Irene Thomas, sassy brunette (and “rascal”) (ISDFNKA #2)
(Correction: Irene born in Missouri and grew up in Missouri and Oklahoma. Consider this post Part 1 of Irene Thomas Week, Part 2 will come in a few days. For now, I’ll just give a brief history and then we’ll look at some of her dancing.)
If you have started dancing in the last six or so years, you might have never heard of Irene Thomas, a notable Southern California follower of the 1940s. However, her name might be familiar if you were around in the early 2000s, when the entire Lindy Hop world was interested in the original SoCal followers. But even then, most of the attention went to Jewel McGowan and Jean Veloz. I think I can persuade you, though, that Irene Thomas was one of the greatest dance personalities of all the original followers, and it was a humorous, sassy personality at that.
Irene grew up in Missouri and Oklahoma (NOT New York, as previously published) where she spent a lot of time learning and performing ballet and tap. She moved to the Los Angeles area and, around 1939, learned a few Lindy Hop steps in just one sitting from a leader named Bill Alcorn (who’s in a couple of films himself under the name William Alcorn.)
In a short amount of time, she had become one of the best followers in Southern California, and part of a group of friends and dancers often hired for films. She developed a lifelong friendship with fellow follower Jean Veloz. Aside from Lindy Hop, she also loved dancing Balboa and Swing (early Bal-Swing).
Soon after the war, Irene moved away from LA to New York for awhile and stopped professionally jitterbugging. She currently lives in Middle-of-nowhere, California (also known as MidCal to those in the know.) Here’s a collection of her dancing:*
Irene was different from many SoCal followers in that she really did a lot of punctuated footwork-heavy variations—part of her tap background. Also probably because of her tap background, her rhythm was very crisp and clear. Another thing to note about her moves is almost all of them were her inventions; she was known for being an incredibly creative follower.
But to me, her most notable quality is one of the most rare things to find in a dancer: a sense of personality that permeates her dancing. When you watch her dance, you get the feeling that you know exactly what kind of person she is.
For instance, take the simplicity of a step she’ll do like a quick stop. She’ll do more than hit the pose, she’ll add one shoulder roll, then a shoulder shrug, and perhaps even something with her eyebrows. Very few other dancers express themselves so completely that they even use their eyebrows.
So, that’s all for now. Stay tuned for Part 2 of Irene Thomas Week.
Here’s Irene Thomas describing her contribution to “switches” (what we would refer to in the modern lingo as continuous swivels):
* — This clip is a collection of Irene Thomas’s dancing from several different sources.
—Juke Box Joe’s an old soundie (I don’t have the date, but it looks like Irene’s earlier dancing.)
— (1942)Swing Shift Swing.
— (1943)Jive Junction , (She’s the brunette with the big bow in her hair).
—(1980s/90s) Dancing Bal-Swing and Lindy Hop with Jonathan Bixby at Bobby McGee’s in California where the old-timers would regularly meet to dance.
I highly recommend watching the full versions of these clips on YouTube, many of which are clearer.