considering her relatively ongoing unhappiness.

      Not just will power either – it’s like the dancing ENACTED joy in her – it got energized, set in motion.

      I think maybe that’s what I mean when I talk about how personal her dancing was.

  3. Melanie says:

    //The hair flips a little longer than expected. Terribly exciting and so. damn. HOT.

    I thought that was extremely insightful. Despite her technical brilliance, there was a certain beautiful mess in her style//

    My thought watching your ‘Cover Girl’ clip was how wild her hair looked compared to the other dancers. It was frizzy and flipping wildly compared to the concrete hold, Aqua Net sprayed dos of her contemporaries. Certainly a ‘gypsy’ abandon vibe.

  4. sheila says:

    Yes, her hair always MOVED. Check out that “Put the Blame on Mame” clip in my Criterion announcement page for Gilda. The most famous scene in Gilda besides her entrance, which also involves hair – and is probably the most famous “moment” of Rita Hayworth’s in her entire career. Rising up from below the screen, flipping her hair back.


  5. Melanie says:

    //all to the disco-beat of The Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.” Don’t let the gimmick distract.//
    On the contrary I can’t imagine a more perfect vehicle for these dance clips. Not only does it mirror the energy of her dancing, but evokes memories of Tony Manero escaping life on the dance floor. I saw Martian last night with it’s constant complaining about the captain’s disco playlist. Everyone loves to hate Disco, but they shake their groove things in private. I love this really well done mash-up!

  6. Melanie says:


  7. sheila says:

    As Madonna said: Rita Hayworth gave good face.

  8. Maureen says:

    Wow, I have never seen that video-I loved it!

    I am also beyond excited for your upcoming essay on The Quiet Man-I can’t wait for that official announcement!

  9. Melissa Sutherland says:

    This was SO great. How does one create a mashup? It is amazingly in sync. LOVED IT.

  10. Stevie says:

    Rita isn’t the only one celebrating a birthday this week! Happy 22nd blog birthday tomorrow, Sheila! This magnificent place where words come to thrive is an everlasting joy for me, and for so many others along the way, who celebrate your brilliance! Love you so much! Happy, happy birthday! XOXO Stevie

    • sheila says:

      Stevie!! You always always remember!

      This blog has brought so many wonderful things to my life – including friends like you!! love you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.