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Who’s Who in Original Bal-Swing Leaders

April 8, 2013

Here's what Willie Desatoff wanted in a dance shoe: a thin piece of leather so you could feel the dance floor.

Teachers often mention original dancers in class; however, those names may easily be forgotten between leaving the workshop and getting to YouTube. So, to make it a little easier, this is a list of original Balboa leaders often mentioned in classes, with links to clips of their dancing (other sections for Lindy Hoppers coming as well). This will take some time to fully complete, what with all the biography information and clips, but I figured it’d be kinda neat to construct it in front of people’s eyes.

To get a sense of how most of the entries will hopefully look with some time, see the first entry on Willie Desatoff. Not all the dancers will have such a wealth of information, but we’ll try to get what we can. So, enjoy! Names are listed in alphabetical order, so aside from a special section on the “Most Influential,” order does not signify importance. Names may be added, so if you’d like to recommend someone, feel free to mention their name in the comments.

As always, we strive to be unbiased and accurate. As much of this is an oral history, there may be some mistakes. If you see there is an error, please notify us with the error and any references for the correction and we will try to rectify the situation immediately.

This project is dedicated to Dwight Lupardis, the original Balboa historian whose passion for the dance helped save it in the form of the film The Balboa Project, where many of the clips in this project come from.

Bal-Swing: Most Influential

WILLIE DESATOFF
“Finesse, Finesse, Finesse.”
(1921 – 2005) William John “Willie” Desatoff grew up in a Russian neighborhood of Los Angeles, graduated from LA’s Roosevelt High School in 1940, and served in the Coast Guard during WWII. He then spent his life as a carpenter. He was widely considered one of the greatest Balboa-Swing dancers by his peers in both his youth and old age. He was unique among most of the original dancers in his desire to break down and teach Balboa and Bal-Swing, even in his young age. He is known as one of the best for his smoothness, his rhythm and syncopation, his refinement of everything he did, and the powerful individualism of his style. Several modern Balboa dancers and instructors learned from him personally, including David Rehm, Randy Maestretti and Kara Britt, Nick Williams, and more (Kate and I were honored to have had an opportunity to work with him shortly before his death). His widow and wife of 20 years, Lila Desatoff, appears in the final dance scene of the clip. Read his obituary, written by David Rehm, here.

1942_maxieMAXIE DORF
“It’s a natural move.”
(1921 – 2000) Maxie Dorf was one of “the Big Four,” the nickname for the Ray Rand Swingers, a performance group of Swing (the LA dance that combined with Balboa to form Bal-Swing) dancers that included Hal Takier, Lolly Wise, and Gil Fernandez. His main partner in his youth was Mary McCasslin. During WWII he was a Navy photographer, responsible for several well-known war photographs, and even went to the North Pole in his travels. After the war, he held several occupations, including school yearbook photographer and casino card-dealer. When Sylvia Sykes first desired to learn Balboa and Bal-Swing, Dean Collins told her that Maxie Dorf was the person to ask. She has a memorable story about not being able to find Maxie, until, sadly, he was announced as a pallbearer at Dean Collins’s funeral. Maxie taught Sylvia his style and philosophy of Balboa, which she has passed on to the world. They performed many demos together, several of which are in the clip above. Maxie is known as one of the greatest for his flow, the sophistication of his solo and partnership movement, his signature moves like “Maxie’s Slide” and “Maxie’s Stop Step,” his use of Out & In as a major area of play, his powerful pulse, and his unique ability to, as Sylvia calls it, “dance inside the music.”

HAL TAKIER
“Hooooooooooo!”
(1917 – 2012) Harold “Hal” Chavoor Takier began dancing when he was 18 years old and a student at California Polytech High. He and his first wife, Betty Roser, were partners known for their individual style and the many flashy trick steps they invented. He met his second wife and widow, Marge, in the 1950s and she became his new partner. We could say a lot more about Hal, but you can read it all here.

