In 1958, my late husband, the dancer, director, choreographer Gene Kelly, decided to take on the stigma facing male dancers in an Omnibus television program for NBC that he created and starred in called “Dancing, A Man’s Game.” He hoped that by aligning the great sports stars of the day—Mickey Mantle, Johnny Unitas, Vic Seixas, Sugar Ray Robinson, among others—he could challenge and destroy the shame surrounding male dancers once and for all. For Gene it was more than a professional task. It was, in his words, a personal “crusade” to show that dancers are athletes and that it is okay for a man to be graceful. As he says in the special: “What could be more graceful than a football player throwing a pass—what is more excitingly beautiful than the swift movement of a double play? Every motion a good athlete makes is as beautiful as any a dancer makes.”

Sugar Ray Gene Kelly.jpg
Gene Kelly and six-time world champion boxer Sugar Ray Robinson.

Sadly, on August 22, 2019, Good Morning America elected to run a disgraceful segment about Prince George and his ballet classes. That host Lara Spencer would mock a boy’s study of ballet in a nationally televised morning show and that her colleagues would join in her derision is both unacceptable and incomprehensible.

Gene was a classically trained ballet dancer and believed that his training was essential to all that he did. He was schooled in Chicago by a woman named Berenice Holmes who had been the student of the great Russian dancer Adolph Bolm. Gene said that Holmes could perform many complicated turns better than a man, including a double tour en l’air, and that she instructed him to dance with great strength, particularly in his arms. He knew that ballet training gave him the long, beautiful line that he sought in his dancing and, later, in his choreography for the camera that led to some of the seminal films of our time, including On the Town; An American in Paris; Singin’ in the Rain; Brigadoon.

Over the years, Gene advised many professional athletes to study ballet, including former wide receivers Willie Gault and Lynn Swann. Both acknowledge that the training improved their performance on the field. Many have followed suit. Gene would be devastated to know that 61 years after his ground-breaking work the issue of boys and men dancing is still the subject of ridicule—and on a national network.

ABC [the American Broadcasting Company] must do better.

Patricia Ward Kelly (Mrs. Gene Kelly)

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