Fred made even a hatrack look good. This famous clip, called “Sunday Jumps,” is from the movie Royal Wedding, made in 1951 when Astaire was 52. There’s another famous dance scene in this movie—you might know it—which I’ll highlight later in the week. We haven’t even gotten to his famous partners yet: Cyd Charisse, Rita Hayworth, and of course Ginger Rogers.
Wikipedia says this about the scene:
“Sunday Jumps”: Astaire credits the idea for this famous solo to his long-time choreographic collaborator Hermes Pan. In it, Astaire parodies himself by dancing with a hatstand and appears to parody his rival and friend Gene Kelly by inserting a mock bodybuilding episode during which he kicks aside some Indian clubs in a reference to Kelly’s routine with The Nicholas Brothers in The Pirate. The fame of the dance rests on Astaire’s ability to animate the inanimate.
The solo takes place in a ship’s gym, where Astaire is waiting to rehearse with his partner Powell, who doesn’t turn up, echoing Adele Astaire’s attitude toward her brother’s obsessive rehearsal habits to which the lyrics (unused and unpublished) also made reference. Controversially, in 1997, it was digitally manipulated to show Astaire dancing with a vacuum cleaner in Dirt Devil commercials. In a missive, later published in Time Magazine and Variety, Astaire’s daughter Ava severely criticized the corporation’s president, writing: “Your paltry, unconscionable commercials are the antithesis of everything my lovely, gentle father represented.” This number has been referenced by Mel Gibson in What Women Want and by David Byrne in the live film of his band, Talking Heads, and was also parodied by Kermit the Frog in The Great Muppet Caper.