Gene Kelly's lifelong obsession was to make dancing seem masculine, athletic, sporty. In 1958, he directed a documentary for NBC called Dancing is a Man's Game where he recruited sports legends like Sugar Ray Robinson and Mickey Mantle in order to illustrate how the conventionally masculine athleticism of a boxer or baseball player mirrored the physicality of dance. Kelly's signature stance was very much like a baseball player's: knees bent and feet wide apart, not because he wants to spring up into the air to catch a ball but because he likes to stay low to the ground. All of his life, Kelly repeated that he had wanted to be a shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team, but his mother had pushed him into dancing school at the age of eight and he eventually stuck to dance as a career. He got picked on as a kid because the boys his age thought that dancing was for sissies. Kelly was hellbent to prove them wrong.
Being a guy to him meant being down to earth, literally. Dancing with the Nicholas Brothers in The Pirate (1948), Kelly gets down with them and does a Russian kazaki dance and then glides across the floor on his calves, just like Irish dancer and showman George M. Cohan used to. "I have a lot of Cohan in me," Kelly once told an interviewer. "It's an Irish quality, a jaw-jutting, up-on-the-toes cockiness—which is a good quality for a male dancer to have," he insisted, always scorning anything in dance that could possibly be construed as effeminate. He loved to pinwheel his arms round and round as if he was a man-made machine, not so much an airplane but a plow or a tractor or a watermill.
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