My Magic World of Music & Dance
By: H. Leon Raper
Come with me into my magic world
Where, if only for a fleeting moment,
Where friends and lovers
Where time seems to stand still,
Where the rest of the world does not exist
Let me show you the world in which I live.
Please, take my hand,
I was born and raised in Phoenix Arizona, but moved to California in 1956 where I lived for over 31 years. My interest in dancing started in 1967. After which I danced in over 400 swing dance contests (including the 1973 World Championships). I have also taught dancing for many years and have been one of the dance instructors for the Greater Phoenix Swing Dance Club and several other dance clubs.
Dance Club Founder
I was the founder and past president of three different swing dance clubs: "Jitterbug Club of America" in Orange County California (1974); "Flagstaff Swing Dance Club" in Flagstaff, AZ (1993 - still going); and the "Verde Valley Swing Dance Club" in Camp Verde, AZ (2000).
November 2010 Golden Star Winner of California Swing Dance Hall of Fame. Founder and current president of the Swing Dance Research & Historic Assn (SDRHA); a member of the World Swing Dance Council; a charter member of the Los Angeles Swing Dance Club; a member of the Greater Phoenix Swing Dance Club, and a past member of the California Swing Dance Club, Competition Swing Dancers Association in Los Angeles, CA; National Teachers Assn., United Country Western Dance Council, and Country Western Line Dance Association, ASCAP and BMI.
As an author, I have published two online books: "Who's Who in Swing Dance" and "Raper's Dance Dictionary". My other writings include the "Jitterbug Newsletter", the book "Competition Swing Dancing" and many articles on dance which have been published in all the major dance publications. As a dance instructor, I have specialized in swing dance and other dances for many years and have written and published lesson plans for many dances including west coast swing, lindy hop, retro swing, rhythm 2-step and waltz which can be found on the Internet at Raper's Dance Teachers Corner. I am also webmaster of Raper's Dance Corner, Raper's Ballroom Dance Corner, Raper's Swing Dance Corner, Raper's Balboa Dance Corner, Raper's Lindy Hop Dance Corner, Raper's Shag Dance Corner, and many other sites on the Internet some of which can be found through Raper.com.
1960's - Getting Started
Early in 1967 I saw an advertisement from a dance studio in Anaheim California. They had an introductory offer of five lessons for $25 and the dance instructor was beautiful. Like so many newcomers to dance, I was convinced I could learn all there was to know about social dance in the five lessons. After about the third lesson, I was beginning to realized that learning dance was a little more challenging than I thought. When they tried to get me to sign a $2,000 contract for dance lessons I quit the studio, but I didn't quit dance. I was hooked.
I then joined a ballroom dance class at Dale's Dance Studio in Whittier California. It was there I spent two nights per week, 2 hours per night, for over 1-1/2 years learning most of the ballroom dances which included West Coast Swing. I also went out dancing many nights per week trying to perfect my skills as a dancer.
My arts background, being a musician for many years, gave me the desire to become a good dancer. However, my engineering and computers background made me want to really understand the mechanics of movement and be able to write dance. During this time period I was also going ballroom dancing at the Golden West Ballroom in Downey, CA. That is where I was lucky enough to meet Skippy Blair. I started attending her lessons and workshops and found that her Universal Units System was exactly what I had been looking for. Working with Skippy and learning her Universal Units System provided me with excellent techniques for writing dance and helped me develop a real understanding of the mechanics movement. From this I became a real dance techno-junkie allowing me to rapidly expand my knowledge and abilities with advanced forms of dance. I also studied with many other highly recognized dancers in the business including Dean Collins, Jack & Teddy Pina, Willie Desatoff, Kenny Wetzel and many others. In addition I attended many dance workshops with top instructors.
In 1968, one evening after the dance class was over at Dale's Dance Studio, Dale took the dance class to see a swing dance contest at Stan's Night Club in Downey California. It was the most exciting thing I ever saw. The World Swing Dance Champions (Pat & Darleene) happened to be dancing that night along with some of the best swing dancers in California. While the World Champs were dancing, Pat put Darleene into a triple shoulder spin like a propeller spinning three times around his shoulder. I was so impressed by everyone's dancing that I decided that is what I wanted to do with my life. So, I began entering contests and spent several years and danced over 400 contests against the same people. It took me two years of hard work to develop that triple shoulder spin, but I finally perfected it - including a great deal of other competition dancing material.
In 1968 I joined the California Swing Dance Club that met at Stan's Night Club in Downey, CA.
