Eleanor Powell, Photo courtesy of New York Public Library Pictured: Eleanor Powell in the film Born to Dance (1936). Powell was nearly unique as a female dance star in Hollywood who was best known for performing solo. Her costuming often feminized male attire.(Photograph from the Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.)

Eleanor Powell (1912-1982)—dancer, singer and actress—was often hailed as the world's greatest female tapper, an ironic achievement for an artist who took only ten formal tap lessons. Trained in ballet and acrobatics, Powell was first discovered on an Atlantic City beach. She performed in New York nightclubs and vaudeville throughout the 1920s, while concluding that tap skills were necessary for Broadway opportunities. Consequently, Powell enrolled for lessons with Jack Donahue and Johnny Doyle, who provided a rehearsal belt weighted with bags of sand to dissipate her aerial qualities. In 1929 she made her Broadway debut in Follow Thru. When George White's 1935 Scandals was filmed, Powell was discovered by MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer, who initiated her Hollywood career with Broadway Melody of 1936. She won acclaim for roles in big-budget movie musicals and was paired with Fred Astaire in Broadway Melody of 1940 for "Begin the Beguine," her most famous number. Although the 1950 Duchess of Idaho was her last film, Powell toured during the 1960s with her own nightclub act.

Sheet music cover for the movie Born to Dance, starring Eleanor Powell, 1936 Sheet music cover for the movie Born to Dance, the first feature film written specifically for Eleanor Powell and an
early showcase for her personal style, 1936.

Learn more in Eleanor Powell, an essay by Jenai Cutcher.

Eleanor Powell in "Broadway Rhythm," from Broadway Melody of 1936. Powell's vigorously athletic and rapid-fire style, combining tap with ballet and acrobatic
moves, is on display in this MGM musical number.