This quote – and versions of it, sometimes rather mangled – has been around for nearly 40 years.
It’s appeared in at least a half-dozen book titles, including these:
On a t-shirt and matching pillow:
On a button and a sticker:
A record album:
And was embraced and used by some politicians, including these:
An interesting note is that even though the quote says “Ginger Rogers,” I find no record of her ever saying this, or anything like it.
First: Who was Ginger Rogers?
Ginger Rogers (1911-1995) was an American actress, dancer, and singer during the Golden Age of Hollywood.
She appeared in comedies and dramas, and won an Academy Award in 1940, but she’s best known for the nine films she made with dancing/singing partner Fred Astaire in the 1930s, during the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Astaire, called a “peerless dancer,” and Rogers,
“…revolutionized the Hollywood musical by introducing dance routines of unprecedented elegance and virtuosity with sweeping long shots set to songs specially composed for them by the greatest popular song composers of the day…The resulting song and dance partnership enjoyed a unique credibility in the eyes of audiences.”
I’ve never watched any of those nine musicals all the way through, but I’ve seen many of the dancing scenes on YouTube and elsewhere, like when I’m channel surfing and hit TCM, the Turner Classic Movies channel.
Ginger and Fred’s dancing is amazing to watch. I can’t even begin to imagine the endless practice required, the discipline and coordination and strength needed, the sheer ability to move your body in so many different ways while smiling at your partner and making it all look easy.
If dancing was an Olympic event, Ginger and Fred would have brought home the Gold.
I thought about this recently when I landed on TCM and they were airing Ginger and Fred’s 1937 musical, Shall We Dance?
The answer to the title question was a resounding “Yes!” and Ginger and Fred danced, danced and danced some more.
And what you can’t help but notice is that Ginger matches Fred step for step, move for move, leap for leap, but she’s often dancing backwards…
And in high heels:
Same movie, another scene – again in a long dress…
And in another scene, on roller skates:
Hence, that iconic quote:
Ginger did indeed match Fred step for step, but she did it backwards and in high heels.
So, second – where did that quote come from?
This is from the comic strip Frank and Ernest by Robert Thaves (1924-2006). The comic strip was nationally syndicated in 1972, and this image appeared in 1982.
I can find plenty of online references to Thaves and the quote, but nothing to explain what prompted Thaves to say it – through his cartoon characters – or what he was thinking when he created it.
Or if he experienced any backlash when he did.
As to what prompted Thaves and what he was thinking, I’ll hypothesize that he was a pretty enlightened guy back in 1982, and at least somewhat aware that women were capable of – as one writer put it in 2019 – “achieving everything men do on top of the ‘traditionally female’ work – raising children, cleaning cooking – that society has thrust upon them.”
So now we know the exact quote, the source, and what it means.
One last note – back in 1937, while Ginger was doing everything Fred did in Shall We Dance?
This is from a 2017 article on KQED.org, a Northern California public broadcasting station:
“It’s true that in 1937, Fred Astaire made $211,666 to Ginger Rogers’ $124,770…”
In 2021, women are still dancing backwards and in high heels, and still…
For less money: