[This article would not have been possible without the help of many people, especially Hilary Alexander, Marge Takier, Peter Loggins, and Nick Williams.]
Harold “Hal” Chavoor Takier, unarguably one of the greatest original jitterbugs, passed away at his home in California on January 9, 2012, from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 94 years old.
Hal was one of the greatest. Many people will say this over the next few months, and they are not just saying that because he recently died. Hal really was one of the greatest jitterbugs of all time. In fact, as far as influence in modern swing dancing, he was perhaps right behind Frankie Manning and Dean Collins (as far as leaders go). And Hal Takier was the only leader to be powerfully influential in both the Lindy Hop and Bal-Swing scene.
Hal was one of only four or five people who made up a very distinct group of original jitterbugs. They were in the movies, so we could see them dance when they were young; they were well-respected and loved by their peers, so we know that their fellow dancers thought they had “it,” the traits that make a great swing dancer; and they stuck around long enough to dance in their old age and talk to the dancers of the new generation and pass on their wisdom. Hal’s death to us isn’t just the passing of an icon, but also to many the passing of a friend and a mentor.
Hal was born at 1:15 a.m. on February 13th, 1917 in Fresno, California. His father always told him he was born at midnight, so they had a tradition of celebrating his birthday on the 12th. Both his parents were born in Turkey, and his father came through Ellis Island as a young boy, alone. Hal was an only child, and his mother died when he was three. Growing up, Hal attended California Polytechnic High.
Hal began dancing when he was 18. Hal and his first wife, Betty Roeser, were dance partners and became very successful as the swing craze swept California, winning many competitions, touring and performing with swing bands —including six months in Australia— and being part of the Ray Rand Swingers, a professional performance group of the time that included Maxie Dorf, Lolly Wise, Venna Archer, and others. At one point Hal and Betty were given the nickname “The Savoys.” Though the origin of this nickname is uncertain, his widow, Marge, suspected it was a nickname created by a mispronunciation of Hal’s middle name, “Chavoor.” (His name is billed as “Hal Chavoor” in several newspaper pictures.) The “Savoy kick” version of Charleston, which Hal often did, was reportedly named after him.
In 1939 Hal and Betty placed second in the International Swing Jam, held at the Los Angeles Coliseum, which was sponsored by the legendary Palomar Ballroom. It was probably all-around the biggest swing dance contest in history with reportedly more than 1,000 competitors and 26,000 spectators and both Ken Baker and Artie Shaw’s bands on the bandstand. The famous picture of Hal and Betty at the top of this article was taken at that contest. Almost a decade later, in 1948, Hal and Betty won a contest called the Harvest Moon Festival Jitterbug Contest in Los Angeles (the contest was not affiliated with New York’s famous Harvest Moon Ball). They were nominated and inducted into the California Swing Dance Hall of Fame in 1990.
Hal and Betty had had three children, first a boy and a girl, and then a second boy who died tragically young by choking. After the swing era, Hal and Betty divorced. According to Marge, Betty “hated” dancing and only did it for Hal. Hal met Marge in the late 1950s while out dancing. They were married February 13th, 1960, on Hal’s (actual) 43rd birthday. They had no children together.
Beginning when he was teenager, Hal worked in the rubber industry, though he took time off several times to tour with swing bands and perform. He continued to work in the industry the rest of his life. Before he retired, he was his company’s head of personnel and of the office of safety and health administration, often working with disputes in court.
As a dancer, Hal Takier was an individual; he didn’t dance like anyone else. When many of his peers in the late 1930s and early 1940s were flocking towards the look and styling of Dean Collins, Hal continued to create his dancing his way. He didn’t think dancers should try to look like other dancers. His peers revered him for his creativity and energy. Hal and Betty invented the technique, moves, and tricks they danced in Maharaja. (Marge Takier said that the first time Hal swung her out in his own style —as opposed to adjusting for her— she nearly fell flat on the floor because his swing-out was so different from everyone else’s.) Modern swing dancer Nick Williams remembers that anytime Hal saw him on the dance floor, Hal would say “Show me something!”, expecting to see a new pattern or step he hadn’t seen before. Though he appreciated it that many of the new dancers worked hard to perfect his “Roll” or “Merry-go-’round,” he always encouraged them to invent their own moves and create their own voices.
