Shake It, Gene Anthony Ray!

In 1980 when Fame hit the big screen the world was introduced to Gene Anthony Ray.  When his character Leroy Johnson hit the dance floor to audition for the School of the Arts, let’s just say some jaws dropped and hit the floor as well.

If you were a fan of Fame you remember Leroy refused to wear tights (in the beginning at least) and he was known for his short shorts and painted on jeans.  I often wondered what kind of material those jeans were made out of because they needed to be forgiving and supportive at the same time.  Leroy was that guy who had that bad boy exterior but would melt your heart when he’d break into a high kick, fall down into the splits, spin around, whip his body up then do a back flip and end with a shimmy-shake in 5 seconds flat.  What a talent.

The movie was full of energy, great singing and dancing. This iconic scene with the song of the movie’s title could easily be the inspiration for today’s flash mobs:

Even though she had starred as the title character in 1976’s Sparkle, Irene Cara shot to stardom in Fame.  Her vocal styling gave us tender and melodic on Out Here on My Own and she brought the sass in the jam Hot Lunch.   One of my favorite songs from the movie was written and sung by actor Paul McCrane who played Montgomery:

I love how he performed the song 30 years later on NBC’s Harry’s Law:

The film’s climactic ending spawned copycat renditions of I Sing the Body Electric at graduation ceremonies throughout the 80s.  Who didn’t feel like they could take on the world after this orchestrated masterpiece:

You can’t talk about Fame without mentioning the woman who was there from the first take on the movie set to the last take of the TV series in 1987: the one and only Debbie Allen.  Without her choreography and direction there would have been no Fame.  There would have been no famous tapping of the stick with the line:

You got big dreams…you want fame, we’ll fame costs and right here is where you start paying in sweat.

It was great seeing Gene Anthony Ray and Debbie Allen continue in the TV series.  Someone else who continued was cast dancer Michael “Det. Eddie Torres” DeLorenzo.  The next few clips you can witness his fro and his footwork.  First, check him out at the end of the TV show opening, along with Jasmine “Whitley Gilbert” Guy:

I have to say RIP Dominique “Poltergeist” Dunne after that scene.  I also have to mention that I find it funny how the characters of Coco and Danny pop up at the end of the scene after all the serious dancing is over.  It’s amazing how the musical and dancing talent on television has grown.  I don’t think that many of the principal actors on the TV show Fame would have made it through any audition process today.  Even with that said, that doesn’t stop me from having a few more musical numbers that I loved on the show.  This scene was a classic student-teacher moment:

I never thought that the character Doris should have been singing, but this was one of her more memorable performances:

Recently Janet Jackson told Anderson Cooper she didn’t have a good experience on the show, but this is a favorite moment of mine from her first episode called “Indian Summer” and she sang her own song “Two to the Power of Love.”

After all these years this next scene still chokes me up.  The actor Michael Thoma who played drama teacher Professor Crandall had terminal cancer in real life and the cast knew it as they sang this song to him in his final episode:

The final clip may have brought the dance down memory lane to a two tissue halt.  But if you stuck out the ride with me I hope it took you back to a time when you can see how the arts in schools were appreciated and celebrated.  Without Fame there would be no Glee or Smash.  It makes me want to slap on some leg warmers, crank up the tunes and do a few Leroy inspired shimmy-shakes.


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