Dean Collins was born in Columbus, Ohio on May 29th 1917. He grew up in Newark, New Jersey where, at the age of thirteen he learned Swing from his two older sisters. Within a few years he was dancing at every dance spot from Atlanta City to the “Savoy Ballroom” in Harlem, N.Y. By the age of eighteen (in 1935), he received the “Dancer of the Year Award” from the New Yorker Magazine.

Dean left New York for New Orleans to explore the roots of Swing dancing and finally arrived in Los Angeles, California with a dream of being in the movies in 1936. Reflecting on his early years of dance, Collins was quoted,

“Young people in those days took their dancing very seriously. They spent a lot of time with their partner, learned the steps, invented new ones. It was more than a hobby; it was a real passion.”

When Dean arrived in California the Savoy style of Swing was virtually unknown to Californians. The local dances of the day were the Camel Hop and Balboa, but their popularity quickly waned to Dean Collin’s style of the East Coast Jitterbug. His contest-winning style was frequently spotted at the “Casino Gardens” and the “Diana Ballroom” and was quickly known throughout Los Angeles.

When Dean arrived in California the Savoy style of Swing was virtually unknown to Californians. The local dances of the day were the Camel Hop and Balboa, but their popularity quickly waned to Dean Collin’s style of the East Coast Jitterbug. His contest-winning style was frequently spotted at the “Casino Gardens” and the “Diana Ballroom” and was quickly known throughout Los Angeles.

Dean’s first big break came in 1939 when he was asked to choreograph sequences in “Let’s Make Music”. He went on to choreographed dozens more and danced in over thirty Hollywood movies, including “Hellzapoppin'” (1941), “Dance Hall” (1941), “Playmates” (1941), “Buck Privates” (1941),”Ride Em’ Cowboy” (1942), “Springtime in the Rockies” (1942), “The Talk of the Town” (1942), “Always a Bridesmaid” (1943), “Kid Dynamite” (1943), “Junior Prom” (1945), “A Day at the Races”, and “Living It Up” (1954).

In the 1950s and 60’s, Dean taught most of the dancers and teachers in the Los Angeles area how to dance Swing, plus he taught many movie personalities as well (Shirley Temple, Ronald Colman, Ceaser Romero, Andrews Sisters, Joan Collins, Patty Andrews, Abbot and Costello, and Joan Crawford.) He also gave Arthur Murray lessons and taught other dance teachers such as Jonathan Bixby and Sylvia Sykes, who continue to share his teachings today.

Dean was ahead of his time when it came to dance. He could style like no other dancer to slow music and he became a cyclone dancing to a fast beat. His primary dance partner for eleven years was Jewel McGowen, who was called by her contemporaries the “Greatest female Swing dancer ever.” Together, they were known as “Fred and Ginger of Lindy Hop.” In the 60’s and 70’s, they danced to all styles of music, just as long as it “Swung.”

Dean married and moved to Glendale, California where he was very active in the Swing Dance Community right up until his passing in 1984. When his widow, Mary Collins was asked if her husband was responsible for the emergence of West Coast Swing, she replied, “Dean insisted that there were only two kinds of Swing dancing – good and bad.”

bio information provided by Mary Collins & Sonny Watson - photos courtesy of Mary Collins
Dean Collins *