The films Hal Takier appeared in demonstrate how Hal’s own powerful, individual voice was combined with a raw energy and natural showmanship ability.
The first film footage we have of him is from 1938, when newsreel teams captured him and his wife Betty and several other couples doing “Swing” in front of Venice Beach. (Though people refer to this as Balboa today, the old timers would not have done so. Balboa to them was strictly the non-flashy chest-to-chest dance. This was “Swing,” what we now refer to as SoCal Swing or LA Swing.)
Hal told the modern swing dancer, Alicia Milo, “If you’re gonna enter a contest, you better bring your whole arsenal of moves if you wanna win!” The arsenal of moves Hal describes was written on a small sheet of paper he would keep with him. “He was a scrapper, a real competitor,” said Heidi Salerno. “He would often give us competition advice. One of my favorites was to tell us to do basics when the judges weren’t looking and then bust out the good, exciting stuff as they walked by.” This style is evident in his dancing with Alice “Scotty” Scot in the jitterbug contest in the film Twice Blessed. Hal is in the striped shirt beginning at 2:00. Every time the camera focuses on him, he and Alice are doing one of his signature trick steps.
For Hal, the point of doing well in a dance contest was to dance the steps to the music. As he was often known to say: “Enjoy the music. It’s all about the music. When that music gets going….boom. I’m gone.” It’s perhaps slightly unfortunate that when he and his first wife Betty filmed the short Maharaja, they danced to a piano for a soundtrack. Later, the song was added, so their dance looks like simply one trick after another without much regard to the music. However, this slight infraction was overlooked when Maharaja resurfaced in the modern swing era.
Few dancers had seen the clip Maharaja in the late 1990s, and then it resurfaced again in Southern California. As the clip made its way through the dancers of California, it dramatically influenced the dancing of almost every competitor. The California Balboa/Swing “Cal Bal” Championships that soon followed are renowned for the way the dancers aimed to capture the spirit of Hal and Betty.
“I loved watching all the crazy competitions going on at the time,” modern swing dancer Ben Yau recalled. “It was crazy the stunts these guys were pulling off! Fast forward about two years and I see some vintage clips for the first time. And I laugh realizing that all this time the moves I was in awe of were from Maharaja.”
Defining Hal’s style of dance is difficult. In fact, one could argue to attempt to is missing the point. For instance, in Maharaja, Hal Takier is not a Lindy Hop dancer so much as a swing dancer who added a few Lindy Hop moves into the wide vocabulary of steps he liked to dance to swing music. In his older age, there is footage of him dancing specifically Pure Balboa, or Lindy Hop, but overall, true “Hal Takier” dancing defies an easy label—though, many have found one they think perfectly fits.
“He was a jitterbug,” said Marcelo Teson, a modern swing dancer and film maker. “Someone who, when they heard that special boom boom boom boom, they couldn’t help themselves, they HAD to dance. No other dancer danced longer, harder, or faster. No one in Lindy Hop, no one in Pure Balboa, no one.”
In Teson’s student documentary on Hal Takier, modern dancer Christian Letts (Thompson) mentions how, even at the age of 84, Hal was still dancing longer and harder than all the young dancers on the dance floor. (Which is saying something considering the energetic die-hard late 1990s SoCal swing dance scene. It is, after all, the scene that produced leaders like Nick Williams, Jeremy Otth, Mikey Pedroza, and many others.)
Here is a collection of many different moments of dancing throughout Hal’s life. As the video will attest, Hal Takier’s dancing style hardly changed much at all throughout his life. Whereas dancers like Frankie Manning, Al Minns, and Maxie Dorf danced differently in their old age than they did in the early films, Hal Takier still moved the same and did many of the moves he used to do in the old clips.
