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Astaire by Numbers


Time & the Straight White Male Dancer

Todd Decker

12 January 2023

ISBN: 9780197643594

504 pages

In Stock

Price: £25.99


Astaire by Numbers offers a complete re-assessment of a twentieth-century icon of American popular culture through a new looks at every second of dancing Fred Astaire committed to film in the studio era. Author Todd Decker provides a deep examination of this towering straight white male figure from the ground up by digging deeply into questions of race, gender, and sexuality.

  • Applies quantitative methods to the entirety of Astaire's studio-era film dances
  • Closely analyses Astaire's self-presentation as a straight white male dancer
  • Challenges Astaire's own characterization of his dancing as an "outlaw" style

About the Author(s)

Todd Decker, Paul Tietjens Professor of Music, Washington University in St. Louis

Todd Decker is the Paul Tietjens Professor of Music at Washington University in St. Louis. He has published four books and many articles and book chapters on popular music and media in the United States in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, including Show Boat: Performing Race in an American Musical. Decker has lectured on the stage and screen musical at the Library of Congress and London's Victoria and Albert Museum and was featured in a 2019 BBC World Service documentary on the song "Ol' Man River."

Table of Contents

    One: Numbers
    Two: Shots
    Three: Days, Hours, Minutes
    Midpoint: "I just / Won't / [don't?] Dance"
    Four: Frames, Sets, Cuts
    Five: Partners
    Six: Noisy Masculinity
    Appendix One: Astaire films corpus
    Appendix Two: Astaire dancing corpus by number
    Appendix Three: Astaire dancing corpus by shot


"In wonderfully engaging prose, Decker demonstrates how and why both musical and computational numbers count in Astaire's films, and he is also enviably good at describing the qualitative dimension of those numbers. This book will be a delight for Astaire enthusiasts and a must-read for devotees and students of dance on film, while also providing a sobering account of the systemic racism and careful, career-long self-regulation that sustained his successful dancing performance of straight white masculinity." - Raymond Knapp, Distinguished Professor of Musicology and Humanities, UCLA

"Todd Decker's Astaire by Numbers deftly pairs quantitative analysis with archival research to examine both the material labor of Fred Astaire's dancing body and his position of power within the Hollywood studio era. Through a novel and careful parsing of musical choreography and production practices, Decker illustrates how Astaire's identity as a cisgender, heterosexual white male allowed him to dominate the Hollywood Studio era's film musicals in a way no other musical star has." - Colleen T. Dunagan, California State University, Long Beach