She is an avatar of Balboa footwork, elegance and improvisation, continuously pushing through to new achievements — in dancing and in life. Not only that, her personality is topped by vintage clothes, a golden surname and a dive-all-in approach. But there have been struggles too. In this interview Mia Goldsmith Halloran reveals challenges and shares advice on how to live and dance without hesitation.
Balboa dates back to the 1920s and it grew out of an organic evolution, neither planned nor with rigorous ballroom-style explanation. The same goes for Mia Goldsmith; she never strived to become a dancer. Sure, she liked to move around and as a toddler she did all day long. She mimic dance sections from movies and made her parents rewind them until she had it down; “At least as down she could, ”being like four years old”, Mia recalls, letting me know that all she ever dreamed of at the time was to become an actress and a singer.
– I had huge Broadway dreams. I spent all my time singing and being involved in theatre. If I wasn’t on stage, I was behind the scenes. But I wanted to be on stage ALL the time.
On stage she was; always in a play or a musical, soon working full time as an actress. At eighteen she was in a show at a theatre down the street from where a new ballroom had just opened. All the cast members decided to go there one night and that’s when swing dancing caught Mia.
– The main dancing was typical ballroom east coast swing and that held my attention for a short while, but what actually kept my attention was this super small group of dancers in the corner doing what I found out later to be Lindy Hop.
Dressed in her usual outfit of steel toed combat boots, punk accessories and spiky bright pink hair, Mia mustered up enough courage to ask one of the guys for a dance.
– At the end of the dance I would say something like “Hey, you know that thing I did really badly? Is there a way I can do that better next time so I don’t mess it up when I dance with you?” Or something like that…
Mia recollects messing things up, but she obviously didn’t let that deter her. Eventually, she got the steps right and the small group of Lindy dancers in her hometown Lawrence, Kansas, expanded.
– It was so exciting; it totally consumed my life. All of us learning from VHS tapes, teaching each other and doing a lot of watching, rewinding, watching, trying it, over and over in our living rooms.
Mia describes herself as a “dive-all-in sort of gal.” If she loves something, she immerses herself one hundred percent, which applies to everything she undertakes. At twenty she decided to move to Seattle to dive into dancing hundred percent and that’s when Balboa devoured her. She was practicing tons and to this day she loves the subtle expression of pure Balboa; the smoothness, footwork and the inward expression between her and a partner. Mia’s first partner was Yoshi Uemura, and together they worked endlessly to grow and become better dancers. It was the beginning of her love and skill for the art, and it took off even further when she met Peter Loggins at a weekend in Cleveland at All Balboa Weekend.
– I believe it was 2006. I began partnering Peter and we spent time practicing in LA where he used to live. I was introduced to many of the original dancers, became close friends with Balboa legend Dean Raftery and that’s when my dancing was transformed. I learned more about shuffling, the history, that there were many basics in the Balboa and that everyone had their own unique style. I loved it.
Today, Mia is known for her footwork, elegance and improvisation. The characteristics of her movements, combined with a restful calm, radiate an expression that sticks to the optic nerve. It ́s an individual approach, driven by her desire to create with both her partner and the band on the social dance floor. If you pay attention, you will note her ability to throw in one-step moves, from forgotten dances like the Peabody or the Castle Walk, when dancing with someone leading such movements. In a refined, cotton candy light way, she radiates ease without appearing superficial.
– When I dance with Peter, he throws some of these old dances in all the time, and I’m grateful for the knowledge I have, which enables me to flow from one dance to the next, knowing what it is. I definitely think everyone should know one-step and two-step dances and incorporate them into their Lindy hop or Balboa, mix it up, move around the floor, make things interesting. And also, know where your dances came from.
What should everyone know about the history of Balboa?
– Well, there is a ton! But I think it’s important to know that Balboa didn’t mean both pure bal and bal swing together as it seems to today. Originally, these were separate dances. Today, the Balboa scene focuses a lot on one or two main dancers from the time, Maxie Dorf and Willie Desatoff, but it’s important to remember that they are only two people in a history that included so many unique styles and voices that don’t get recognized. That’s why I’m constantly advocating finding your own unique way in the dance, and to not be boxed in or limited to any style that you are “supposed to look like” in order to be a “Balboa dancer.”
Pure Bal and Bal Swing – what are the differences and similarites?
– Pure Bal is done in a close, closed position. Dancers used to stayed in closed position all night long and were happy just dancing with their one partner. Bal swing dancers were much wilder and that’s all the open position dancing. The term Bal swing came about way later in the Bobby Mcgee’s days, but it used to just be called LA Swing.
Is there such thing as old and modern techniques to Balboa footwork?
– I guess? But maybe not in the old and modern way that someone might think this question means? I think the “modern way” is more Bobby McGee era footwork, more movement on the floor in the basic, there was more room to move around, etc. I think the “older way” would be more focused on shuffling and staying more in place, as back then there was just less room to dance in these packed ballrooms, which forced your feet to move differently. If you can’t move around but you still want to dance, what are you going do? Step in place or shuffle!