From the flash of Maharaja to an almost entire dance of Pure Balboa, there is a wide spectrum of Hal’s dancing on display here. (Notice, too, how Dean Collins refers to them as “Hal and Marge Savoy.”) There is also a little Easter egg stashed inside. At around 17:00, Hal leads his wife Marge to go into their usual side-by-side choreographed routine (you can see it performed in other places in the collection). However, Marge is obviously fed up with doing it at that moment (for all we know he’s led it on her eight times that night already). Notice her posture when he starts going into it and she… just stands there. He then…keeps doing the routine by himself. And after he’s finished the routine? He keeps dancing by himself, while she just stares, waiting for him to finish having his moment. It’s a peek into a comically stubborn part of one of the happiest couples of swing dance history, and something that many romantic dance couples can probably relate to.
Almost everyone who interacted with Hal would agree that he was not only one of the greatest dancers of the old-timers, but he was also one of the greatest men among them. “I appreciated his straightforward approach to dance and relationships.” Heidi Salerno said. “You always knew where you stood with Hal. He would tell you like it was.”
“When I finally found the courage to introduce myself, they were two of the nicest, kindest people I ever met,” said Denise Phelan. “Unlike some of the other over-eager old-timers, Hal was class all the way; he never once butted-in in the middle of a dance to give you his two cents, even if it was one of his own signature moves. In my experience, he waited until after you finished dancing…. Or waited to be asked for input. ‘If you want me, you know where to find me’ seemed to be his mantra.”
“He had next to no visible ego about his contributions,” said Marcelo Teson. “He knew he was beloved and admired but to him it was just great to see so many people dancing. He was incredibly generous, he’d talk to anyone who came up to him.”
Hal felt one of the secrets to living long and dancing one’s best was to stay away from drugs and smoking, and to moderate alcohol. (Hal watched several of his jitterbug peers succumb to drug addiction or alcoholism.)
Some have mentioned that Hal seemed to regret a little having spent so much time and energy on dancing when he was young. He once told Denise Phelan, “Kid, dancing is great, but don’t make it your life.” This advice is particularly striking coming from a man who, when he stepped on the dance floor, appeared as if dancing was all that was needed in life. He was always energetic, passionate, and happy when he danced.
Even with all of his swing dancing on film, Hal would probably not be as much the hero as he is to us today if it weren’t for his wife Marge. Marge, who always diligently tried to remember the things Hal said, and remind him of the things he had told her, as Alzheimer’s began taking effect on his memory. Marge, who with Hal started the dances at the Bobby McGee’s restaurant in Southern California. Beginning in 1979, these Sunday afternoon dances brought the original group of SoCal dancers back together. The meet-ups at Bobby McGee’s gave dancers like Sylvia Sykes and historian Dwight Lupardis a place to come and dance and learn from the old-timers. And, beginning in the mid-90s and lasting throughout the 2000s, an entire new generation of young dancers would come to Bobby McGee’s to learn from the original jitterbugs, dancers like Nick Williams, Denise Phelan, Peter Loggins, Jeremy Otth, Minn Vo, Corina Acosta, Mikey Pedroza, Steve Garrett, Heidi Salerno, Christian Letts (Thompson), Marcus Koch, Barbl Kaufer, Tip West, Holly Dumaux, Jonathan Stout, Hilary Alexander, and many, many others.
The story of Bobby McGee’s ended too abruptly: In 2009, they showed up to find the restaurant padlocked and the lights dark. The franchise’s California restaurants had closed. Hal Takier’s story, however, did not end abruptly at all. Because of the nature of Alzheimer’s, Hal had slowly been disappearing over the last decade. The dreaded disease that begins to wipe the mind clean and ends by destroying the body’s ability to function is slow and gentle on the afflicted, but one of the hardest on loved ones, who have to watch over years as a once vivid and bright personality slowly fades to death. Despite this degeneration, Hal could still occasionally surprise, like the time modern dancer David Rehm witnessed him remember a dance choreography from his youth that his wife Marge had never recalled seeing him do before. However, Alzheimer’s disease is fatal, and a month before his 95th birthday, a few days after losing the ability to walk and speak, he passed away while in the care of Marge.
Recent hospice research has stated that the number one regret among dying people is that they wish they had lived a life true to themselves, not others. If Hal’s dancing is a sign of how he lived his life—and it often is in a great dancer— then it’s hard to imagine Hal having this regret before he died. Hal danced exactly true to himself, and not to anyone else. And so he lived.
