5 Facts About Vera Ellen And What We Can Learn To Improve Our Dancing

With Christmas only 1 sleep away, it seems only fitting that I pay homage to my absolute favourite dancer, who I absolutely adored from the very second I saw her in White Christmas. Everyone has that Christmas film that makes them feel like glitter is exploding inside of them, and for me White Christmas is that film. Vera is absolutely one of the Hollywood greats and no matter how many times I watch her, I’m always mesmerised. She was one of the things that made me want to become a dancer so badly. I’d replay her dance scenes over and over on YouTube. So why is this important if you want to become a dancer?

One of the ways that dancers improve, is through observing other dancers, and then translating that across to the way we move. There is no doubt that that old time musical theatre Hollywood era has a certain je je sais quoi that is both iconic and completely unique to the time. This was partially due to the influence and demand of the era, but also due to a different way of working. Whereas now scenes are shot in very quick succession often within a day or two, back then Hollywood actors would sometimes rehearse the same routine for 3 weeks straight! This is also good to remember if you catch yourself comparing yourself! Astaire for example, was particularly known for choreographing and rehearsing for 6 weeks straight before shooting even took place. So with all that in mind, let’s get back to my favourite Hollywood great- Vera!

For those of you who haven’t seen her work, check out her dancing this nifty little number below from White Christmas with the wonderful John Brascia.

Her other dance partners included Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Danny Kaye and Donold O’ Connor. Let’s have a quick look at 5 things we can learn about Vera to help us in our own dance journey!

1. She Was One Of The Youngest Rockettes Ever.

This makes so much sense. She had legs for days and her dancing screams both precision and grace. So if you want to emulate dancing with the precision and poise that Vera so naturally embodies (not to mention those kicks) doing some rockettes based training is a must. (N.B. Since lockdown hit, the rockettes have a ton of free classes on their Instagram TV, so this is a great place to start.) You can also get a low down on their steps, style and dance moves here.

2. She Didn’t Sing.

Yep, that’s right, she was actually dubbed. As performers, we often put pressure on ourselves to be able to do ALL THE THINGS. But I think what we can really learn from this is that we don’t have to be able to do everything. The main thing is passion, and excellence in the areas of which we excel. We are not defined by our ability to be super human machines, but by our heart and ability to tend to the talents that we’ve been gifted with, to water them and honour that.

3. She Was Fired From The Rockettes After 2 Weeks For Showing Too Much Individuality.

I personally find this reassuring as a dancer. If someone as phenomenal as Vera Ellen can get fired, then it takes the pressure and fear off a little, don’t you think? Never try to shrink yourself to fit a job or company. When we compromise ourselves in this way, it’s easy to tell ourselves it’s just a small thing here, another there, but it changes how we feel about ourselves internally. We start to hide or apologise for ourselves, so aim to fully shine your light and stand firm in who you are, and know that the right jobs will embrace you for it, but don’t be afraid to lose the wrong ones!

4. She Was A Pro At Fusing Ballet And Tap.

So often we think of dance genres (particularly ones that are quite different as being separate) but actually watching the fusion of these two things together is magical. There is no separation in dance, if a style doesn’t work- have a think about what flavours that suit you naturally you can bring in. Embrace the fusion of different styles within a routine, look for the different flavours, sharps and softs and your dancing will become electric!

5. She Was Determined To Be Seen.

Vera by her own admission, was very bookish growing up. However, when she began dancing she found that people sat up and took note. She fully embraced this and you can really see this in the way she performs. It’s more than just dancing, it’s a communication with the audience. She flirts; she plays; and she is completely thrilled to own the space she occupies with utter confidence. This determination brings an enthusiasm and dynamite to everything she performs. Every opportunity for musicality is given a nod, and she greets the audience with complete conviction and the knowledge that she will be welcomed. If we can think ourselves into that space of being, secure in what we have to offer and engage fully with the love of it, we move from technicality to magic.

