Gene Nelson
Come Tap with Me
Gene Nelson Studio Portrait
Thoughts on Gene Nelson --Shinichi Matsumoto

When I was in High School I bought an old 78 rpm record of Crazy Rhythm, sung by Doris Day with tap dancing by Gene Nelson. This record introduced me to Gene Nelson, but for a long time I had no chance to actually see him perform. Then, in the late 80's while I was in the States, I was finally able to see "Lullaby of Broadway" on cable TV. It was fascinating to finally see Gene Nelson dance after enjoying his tap sounds on record for years. I thought he was just perfect. Good looking. Cool. Elegant. Powerful. Charming. Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly -- yes, of course they're wonderful, but to me Gene Nelson bests them both. He has the elegant movements of Astaire and all the energy of Kelly. He can dance very sensitively; he can dance acrobatically and in Tap he has such a wide ranging vocabulary of steps. I think he is really under-rated. In each of his feature films, there is always one great dance number even if the movie itself is not quite the best.

"Zing! Went The Strings of My Heart" in "Lullaby of Broadway" is one of Gene Nelson's very BEST! He sings with the Page Cavanaugh Trio Then he starts tapping, fast and clear. He jumps up on the piano to dance. Dancers do this in the movies quite often but do not try it in real life without a very special piano. In the end he jumps off the piano into a genuine split in mid-air. Wow!


"I Know That You Know" from "Tea for Two” is Gene's duet with Doris Day. They look good together. They are dancing with just piano. It's a rehearsal scene in the movie. There are mirrors in both sides of the room and dancing around both directions. Steps are so neat and cool.

Gene is very acrobatic and does amazing tap numbers. In "Tea for Two" he dances down a banister. In "Three Sailors and a Girl" He dances high up in a auto repair shop lift. He did all these wild and crazy things 50 years before Tap Dogs.

Do you like soundtrakc albums? Read more about the Tea for Two soundtrack in the Tap Wonderland Music Gallery. Tea for Two soundtrack, vintage vinyl LP.

Gene Nelson

Gene Nelson appeared in these great musicals.

Gene Nelson came along just a little late for the peak era of movie musicals. His career got going in the early 50's and by the end of that decade both musicals and tap dancing were off the big screen. No tap dancing in West Side Story or Sound Of Music. Gene wasn't in the right film studio to become a musical star anyway. Had he been at M-G-M instead of Warner Bros., he might have received a bigger buildup, more like Ann Miller, perhaps. Warner's musicals were not really that bad, at least they provided a showcase for Gene's talent, but he never got to make that special masterpiece like Kelly's "Singing in the Rain”. Gene Nelson's most famous film is " Oklahoma !" where he doesn't get to tap at all.

Beyond musicals, Gene Nelson also appeared in B Westerns and Sci-Fi movies. If you are not yet familiar with his work, take the time to check out his movies. You will be amazed. He is one of the greats!

Come Tap with Me | Instructional Video Cassette, Gene Nelson
Gene Nelson instructional videos.
Cover photo by Douglas M. Nelson

Late in his career, Gene Nelson released a series of tap instruction video tapes. Here is a little anecdote about Gene, Rusty Frank and I. One night during a trip to san Francisco,I had a chance to meet Rusty Frank, author of the book, TAP! The Greatest Tap Dance Stars and Their Stories 1900-1955. (If for some reason, you are not familiar with Rusty's book, stop everything and go buy it right now! Just click the title.) Anyway, I told her that my favorite dancing movie star has always been Gene Nelson. Rusty reached for the phone and just called Gene Nelson like it was nothing and introduces me. In seconds I found myself talking with my all-time favorite dancer. A few weeks later I sent Gene a video tape from Japan of a Tokyo production of a musical based on the life of Fred Astaire. For Gene, this was quite an unusual show to see, an all Japanese production about a famous American dancer. He enjoyed it very much, I think, and sent me a set of his own instructional videos as a thank you gift.

There are two cassettes. The first one has two sections: Tap 1, “On Your Toes” (37min.) is an introduction to tap dancing for beginners. Gene begins with simple steps, including syncopation rhythm, flap, which Gene calls brush step, shim sham, shuffle, buffalo waltz, clog and the old soft shoe routine. Tap 2, “Moving Right Along” (35min.) starts with double shuffle, hop shuffle, time step, time step break, double time step, triple time step, shim sham break, soft shoe hard shoe, flat foot time step, the break, flat foot triple, cramp roll, 4 count cramp roll, 5 count cramp roll, alternating 5 count cramp roll, 6 count cramp roll, cramp roll time step, paradiddle (usually called "paddle and roll"), pullbacks and finally brush back heel step. Then he puts all these steps together to make a little routine for the tune, Cute

The second tape is really a treat for any Gene Nelson fan. He teaches us two complete routines. Tap 3, “Rhythm Ride” (50mins) is a complete soft shoe routine. More complicated than a typical soft shoe, it includes a lot of great steps, Gene Nelson style; good turns, slides and leans. It is a wonderful routine to learn. In Tap 4, “Let It All Hang Out” (57mins) Gene choreographs a nice swing number using the tune "Just You Just Me". This routine is also filled with good steps in the Gene Nelson style.

Both tapes open with clips showing Gene's appearances on the television program "Shower of Stars" in 1954.. He dances with a little girl and sings a song "All You Gotta Do Is Try". It's a treat! During the instructional parts, students are in the studio with Gene, but act very naturally. Sometimes they ask Gene questions and he breaks down the steps for them or some students ask him to change the line. It is unusual to show this kind of moment in an instructional video. It's almost like you are in a real class and not shooting for a video. Gene's explanations are very clear but he never treats the students or the viewers like they are dumb, as if often the case in instructional videos. Other characteristics of the video are also quite good. The camera's angle is changed often to help keep the viewers interested and when new steps are introduced, the camera shows Gene's feet from both front and back so you can pick up the steps easily. Now, each time camera is moved, the sound quality changes too, but if you can get passed this little oddity, then nothing is wrong with these wonderful videos.

There are at least two kinds of tap, one which concentrates on rhythm without much body movement, and another with more body movement and less tap technique, more like Broadway theatre tap. Gene Nelson comes down in the middle. His choreography has a lot of body movement. Gene almost never stays in one position. But his steps are very rhythmical and interesting, never dull like theatre tap so often is. This is just a wonderful set of video tapes where you can learn great style from a tap dancer of golden age!