[Additional thanks go to Corina Acosta, Kara Britt, Tise Chao, Nelle Cherry, Mickey Fortanasce, Chelsea Lee, Christian Letts, Denise Paulino Phelan, Joel Plys, David Rehm, Heidi Salerno, Sylvia Sykes, Marcelo Teson, Minn Vo, Gayle White, and Ben Yau for all their input.]
Memories and Dedications
[Below are memories and dedications to Hal Takier from dancers who knew him and were strongly influenced by him, from throughout the modern swing generation. Many of these helped provide the quotes used in the article above. More will continue to be added below. Many of their names are links to where you have seen them on (or slightly above) the dance floor.]
When I first heard of Hal…
Denny’s… In a parking lot in Anaheim, after a long night of memories, sweating to 300 beats a minute. Shirt drenched from spinning. I was young and fairly confident that I was on the right track. Discovering myself in a new area of creation, through the expression of movement. However looking back, I was still only crawling and my heart wasn’t really there. I needed a nudge to really get it. Peter Loggins, Thea and myself were the only ones left on the empty asphalt, and as he exhaled his filterless cigarette he told us of a clip now known as “Maharaja”. I could tell by the quiver in his voice as he spoke of it, that it was something very special. I had to see it, I had this feeling that it could change my world, and later realized my intuition was right. After a while of asking around I got it, some bootleg copy someone had nicked… and there it was… it was circular, it was fast, it was dynamic, it was inspiring and beautiful, it was Hal. This was it!… what I had been waiting for, and from that moment on I knew that I cared only about learning balboa. It was a moment when one actually feels one’s heart beat differently, and I hoped to one day understand it.
Bobby McGees…After some research done by friends we were told that Hal was still dancing, and, better yet, nearby. We took a trip one afternoon to Bobby McGees. The car ride was full of anticipation, time went by slowly for me while we sat in traffic on the 5 South. This dimly lit dance-hall, doubling as a local eatery, smelled of fried foods and had a sense of still water. He was here somewhere, but how could we recognize him. I took my seat at the booth and waited. The music kicked on and still nothing. I felt too nervous to disturb the calm pond with any steps I had picked up along the way. I found myself thinking of a quote from Abraham Lincoln… ” it is better to stay quiet and be thought a fool, then to open your mouth and remove all doubt”. Somehow this applied to me in that moment in a sense of dance. Slowly people said their hellos, and were taking hands and approaching the floor from the darker sides of the parquet under our feet. Through the crowd I recognized something. It was the “Circle” I had been watching over and over again… I had been dreaming about and wanting to do. I needed no introduction to know who I was watching… it was Hal. Now I was nervous, I love to dance but how could I do anything in front of who I considered to be the greatest. After much procrastination I decided to go out and give my best and dance for the sake of dancing and forget about everything else. That afternoon was one that will never be forgotten by me. Eventually I introduced myself and told him how much I appreciated his dance. He was very gracious and standing with a lovely woman, his wife, Marge. I asked her to dance before I could stop the words from coming out of my mouth. She was incredible – warm, funny and patient. This tradition of afternoons at McGees lasted a long while, and every time I went I felt myself grow and absorb more of what Hal did. He shared his history with me and gave me pointers for which I will always owe him a great deal. I feel that he molded me into what I became as a dancer. He made me realize that dancing was supposed to be, more than anything, FUN!
Hal – thank you. Thank you for passing the torch onto all of us, and trusting us with something that we know is very special to you. It is in good hands and everyday is still snowballing down from generation to generation, through the stomps and slides, and the air that is touched with excitement of partners overcome by music. You will be greatly missed, and we all carry much from our interactions with you, both from conversations in the middle of a bouncing floor, and the celluloid that holds the black and white where it all started.
It is a funny thing to talk about dance so passionately, but after thinking the past day I landed on this. It truly is a celebration, it introduces, it reacts, and it is a language unto itself. I feel that it deserves to be carved in the stones of this world. I feel blessed to have learned from the best. I hope to pass on anything that affects people the way Hal did. Hal, to me, was the definition of Jitterbug, and I will never forget the time spent with him, mimicking him and growing from his shoulders of greatness, for I knew that I could never dance in his shoes. He was the greatest to me and what I learned from Hal is this…Knowledge is to be shared, it is beautiful to spread seeds of wisdom and watch them grow in the generations after yours.