When teaching, what do you want to give your students?
– I think what I aim for the most is knowing the importance of being you in a dance. Sure, I can give you a million footwork variations to learn and copy, and sometimes that’s super fun and I do that, but what I prefer is giving someone the ideas on how I go about creating, so that perhaps it will help them on their own journey to create for themselves. I also think that it’s easier to emulate sometimes. Watch, copy, I did that like them, so I “did it right”. And there are places where that is super helpful in your growth as a dancer. But when you can really embrace your own movement, and your own expression, that’s where the good stuff is, and I hope that in my classes I’m pushing these dancers to find this for themselves, and to find comfort in their own uniqueness.
Who inspires you?
– I get inspired by the unusual! I feel like a broken record, but I’m most inspired by someone who is doing their thing. Someone who is clearly moved by the music and is expressing themselves fully. You don’t have to be advanced to get my attention. If you are aware of your movement, and the joy is spilling out, I want to be a part of that. Plain and simple.
First time in Herräng Dance Camp was 2006. She was to teach with Peter Loggins, it was their first gig together and Mia was terrified.
– I had literally no idea what I was getting into! I didn’t really know anything about Herräng, so when I arrived I was completely overwhelmed. I remember the first thing I saw was the Friday night party, and the theme was Sweden, with crazy costumes, hot dogs and bad smelling fish, and I thought, “What is actually happening right now?!”
Mia recollects feeling happy but also being lonely that first year. She was teaching but didn’t really know anyone. Determined to not experience the same feeling again the following year, she dove in head first, helped build things, paint things, make movies, do silly things here and there.
– I’m actually a pretty shy introverted person when I’m not in front of a classroom, so I had a hard time making connections that first year. But the next, I had an incredible time! And I’ve been having fun in Herräng ever since, Mia says and expresses gratitude for the opportunity given to her to come back year after year.
What has Herräng meant to your career?
– I really believe it was a huge stepping stone for me when I was a younger dancer, as it was one of the first main stages of my teaching career abroad. I’ve met hundreds upon hundreds of really special people throughout the years at this camp, and I know that it’s given me even more opportunity in my dancing life to travel and to meet more people and to spread my joy and love of dancing across the globe. This camp means so much to so many people, and I don’t take for granted what I’ve been given by being allowed to be a part of this small little peaceful, beautiful world that’s been created here in Sweden. I’m thankful for the magic it’s given my life!
These days the steel toed boots, punk accessories and pink hair is gone, replaced by vintage elements; cute heels and hair neatly done, always the left side of her face, not to get messed up by hitting the leaders face when in closed position.
– It was an interesting crossover for me from punk girl to vintage gal. Some of the old pictures of me are hilarious; I would be in a cute 1950s dress, with victory rolls in my hair but I’d still have my combat boots on at the dance. Funny memories for sure, Mia recalls, letting me know that she loves the dress up aspect just as much as the dancing itself.
– I also got very into vintage furniture at this time, and that’s when I began to collect all sorts of things for my home. Now my space in New Orleans is mostly Mid Century/Atomic era, from top to bottom, and I even have an entire room that’s been converted into a tiki bar with tons of vintage glassware and memorabilia.
A new transition has begun the last couple of years. Due to an injury seven years ago, dealing with pain and extensive considerations, Mia was asking herself huge life questions such as, “What am I even doing?” and “What difference am I making in the world?” Faithful to her habit, Mia researched a ton, and put a lot of work into feeling better. This resulted in things she never thought she would do in her life, like boxing. And that’s only one of the changes she’s made: she has shifted her diet, she drinks less alcohol (“Which is a hard thing to accomplish in New Orleans, especially when all the dancing and live music is in bars”) and she has become an enthusiastic runner. She is determined to keep evolving into becoming a better version of herself and in June 2019 she released the blog Mia in Motion a place to share her enthusiasm for wellness through eating and exercise, as well as her interests in fashion, vintage, and creative expression.
– I’ve made choices recently that have taken me on a healthy, fulfilling journey, and I’m only just beginning. I’m so excited to continue and see where it takes me.
Through the lens of social media, her life in New Orleans seems full of endeavors…roller skating along the levee of the Mississippi river, showing off beautiful vintage wear and smelling wildflowers in full bloom.
– It has definitely not always been this way…but I really believe now that my back injury was a huge blessing, because it lead me to be the strongest, healthiest, and most confident that I’ve ever been. I didn’t see it this way then…it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself and slide into a dark place. I’ve had my low points, no doubt. But I’m so thankful that they took me to where I am today, and I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything in the world.
FACTS ABOUT Mia Goldsmith Halloran
age: turning 37 in October, 2019
home base: New Orleans, Louisiana
family: husband Charlie Biggs Halloran, trombone player, and two Patterdale terriers and one Boxer mix
Work: as an artist, dance teacher and saleswoman at the vintage shop Trashy Diva Dress Boutique in French Quarters of New Orleans