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Still a Champion!

Legendary performer Marge Champion discusses Keep Dancing, the acclaimed documentary about her partnership with Donald Saddler. logo
Marge Champion
(© Tristan Fuge)
At age 91, Marge Champion is not just thriving, she's practically on the verge of rediscovery. The former MGM star (and ex-wife of Gower Champion) and her dear friend and former Follies co-star Donald Saddler are the stars of Gregory Vander Veer and Douglas Blair Turnbaugh's acclaimed documentary short, Keep Dancing, which begins a week-long engagement on August 13 at the Archlight Theatre in Los Angeles. TheaterMania recently spoke to Champion -- who will attend the August 13 screening -- about the film, why she dislikes TV's Dancing with the Stars, and what makes Saddler the perfect dance partner.

THEATERMANIA: You're starring in a new film in your 90s. What do you think about that?
MARGE CHAMPION: My life has been an accident in many ways, even though I was trained for it. Well, you've got to be prepared. And if you're lucky enough to find which niche you fit in, you might even become a star.

TM: What was it about these two directors and their demeanor that won you over to allow them to tell your story?
MC: Greg didn't know who the hell we were -- he was 25 at the time and he was driving a pedi-cab to keep the roof over his head -- but he was so sensitive to so many of the things that we were doing, it seemed like a good idea.

TM: Did you resent that you were shot at moments during the film when you were out of make-up and not looking your best?
MC: I have never considered myself a diva in that way. I did feel that it was more important to show that there is still life after dancing. Gwen Verdon said, dancers die twice: once when they have to stop dancing and once when they finally do. I never felt totally at home with that idea, because I never considered that I had stopped dancing -- even if it was in a gym with other ladies of my age. Yes, on some level, I would have liked to have had a hairdresser and a make-up man and proper lighting and all of that. But it wouldn't have told the story.

Donald Saddler and Marge Champion in Keep Dancing
TM: What makes Donald Saddler such an ideal partner?
MC: His knowledge of the theater and his knowledge of working with dancers. He's also been everybody's escort, and he's four and a half months younger than I am!

TM: What is your assessment of Dancing with the Stars? Do you feel like they're paying homage to the work that you and Gower did?
MC: Absolutely not. It's trick, trick, trick, trick, trick, and smash the girl to the ground and walk over her. It's entirely different than what we did. Gower would never smash me; we did a few tricks, but not like that. Nobody's telling a story anymore and that's what our kind of dancing is about. If they called it "dance sport," I would be much, much more lenient.

TM: Are you concerned with the state of dance in general?
MC: Yes. So many choreographers are killing the dancers because there is too much movement in every single bar of music. I don't believe in ruining dancers' bodies for anybody's pleasure and I don't believe in putting them in danger of having to retire at 30 or 35. In fact, I support an organization called Career Transition for Dancers that really takes in dancers when they need help.

TM: Are you ultimately happy with Keep Dancing?
MC: Yeah. I think there's still more story to be told, but it'll probably be told by somebody else. And that's fine too.

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