His Circle goes on and on and on and on. 8 simple counts can really change the world and spin for eternity.
[Many in the modern scene may not know of Christian. In the late 90s and early 2000s, going by Christian Thompson, he was known as one of the first great Balboa and Bal-swing leaders of the modern generation. He has been a notable inspiration to many of the current Balboa professionals. He also invented the move "The Dream" which is still often taught today.---Bobby]
I first went to Bobby McGee’s in the spring of 1996 when I was a brand new dancer who could barely do a passable swivel. Bernard Serrano took me there because Marcus and Baerbl were visiting. I’m sure I met Hal and Marge that day, and there is some very embarrassing video of me in a jam circle to prove I was there although I don’t remember it!
Hal and Marge really loved us “kids” even when we took over the floor at Bobby McGee’s and annoyed the other old timers! They were always the coolest because among the old timers they were the few that still danced fast, and to original big band music. They both have great taste in music, love and respect the musicians, and never let themselves slow down. When Hal saw something he liked in a jam circle he’d yell, “hoooo!” and if he saw something he didn’t he’d say, “what the heeee-ll was that?” but always with that big mega watt smile. Hal was always super grounded and normal – he understood the need to have balance in your life, had a loving family, and never gave advice or criticism unless asked. He also was free with his moves – I think he loved it that the “kids” adopted his Hal Roll, Merry-Go-Round, etc.
He and Marge were staples at Camp Hollywood and just about every other swing dance event around town. Even after Hal started to decline in the mid-00s he still made an appearance with long time friends Ernie and Stella. The thing I love most about Hal’s dancing is he always had his own style – Marge was saying the first time he swung her out in his own style (as opposed to adjusting for her) she nearly fell flat on the floor because his swing out was so different than everyone else’s. He was a contemporary of Dean Collins but was able to maintain his own thing, which is I think one of the many reasons he is such a legend to us.
“I had a huge collection of vintage clips and dance related material before meeting the old timers. When I first met Hal and Marge in 1998 out dancing at a venue called Music City, I will never forget witnessing Hal live in person still doing what he did on films in the 1930′s. Hal was always so cool and collected, while his wife Marge would engage in most of the talking. He never bragged about his dance skills but instead pushed others to improve.
What inspires me most about Hal is how generously he shared his wisdom about life back in the golden age of swing. He would always lend an ear and let us pick his brain about almost anything. I felt like I was not only given special signature dance moves but also a rich part of history. I was always happy to hear Hal’s perspective on life and dancing. He shared with me that since he was a tire worker, he believed in hard work, and that dance was for pleasure. His idea that dance should be in our lives, but not take over our lives. I still treasure his philosophy to this day.”
“The first time I saw Hal and Marge back in 1998, I remember thinking…”I want to move like that when I’m their age!”. Their energy on the dance floor was electric, fast, and would really get me hyped. When I first met Hal, he was so easy to talk to. I’ll never forget having my first conversation with him only to find out we went to the same high school (different decades, of course) and our birthdays were only a few days apart! Off the dance floor, Hal was always so cool and laid-back. I remember times when he wouldn’t hesitate to get up from his chair, walk directly over to us while we were dancing, and give a correction when he knew we were working on one of his signiture moves. He was so generous with his knowledge and one of the most humble people I have ever known. Every time we had the pleasure of seeing him, we were always greeted with a big hug and a smile!”
Hal Takier was an exceptional dancer because he has always danced with passion and guts. I appreciated his straight forward approach to dance and relationships. You always knew where you stood with Hal, he would tell you like it was. He loved to make fun of us when we would dance one of his signature moves, the Roll, because Steve Garrett had altered it he would yell from the edge of the dance floor, “Stop jumping around like damn bunny rabbits!” And then later tell us that he really liked the way we did the move and give positive feedback.