Also Notable

JACK ARKIN
Jack Arkin and his partner Marion Goldy won the great “Swingeroo” contest in 1939, probably the largest swing dance contest to ever exist, against Hal and Betty, Roy and Snookie, and Dean and Jewel. (Thanks, Peter Loggins, for the article.) History has shown that though Jack and his partner had fancy steps and clean dancing, the dancers that have influenced the modern scene the most have that as well as more individual style. As the film demonstrates, they also occasionally did some shag moves and solo performance dancing. The move in this clip where he touches the floor we call “Three Little Words” in honor of Jack’s dancing in the clip (it’s the name of the song playing.) Jack and his partner can also be seen in the background of Naughty But Nice. More information coming.

BOB ASHLEY
More on Bob coming soon, both bio and dancing. Irene Thomas remembered Bob as one of the best Bal-Swing dancers of the Swing era. He does mostly Lindy in films; however, you can catch a tiny amount of him doing Balboa (from the head up) in the clip. He’s the blondish guy to the left of the column in “The Country Club” section of the clip who does a toss-out and some out & ins.

BART BARTOLO
“Keep It Casual”
(19?? – 2013) Lou “Bart” Bartolo was one of the younger kids compared to the other original dancers, but he learned Bal-Swing and Lindy Hop from the best, including Willie Desatoff, Hal Takier, Maxie Dorf, and Dean Collins. He had no official partner, but did often dance with Natalie Esparza in several performances and jams.

Roy Damron, looking suave as always.

Roy Damron, looking suave as always.

ROY DAMRON
Roy currently lives in Hawaii. He was quite a force in the late 30s — his dancing pictures littered the newspapers, he won or placed in some of the biggest contests swing ever saw, and he influenced the likes of Bart Bartolo, who reportedly looked up to Roy as his idol. In his youth, his main partner was Snookie Bishop. More footage and info of him coming.

JACK HELWIG
Jack Helwig is the guy in all white dancing in the 1938 Venice Beach Dance Clip, a powerfully individual dancer, as well as a sharp dresser. His partner in the films is Genevieve Grazis, who later went by the name Jenny Gray and was in quite a few films as a Lindy Hopper. Not much more is known about him, and his main claim to fame for the modern era is his dancing in the Beach Clip.

RAY HIRSCH
Ray Hirsch is still with us today. He and his partner Patti Lacey were not exactly what you (or they) would call Bal-Swing dancers, or really any label whatsoever. They worked specifically towards the flashy, wild, and zany dancing expected in films, no matter what dance a step came from — so the lines where Bal-Swing, Shag, and Lindy are drawn are hard to pin-point in a lot of their dancing on film. For instance just watch the first part of the clip. (Ray is in the dark blazer and light pants.) However, the second piece of footage in this clip is of them dancing from the film Among the Living, but you only see their feet. They are the couple on the left. And they are dancing nothing but Bal-Swing for an extended period of time, showing that they did know what it meant to do the dance Bal-Swing. (In that clip they later go on to dance clearly nothing but Lindy and later still a short section with nothing but Shag.) Also, he’s a rascal.

DICK LANDRY
Richard “Dick” Landry is the man in the striped sweater vest in the Beach Clip dancing with an unknown woman. Dick Landry was in several films, either as a Lindy Hopper or as a Bal-Swing dancer, but it is not known which dancer he is in those films. All we know of Dick for sure is that he’s the man in the striped sweater in the Beach Clip.

LOLLY WISE
Lawrence “Lolly” Wise was one of the “Big Four,” the Ray Rand Swingers. Maxie Dorf always counted Lolly as one of the greatest Balboa dancers who lived, though he didn’t dance much after the swing era. Sadly, aside from a few snippets in other films, the only clear footage of him dancing Bal-Swing is the short snippet from Start Cheering. He’s on the left. Today we call the move he’s doing Lolly kicks in his honor (he apparently called them something like “Charleston kicks”).

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 12, 2015 1:17 pm

    Wonderful info. Thank you for this. I’m looking for the owner of the Maxie Dorf picture. I’d like permission to use it for the cover of my fictional vintage swing novel. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!

    ~ Tam Francis ~
    http://www.girlilnthejitterbugdress.com

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