The Choreography of Comedy:
The Art of Eccentric Dance
The Eccentric Dancer is its own unique genre; usually a highly skilled dancer with extreme flexibility, implementing a specific repertoire of steps in pantomime, and wrapped around character in a visual narrative. The culmination of a 30 year, personal odyssey to learn, perform, research and document what is now over 60 interviews, spanning 7 countries, will have a home at the Academy Film Archive, when the project is completed.
Enjoy a brief 3 minute peek celebrating the Eccentric Dance and a few of its greatest practictioners.
The Eccentric Dancer's predecessor, the Grotesque Dance, derives its name from the 'Grotto' in ancient Rome, to describe unusual displays of painting and the puppet theatre, which evolved into dance. Once revered during the late 17th century, this style proved exaggerated, comic, difficult to execute and wildly popular. Seeing the word eccentric dance printed on a 1845 London saloon playbill, sparked a mission to trace it even further; to discover where this came from, when people began moving like this and why. So I began reaching out to scholars across the globe, and there it was ~ a universal language, within every culture, communicating in character, through a similar type of exaggerated movement. It’s an ancient & big story to tell and I am thrilled to share a slice of it with you here....
What a night to celebrate Eccentric Dance at the Motion Picture Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theatre to a sold out audience, on August 5th, 2019! The evening opened with a presentation of rare Nicholas Bros. home movies, hosted by the Academy's Randy Haberkamp and Fayard Nicholas son, Tony Nicholas. Shirley MacLaine, British actor Simon Callow and renowned clown Bill Irwin, kicked off the program, graciously lending their support, followed by the wonderful performance of dancers paying homage to the past Masters; Regis Truchy, Ivan 'Flipz' Evans, DeWitt Fleming, Jr., and Sabela Grimes. The 'icing on the cake' came from the three extraordinary, Broadway veteran musicians; Terry Waldo, Andy Stein and Kenny Sara, to accompany the dancers and provide background to the rare silent clips, bringing them to life once again!
For me, it all began with my first silly walk, taught to me by vaudevillian Jon Zerby, and I was instantly hooked! I was 18 and working as a Disney animator, when I immediately saw a distinct parallel between character animation & eccentric dance, and I knew this was bigger than mere schtick, but was the essence of pantomime. I began tracking down anyone familiar with the Eccentric Dance repertoire and saw a living history that was pure gold! The next step was creating any possible venue to perform it, whether choreographing animation, dancing in vaudeville programs, or as the Betsy Bird on the Muppet Show in London. Every encounter with every master was an epiphany and still is.