He was a scrapper, a real competitor. He would often give us competition advice, one of my favorites was to tell us to do basics when the judges weren’t looking and then bust out the good, exciting stuff as they walked by. Dancing with Hall was the same, fun and exciting, and when a song came on that he loved, he couldn’t help but to start move and clap, his delight for the music was infectious. Even when dancing was hard for him, he would still grab a follow (I was always honored when it’d be me) and try it out, even if only for a bit, just to get the satisfaction of dancing to a tune he loved. He let music overcome him and he rejoiced in it thru dance, he was a true jitterbug. Hal inspired me to find, embrace and let loose the jitterbug spirit even when dancing Bal, and for that I will always be grateful. I will miss his enthusiasm and friendship.
My first memory of Hal takes me back almost twenty years ago. I used to ooh and aahh at him and Marge from a distance at places like Pierce College dances, The Golden Lion, and the LAX Jazz Fest, and many other outings I can’t recall, too shy to approach them for fear of being shooed away. An unfounded fear, since years later, when I finally found the courage to introduce myself, they were two the nicest kindest people I ever met.
Hal was a true gentle soul. He didn’t care if you were a dancer or a “civilian”. Proof of this was when my now husband was first introduced to Hal. The two formed an immediate bond over life, family values, work ethic and politics, but not before warning him that if he ever broke my heart, like the last guy did, Hal would have to *deal* with him. When my husband and I got engaged, Hal told him in not so many words, “she’s a good woman, she will need you to love her”. Then he gave me his approval: “He’s a keeper”. He also showed Rich a few Bal steps so that he could surprise me of our wedding day, with a wedding dance that didn’t look like we were in an elementary school dance. “Ya gotta show ‘er something!”
Hal’s advice was indispensable. The one that stuck with me the most was “dancing is great, but don’t make it your life”, and following that expressed his regret to have danced professionally for as long as he did (not sure if that was the catalyst for him and Betty getting divorced, I did not want to pry). He was also on my case about saving away money for my retirement: “Yes, Hal, I’m saving, I’m saving!”… Nevertheless, lesson learned.
Hal’s friendship was about more than just dancing: He was family. We would go out to dinner, sometimes hang out at their house whenever Rich wasn’t working, and even got to ring in a new year together a few years back. He was always full of tongue in cheek advice, and life’s truths full of good humor for Rich, with whom he occasionally toasted over cranberry juice cocktails. “Marge thinks I’m loosing my mind, but in reality, I choose to not pay attention.” [clink.]
As a dancer, unlike some of the other over-eager old-timers, Hal was class all the way; he never once butt in the middle of a dance to give you his two cents, even if it was one of his own signature moves. In my experience, he waited until after you finished dancing…. Or waited to be asked for input. “If you want me, you know where to find me” seemed to be his mantra. This past weekend Marge relayed how proud Hal was that Nick (Williams) and I had captured one of his moves perfectly. She didn’t have to say it: Hal’s smile from ear to ear whenever we performed said it all. It’s a smile I will remember forever.
There is so much to say about Hal, and not enough words to fill the Internet void. Other than to say what an honor and a privilege it was to have met Hal, and to have him as part of our family. My husband and I will miss him dearly.
“You’ve never seen anyone dance like him, and you’ll never see anyone else dance like him” ~ Marge
Hal Takier was the greatest swing dancer of all time. And I mean that in the generic sense of the word, not in the specific niche of what he danced, which he called “Swing” to differentiate it from “Balboa” or “pure Bal.” Hal was just the man. No other dancer danced longer, harder, or faster. No one in Lindy Hop, No one in pure Balboa, no one. And perhaps the best thing about him is that he did it for all the right reasons.
As the swing craze died out, Hal did what he always did – he just kept dancing, straight through, for well over sixty years. He never stopped because of waning popularity or advancing age, never changed his style to suit trends like disco or even the neoswing revival, never got too involved in all the sticky politics of the scene that drove away other old timers. Hal showed up, he did his thing, and he enjoyed every minute of it.
So he was a great dancer, yes. But he was also a really really really cool guy. He had next to no visible ego about his contributions. He knew he was beloved and admired but to him it was just great to see so many people dancing. He was incredibly generous, he’d talk to anyone who came up to him. He talked to me for hours about dancing and I was an absolute nobody at the time, I was just a film student trying to make a project. But he opened up his home and let me in and gave me all sorts of great wisdom I carry with me to this day. It was listening to Hal speak that I finally understood why real jitterbugs didn’t care about moves or technique as much as enjoying the music and listening to the music and responding to the music. The number one thing he said to new dancers was to enjoy the music. The thing that kept him moving was the music. Just about everything was for the music. He also enjoyed dancing with his wife, it was one of the few things they could do together that belonged just to them.
