R.I.P Anne Mills, Original Bal dancer.
Anne was one of the strongest follower voices and favorite dance partners of the original Balboa dancers. Anne was born Anna Zorigian in 1922 to an Armenian family in Massachusetts that had come from Turkey in 1913. By 1930 the family had moved to California where her father opened a shoe-repair shop.
As a teenager in the late 30s and early 40s, she was known as “one of the five bal gals,” a group of friends who were renowned for dancing (Pure) Balboa at any tempo. (Though she also did “Swing,” — roughly what we’d call Bal-Swing today — and Lindy Hop.)
For the modern generation, she was known for her knowledge of the dances and clear memory of the times, giving a great amount to our understanding of Southern California swing dancing — She not only had much to say on the philosophies and mechanics of following and the importance of expressing oneself as a follower (see interviews below for a taste), she also had an unrivaled understanding of the leaders of the day (sometimes understanding them better than they did themselves).
International Balboa and Lindy Hop instructor Nick Williams says she could show him how all the different basics of the great leaders she danced with felt.
She thought it was important for every follower to have a voice, and every dancer to have individuality.
Above all of this she was a strong, supportive, and independent woman, especially considering the time and place she grew up in. At age 18, she already had a job as a stenographer, and later in life worked at USC where she was an active board member of the school of music.
She will be missed.
On a personal note, I danced with Anne when I was a young’n, in 2003 and 2006. I remember very clearly that no matter how I moved, or what move I lead, she moved the way she wanted to (which was much smoother and more laid back behind the beat than I was leading at the time.)
I had the feeling that no matter what I tried to do, she would not allow me to make her look inelegant.
Realizing that, and its importance, makes that one of my favorite dance memories.
Here is a collection of some of her dancing, with her husband John Mills, as well as greats Willie Desatoff, Maxie Dorf, and Dean Collins.
DENISE (PAULINO) PHELAN
“Ann Mills is part of the reason why many of our leads turned out into amazing dance partners, and she taught us follows to demand no less of them and ourselves by also encouraging us to “dance pretty”. She also gave me the best marriage advice ever, and followed that with a wink (yup, she made my bridal shower guests blush with that one). I’m going to miss this beautiful lady. She was not only sassy, she was also an inspiration to us all and was loved for it.
May you rest in peace, dear friend. ❤”
“Anne Mills is an important figure for the Balboa community. She was a fierce yet beautiful follower that everyone loved to dance with. She had a clear understanding of the dance and the ability to communicate and give concise details to younger dancers.
More importantly is who she was as a person. Anne could not only dance you under the table, but she was kind, intelligent, and witty. For those in Southern California she was our grandmother. She encouraged us to follow a good Balboa path. She allowed us to make mistakes, wasn’t afraid to tell us when we were wrong, but at the end of the day made us feel good about ourselves.
She would take yours arms and lead you through how other leaders felt. She could tell other follower how and why she made stylistic choices.
I remember dancing with Anne at Camp Hollywood in the infant days of the modern Balboa scene. There was a debate about “pulse” in the dance. I decided to test it out on Anne by not pulsing at all. Only a few seconds into the dance she taps me on the back and says “I can’t feel your pulse, honey”. Asked and answered.
I was lucky to be able to partner the best follows in the world early in my career (Denise Phelan and Tise Chao who were also close to Anne). Then add Sylvia Sykes (also close to Anne) and the pressure is on. My job was to earn that honor and catch up. Anne was always there to mentor and support me on that quest. One of my proudest Balboa moments is the day that Anne told me “you got it.” Something she never said lightly.
I will always love Anne for her intellect, warmth, nurturing, wit, talent, rationality, guidance, and every other descriptive word that still pales in comparison to who she was. She is now a legend. She will live on in our stories, hearts, and videos. Our job is to now take great care of this dance she gracefully handed down to us.”
My favorite memories of Anne were definitely:
1. Listening to her inspiring words at the Balboa Followers’ Festival. I don’t remember the words exactly, but I remember coming away with the feeling that Anne really valued a follower’s ability to express themselves through their footwork, and for me it was one of the first times I recall hearing a dancer from an older generation discuss how important the follower’s role is and how much they could contribute to the dance with their own voice.
2. And of course watching her dance at the Balboa Pavilion for several years at Balboa Rendezvous. I would still see her signature taps and kicks that I’d seen in the Bobby McGee’s footage — it was so amazing!
Below is a collection of YouTube clips of an in-depth interview of her conducted at the Balboa Follower Festival in 2007 run by Alison Scola and Joel Plys. (As you watch the interviews, please remember she is a person of a very specific time and background, and as such some of her opinions were actually very ahead of the time, whereas others will seem antiquated to a person in the modern scene with an evolved understanding of the dance and its scene.) Huge thanks to Joel and San Deigo Swing for publishing those interviews on YouTube.
Huge Thanks to Lewis Orchard for his in-depth research (and finding of her year book picture), and Tise Chao and Hilary Alexander for their help in further information.
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