Skippy Blair has been training champion dancers and teachers for over fifty years. She is the founder of the Golden State Dance Teachers Association® and co-founded the World Swing Dance Council, of which she is the Secretary and Education Coordinator. She has written seven dance text books - including Disco to Tango & Back (now a collector's item), Dance Power, and The Dance Terminology Notebook. She is the developer of the Universal Unit System® and Dance Dynamics® and has been involved in the prestigious US Open (teaching, judging, and evaluating) since the very first US Open Event.
Known as the Teacher of Teachers, Skippy (who celebrated her 81st birthday in 2005) still conducts Dance Intensives all year long. The list of certified graduates who teach Skippy's Unit System include such Swing notables as: Tom Mattox, Jordan Frisbee and Tatiana Mollmann, Wayne and Sharlot Bott, and Mary Ann Nunez - plus thousands of teachers who have graduated from the program and use the system to reinforce their own teaching and judging skills. Skippy taught dance for many years in public schools and universities all over the country. Today many of her GSDTA certified teachers have taken over those projects.
Skippy began her dance career teaching tap dancing at the age of thirteen. For twelve years, she was a choreographer and dancer on TV with the Al Jarvis "Let's Dance Show"; Bob Barker's Truth or Consequences; Barker's Varieties; and Kastles in the Air. She also appeared with Larry Kern in the movies "Queen of the Stardust Ballroom" and "Tales of the Hollywood Hills."
Harry Reese is a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War. He has been a professional bowler, a martial arts black belt, a college teacher, a carpenter, a plumber, and an executive for a Fortune 500 company. Above all, he is a dancer, a choreographer, and a teacher - the current owner and operator of Harry Reese Dance Studios in Wichita, Kansas.
Harry's dancing history began with his mother. She was a native Hawaiian, a hula instructor, dancer, and vocalist who began teaching Harry Hula at the age of three or four, with high expectations. After all, "Expectations in Hawaiian families are that you can sing and dance before you can walk."
At age sixteen, Harry saw "Jitterbuggers" dancing at a California nightclub. He tried to duplicate the dance from memory and about six months later succeeded in giving a respectable, though not necessarily accurate, Jitterbug display at a high school dance. He learned "Wow! Girls like guys who can dance!" He had a new motive for dancing, and dancing he did! For the next eighteen years he slowly drifted from Jitterbug into Lindy. Then, the moment arrived when he became hooked on West Coast Swing.
In 1978, he attended a West Coast Swing class in Tulsa, Oklahoma taught by Swing Dance H-O-F member Jerry Crim and Jody Bridges. Harry was quickly hooked and couldn't get enough. While Jerry was his part time instructor, it was really Jody who taught him much of his dance foundation. He also credits Rudy Debruin, a great dancer with Fred Astaire Dance Studios, for teaching him body mechanics and a dance frame.
The next thing Harry knew, he was involved in the Tulsa Swing Club, eventually becoming President. The list of members during that time include many of the foundation dancers of the era: Gary Long, Barry Jones, Judy Ford Lafemina, Doug Morris, Beverly Johnson, Tom Cameron, and many others who influenced dancing then and continue to impact the World of West Coast Swing today.
Harry's accomplishments reflect his enthusiasm not just for dance, but his love of West Coast Swing. He founded or assisted in founding several dance clubs and aided in the founding of several great contests. He has been and continues to be a competitor, and has been a judge at local, state, regional and national contests, including the U.S. Open and Dallas D.A.N.C.E.
It is his role as a teacher that has given Harry Reese his most lasting satisfaction. He began teaching in 1981 and has taught thousands to dance. He has taught champions, and teachers of champions, all of which he is proud. But in his words, "It is the couple that may never become great dancers, but that come to me and learn how to dance and appreciate the dance that has been my life - that gives me the greatest satisfaction."
Ed Cirio started dancing West Coast Swing in 1970 with Jesse Naputi's Good Time Swing Club in Alameda, California. He later took lessons from Bill Joslin, Sandy Chavez, and Frank Mannion. In November 1972 he joined the California Swing Club at the "Jolly Friars" in San Francisco and was elected vice-president.
When the attendance for the dance classes grew to the point that they needed help, Frank Mannion and Bill Joslin asked Ed to teach the new beginners while they taught the advanced and intermediate classes. Ed taught at the California Swing Club for four years, then resigned in 1977 and took over Bill Joslin's class at the "Garden Inn" in Hayward when Bill moved to Los Angeles.
