A Year of Clips #5: Start Cheering

Many people can picture Frankie Manning swinging out in Hellzapoppin. But can you picture an original Balboa dancer doing a Toss-out or Lolly Kicks?

Try not to blink during this clip, or you might miss one of the most important moments in Balboa/So Cal Swing history. It’s from the enormously long and strange dance sequence in the film “Start Cheering.”

On the left of the screen is Lollie Wise and his partner, Lil (Lillian Arnold(?)) And on the right, Maxie Dorf and his partner, Mary MCCasslin.

The choreography in this clip is simple–merely a bunch of what we call Lollie Kicks and Behind-the-Back Toss-outs. But it’s the way they look doing those moves that fascinates us modern Balboa dancers.

A few historical notes: We call them Lollie kicks specifically because Lollie, in this clip, was a badass as doing them. He happens to be a tall, lanky, kicky kind of guy.

This is also the only footage we have of a young Maxie Dorf doing the sort of swing dancing he probably would have done socially. We have another clip of him dancing young, but the director obviously gave him the direction to act crazy and zany, and thus we can’t tell how much of that would have been like he actually would have danced.

The reason this is important is because, by almost all peer accounts, Maxie Dorf was one of the greatest swing dancers of the era. And by “swing” we mean, specifically, So-Cal Swing, the dance that combined with Balboa to make the modern Bal-Swing.

Why this clip is so important to us, along with the Venice Beach Clip, is that they are the two best representations of what the original Bal-Swingers looked like when they were young, energetic, and inventing the dance.

What is also shocking to us is that none of us look or move quite like them. Even if you were to, say, get 24 of the most advanced Balboa students to imitate it, they still wouldn’t get close. There’s something about the way they styled, their pulse, posture, and movement through the figures that we have yet to master.

Is it something worth mastering? Well, I think myself, and most of my fellow teachers, are not just artist, but explorers at heart. And there’s something in the style of the Start Cheering dancing that not only looks cool and swings hard, but taps into swing in a way we haven’t quite gotten yet with modern Bal-Swing, and a lot of us are excited to try to tap into that.

Doing so should give us further insight into the world of Bal-swing leading/following, etc, and inspire new moves and ideas that should, at heart, look more Bal-Swing than some of the material we do today, which can look either too Lindy-ish, too West Coast-ish, or just not quite right.

We may not get there, but instead come up with something similar and new. We already have come up with a lot of really neat, subtle, pretty dancing inspired by the Start Cheering clip, and I’m excited about the future.

6 responses to “A Year of Clips #5: Start Cheering”

  1. wow, I so agree! It doesn’t look anything like “modern” Balboa. It almost seems as if they have the energy and dynamics of Jitterbug/East Coast Swing. I am mesmerized!

  2. Thing is- this *was* a commercial movie sequence. All 20 seconds of it. In writing “This is the only footage we have of a young Maxie Dorf doing the sort of swing dancing he probably would have done socially.” I think of how I wouldn’t watch The Maharaja or Hellzapoppin’ thinking of it as social technique, or even The Beach Clip where the dancers know they are being filmed about preparing for a contest – I can’t take this as anything more than a performance. That said, this clip does stand out for the jump on yer toes exuberance of youth which sure as hell ain’t there in 80s Bobby McGee vids.
    While I have been in classes where Heidi&Steve and Jeremy&Laura teach tyling of this vid, I hope you aren’t predicting the charleston-lindy-fication of teh Bal.

    • Heya–

      (1) — I agree with you that, obviously, since this was a performance, we can’t say that this IS the dancing Maxie would have done socially. So when I said “This is the only footage we have of a young Maxie Dorf doing the sort of swing dancing he PROBABLY would have done socially,” I mainly meant in the way they moved through these basic movements. This isn’t a complex piece with flashy moves and partner-choreographed moves. We’re talking two basic moves on repeat.

      So, we doubt these dancers would have changed much about the way they moved in toss-outs and lollies aside from possibly amplifying the energy, exaggerating their hair throws, or making things line up purposefully for the choreography. Basically, we’re pretty sure we’re seeing socially-lead moves very close to the way they would have looked on the social dance floor. (And, let’s face it, Maxie Dorf, being a great performance swing dancer, probably performed throughout a lot of his social dancing, as well.)

      (2)–I’m not quite sure what you meant by the final sentence “I hope you aren’t predicting the charleston-lindy-fication of the Bal.” But whatever it is, I can almost assure you that I’m not. I’m interested in what you specifically mean, though.

      thanks for reading,

  3. When I watched it the last few times, I was pondering over the superficial difference: that dancers back then danced as much by feel as by look. What I mean is that today, we take for granted that we’ll see hours and hours of video of our own dancing, whether we’re filming our own dancing or being filmed in a contest or performance. Obviously dancers back then did get filmed, but mostly they saw their dancing in mirrors, or they didn’t see it at all. So they started with a posture and a movement, and then went by feel from there.

    To prod a little further, today swing dancers are focused a lot on recreating the *look* of dances. We care about the feel, of course, but you can’t get that from video as readily as the angle of the leg, or the timing of the turn. We tend to try to copy the look, to get it “right” whereas they actually wanted to dance better than each other, not be inferior copies of their friends.

    What I see different in that video is that the dancers just seem to SWING more than most “Bal” dancers do today.

    Some of that is just that they’re doing the kicks on the 1 instead of the 7 the way most modern Bal dancers do by default. This gives the kicks more power with the emphasis of the first beat of each bar, particularly on this song. And so they swing harder.

    There are other things but that’s what I noticed this time around.

    • I like your point about the kicks being on 1 instead of 7. I believe that doing the kicks as modern Bal dancers do seems natural to swing dancers, but that is not what is really happening in this video. The kicks in this video are using Charleston timing, the Charleston from the 1920s rather than from the swing era.

      I don’t consider “Start Cheering” as having much swing influence at all, rather, it looks back towards the 1920s styles. A Charleston dancer would feel more comfortable with the style.

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