Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Whip Story

This was originally written in 2003 appearing on California Jazz Dance Foundation's website.

The Whip, possibly the most distinctive pattern in swing dancing identifiable with one person, Dean Collins.This article is about origin of what has become known as "The Whip" because I find it fascinating and it puts the truth in perspective and the influence of Irene Thomas.

Dean Collins, we can start with him, The Lindy Hopper from New York now in Los Angeles. He had been searching for a steady partner to work to no avail. Dean would dance with anyone when it came to a job, however, if it represented him he was strict on who and how his partner would dance. Little did he know he would come to meet the most influential people in his life.

It was 1939 and already the 2 leading females in Los Angeles were Irene Thomas and Jewel McGowen. Jewel had been dancing with Bill Alcorn on and off and Irene was in the show "Meet the People". It was her last year at Hollywood High school and in between her shows and stage gigs performing,acting and tap dancing she would commonly go out dancing and hang out with friends. it was during this time she danced with Dean and got a sense of the Lindy Rhythm.

I guess one would have to understand Irene's sense of dance, her technical ability to break things down, and they fact she can lead as well is amazing. From "Meet the People" in 1939 , she became a star solo Tap act. Her biggest ambition was stage and clubs and during WW2 she toured with Bing Crosby's USO shows as the headline tap act.

Irene was a star amongst her friends and looked up to by all during these years , it was known that the girls would copy her steps while the guys (at least,the ones with guts) lined up to "take a lesson" .It was at the Casino Gardens Lenny Smith just a youngster would reach out asking for a dance with his "trembling hand" after being put up to task by friends. While it was Dean teaching these younger dancers like Lenny, Wally Albright and Lou Southern it was the skilled follows that really taught them the most, and Irene was the queen.

Irene was dancing with Eddie Markwell and trying to teach him Dean's Lindy when they encountered the first "whip" , Eddie was really modest about having anything to do with it at first but eventually said it was Irene who made him do it, he was just "over doing it".
The push out allowed Irene to use the tension for variations in her footwork which was something she enjoyed. For Eddie to Achieve this push at his novice ability he over exaggerated his shoulder movement by stepping into it.

It was here Irene got the concept of the whip, and force needed with the lead hand, to push off into open position from the leader. It was no secret Dean allowed his dance partners to shine and look good and Irene was just the showoff needed for Dean's performances. When working together they adjusted for each other to bring out the best on Stage and This whip action she asked for was no different, Dean just adjusted to adapt to her needs.

These needs are witnessed through Irene's dancing, especially in the clips with her Boyfriend and Partner, Don Gallagher. Most of their tricks are called by her , and lead by her via calls and shoulder Motions. Dictating as to when to start leading. Unfortunately, Irene couldn't dedicate the time to Dean to be his regular partner because she was too busy in show business, however she would continue to perform for big events and whenever the scedule allowed.

The next couple years, 1940 and 41 would of found Dean mastering this "whip", he started dancing regularly with Jewel McGowan during this time and really getting it to where the follow and leader both use each other perfectly balanced, other times it would be the leader just forcing the follow through it (the follow not taking advantage of that lead push). Dean wasn't the only one doing trying to capture this "Whip" in the early stages. Another dancer was Willie Desatoff who has always been said to "do Dean's whip better then him" another was Eddie Rankin who before had been struggling horribly with Lindy Hop Before Dean's arrival.

Dean obviously laid it down in stone in the motion picture "Buck Privates". He showed what this whip had developed into once mastered not by just the lead but by the follow who takes advantage of it to allow herself extra liberties . Once studied from the demands of a follower , From which Irene's first demands were met, the technical actually needed to achieve anything even close to what Dean and Jewel do is amazing. From Dean to dancers like Bill Alcorn, Johnny Archer, Lenny Smith, Lou Southern and Wally Albright to the Movies and a generation of leaders and followers tweaking the whip every which way. They all used the basic same technical, and eventually it became known as just Dean's Lindy.

Just after WW2 , Irene left Los Angeles for New York to headline in the biggest nightclubs with her Partner, doing what she called a Boogie Tap act. On this trip she went out dancing at Roseland Ballroom and the biggest difference she noticed was the leaders didn't pull you all the way in (and around them) and then whip you out, rather they came forward and caught you in the middle making it very uncomfortable if your not used to it.

Many of these dancers from the early days have continued dancing at the LA swing Club at Golden Sails , Dancers Like Bart Bartolo and Bobby Hefner, even Gil Brady is No exception to Learning "The whip" from Dean Collins. At over 90 years old, John Mills throws down what he calls "Dean's Whip" as well . If you've ever walked into Golden Sails you would see the impact that one motion has created , the dancers from the 40's,50's,60's each generation and dancer bringing their own style to what eventually has became a technic and not a style.

About 5 or 6 years ago at our local dance held at a place called Alpine Village on Monday nights, I asked Eddie about these first moments and dancing with Lola Cogan, he showed me the subtleties of that first motion he did with Irene, all the while exclaiming he was nothing compared to Dean and it was all Irene...


  1. Great post Peter, thanks for sharing!

    It's an interesting thing to hear that she was looking for strong hand/push to do her footwork contrary to the modern concepts of relaxed arms that give space for followers variations.

    Has Irene said something about using the pull from the open position in the same way?

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