Ed later met Phil Trau and they joined forces in February 1978 to start the Top Of Beardsleys in Burlingame, with Kenny Wetzel's blessings. (Top Of Beardsleys was a replica of Kenny's Top Of The Golden West in Norwalk, CA.) In 1980 they moved to the Peninsula Italian American Social Club in San Mateo, CA and are still there teaching every Wednesday evening. In their twenty-eight years of teaching they have taught thousands of people how to dance Swing.
Ed was part of the original Unified Swing Contest Committee of California that was organized to help standardize competition judging in 1978. In 1985 he became a part of the United States Swing Dance Council until it closed its doors, and in 2000 he joined the World Swing Dance Council when they organized to serve the Swing dance community.
Ed Cirio has been a judge, instructor, scrutinizer, and chief judge at various conventions through out the country, starting with the first U.S. Open Swing Dance Championships in Las Vegas in 1979. He worked closely for many hours with Walt Harman, a lobbyist in the Bay area who was instrumental in making West Coast Swing the official California State Dance in January 1989.
Ed is currently chief judge at the Mountain Magic convention, held in November at South Lake Tahoe. He has served on the board of The Next Generation Swing Dance Club as independent director and convention committee member for three years. He received the Humanitarian Award from the U.S. Open Swing Dance Championships in 1986 and the Spirit Of Swing Award from Michelle Kincaid's Swing Dance in 1993.
Phil Trau was born June 13, 1936 in San Francisco, California to the proud parents of Leone and Phil Trau Senior. Phil was just a baby in the cradle when his father knew he was going to be a dancer, for when music was playing, baby Phil's legs would start moving, and when the music stopped, baby Phil's legs stopped. The boy was born with rhythm.
Phil started taking tap dance lessons at the Betty Roopes Dance Studio in Marine County with his sister, Judy at the age of ten years old. They continued their dance training in San Francisco at the Mason and Kahn Dance Studio. (Mr. Kahn was the dance director for the San Francisco Ice Follies for forty years.) As their dance skills became more refined, Phil and Judy danced with Phyllis Diller, the Kingston Trio, and Johnny Mathis for several years. The brother/sister act entertained for the Sixth Army Special Services during the Korea War and were flown to many military locations. They entered a dance contest with Channel 5, KPIX, "The Eagles Hour" and won eight weeks in a row, dancing into the finals and coming in second to Johnny Mathis! They also danced several times in the Jerry Lewis Telethon in Sacramento.
Phil's first Swing experience was at the "Garden Inn" in Hayward, California. He could dance Jitterbug, so he entered the West Coast Swing contest. Coming in last gave him the incentive to start taking West Coast Swing lessons with Bill Joslin, then from Jessie Nuputi (founder of the "Good Time Swing Club"), and then from Frankie Mannion until his untimely death. Phil's first Swing dance partner was Luzon Hanson. Together they won many of the local contests in the Bay area. At that time, dancing and contests were going seven nights a week.
Phil met Ed Cirio in 1977 and was inspired by Kenny Wetzel's "Top of the West" in Southern California. With much encouragement from Kenny, Phil and Ed started teaching at a restaurant in Burlingame called "Beardsleys." The dance hall was upstairs, so they named it "Top of Beardsleys" with Kenny's blessing. Since the opening in 1978, they've thrown three very large New Years parties, held four successful conventions, and will celebrate their 28th year of teaching on April 30th, 2006!
Walt Harmon, a lobbyist in California, started taking dance lessons at "Top of Beardsleys" and became very interested in Swing. He decided that California should have a state dance and that it should be Swing, initiating West Coast Swing becoming the official California State Dance.
Phil has been the deejay, has taught, judged, danced, and served on many committees throughout the country for many years. He is still active and continues to have "Top of Beardsleys" with his partner Ed Cirio every Wednesday in San Mateo, at 100 North B Street. With his competitive nature, Phil has won many Swing dance contest and awards throughout the years - to name a few:
Annie Hirsch is blessed with a family that loves music and dance, and dancing is always a part of her family gatherings. When her older brother, Danny taught her how to dance Swing, she knew she had found her passion! Yet, her early dance experience was very frustrating, for she couldn't find others dancing the tight style of Swing she had learned from her brother. Discouraged, she became busy with a full time business and raising her two sons, of which she is very proud.
