Tag Archives: ballroom dancing

THE BOY’S GAWKY AND ECCENTRIC, BUT LOVE WORKS ITS MAGIC: HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

The Beloved — whom I celebrate today and all the other days and nights — told me about Hal Le Roy.  He was another gap in my swing education, but this could be remedied by multiple viewings of this Vitaphone short film, HIGH SCHOOL HOOFER.

Once seen, Le Roy is completely unforgettable, an electifying dancer.  His style is so eccentric, so vigorous yet graceful, that I find myself thinking, “How did he do that? — and that? — and that?”  Everything is in blissful motion — his long legs, his pompadour, that goofy grin.  He was 18.  Le Roy is the visual equivalent of a previously unheard Bix solo, or the 1932 Bennie Moten band in an outchorus: life-changing.  (Ron Hutchinson, the great Vitaphone scholar, tells me that Le Roy made other shorts before becoming “Harold Teen” in a film series beginning in 1934.  Unfortunately, Hal didn’t seem to be one of those “ingenues” who made an easy transition to adulthood on screen; he retired from films when he was 37 and spent the rest of his life in musical productions in dinner theatres.)

And although the acting in this film is unsubtle and the comedy is heavy-handed, I also delight in the details: the suits that the upper classmen wear, Le Roy’s business with some piece of uneaten food; the lively dance music that plays throughout.

I confess I have a crush on Eleanor(e) King, who was 27 in this “high school” film.  She isn’t a great actress at the start, as a foil to “Bill,” given that wooden comeback about “sunburn” by the script, but she  grows as the film goes on: her toughlove “Honey,” just before she urges a stuttering, uncoordinated Le Roy to go out there and wow ’em — two years before FORTY-SECOND STREET — is very convincing.  The script also makes her an effective early life coach: turn CAN’T into CAN, and separate your ego from yourself.  She has something there, and any life coach who could enable Le Roy to so utterly shed his terrors and be himself is a wow.

Watch this!

The film fulfills all our fantasies: the poor freshman who is doing menial chores in the cafeteria is nervous, obsequious, has a stammer.  But he can dazzle the crowd and win the heart of the girl who has a real loving interest in him.  Music hath charms!  Fidelity triumphs; swing is in the air.

Haughty Bill disappears, as does the ominous fellow who threatens Hal with exile (ostracism, high school style) if he fails.  It all ends with a broad joke: offstage, dizzied by love, Hal is a terrible dancer.  But his enraptured girl, Georgia May Tate, doesn’t mind at all.

My high school experiences were far less glorious, so I cherish this film as a what-might-have-been-in-another-life experience.  My more recent experiences in ballroom dancing have been, shall we say, confined, another reason HIGH SCHOOL HOOFER is a delightful dream.

And its point is clear: the love our Beloveds offer gives us the power to fly — in public — rather than confining ourselves, timid and insecure, amidst the dirty dishes.

May your Valentine’s Day — and all the others — find you triumphant, loved, and loving.  Love can make us light on our feet, not only on February 14.

May your happiness increase.

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HAPPY FEET (June 8, 2010)

I made my way to the second Tuesday-night appearance of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks (at Sofia’s in the Hotel Edison, 221 West 46th Street, from 8-11 PM Mondays and Tuesdays) and recorded this delightful vignette: HAPPY FEET.

Everyone associates this song with Paul Whiteman and Horace Henderson; on their records, it’s played at a seriously brisk tempo.  But there’s another contemporaneous version (1930, I think) that Leo Reisman and his Orchestra [with Eddy Duchin on piano!] recorded for Victor — at a groovy tempo, with a blistering growl solo by trumpeter Bubber Miley.  (I read recently on the very informative Bixography website that Miley was a favorite of Victor recording executive L.R. (“Loren”) Watson, who was so impressed by Bubber’s sound and ferocious heat that he insisted that bands — including Hoagy Carmichael’s — make room for a Miley solo on their recordings.)

Here, the Nighthawks are Alex Norris and Mike Ponella, trumpets; Jim Fryer, trombone; Dan Block, Will Anderson, and Andy Farber, reeds; Andy Stein, violin / baritone sax; Peter Yarin, piano; Vince himself on vocals, bass sax, tuba, string bass; Arnie Kinsella, drums and percussion. 

James Lake and Deirdre Towers are the elegant, energetic pair of dancers.  Give them a low-down beat and they begin dancing . . . !

Who wouldn’t be happy?