Maxie Dorf was born March 8th in 1921 and won his first Big Time dance contest in 1935. He appeared in numerous movies, including the classic "Start Cheering" and "Junior Prom" as well as most of the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland things. He was one of those talented kids who could "put on a show".
During World War II (and the Korean War), Maxie served with distinction as a combat cameraman and a lot of his footage may be seen in the Victory at Sea series.
Along with Gil Fernandez, Lolly Wise, and Hal Takier, Maxie was one of the "Big Four" California dance champions who knocked the country out with their high speed blend of Balboa and Swing (Maxie called it Bal-swing) During 1937 and 1938, the Big Four toured up and down the California coast with Whitey's Lindy Hoppers in Dance Contests that were attended by thousands.
This letter by Maxie Dorf himself is his personal account of the history of Balboa and Bal-swing dancing. It is a wonderful insight that all Bal dancers will be delighted to read. It was sourced from www.jitterbuzz.com and I have re-shared it here for posterity, redundancy, education, etc. I have also added some photos and a video compilation of Maxie that was put together by Bobby White over at www.swungover.com
It's nice to know that there is much interest in "bal-swing" and appreciate your interest. Explaining to accomplished dancers, as yourself and many others, it's much easier to write about it. So below is a capsule size version of the past.
I started in 1935/36. I was only 14. I was around when Bal started, but know from talking to the dancers at the time, it developed from the Charleston. Charleston was big at the time, from the Flapper days, but took a lot of room on the dance floor. The ballrooms were so crowded, the dancers had to shorten their steps and little by little became the Balboa. Originating at the Pavilion at Balboa Island in Southern California. So no one really invented the dance. It was a group thing.
I came on the scene when the dance was growing. It was pure bal at the time, with no breaks. The ballrooms didn't allow breaks--again too crowded. Everyone had their own space. In late 1937, the ballrooms became more lenient and allowing breaks. Bal was too boring for me so started inventing breaks, which you have seen on the tape that I sent. The Purest Bal dancers refused to change over. But the progressive dancers, such as myself moved forward and invented many dance breaks and steps that the swing dancers of today are doing, little knowing where it came from. Pure Bal was very boring to me, altho it was great fun at the time. As you know the "dance" will always progress in many ways.
Unfortunately there is only one movie that I can recall that has a little Bal-Swing. And that is "Start Cheering". Right after the tap dancer is finished, Lolly and I come downstage doing Bal Swing turns. Most of the movies at that time and into the 50's, the dancers were doing Dean Collins Lindy. That all died during the sixties and eventually became West Coast Swing. I am very happy to see the Lindy and the young kids really swing out.
Mary McCaslin and I did the original live animation for a cartoon that showed two grasshoppers doing swing. I have never been able to find a copy. Our type of dancing was called "Swing" and thru the years, kept its name for the various styles of dancing you see today.
As you probably know, I taught Sylvia and Jonathan and very pleased with what they have done the last 10 years. They are the only ones that I know of that has broken down the Balboa. Balboa was a street dance and never was taught. You had to watch the dancers and practice at home. My main purpose of teaching them was to keep the dance going. And thanks to their tapes and personal teaching throughout the world, I know now that it won't die. That is, teaching my style.
Hope the above will help and want to add that "love is in the eyes of the beholder"---meaning there are many styles of Bal that's progressed thru the years. My style is just one of them.
This photograph accompanied a newspaper article from:
Who's Who in Dancing
(Vol IV, Week of November 30, 1937, No. 24)
Swing Dance Tournament at the Paramount Theater Starting Dec 9
BY: Ted Tilson (Dancing Topics Staff Reporter)
The grand finals of the Paramount Theater/Los Angeles Evening News Swing dance contest series has been set for December 9, terminating one of the most novel dance tournaments ever staged through the united cooperation of Local and Bay City ballroom managers...
The caption to the Photo reads:
"Swing Contestants Swing IT: Seen swinging into action are Lillian Arnold and Lawrence Wise, Mary McCaslin and Maxie Dorf, and Venna Cascon and Gil Fernadez who have been prominent contestants in the current Paramount Theater/ Los Angeles evening news Swing Contest."
The most famous swing troupe in LA between 1936 and 1939 where the Ray Rand Swingers, nicknamed by the LA locals as "The Big Four" which where Maxie Dorf, Hal Takier, Lawrence "Lolly" Wise, and Gil Fernandez. These Dancers toured up and down the state of California doing exhibitions and entering contests until Ray Rand called it quits in 1939. So, you have pictures of three of the Big Four in their prime right here.
"Here is a photo of me at 4 years old when I won my first dance contest. My sister used to take me to the movies on Saturday. They would have a Charleston contest and I would regularly win the $5 prize. She would give me a dime and pocket the rest. She taught me to do the Charleston. I must have been pretty good (according to my sis and the audience)" --Maxie