Why Is This Important?

As dancers, we learn through a kind of osmosis- we find ourselves implementing and taking something of those that inspire us into the way way we move and making it entirely our own. So if you’ve never heard of Vera, I hope this post is a source of inspiration to you 🙂 To all my readers, I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas (I know I’ll be watching White Christmas as a rite of passage over the next few days) but whatever you do regardless of whether it’s snow white, I hope it’s wonderful!


  • Andrew

    Wow. Yes, Vera has a stage presence that is almost hypnotic.

    She exudes confidence as if she owns the stage. And why not? When you are as good as she is it is easy to have fun on stage which helps to draw the audience in.

    Vera’s passion for dance is easy to see, and I am surprised to learn that she was fired for being too much of an individual. In her era, the dance styles are unique, but I know that others, like Fred Astair, pushed the boundaries and expanded what was possible. I bet the Rockettes lived to regret their decision to fire her. I consider her individuality to be her greatest asset 🙂

    Great video. Thanks for sharing these important insights into a great dancer.

    • Natalie

      Hi Andrew, that’s exactly it. She embodies confidence and conviction in her dancing in every way 🙂 I’m always amazed at her energy, when I watch how demanding her routines were and think about how she would have been dancing all day doing so many takes!

      Yes, I was surprised to hear that too! I totally agree, I think her individuality is what sets her apart. There are so many fantastic Hollywood dancers, but for me she will always be my favourite!
      You’re so welcome, glad you enjoyed 🙂

  • Delyana

    Thank you so much for this informational post. It seems you are very into dancing. That’s great. Are you planning on starting a YouTube channel as well?

    • Natalie

      Hi Delyana, it’s something I’d like to explore in the future but at the moment I’m mainly focused on Instagram so if you’re interested, feel free to follow on there (practisedtoprodance_natmarie) thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • Christine

    It’s no wonder that Hollywood actors from the 40s and 50s seemed so much better. They rehearsed for weeks before playing a scene. I didn’t know that. I love those old movies! Vera looks very confident in this video, like she owns the dance floor. I really enjoyed the video. I just love tap dancing and I want to learn it one day.
    The fact that she was fired and the (kind of silly) reason for it can only be inspiring. I think it’s good to show your individuality and still be a part of and work with a team.
    Are there any films or videos where we can see ballet and tap fusion by Vera?

    • Natalie

      Yes, I think so often us dancers compare ourselves when really it isn’t fair for for us to because the conditions were just so different. That being said, her talent was still incredibly rare even with the rehearsal hours taken into account! I agree, she manages to own the stage in every single number she dances, it’s remarkable to see 🙂 and yes, definitely good to show your personality and be one of a kind 🙂

      Yes definitely- I think you will like the video I’ve linked below as the tap is phenomenal- in terms of ballet influences, she dances on her toes in this (although it is in parallel) but also some of the lifts and the jete are obviously very ballet influenced as well as her ending position (en attitude.) Enjoy, and I hope you’re able to start your tap classes soon 🙂


  • Danijela

    Hi Natalie,
    beautiful text, I love dancing! I have never heard of Vera and she fascinated me with the ease of her movements and the enthusiasm that attracts. Dancing provides a lot of opportunities to express one’s personality and, as in everything, in order to be the best, you have to break free. It is especially interesting that such talent initially failed. It is proof that quality always comes out, it is important to have the determination and desire to do what you love.
    By the way, your entire site is outstanding! Keep writing such wonderful posts!

    • Natalie

      Hi Danijela, thanks for stopping by 🙂 I’m so glad you enjoyed watching her dance, I agree- she’s so charismatic isn’t she? I’m also fascinated how she makes it look effortless! Yes, I found that interesting too! I think it’s quite encouraging for a creative perspective as it just proves how subjective these things can be. And as you say that quality and passion will always reign supreme and shine through.

      And thank you so much, that means a lot 😊. Take care

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