Dean Collins and Jewel McGowanWhen I started Lindy Hop in Los Angeles back in 1998, the excitement and thrill of learning this new dance was like an addictive new drug. I was thrown terms such as Savoy style and Hollywood style. Then I was introduced to my first vintage clips. I noticed there was a difference between what people were doing now, and what people did then. I developed a new obsession to learn how the original Lindy Hoppers danced. I was greatly influenced by Frankie Manning, Lenny Smith and Al Minns. But my first love was the amazing duo, Dean Collins and Jewel McGowan.

Dean Collins was a dancer in New Jersey and New York before he migrated to Los Angeles. He frequented the famous ballrooms of New York City, as well as spending a little time in New Orleans. Dean arrived in California around 1936-1937. At that time Lindy Hop did exist in Southern California, but only in a remedial form. After winning a contest, Dean was able to help popularize the dance. In the late 30’s, he met a “Swing” dancer named Jewel McGowan. [“Swing” dancing in Southern California at that time was a broader category from which Bal-Swing stems from. It did include moves such as Lolly kicks (named decades later) and basic turns.] Jewel was your average Swing dancer until she paired up with Dean. Their pairing made them royalty on the dance floor. They appeared in dozens of Hollywood films and shorts.

Misconceptions

There are many misconceptions about Dean and Jewel. The first of them is the idea that how they danced in the movies is the only way they danced. When watching the old clips, context is extremely important. In the 80’s and 90’s, Lindy Hoppers made the mistake of dancing like Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers in Hellzapoppin’ to every tempo. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, dancers made the mistake of attempting to dance like Dean and Jewel from “Buck Privates” to every song. Films and movies are performances. Dancers bring their best and flashiest when performing. Imagine dancing every dance like you do in a jam circle. Not only would that be exhausting, but would also be a very limited view of ones dancing. As an example, take the movie Dance Hall (1941). The first part of the dance sequence they are showing off to fast music. In the second part of the sequence, at (:38) and (1:56), they are merely background dancers and you can see them dancing upright in more of a social dance setting.

Another example is the 1945 film Let’s Go Steady.

Another misconception is that Dean was responsible for West Coast Swing. This is not true and, in fact, Dean was not entirely a fan of WCS.

Lastly, Dean and Jewel are often associated with Hollywood Style. Hollywood Style is Erik Robison and Sylvia Skylar’s style and interpretation of the Southern California dancers in the 1940’s. Dean and Jewel were not their main influences. Instead, dancers such as Don Gallagher, Jean Veloz, Lenny and Kay Smith, Irene Thomas, Arthur Walsh, etc. were the main contributors. Dean and Jewel’s style is different than Hollywood Style. For more information about this, check out my good friend Bobby White’s blog at swungover.wordpress.com

Jewel Swivels

There are very few things I love more in this world than Jewel’s swivels. It’s a thing of beauty. Many of today’s top dancers have had their inspiration come from Jewel. In fact, if you’re a follower reading this, your swivels have probably been indirectly, if not directly, come from her. I contend that it is these swivels that give Dean and Jewel a large part of their unique quality. A lot of attention has been given to Dean over the years (deservedly so), but not nearly enough attention has been given to Jewel, who I believe to be the key element to the dynamic.

Side story: One of my favorite stories that I heard Frankie Manning tell was the invention of swivels, or as he called them “twists”. I can’t remember the names of the dancers that invented them right offhand, but they were shown to Frankie, and before you know it, every follow at the Savoy was doing their swingouts with twists. What started out as a mere styling became a large aspect to the life of a follow.

Nobody is quite sure how much Jewel learned from Dean, and how much she created on her own. There is a theory that it’s Jewel’s “Swing” background that gave her the swivel dynamic we all know and love today. This theory was first presented to me by David Rehm. It makes perfect sense. The same twisting technique used for Lolly Kicks is the same that Jewel uses for her swivels. This extra rotational aspect gave Dean and Jewel’s dancing a new dynamic that had not yet been fully explored in Lindy Hop. This Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra (1942) short shows a few examples of Jewel’s Swing background. Particularly at (3:12) and (3:41).

