Book Review: Footwork – The Story of Fred and Adele Astaire by Roxane Orgill

As many of you know I am in love with Audrey Hepburn. According to me she is the most beautiful woman in the world. My friends know me well. I once received a gift – a four DVD classic collection of Audrey Hepburn movies. Funnily, it had Funny Face in it. I realised I ‘ve been living under a rock because not only did I discover that I loved Hepburn even more in the movie, it brought into my life one of the greatest dancers ever – Fred Astaire. I googled! He was close to 60 when he did the movie but man did his feet move.

In case you are assuming that I am going to ramble about Funny Face, you are sadly mistaken. I am here to ramble, of course, but about Fred Astaire. The BIGGEST coincidence was that in a pile of highly discounted books I found a book named FOOTWORK. The book is part of the Candlewick biographies brought out by the trusted Candlewick Press.

The book is the story of two children – Fred Astaire (wink wink nudge nudge) and Adele Astaire. While Adele, Fred’s sister was the real dancer, Fred just happened to get into dancing after trying on his sister’s shoes. Adele was 8 and Fred 5 when their mom packed their bags and took them to New York City to get them dance lessons.

Soon, after a year, Adele and Fred were giving shows as a bride and groom on top of a cake or a champagne glass and a  lobster. Life was good with more shows and success. The kids lived mostly on steam trains and were train-schooled in reading, writing and arithmetic by their mother.

The book follows the story of Fred’s boyhood with Adele in the background – their ups and downs, success and rejections. While both of them were very good, Fred was always the one coming up with tricks and ideas to make the show better.

In the year 1932 Adele went onto marrying Lord Cavendish and quit dancing. She was 35 and was tired of working so hard. There were always two Astaires. What would Fred do without his sister he wondered. But nothing stopped his spirit. He threw himself into work, found a new partner and danced on until he got tired of doing the same routines.

In the year 1933 he flew to Hollywood to try his luck there. As we all know, boy was he a success. Such control in movement and rhythm is hard to imitate (I tried it and almost missed a hairline). He is even a master at using props – remember the Golf Club in Carefree or the Umbrella in Funny Face.

In the book it says Fred Astaire was not one to tire easily. He would do takes again and again till they got the scene right. Once he got them right he would move on to experimenting with something new. Some spirit!

The next time I watch Funny Face I know who I am going to be looking at. Do you?

The book is a middle reader biography meant for the age group of 8-12. Here is what you can do.

  • Get the book.
  • Introduce the kids to Fred Astaire.
  • Get his movies and them to watch the man dance.
  • Find out if you have a dancer in the family.
  • How does that sound?
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