Most Americans probably recognize Fred Astaire's name, but how much do people know about him - other than that he was a dancer?
Astaire, born May 10, 1899, is regarded by many as the greatest popular music dancer of all time. It always appeared that he danced elegantly and effortlessly - he made dancing look easy and had exceptional technical control and a precise sense of rhythm.
However Astaire was such a perfectionist that he actually practiced for hours on end, sometimes rehearsing one scene for days. He made his partners do the routines over and over on the set until it was perfect, and yet he always felt he never got anything 100 percent right.
Astaire started performing as a child with his older sister, Adele. The two made it to Broadway in 1917 and starred in many productions, with a fair amount of early success.
In 1933, Astaire was matched up with Ginger Rogers for "Flying Down to Rio," a musical film in which their dance number pretty much stole the show. From there, they became a favorite dance team, using elements from tap, ballroom and even ballet.
Astaire was responsible for two important innovations: insisting that camera crews film a dance routine in a single shot, having dancers in full view at all times (no aerial shots, zooms or quick takes); and, instead of using the dance numbers as something lavish, he used dance to move the plot along.
In 1947, Astaire along with some partners founded the Fred Astaire Dance Studio and became franchised in 1950. Each studio was individually owned and operated, and today there are more than 140 studios in the United States alone. In December 2010, the company began franchising around the world.
It's amazing that after all these years, the influence of Fred Astaire is stronger than ever. People have realized the benefits - health and otherwise - of ballroom dancing, and TV shows like "Dancing with the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance" continue to fuel its popularity.
Maybe it's time for you to try ballroom dancing.
Sandro Virag is a partner and instructor at Fred Astaire Dance Studios of Hilton Head, located in Bluffton at Seaquins Ballroom. www.fredastairehiltonhead.com