Interview transcripts

Balboa History Part 1

Roy Damron  “This thing called swing dancing came along, actually because of the big bands and most of us are familiar with ‘em now but in the mid-30’s most of the bands came from Chicago and New York, the Benny Goodman, the Jimmy Lunceford, all of the great bands started touring all over the country. So every time they come to Southern California – I was 16 years old at the time and we’d all go out to these places and dance. And then it caught on all over town and so every little town in Southern California began having dances and they actually used the arrangements of the big bands like Benny Goodman and the like and they were high school players but they were pretty good. So we got to where we had a different dance in Southern California every night of the week. And we’d all go there and dance and on the next night, on the other side of town we’d all get together there, so it was just the thing that we did for . . . oh 2 or 3 years – we went dancing every night.”

Bart Bartolo  “Jeanie? What do you think Swing means to you?”

Jean Veloz  “I think it’s the music to me. When the music is inspiring, I’m inspired – I do things that I don’t even know I’m doing or could do. To me the music has always been the main priority, I love the music.”

Bart Bartolo  “Well, I’d say the same thing. The big thing I notice the difference is the difference between what we call ‘The Benny Goodman, the Charlie Barnett, the Jimmie Lunceford swing’ – there was a definite phrasing of all the music: all of a sudden they’d go off on a solo or the saxes would come in or the trombones or the trumpets and they’d all come in together.  And it was phrased out so everyone had their own part in it but they all played together.  And it’s unlike the jazz they play now, that half the time when you listen for 3 or 4 minutes, you can’t even whistle the melody ‘cause they all go off on toots on some kind of solo playing ‘every note they know’ – and you don’t have that beautiful ‘bounce in’ where you wanna get up and can’t sit on the chair anymore – that’s what swing means to me: when I can’t sit down, I gotta get up even if I have a broken leg – I may need a crutch but I will get up and dance.”

Jean Veloz  “Yes . . .  that the beat, the sound was so definite, so . . . exciting that you had to dance to it.”

Roy Damron  “We did things that were similar to the shag now but it wasn’t even the shag yet.  A lot of kicking out to the side and spinning the girl around and open steps, naturally.  But we didn’t have the basic lindy yet . . . that came out most likely with Dean Collins or about that time.”

Hal Takier  “We didn’t call it Swing, we didn’t call it Lindy, we just called it, I guess Fox Trot.  As time went on, we went to different dances and someone would begin to do variations of the Fox Trot that we were doing and one thing led to another and before yer know it, they were throwing the girl out in front of ‘em and bringing her back, going around, throwing her out, bringing her back: and that’s how it got started. The youngsters liked the up-tempo music and . . . it was a challenge . . . for all of us to keep in time with the music.”

Roy Damron  “It was a place, south of LA along the coastline called Balboa, it’s a town, it’s a little resort town. The Rendezvous, the ballroom there, a nice big place.  And er so the swing dancers started going to the Rendezvous.  Well the kids that’d been going there were a little older and very well dressed er jewellery, really the smart set was going there – that’s when the thing called the Balboa came along. Because people started doing this call it a ‘jig-step’ at the time – real fast music and dancing close together but real intricate things and that has still remained very popular.”

Willie Desatoff  “Actually I started dancing when I was 12 years old and what we did was called the box step – there’s a similarity in the box step and the balboa because, again, they’re both 8 count dances.  And I took my first dance steps when I was in junior high school, ready to graduate into high school.  After I’d danced for a year, something like that, just prior to graduating from high school – I spotted at the Montebello Ball Room some people who were doing a dance that all of a sudden I took a shine to, I really loved it and I walked up and asked this one dancer what it was that he was doing and he said ‘We’re doing the balboa’.  And I said ‘Well where does that dance come from?’ and he said Long Beach in Orange County and then from then on I go to know these people who were dancing and they told me about ‘the barn’ where the, where the balboa was actually king.  And also the Rendezvous Ballroom in the town of Balboa.”

John Mills  “Balboa wasn’t really the thing I was crazy about but when I married Ann, she’s such a ‘whiz-bang’ at it that I really started learning and doing Balboa – we was married ’46 so about 1947.”

Ann Mills  “I started doing bal when I was 10 years old with my brother, got into it seriously in about 1934, ’35 and ’36.  When we were in high school it was the dance that everybody did.  We did an unusual version of swing but the most popular was bal – everybody in high school did it.”

John Mills  “My run-in with bal, really first I ever saw before really I was hung on it, was at Balboa the actual island.  There was so many kids there, about 200 kids on the floor and you had about . . . maybe . . . ‘8 inches’ to dance in and that’s where bal became really famous they could dance in a very little, tiny bit of space.”

Bart Bartolo  “And you weren’t allowed to ‘open break’ – you couldn’t do the Lindy – you had to stay closed position all the time.  So they did just the basic bal, you couldn’t even do the ‘kick-kick-spin’, they’d say ‘Off the floor’.”

Roy Damron  “We started coming in doing this ridiculous ‘throwing the girl up, sliding around, swing dancing, bumping into them and they resented that and they went to the managers and like said ‘Look, these kids are drivin’ us crazy, what are yer gonna do about it? We’re gonna leave if they stay.’ And so the word went out that no longer could you open up, you could never break, you always had to be in ‘this pose’ with your partner.  You could do all kinds of little quick steps and turnin’ around and all that sort of thing but never open steps.”

