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WHAT IS ECCENTRIC DANCE?

A ‘dancing cartoon’, this loose-limbed ‘rubber legged’ visual comedic movement is wrapped around ‘character’ with a focus on parody. Funny and grotesque, the Eccentric Dancer approaches dance through the comic mannerisms and physical idiosyncrasies of the solo dancer. Derived from ancient traditions and cultures, this ‘Grotesque’ style evolved from the antics of the Phyla Vases and the comedic gestures of early Pantomime, during tribal religious ceremonies with the Hopi Clowns, while imprinting a visual comedic component through the slapstick hilarity of the Commedia Dell Arte’ minstrels. These minstrels assimilated traditions in dance and comedy as they traveled across Europe, from the African rubber leg ceremonial dances, frenzied Russian Cossack acrobats, to Irish step dancing and the French Music Hall, establishing itself as a visual comedic art form in the English Music Hall and the early Variety circuits.

As travel became more accessible, new vistas opened up for these visual comics abroad and Eccentric Dance quickly became a staple in American Vaudeville and as comic relief in early films. Early animation, inspired by the already cartoonesque quality of the Burlesque and Vaudeville acts, saw in the Eccentric Dancers, with their exaggerated movement and cartoon persona, instant branding for their characters.

Eccentric continues to inspire animation and shape a contemporary role in today’s theatrical dance, comedic ballets, hip hop and break dancing, but the underlying technique remains the same.

FILM MAKER:

For more than 30 years, Betsy Baytos has been researching and documenting Eccentric Dance. Introduced early on to Eccentric Dance through vaudevillian Jon Zerby and Milt Larsen, and while working as a feature animator at the Walt Disney studios, it became obvious to Betsy that there was a strong link between the two art forms . Eric Larson, her mentor, animators Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and later Ward Kimball, spoke of the influence Eccentric Dancers had on many classic animated characters. This inspired Betsy to seek out and study with many of the Eccentric masters still around, including Max Wall in England, and stateside greats Gil Lamb, Will B. Able, Buddy Ebsen, Ben Wrigley and Buster Brown.

Betsy followed her passion and began collecting visual comedy and eccentric dance material, amassing a large and truly unique collection of this esoteric art. Working closely with the New York Performing Arts Library, and through a grant from the Jerome Robbins Foundation, she began interviewing the remaining great vaudevillian Eccentrics to assemble the first oral history on Eccentric Dance, as well as overseeing the film restoration of the rare Fred Stone Collection (Stone himself was one of the great exponents of the eccentric tradition).

In 1995 she began to refocus her research towards the goal of creating a film about Eccentric Dance, and intensified her efforts to interview the last remaining eccentric dancers and animators from the Music Hall and Vaudeville era. With the support of the Disney Animation Studio, she presented a special screening, composed of rare clips and interviews, at the Alex Theater in Glendale, California for more than 1,000 animators and special guests.

Betsy is now in the final phase of her Eccentric dance film project, with a collection of more than 45 interviews representing Eccentric dancers and animation artists spanning seven countries. Her plans include an educational offshoot organizing the material into an interactive database to make clips and interviews accessible, to help pass on the art of Eccentric dance and physical comedy to the next generation of performers and animators. Betsy continues to teach and choreograph in the eccentric tradition while working as an artist.

THE DOCUMENTARY:

“FUNNY FEET & RUBBER LEGS: THE ART OF ECCENTRIC DANCE”

Betsy has been researching Eccentric Dance for a feature length Documentary, which is currently in development. In 1995, she began traveling across the globe, conducting interviews and documenting talented performers associated with the Eccentric style. Betsy has now over 45 interviews completed, spanning 7 countries. These include:

Red Skelton (Actor, Comedian)
Dick Van Dyke (Actor, Comedian)
Ann Miller (Dancer)
Shirley MacLaine (Dancer, Actress)
Johnny Hutch (Choreographer: UK)
Michael Kidd (Choreographer)
Jerry Lewis (Actor, Comedian, Director)
Eleanor Keaton (Dancer, Mrs. Buster Keaton)
Milt Larsen (Writer, Performer, Vaudeville Historian)
Frederic Franklin (Premiere Ballet Dancer: UK)
Marcel Marceau (Mime, Performer: France)
Lord Lew Grade (Eccentric Dancer, Producer: UK)
Gil Lamb (Eccentric Dancer)
Harry Seltzer (Eccentric Dancer: UK)
Len Lowe (Eccentric Dancer: UK)
Paddy Moloney: (‘The Chieftains’ Musician, Producer: Ireland)
Carol Stone (Daughter of Eccentric Dancer Fred Stone)
Lois Laurel (Daughter of Stan Laurel)
Slava (Performer, Eccentric Dancer, Mime, Director: Russia)
Lou Wills, Jr. (Performer, Acrobat)
Geoffrey Holder (Artist, Performer, Dancer)
Andre De Shields (Performer, Actor, Dancer)
Fayard Nicholas (‘The Nicholas Bros.’ Dancer)
Jenni LeGon (Dancer)
Marge Champion (Dancer)
Herb Ross (Producer, Director)
Kendall Capps (Dancer, Vaudeville Historian)
Al Hirschfeld (Artist, Caricaturist)
Frank Thomas (Walt Disney Animator)
Ollie Johnston (Walt Disney Animator)
Chuck Jones (Warner Bros. Animator)
Joe Barbara (Hanna Barbara Animator)
Joe Grant (Disney Artist)
Steve Allen (Writer, Comedian, Producer)
Buster Brown (Dancer)
Leonard Reed (Dancer, Producer)
Betty Garrett (Dancer, Actress)
Charley Collins (Dancer, Fred Stone Son-In-Law)
Professor Paolo Bosisio (Commedia Dell Arte’ Historian, Teacher: Italy)
Frederick (Performer, Director of Commedia Dell Arte’: Italy)
Myron Waldman (Fleischer Animator: Betty Boop, Popeye, Raggedy Ann)
Richard Fleischer (Director, Son of Max Fleischer)
Ward Kimball (Disney Animator)
Norman Wisdom (Comedian: UK)
Dennis Nahat (Character Ballet Dancer, Choreographer)

ESTATES PARTICIPATING:
(Collections, pictures, scrapbooks, film & stills)

Stan Laurel
Eddie Foy
Lupino Lane (UK)
Fred Stone
Jerome Robbins
Bob Hope