By Marilyn Ferdinand
By now, film fans and most of the world have heard that the enchanting dancer Cyd Charisse has left us. I fully expect all the classic movie blogs to cover her life and accomplishments, both of which were long and enviable, so I’ll share personal observations instead. There were a lot of dancers who came up in the Hollywood system, but none were as elegant as Cyd Charisse. Even when she sizzled, she reflected the refinement of her classical ballet training, and she was a model for dancers looking healthy instead of severely underfed.
My favorite performance of hers was in The Band Wagon, where as prima ballerina Gabrielle Gerard, she must learn to work with song-and-dance man Fred Astaire. Artistic differences begin before they meet when after seeing her perform and admiring her artistry, Fred says, “I can’t dance with her!” Height—hers—is a problem. So is her refinement. So is her boyfriend/choreographer, who wants their collaboration to be high brow. Poor Cyd! The dancer opposites finally put their differences aside after Cyd breaks into tears, saying, “I’m not used to behaving horribly. It’s a big strain!” They go off on their own to see if they really can dance together, and the rest is history.
I also love the pas de deux she danced with Gene Kelly in Brigadoon in which the couple express their love as Gene tries to decide whether to return to his life in New York or disappear with Cyd and the town of Brigadoon for all eternity. The climax of the dance is when Cyd leaps up, and Gene catches her at the hips. He slowly lowers her and begins a long, passionate kiss that ends with the pair on the ground in each other’s arms. The intensity of that scene is burned into my memory as one of the most sensuous and romantic moments on film.
But it was in Singin’ in the Rain that Cyd Charisse made the most famous entrance in dance movie history. See for yourself:
Oh, those legs! Thanks, Cyd, for the memories.