There’s often a debate about what to call those of us who dance to this stuff. “Swing Dancers” brings up connotations of zoot suits and Cherry Poppin Daddie’s concerts. “Lindy Hoppers” is restrictive if you dance more than Lindy Hop. “Vernacular Jazz Dancers” turns off just about everyone who isn’t one of us (and many who are). There are so many debates and corrections about the difference between “Balboa” and “Swing” and “Bal-Swing” and whatever else you want to call it. But I always wanted just to be what Hal was – a “jitterbug,” someone who, when they heard that special boom boom boom boom, they couldn’t help themselves, they HAD to dance. That’s what Hal was. He was a jitterbug. He didn’t care about fame, money, status, winning, none of it (although I’m sure he loved sticking it to his competitors over the years). What he loved most was that he was able to dance and dance and dance as long as he wanted to to the music he loved. That’s what a jitterbug is. And because of my time with him that’s what I decided to be.
And now he’s gone, and my wish in his departure is that we all take a moment and figure out what it is that makes each of us jitter, and then go do that and enjoy it while it lasts. Keep dancing, keep moving, and don’t ever stop.
[If you haven't already, watch his documentary, Hal Takier: The Ultimate Jitterbug.]
I was fortunate enough to have had the privilege to dance with Hal for the last 13 years and learn from one of the greatest original dancer. He has taught me so much and made me the dancer that I am today. I remember Hal teaching me his signature moves on the floor, and he’ll call out the moves before he leads them… “Now we’re gonna do The Roll… and Kick the Can… and Up and Down… and Round and Round… and The Shoulder…” I will always get so excited after learning a new move, and rush over to Nick or Jeremy and show them what I had just learned from Hal. So inspiring!
Hal was so kind and gentle with the follows, and never turned down a dance. Always generous sharing his knowledge and stories, and loved the kids! Hal is one in a million… and I will miss him dearly!!! I know he is in heaven dancing and watching us, saying… “Show me somethin’!!”
When Joe and I started dancing six years ago, we were welcomed into the Lindy Hop community by so many people. This warm spirit came from students, instructors, and old-time dancers, among them Hal Takier and Marge, with whom we’ve remained in contact ever since. Joe spent two critical years as a newbie dancer dividing work time between NYC and Southern CA; unbeknownst to his employers he actually scheduled ALL of his business trips specifically around Bobby McGee’s gatherings. He also went with the group (which included Dean Raftery, Barbara Rice, Ernie and Stella Rubin, and others) for pie and laughter next door at Milly’s each time (and I sure joined them whenever possible). The hospitality with which we were so quickly greeted, in fact, still kind of stuns me….but it equally feels like a natural hallmark of the joyous dance we all have in common. How lucky we have been to get to know these folks and learn about the dance(s) and their lives through so many warm conversations, scrapbooks, and filmclips. Joe and I are still happily keeping up those friendships, hoping that the newer dancers follow our lead and jump in as well.
As a sidebar too, I have to add that Joe and I have always viewed dancers like Hal and Marge as inspiring partnerships in life, on and off the floor, which is tremendously meaningful to us as a couple. Hal, using his imaginary fishing pole to reel in Marge in their classic routine, always makes us smile, and watching that clip of them dancing together is an endless pleasure.
“When the music gets goin, BOOM, I’m gone!”
What an appropriate self-quote that exemplifies the essence of Hal! As a dancer who came into balboa after the “oldtimer revival” I missed the chance to learn directly from the likes of Hal, so my inspiration came solely from videos. His embodiment of the spirit and essence of the music through his dancing will never be lost! Introducing new students to this spirit through old clips allows me to carry on the legacy. Seeing their faces light up at a Maharajah clip…and then be amazed at that spirit existing possibly more so in the Bobby McGee clips shows Hals ability to prove the spirit of the dance will never die. Just remember…Boom!