The most famous sequence of Dean and Jewel is from the 1941 Abbott and Costello film Buck Privates. It’s the best example of her swivels.

http://youtu.be/bui680E50pc

Next is Rings On Her Fingers (1942). This is my second favorite dance sequence of Jewel. The camera was situated very low to the floor for many shots, which made Dean dance even lower than normal…which also meant that Jewel had more leverage to work with. Plus there are many close-ups of her footwork. She is the one with the saddle shoes. This is also my favorite helicopter aerial on film other than Ride ‘Em Cowboy.

http://youtu.be/lXfXqz6rNgg

Another wonderful aspect of Jewel was how smooth, elegant, and finessed she was. She complimented Dean, who had a more pronounced bounce. Together they created a great balance. Watch Buck Privates again and look at how much Dean’s feet move. Quite a bit of skipping, kicking, raised knees, and triple steps during switches. What made him still smooth was the fact that his head did not bounce up and down. It stayed fairly level.

As an extra treat, I edited together all my favorite clips of Jewel. Enjoy.

Dean’s Origins

People often single out Dean Collins as having a completely different style than those in Harlem. I don’t believe he did at all. Yes, he was a unique dancer, but then again all the greats were unique by having their own style. It’s part of what made them great. Frankie Manning, Al Minns, George Lloyd…all different from each other, but all Lindy Hop. Is George Lloyd not a Lindy Hopper because he was smooth and loved to slide? It’s a rhetorical question, no need to answer. Dean was a dancer from New Jersey and New York. You can see similar influences of Dean’s style all throughout the Harlem dancers. To discount Dean as a Lindy Hopper because he was unique, moved to Los Angeles, or because he was white is a ridiculous notion.

Years ago somebody made a side by side video of the swingouts of Dean Collins in Buck Privates and Frankie Manning in Hellzapoppin’, both from 1941. They were slowed down and matched in timing. Keep in mind that Buck Privates is 185 beats per minute and Hellzapoppin’ is around 313. The similarities are astounding, even with the extreme BPM difference. I decided to recreate this experiment. It shows a few different views. I want you to watch for several things: When and how much they travel, their foot placement on counts 5 and 6, how much they skip/bounce, and how much they use their bodies to lead.

Food for thought: What if you switched follows? What if Dean danced with Ann Johnson and Frankie danced with Jewel? (Cue dream sequence…)

Also I’d like you to keep in mind that Dean sent the follower out forward, sideways and backwards in swingouts. Much like what teachers teach in classes today.

Dean’s Dancing

One of the worst misconceptions that was prominent when people tried to recreate Dean and Jewel 13 years ago was the overuse of arm leads. The followers were like bulldozers and the leads tossed the followers like rag dolls. Yes, Dean was a strong lead, but his use of momentum and body leading was amazing: efficient, logical, dynamic, and fluid. In fact, all my ideas about continuous momentum originally came from Dean. (Then I noticed all the other great Lindy Hoppers did the same thing.) The short Jazzy Joe (1941) is a good example of this.

Dean and Jewel’s style has been sometimes referred to as smooth style. This is due to the fact that you don’t see their heads and upper bodies bouncing much combined with the continuous flow. It’s not a lack of pulse/bounce, but instead it’s the control of it. The drawback to learning this type of movement is that it’s difficult to master and there are many subtleties. Many people settle with the lowest common denominator, which is why I think this kind of style has never been in the majority.

I’m a big fan of finding your own voice/style in dance, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn a lot from the original pioneers. I believe the lessons that can be learned from Dean Collins and Jewel McGowan would greatly benefit the Lindy Hop scene of today. It can add elements that the majority of the scene lacks today. I’ll let you be the judge.

As an added bonus, I’ve included a clip of Dean and Jewel that you may never have seen.  Hi, Neighbor (1942)

See you on the dance floor!