In the early 60's she moved to Southern California and her friend, Patti Demaio took her to "The Water Wheel" in Covina where she, once again, saw the Swing dancing she loved. She recalls looking up and saying to herself "There is a God!" Years later, when some of the Swing dancers started fading out, Annie was very thankful for Kenny Wetzel's ability to "keep us die-hards together" with his ongoing dances and she was always nearby, "Swinging" to Kenny's music.
Anxious for the Swing World to grow, Annie volunteered her time to dance clubs and promoters across the country, helping them organize their dance events. In 1993, she co-founded the World Swing Dance Council with Skippy Blair, shortly after the "United States Swing Dance Council" closed its doors. Feeling a strong need for dancers to compete in their appropriate "level", she developed the points tracking system and several competition guidelines that are still in use today. After retiring from her Chief Judge position that she's held for many years, Annie is now the Contestants' Liaison.
Annie Hirsch and her love, Jack Carey have dedicated their hearts and much of their lives to keeping the art of Swing dancing alive. They've supported the Jack and Annie Scholarship fund since Kelly Buckwalter started it in 1998. For more information, visit the Jack & Annie Scholarship Fund website that Jack Smith has volunteered his time and money to create. "Thank you, Jack Smith!"
Emcee, Steve Zener said it best in his introduction of Annie at Capital in 2006: "She created the World Swing Dance Council to serve the growing Swing dance community all over the world. She wouldn't want me to mention how long she's been in this dance world, because she's forever young. She wouldn't want or expect any special treatment, and yet - she's earned the highest degree of respect that anyone could achieve in the dance world. She's dedicated her efforts to all dancers - and focuses on promoting dance to the younger generations and supporting their efforts to excel and keep Swing dancing alive for future generations. Within every community, there are those with big hearts, who give endlessly and unselfishly of their talents and time to make the world a better place - and so it is with this gracious first lady of our Swing dance family. Mere words will always fall short of my true feelings of respect and admiration for this very special lady, Annie Hirsch."
Bob Budzynski is a man whose infectious love of dance is always evident and his energy has been a driving force in the Swing Dance World. He and his wife, Beverly have promoted Swing and other dances in their Grand Blanc, Michigan area for many years, and they are in large part responsible for the popularity of Swing in the Michigan area. Bob is a D.J., a competitor, an instructor, and a private promoter. He and Beverly founded the "Michigan Society for Swing and Hustle Dancers Club" (that is still going strong) shortly after founding the prestigious "Michigan Dance Classic." In total, they've hosted twenty-eight dance events.
Growing up in his family, if you didn't dance Polka by age seven, you were considered "retarded." You can see by this statement that his family was musical. He learned to play the Accordion and by the time he was sixteen he had his own band. Dancing was a sideline but what a sideline. Just like today, girls loved guys who could dance. Knowing this, he worked on his dancing in high school and was voted the schools best male dancer.
During his first college years, he worked at "General Motors Overseas Operations" in the transportation department, but hated his job. Much to his father's chagrin, he left GM to work at Fred Astaire's Dance Studio. During his junior year, he transferred to a university in Houston, Texas to work at the largest Fred Astaire Studio in the U.S. Graduating with a degree in music, Bob opened his own music store that he owned for almost seventeen years. He taught Accordion and social dancing throughout those years. Then, in his thirties and forties he continued teaching East Coast and Ballroom dancing while holding other professions.
After meeting Beverly, he started attending dance competitions and becoming more involved in dancing. He accidentally discovered West Coast Swing when they attended Robert Bryant's United States Swing Dance Championships. Robert convinced him to start a Michigan event, which became the "Michigan Dance Classic". This event has been held continuously for fifteen years, with Bob and Beverly in charge as directors for the first twelve. When he started the event, Bob did not consider himself a good West Coast Swing dancer. So, he studied with Mario Rabau Jr., Robert Bryant, and Skippy Blair, (among others) traveling across the United States, determined to learn the dance correctly.
Three years after the Michigan Dance Classic was in full swing, Bob and Beverly started the "Mid-United States Jack & Jill Championships" (that they've retired from) and the "Petoskey Party" that is still being held in Northern Michigan. Over the years they have also competed across the country in Masters Divisions, Jack & Jill's, etc. As a result of their efforts and competition results, they received two "Feather Awards," presented in 1996 and 1997. Bob has won five first place awards in major Jack & Jill Championships, in addition to the accomplishments listed below - many Bob and Beverly accomplished together.
