Pitt to Celebrate Gene Kelly Centenary and Its Own 225th Anniversary

Issue Date: 
August 21, 2012

The University of Pittsburgh is observing its own 225th anniversary and the 100th anniversary of the birth in Pittsburgh of special Academy Award-honored dancer, director, choreographer, actor, singer, and Pitt alumnus Gene Kelly with two events:

• From 3 to 4 p.m. Aug. 23, Kelly’s actual birth date, some 3,000 incoming University of Pittsburgh freshmen are slated to hold umbrellas while taking part in a choreographed dance on the lawn adjacent to Pitt’s Petersen Events Center. The custom-made umbrellas are imprinted with Pitt’s 225th-anniversary logo and the words “Celebrating the 100th Birthday of Gene Kelly”; and

• From 8 to 9:30 p.m. Oct. 25, Patricia Ward Kelly, Gene Kelly’s widow and the author of a forthcoming memoir about him, will host “Pitt’s Gene Kelly Centennial Celebration,” an evening of Kelly on film with Pittsburgh- and Pitt-centered commentary on Kelly’s life and career. The leading authority on the cinema and stage legend, Mrs. Kelly has recently given sold-out presentations on Gene Kelly at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles and Lincoln Center in New York City.

Part of Pitt’s New Student Orientation 2012, the Aug. 23 event will attempt to shatter the Guinness World Record for the “Greatest Number of People Simultaneously Performing an Umbrella Dance at a Single Venue.” The current record, set in September 2011 in Bucharest, Romania, involved 1,461 participants.

Holding aloft the umbrellas, which will be handed to them as they enter the Petersen Events Center’s lawn area, the Pitt students taking part in this attempt will dance the Cupid Shuffle, a popular line dance. Witnesses, head-counters, and videographers will document the event and send the information to the Guinness authorities for their verification of the new world record.

The dance event honoring Kelly, one of Pitt’s most renowned alumni, has been designed to remind spectators and participants alike of Kelly’s iconic dance sequence from the classic 1952 film musical Singin’ in the Rain, in which he dances up and down a rain-drenched street twirling an umbrella and splashing in puddles. This sequence is considered by many to be the most memorable dance performance on film. Kelly is credited with bringing an energetically athletic, authentically American dancing style to Hollywood musicals, and for changing the look of dance on film through his revolutionary innovations with the camera, choreography, and animation.

Kelly received the Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Pitt in 1933. While at Pitt, he became involved with the University’s Cap and Gown Club, serving as its director from 1934 to 1938, and taught dance at his family’s dance studio in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood; he would also choreograph musicals at the Pittsburgh Playhouse and Nixon Theater. Kelly enrolled in Pitt’s School of Law but left after a couple of months to concentrate on teaching dance.

Kelly’s younger brother Fred, also a Pitt alumnus, was honored in 2004 when the lobby of Pitt’s Stephen Foster Memorial—home to Pitt’s Charity Randall Theatre and Henry Heymann Theatre—was renamed the Fred Kelly Lobby.

Pitt students set new Guinness World Records at the last two New Student Orientations, for the “World’s Largest Torch-lit Logo” in 2010 and the “World’s Largest Glow Stick Design” in 2011.