R.I.P — Izzy (Hignett) Bishop (1922-2020)

Izzy.jpgIzzy Hignett, one of the last living original Balboa dancers, passed away on Valentine’s Day.

She was born July 31, 1922 and grew up in Compton in Southern California. She first learned to dance when she was 13, learning a box step by stepping on the corners of a newspaper. By 1936 she and a good friend would hop on the “Red Line” and travel down to “The Pike” on Long Beach, where they would split — her friend would go to the “slower” music spot Cinderella Ballroom where they did Fox Trot, and Izzy would go to dance at The Majestic Ballroom, known for its fast music and “Bal” — the dance we now call “Pure Balboa.” 

In the the height of the swing era, she was a young teenager who went to the Easter-and-Spring-Break Bal-Week event (with a chaperone), missed going to see her favorite, Benny Goodman, on Catalina because of a cautious father, and partnered with one of the So-Cal swing dance legends, Bob Ashley before deciding a life as a movie dancer wasn’t for her.

In 1952 she married a fellow Southern Californian and fellow (Pure) Balboa dancer Jim Hignett, and dancing was very important to them. She felt there were two kinds of (Pure) Balboa, and described themselves as “steppers,” not “sliders.” Izzy and Jim were part of the only Pure Balboa contest that I know of to have existed before the modern swing era. (It was put on by an early West Coast Swing event decades after the swing era, and all Balboa couples involved were apparently angry that the winning couple was actually doing Jig Trot — a pulsing, kicky dance similar to Balboa.)     

Izzy and Jim were married for 40 years before his death. Here is footage of their Pure Balboa and a partnership decades in the making. (Not seeing anything fancy? Pure Balboa is more often a meditative dance about the feeling of partnership, rhythm and swing rather than doing a lot of different movements.)

I was fortunate to interview Izzy on two occasions for the Pacific Swing Dance Foundation and with the assistance of fellow Balboa historian Lewis Orchard. Izzy was open and giving with her time and enjoyed greatly reliving memories from her earlier days. Because of her openness we now have rare recordings of one of the original Pure Balboa dancers discussing their life in dancing. Her memories helped paint a more accurate view of the world of Southern California swing dancing and we were very grateful she was willing to spend time with us. We very much enjoyed her lively, funny, and straight-talking personality.

Want to know more about the history of Southern California swing dances, or are confused by the terminology? Check out these history posts:

Swing History 101: SoCal Swings (Part 1) 

Swing History 101: Lindy Comes to SoCal (Part 2)



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