Bart Bartolo “Cause they don’t want you to knock somebody else down and a lot of those people were ballroom dancers, you know.”

Willie Desatoff  “The Balboa’s a very, very smooth way of dancing and its first cousin swing dancing in Los Angeles was more energetic and er actually, a lot more difficult to do.  Now . . . I can’t tell you which ‘worked off the other’.  I would say that they were about the same time, the same time they were dancing in Los Angeles, they were dancing in Orange County naturally and the temperament in Orange County was a lot different . . . and so the dance that they did, they named it after the town of Balboa, was a very small basic step.  What I mean is that it took up very little area and they developed certain ad-lib steps that work out real good with your arm around your partner at all times – er very small breaks in there.  And then Los Angeles which again I can’t tell you which dance worked off the other but in Los Angeles they took a more exuberant attitude towards this particular dance and they came up with splits and with spins and cross-overs and a lot of very complicated steps.”

Bart Bartolo  “The original balboa, there’s no breaking: there was a basic balboa – that’s where you had to stay together all the time.  And then people like Lolly Wise and Maxi Dorf started putting the turns, twists, spins and that was called swing . . . and that was in the late ‘30s er about ’39, ’40 and then that became popular.”

Roy Damron  “Connie Weidel, in the meantime he came from Chicago and he brought the Chicago style of Shag where the guy lifts his arm up real high and the gal lifts her hand up and then they assume this funny little pose.  The Paramount theatre downtown, they had a big Jitterbug contest because that’s what the public wanted to see.  They’d show a movie and then they had the regular show where they had jugglers and dog acts and everything else and then swing dancing and Tommy Dorsey was the big band and we came out and sat at little tables in front of the band like we were in a little night club perhaps.  We sat there and he played one or two numbers, of course his theme song and then we’d get up and dance –  all dance and then we’d dance one at a time, that sort of thing.  Well nobody knew Connie Weidel or who he was or whatever, he’d only been there a few days and he was able to get into this thing.  So we were all doing the Lindy at that time and some lifts and throws and all that sort of thing and all of a sudden he came out and started doing this Shag, which is kicking to the side and they were wearing saddle shoes and bobby sox and t-shirts – nothing like what we were used to even seeing.  And of course the arm was straight up in the air and they’re kicking to the sides doing the Shag and in and out and around and fast, fast, fast and it really knocked people dead and that’s when the Shag came in, it was very popular.  But it didn’t remain as much as the Lindy or what should we call it? Swing dancing, swing dancing.”

Ann Mills  “We’ve never done Shag, just our version of a ‘double-bal’

Under Construction to here 10.20 in

Bart Bartolo  “Well, the thing I noticed was that the dancers in the day, they were like singers. You could take 5 different singers, have ‘em sing the same song, they all had a different style. You could take and put a screen from the waste up on all the different dancers from the era that I grew up in and I could describe or just name the dancer from just watching from the waste down because the styles were unique. They were all the same basic patterns but their styles were different. Just like a singer will sing a song: Billy Eckstein sang it different than Bing Crosby would sing a song. That was the major difference but they were the same words, the same steps.”

Willie Desatoff  “Phrasing with the feet. Singers do that all the time: they phrase with their voices, with the lyrics with the melody, they phrase. Well . . . this is what you have to do with your feet. If you’re gonna have a style, then you’re gonna be different than anybody else. People think learning a bunch o’ steps makes you a better dancer. I’m not a teacher who teaches steps – dance steps – that you can teach to Gorillas and when you’re through, you still have a Gorilla. You see? I say listen it’s a style, it’s not what you do, it’s the how you do it, that’s what really counts.”

Anne Mills  “Well Bal, in itself is a 4 count movement . . . repetitious, back and forth. Mostly, done properly, it’s a back and forth motion, not a sideways motion. I started doing Bal at such a young age so I could adapt to almost anybody’s style of doing Bal and there are many, many styles – I’d say the variance is about 20. Balboa has a feel to it and if you don’t catch the feel, you’ll never do it right. There’s a feeling in your feet, in your back, in your arms. We started doing Bal with a lot of bounce to it and then we smoothed it out. Through the years, we smoothed it out so . . . even though there is a bounce and even though I do a lot of kicking when I do Bal, it’s still ‘on the floor’. There was a lot more intricate action with the feet and the lower legs from the knees down with the kind of Bal we did. If a man gives you a chance, when we girls did Balboa, we always ‘kicked up’ behind ourselves. A lot of kicking behind and a lot of cross-kicking in back – that made it more interesting and it wasn’t so dull to watch. And of course you did things with your feet, the feet were pretty. The body action followed from the knees, and the ankles and the feet”

Balboa History Part 2 Dancers & Places

Willie Desatoff  “I’m a resident of Los Angeles, California where I was born and raised, where I learned to dance and I’ve been dancin’ over 60 years now. I learned the balboa, got into some competitions with it and I also danced the Los Angeles style and got into a heck of a lot of competitions and exhibitions and everything. I was busy dancing, at the same time I start teaching. That was about 1939, I start teaching the balboa”

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