Image: Red Bull

Dancing: A Man’s Game

Like his mentor Gene Kelly, Harry Shum (Glee) links dance and sports.

In December 1958, NBC aired Dancing: A Man’s Game, an hour-long special that pairs Hollywood song-and-dance man Gene Kelly with sports stars like Mickey Mantle, Sugar Ray Robinson, Johnny Unitas, and Bob Cousy.

Kelly’s intent: to show America that little difference exists between the movements of dance and athletics. “A good dancer,” Kelly says, “simply takes the physical movements of sport and exaggerates, extends, and distorts them in order to show what he wants to say more clearly and more strongly.”

To this end, Gene Kelly—who played baseball, football, and volleyball in youth and adulthood—demonstrates how an athlete’s throwing balls, jumping hurdles, and swinging bats resemble the dancer’s arm stylings, leaps, and turns.

Nearly 60 years later, Glee’s Harry Shum, Jr. is reiterating Gene Kelly’s thesis. In his video series “Parallels,” Shum shows how a ballerina’s leap echoes a motocross biker’s cliffhanger, how a tricker’s acrobatics resemble a BMX riders’ turns, and how a breakdancer’s controlled timing reflects a skateboarder’s trick.

While the cinematography, editing, and special effects in “Parallels” are far more striking than that of Dancing: A Man’s Game, the aim is clearly the same.

Harry Shum, Jr. considers Gene Kelly one of his heroes. He has indicated this with me on Twitter, on his Facebook page, in interviews, and for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

It was only a matter of time, then, that the young TV star/dancer/sports fan would take on Kelly’s professional mantra: to link the art of dance with athletics and, perhaps more subliminally in Shum’s case, to remove the stigma of effeminacy associated with (heterosexual male) dance.




Essays about the dancer, choreographer, director extraordinaire. To contribute, email

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Kelli Marshall

Kelli Marshall

​Ph.D. Writer-editor. Southerner. ​Gene Kelly fan. Curator/editor of @OuttakeThe on @Medium.

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