February 29, 2012

Happy Leap Day!

Leap \leep\ verb; to spring through the air from one point or position to another (from Old English, “hleapan,” akin to Old High German, “hlouffan,” meaning “to run”).

February 29 is one of those dates, like November 11, or Friday the 13th, or the summer solstice, that seems more freighted with possibilities, both good and bad, than other days of the year. And because the 29th day of the second month only comes around every four years — an attempt by humans to make up for the fact that a year is not, strictly speaking, comprised of 365 days, but 365 and a quarter days (it’s math, look it up) — Leap Day can sometimes feel like a gift. An extra day added to the calendar. A full 24 hours that we didn’t have last year and that we won’t have next year, in which we might do … anything.

Here, then, in celebration of Leap Year, and of Leap Day, and of the wonderful act of simply leaping about, LIFE.com respectfully offers a gallery of pictures that feel full of possibilities: images that, for the most part, try to approximate what Wordsworth might have been driving at when he wrote, more than 200 years ago, “My heart leaps up when I behold / A rainbow in the sky.”

Or, as House of Pain put it — more succinctly, if less poetically — in 1992: Jump around!

Fred Astaire executes a seemingly effortless leap in the 1946 film, Blue Skies

A multiple exposure shot of a gymnast jumping on a trampoline in 1960

Alice Marble, No. 1 American women's tennis player, leaps over the net in 1939

Dance class, 1952

Architect and designer Frank Gehry jumps on a desk — part of his line of cardboard furniture — in 1972

Rudy the Dachshund shows off his bed-jumping form in 1946

A man jumps on a trampoline in California in 1960

An SMU cheerleader takes to the air at a University of Texas football game in 1950

Leon James and Willa Mae Ricker demonstrate how the Lindy Hop is meant to be danced in 1943

Tamara Toumanova executes a grand jeté for actor, singer, dancer and comedian Danny Kaye in 1945

Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy leaps from his car in 1960

Artist Jane Eakin sits on the shoulders of rope-skipping champion Gordon Hathaway in 1947

Movie starlet June Prisser jumps into a swimming pool in 1940

Hugh O'Brian, in the role of Wyatt Earp, leaps from his office in 1956

Crewmen simulating escape from a plane jump, in their flight suits, into a swimming pool during training at McClellan Air Force base in California in 1954

Acrobat and actor Russ Tamblyn does a flip on the sidewalk while walking with Venetia Stevenson in 1955

Actress Christine Norden and an excitable dog in 1948

A horse and rider sail gracefully toward a water tank in Atlantic City in 1953

(Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)


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