Paula Abdul: “I needed to pay tribute to Gene Kelly”

Dancer/singer Paula Abdul picks her favorite dance moments in preparation for the fourth annual National Dance Day on July 26. As usual, she mentions her mentor, Gene Kelly:

After I choreographed the ‘Opposites Attract’ video, that sold like 6 million more albums for me. It was crazy, because that was not even supposed to be a single. But I needed to pay tribute to Gene Kelly. I had paid tribute to Bob Fosse, but I had to do something for Gene Kelly. I’ve often found that when you walk with gratitude, miracles can happen; all I’d ever wanted to do was meet Gene Kelly, and I dedicated the ‘Opposites Attract’ video to him, and two days later he called me and asked me over for tea. And then we became real, true friends. I got to have tea with him every week, the last two years of his life. And the most exciting part for me was when he came down for my Oscars rehearsal.

“I surprised the dancers, the crew, everybody. I didn’t tell anyone that he was coming, and to see people literally faint, literally faint at him… I said, ‘I want you to help critique,’ so he went section by section [critiquing the routine]. It was the most incredible, awesome experience. He was so endearing and charming and wonderful.

“For me, it was always about wanting to keep the legacy alive with MGM musicals. I grew up fascinated by Gene Kelly. The man was my idol. I do believe that the Dizzy Feet Foundation and So You Think You Can Dance really have given an elegant, graceful nod to the art of dance and where it’s come from. But you know, a lot of kids today, none of them have seen Flashdance, a lot of them don’t know any of the MGM musicals. They’re not familiar with Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire or Donald O’Connor.

“So you have to find ways to engage young people — especially with the Internet, you can become a historian and spend hours watching [classic dancing], really look where it came from, and then use those influences to create your own mark. That’s what I did. Everything is historical, everything old is new again; it’s the way you honor it and how you apply what you know now to make it different and make it your own.”


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