University of Pittsburgh
August 24, 2012

Pitt Students Shatter World Record as They Honor Renowned Alumnus Gene Kelly With an Umbrella Dance on Aug. 23, the 100th Anniversary of His Birth

Umbrella dance one of two Pitt events celebrating Kelly centenary as part of the University’s 225th anniversary observance; the other will be an Oct. 25 evening of film hosted by Patricia Ward Kelly
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Sharon Blake

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PITTSBURGH—As part of its own 225th anniversary observance, the University of Pittsburgh yesterday celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Aug. 23, 1912, birth in Pittsburgh of Pitt alumnus and special Academy Award-honored dancer, director, choreographer, actor, and singer Gene Kelly (1912-1996) by setting a new unofficial Guinness World Record for the “Greatest Number of People Simultaneously Performing an Umbrella Dance at a Single Venue.”

A total of 3,524 incoming Pitt freshmen students held umbrellas aloft during a six-minute choreographed dance on the lawn adjacent to Pitt’s Petersen Events Center. The custom-made umbrellas they held were imprinted with Pitt’s 225th-anniversary logo and the words “Celebrating the 100th Birthday of Gene Kelly.” Witnesses, head-counters, and videographers documented the event and are sending the information to the Guinness authorities for official certification of the new world record. The previous record, set in September 2011 in Bucharest, Romania, involved 1,461 participants.

The dance event honoring Kelly, one of Pitt’s most renowned alumni, was 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.

Pitt will sponsor another Gene Kelly centennial event as part its 225th anniversary observance: 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 on-campus 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.

Gene 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.