Who Was Fred Astaire?

It’s kind of funny, kind of tragic.

Being of a certain age, I always knew who Fred Astaire was. So it takes me by surprise when people walk into our studio and ask how we got our name.

Fred Astaire isn’t something we made up out of thin air. He was one of the greatest dancers and performers of all time, and he’s the one who created this company in 1947, as a way to preserve and promote his dancing techniques for generations to come.

So who exactly was Fred Astaire?

Born Frederick Austerlitz in 1899, Fred Astaire was one of the most popular dancers, choreographers, singers, musicians and actors of the last century. He made 31 musical films as well as musical recordings and award-winning TV specials.

The American Film Institute named him the fifth Greatest Male Star of All Time. For a long time – encompassing 10 movies – he danced alongside Ginger Rogers. Another famous dancer, Gene Kelly, once said, “The history of dance on film begins with Astaire.”

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Fred Astaire’s family moved to New York in 1905 to launch the performing career of Fred and his sister Adele. They made their Broadway debut in 1917.

In 1932, Fred began his solo career, and took to the silver screen a year later. He was one of the first actors to receive a percentage of his films’ profits and he received complete free reign over how his dances would be presented, leading to a revolutionizing of dance on film.

He first retired in 1946 and created the Fred Astaire Dance Studios in 1947, which he sold in 1966. (There are now more than 140 studios across the United States.)

However, Astaire came out of retirement to get back into the performing arts, making movies for decades to come. Over his career, he won Emmys, Grammys, Golden Globes and more awards.

Fred Astaire was known for his technical control and sense of rhythm. The way he danced combined elegance, grace, originality and precision. He was influenced by a variety of dance mediums, creating his own unique style which led to the American Smooth style of ballroom dance.

To him, his eclectic approach to dance was his “outlaw style,” which brought unpredictability and instinct to the choreography.

Fred Astaire died at the age of 88. Shortly before his death, he said, “I didn’t want to leave this world without knowing who my descendant was – thank you Michael,” referring to Michael Jackson.

So now you know. Our business is modeled after one of the greatest legends of the 20th century, someone who brought hard work, dedication, passion and creativity to dance. He revolutionized the art of dancing and made it possible for all of us to enjoy.