In the Lindy Hop world Jean Veloz is a living Icon and so as we approach ‘World Lindy Hop Day‘ on May 26th, I think it’s a good time to share with my readers the story of Jean and her swing dancing success.
As a teenager in the 1940’s Jean Phelps (her maiden name) and her brothers Bob and & Ray would invite friends over to their living-room and practice the popular dance of their generation, the Lindy Hop or also know as the Jitterbug (Video Link).
Jean and Ray got so good together that they decided to enter an area-wide Jitterbug contest in Santa Maria, winning out over a total of 500 dancers.
The Phelps family moved to Los Angeles in 1942, which allowed Jean and her brothers the opportunity to dance at the LA hotspots. In 1943 Jean entered a contest at American Legion Stadium in Hollywood, where the prize was a Screen Actor’s Guild membership card and a dance cameo in the movie Swing Fever starring Kay Kyser and Marilyn Maxwell. Jean won the contest, her SAG card, and the opportunity to dance with Lennie Smith and Don Gallager in the feature-length movie (Source).
After the success of Swing Fever, Jean’s career took off and she went on to dance in several movies:
- 20th Century Fox’s Swingin’ On a Tea Garden Gate starring Peter Lawford (Dance Partner: Chuck Saggau)
- 1943’s MGM’s Jive Junction (Dance Partner: Bob Ashley) Video Link
- The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945) starring Jack Benny as the angel Gabriel (Dance Partner: Dean Collins)
But one of her most popular films for Lindy Hoppers around the world is the 1944 short film “Groovie Movie“, as it’s a great study of the early years of the Lindy Hop. Here is Jean, Arthur Walsh, Lenny Smith, Kay Vaughn, Irene Thomas and Chuck Saggau in this little gem (Video Link).
Outside of starring in movies Jean and her brother Ray entered many dance contests in the Hollywood and Los Angeles areas.
Here is a FANTASTIC short clip of Jean and Ray discussing how this famous image above came to be.
In 1946, Jean even danced in the chorus line at El Rancho Vegas Hotel, working with choreographer Nick Castle for six months (Source).
Jean’s fate was about to take another positive turn when famous ballroom dancer Frank Veloz was in need of a partner, after his regular partner & wife Yolanda Veloz retired. Jean became Frank’s new dance partner, performing exhibition ballroom dancing and appearing in a two-week engagement at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco.
1950-The Frank Veloz Show airs and runs for 5 years. Jean and Frank did exhibitions of tango, waltz, rhumba, samba, swing and foxtrot, along with teaching these dances on live TV. They interviewed many well-known stars including Liberace, incorporating these appearances into the show (Source).
Jean and Frank eventually were married in 1963 (he had divorced his wife Yolanda in the 50’s) and they remained a happy dancing couple until his death in 1981 from Cancer. Jean stopped dancing until 1992.
The Revival of Jean’s Dancing Career:
In 1992 Jean was approached by a Rudy Linan a swing dancer from Vegas who was working on a swing documentary and encouraged Jean to start dancing again.
After she put her dancing shoes back on, the Lindy Hop/Swing Dance world took notice and she was asked to participate in dance events from coast to coast, year after year.
1996, Jean Veloz was inducted into the prestigious California Swing Dance Hall of Fame as a Golden Star.
Other notable events:
In 2000, all surviving members of Groovie Movie together as Jean, Irene Thomas and Chuck Saggau appeared together again for the first time since the 1940s, with Ray Phelps was along for good measure. In 2004, the group was together again to participate in activities surrounding the dedication of the World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Jean, Ray, Irene and Chuck performed along with Swing Dancers Tom and Debra at the Smithsonian Institution in front of hundreds of people.
2014 was a special year for Jean as she celebrated her 90th birthday and how does one do that in today’s world? They go viral! Yup videos of Jean dancing at various places for her 90th birthday surfaced and was seen by millions of people (yup millions). Jean’s name was now known to the world not just to the swing dance community. How exciting!
Here is one of those videos.
Showing no signs of slowing down Jean continues to dance and attend events all over the world. I will now leave you one with one last video taken last year as Jean celebrated her 92nd birthday (Video Link).
I hope you enjoyed learning all about the amazing and wonderful Jean Veloz, she is truly inspiring to dancers everywhere and I hope to one day to grow-up to be just like her.