Robert "Tom" Mattox will long be remembered in the Swing community as a great teacher who loved to party. He introduced thousands of dancers to West Coast Swing during the 25 years he taught dance in Southern California. Many Swing dancers took their first class with him and a number of them later became champion dancers.
Tom started dancing at age twenty and soon became one of the most sought after young teachers in Southern California. He was one of Skippy Blair's protégés. She once said, "Tom always stood out from the rest of my students because his sandaled feet were always in perfect foot position." He was a "quick study" and soon became one of the few teachers (at that time) authorized and credentialed to teach Teacher Training seminars.
In his early dance years he paid his rent by competing in dance contests two to three times a night. Tom's biggest win was $10,000 in an open statewide dance contest in the late 1970's. Tom danced on T.V. in "Le Disco", two of Dick Clark's American Bandstand midnight specials, and was amazed at the fan mail he received from being on those shows.
Tom opened Sundance Studios in 1977 that, at its height, had 27 of the top local teachers and supplied most of the child dancers for the Merv Griffin Show. In 1984 he sold the studio and moved his classes into several nightclubs and the campus of Cerritos College. He then formed the Sundance Dance Club, a social dance club known for their "destination unknown" parties, where Tom would load 40-50 people into a bus and take them to a location known only by himself and the driver. You knew when Tom Mattox was in the room, for he was the ultimate "party animal." Dancers who attended his events, cruises, and parties enjoyed his quick wit and antics. His Labor Day Swing Festival was always a hit.
In 1986 he held the first Country dance event in Southern California. The rules he wrote for that contest formed the Western States rules that were then used as the foundation of the contest rules that created the United Country Western Dance Council. Tom also played a significant part in introducing West Coast Swing to the Country Western Dance Community. Tom's Sundance Dance Club was instrumental in producing the Buena Park and Palm Springs dance festivals that were sanctioned UCWDC events back in the 90's.
In 1991 Tom met his sole mate, Julie Weiskircher, whom he later married. He passed away in December of 2002.
Norma Miller was first discovered as a gifted young Lindy Hopper by Herbert "Whitey" White when she was just 14 years old. Since she was too young to go into the Savoy Ballroom, she often danced outside on the sidewalk where the music could be heard quite well. The first time Whitey saw her, she appeared out of nowhere on the dance floor and won a Savoy dance contest with Twistmouth George as her partner.
Not long after that, Whitey was watching some of his dancers in a contest at the Apollo and once again saw young Norma defeat his dancers. The next day Whitey appeared at Norma's home and told her he would prefer her to dance with him rather than against him. He invited her to join Whitey's Lindy Hoppers. Apparently he had ways of averting the authorities that enforced the laws about minors.
Norma Miller was the youngest of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers when she joined the group. She was from the start a very creative dancer with her own often-comic style and she possessed an outstanding sense of rhythm. A vivacious and outspoken person, she was and still is always the life of every party.
Norma has been in show business ever since those sidewalk days. After Whitey's Lindy Hoppers disbanded in the early forties, she formed her own company in California, Norma Miller's Dance Company and had her own show at the legendary "Club Alabam" in the Watts section of L.A. In the early fifties she, Billy Ricker and drummer Michael Silvers worked as the Del Rio Trio, until the night Sammy Davis Jr. saw the group and promptly hired away Mike Silvers to be his drummer. In the later fifties she formed Norma Millers Jazz Men, which included fellow Lindy Hopper Billy Ricker, Frankie Manning's son (the tap dancer Chazz Young), Billy Dotson, Stoney Montenez and Raymond (?).
As a comedienne, Norma worked in Las Vegas with Redd Foxx for over 10 years, including appearances in his TV show, "Sanford and Son" where she is remembered as the airline stewardess who offered "Coffee, tea or ME?" In the seventies she formed another Lindy Hop and Jazz performance group, the "Savoy Swingers". In addition to many standard entertainment venues, this group did a series of performances in the New York City public school system, introducing African-American dance history to the new generation.
A lifelong close friend of Frankie Manning, Norma danced with him in Spike Lee's feature film, "Malcolm X", and in Debbie Allen's TV Film "Stomping at the Savoy", which she choreographed with Frankie as her assistant. Today, Norma continues to work as a comedienne and choreographer in Las Vegas. Now we can all enjoy Norma's telling of her life story with the publication of her book 'Swingin' at the Savoy by Temple University Press.
(Reprinted with permission from Judy Pritchett)