Happy Leap Day!

Bob Landry—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Bob Landry—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Fred Astaire executes a seemingly effortless leap in the 1946 film, Blue Skies.

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!

Happy Leap Day, everybody.

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