Random Lindy Hop and Balboa Geek Discovery: Bal, Swing and Lindy from the Waist Down (and Something Possibly Amazing)
I recently was looking around stock footage websites when I came across something peculiar: a series of clips of jitterbuggers, several minutes of it, mostly from the waist down. I appears to all be leftover swing-era film footage. At first I thought the clips were simply of random mediocre dance extras, as often happens in stock film footage. But then I realized that these Lindy dancers are actually good. And, there’s Balboa and LA Swing (Early form of Bal-Swing) in there them hills. In fact, several of the dancers look oddly familiar. One in particular blew my mind, as you’ll see ahead.
Anyway, they are new clips to me, as well as many other swing dancer clip collectors and historians I’ve talked to.
I put the first set of clips together in a compilation:
Nick Williams spotted this group of clips as being extra footage from (1941) Among the Living. Sure enough, these legs obviously belong to the dancers in that movie: Ray Hirsch and Patti Lacey are the couple on the left, and, based on IMDB information, Roy Lester and Jane Allen are probably the couple on the right.
What’s neat about this clip? Ray Hirsch shows some Bal-Swing steps we haven’t seen him do before, most notably a twisty-footed V-slide with a strange inward turn to his feet. The other couple shows some Bal-Swing basic movement as well as Lindy Hop.
This clip also lead us to track Roy Lester in IMDB, and discover where he is in a few other clips. Though he was just an average jitterbugger, it was neat to peg him in other clips like Where’s Waldo.
Here is the next group of clips put together:
This set of clips is, for me, the doozy. The first few Lindy dancers have obvious Dean Collins styling going on, but are not Dean. The second Lindy leader, around 0:07, has a lot of knee action and really kicks his heels back. He does a very controlled spin on the right side of the screen, which happens to be characteristic of Connie Wydell, whose floor spin in (1941) Dance Hall is pretty awesome. (It starts around 0:30 in the clip.) The next leader up, dancing with a follower in black heels and a lighter toned skirt, does moves, triples, and has his hands where Arthur Walsh of the (1944)Groovie Movie tends to have his hands (check out Groovie Movie around 4:46 for a similar move sequence and styling). [UPDATE: reader Anton Olfert recognized this dancer also looked a lot like Don Gallagher of (1944)”Swing Fever.” He’s the first Leader dancing with Jean Veloz. Nick and I agree, and think it’s almost definately him.] The leader dancing with the girl in the white wedding-type dress does jig-kicks a lot, just like Roy Lester, and has a similar style in doing them.
But here is by far the coolest thing: Watch in this clip the feet of the couple in the upper left at 0:25. The girl is wearing a dark skirt and dark heels. Now, the leader she’s dancing with is doing LA Swing or Bal-Swing. During the next few seconds he will dance across the screen to the right side, and then back into the crowd. His footwork is flatfooted; full of kicks, flicks and slides; bow-legged; and all of it is smooth, syncopated, and involves a slight twist with the knees and feet. Bal leaders, does this remind you of anyone you know?
After I caught it myself, I watched it a dozen times more to make sure I wasn’t going crazy. I then sent the clips to a few friends and talked to them about it. At one point, I was on the phone with the Balboa couple Randy and Kara in San Fransisco, while simultaneously Skyping Nick Williams in Australia, all of us trying to figure it out. Was it actually him?
A small but grating frustration in the Balboa world is that that we’ve never seen any footage of Willie Desatoff when he was young, in the actual swing era. We’ve had footage of all the other great Balboa leaders (Maxie, Hal, Lolly) but not him. We only have footage of him in his later years. This clip is something I had fantasized about, but never actually believed I would see: It is very possibly footage of Willie Desatoff dancing in his youth. Aside from the fact that this mysterious dancer moves like Willie, Randy Maestretti noted that he had seen Willie Dastaoff do almost every single move this dancer does. (This mysterious dancer also does a little bit of Lindy at 1:16.) There is also the fact that old-timers often mentioned how unique Willie’s style was.
Now, currently, the people I’ve talked to about it and I can’t say for sure or not that the mysterious dancer is Willie. We’re positive it could be, based on the styling, the similarities of which are, I think, evident. However, we may not know for awhile (inquiries are being made, actions are being taken) and possibly may never know. How ironic. The one time Willie Desatoff might have been filmed in his youth, it was from the waist down.
Aside from not seeing his face, the main argument against it being Willie actually comes from Willie himself. He claimed he never did a paid filmed gig. Some recalled that he said he never did a film gig, period. Of course, this isn’t fool-proof evidence. He could have danced for free for a film, or even could have forgotten this one time when he did get paid.
Even if it isn’t him, it’s incredibly exciting and satisfying to see a style like Willie’s represented in an early clip, a style we’ve never seen in black-and-white film.
This next clip is listed as 1938, and shows a mixing pot of Shag/Charleston/Balboa/twisty-footed Bal-Swing-like stepping.
The next clip shows the same dancers full-bodied:
Now, this clip was with the others, however it’s listed as being from 1938, not 1942, and It’d make sense, as this swing-type dance looks more like it’s from the Venice Beach Clip dance floor than the Dean Collins-era Lindy-Hop floor (like the others above). Though none of these dancers are anything incredible, it’s interesting to see this style of dance, complete with some Bal-Swing moves, some Charleston and Shag-like footwork, some head throwing (and I don’t just mean Kramer), and the unique style of pulse that we also see a little of in the Venice Beach Clip. This might be an excellent example of the kind of puddle of primordial ooze LA Swing was crawling out of at the time. But don’t quote me on that. There is still a lot more geeking-out to do before solidifying such a conclusion.
So, yeah, I’m kinda excited. Got a lot of new stuff to look at and think about. As well as a few new moves to steal. Regarding the followers: We have, as yet, been able to identify any of the followers.