In 1969 I became a founding charter member (#17) of the Los Angeles Swing Dance Club. I also became very active in the development of the club's bylaws. I am still a charter member of the LASDC today.
1970's - 1980's
May 1971, I started writing and publishing the "Jitterbug Newsletter" with the intent that it would be a central point of communications for the swing dance community throughout the U.S. It was printed and mailed free to anyone in the U.S. that wanted it -- at my own expense. The mailing list was to over 500 swing dancers. The final issue was published in May of 1975.
July 7, 1973 my partner and I danced in the World Championship Swing Dance Contest at the Palladium in Hollywood, CA. We didn't win, but it was great dancing to Les Brown's Band in front of over 2,000 people.
January 1974, I wrote the book "Professional Competition Dancing." At that time, as far as I know, it was the only book ever written on judging and scoring techniques for competition dancing.
Mid 1974, I founded the "Jitterbug Club of America" which held its dances in the Off Broadway West at the Grand Hotel in Anaheim, CA and later at Alias Smith & Jones in Santa Ana, CA. My out of pocket cost was over $5,000 to keep the club going.
1974-1985, I just went dancing for the enjoyment of it and honed my dance techno-junkie skills by studying advanced forms of dance and teaching private lessons. I was also a judge for many dance competitions.
1985, I moved to Flagstaff Arizona and started teaching dance classes -- sometimes three classes per week and mostly west coast swing. Since then I have also taught classes Sedona, Cottonwood, Camp Verde, Beaver Creek and Phoenix Arizona for the Greater Phoenix Swing Dance Club.
Early 1993 was the start of my Internet listing of all the swing dance clubs throughout the world. I still update the site on a regular basis. The web site also now contains links to a great deal of other dance information. This was in the early days of the Internet, with primitive browsers and editors. All the code had to be written in HTML by hand.
October 1993, I founded the Flagstaff Swing Dance Club, Inc. in Flagstaff, AZ and served as president and dance instructor until October 1995 after which I turned it over to a new board of directors. The club still meets on a weekly basis.
Early 1994, I founded the Swing Dance Research and Historical Association (SDRHA). The association goal is to gather information pertaining to the history of Swing Dance. The results of the association research are published on the Internet.
1995, I published my book Who's Who in Swing Dance on the Internet. The book gives long overdue recognition to those who have contributed the most to the art, science and betterment of Swing Dance. The book covers the period from the late 1920s (when the Charleston was making its transition to the Lindy Hop) to the present. Today there are several web sites containing this type of information, but mine was first on the Internet.
1998, I published my book Raper's Dance Dictionary on the Internet. The book includes the definition of many terms used for social dancing. It also indicates if there are different interpretations for some terms and what each interpretation is. It goes much further than a normal dictionary. It is really an encyclopedia of social dance.
2000 to Current
January 2000, I founded the Verde Valley Swing Dance Club in Camp Verde, AZ. However, there wasn't enough support so the club folded.
Early 2005 I started taking lessons in International Standard and American Smooth Ballroom Dancing.
Early 2007 I studied International Standard with John Berry -- one of the most knowledgeable dance coaches that I have ever met. I also studied for many years with the great National dance instructor Jenell Maranto.
September 2008 California Swing Dance Hall of Fame, Golden Star Nomination.
September 2010 California Swing Dance Hall of Fame, Golden Star Award.
September 2015 World Swing Dance Hall of Fame, Special Recognition Award
Enjoy the Journey
Over my many years as a dance instructor, I have taught West Coast Swing, Lindy Hop, East Coast Swing, Hustle, Flying Lindy, St. Louis Shag, Balboa, and advanced competition material such as aerials, lifts and drops. I have taught ballrooms full of people how to safely execute aerials. I have also taught Country/Western (2-Step, Half-Time, Pony, Chocolate City, Line Dances, Shuffles, etc.), Waltz and Latin (Salsa, Cha Cha, Rumba, Mambo, Samba, Tango).
I feel the desire to dance is a highly contagious disease for which I hope they never find a cure. The more you dance the worse the disease gets and the more it spreads to others. I think dancing is the best physical and mental therapy known to man. It helps bring new relationships together or helps restore relationships that have fallen into difficulty. It helps build one's self confidence, shows people how to meet new people and build that bond of friendship with others that is a necessary component of a happy life.
A good friend of mine Jack Carey once made a very profound statement that has stuck in my mind since the late 1960's. It was in response to a new dancer's question. The person asked Jack, "how to you become a good dancer?" Jack's response was, "you live it!" That is the way I have lived my dance life and I have repeated his response thousands of times to others over the years.
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H. Leon Raper