The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)
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Information: Oliver "Sonny" Newman, teacher of Argentine Tango, Greek, and international dance.
Sonny Newman was born on April 2, 1931, to Iva J. Newman in Colorado. Iva was the breadwinner in the family and when Sonny was 12, the family bought a horse on which Sonny delivered The Denver Post. In 1943, Sonny's mother moved with him to Seattle to work in the defense industry (but actually to leave his father who died a year later). Sonny went to Roosevelt High School in Seattle but, not being particularly interested in the experience, he left home to wander the wide-open spaces of the West at the age of 14. Before dedicating his life to dance, Sonny wanted to be a cowboy and farmed in Washington State and herded sheep in Montana but his mother got him to finish high school by sending him to a military school in Colorado. That school included horse riding in its program.
After high school and some time in the Army, he went to Washington State College (now Washington State University) to study dairy science, believing that he would work with large animals such as cattle and horses. At the age of 19, a girl friend took him to the Skandia Folkdance Club where he was hooked on folk dance. In 1954, Sonny started a dance club (that is still a going concern!) and married the girl but he left her to go to New York City and make for himself a career in dance.
Sonny has had training in folk, ballet, jazz, modern, and social dance, receiving much of his dance training at Julilliard School of Music and Dance and at other professional studios in New York City. While in New York, he trained under such greats as José Limón, Antony Tudor, and Mia Slavenska. He studied tango in Argentina and traveled to Greece on a research tour to learn Greek folk dance. He was lead dancer in the Aviv Israeli performing group, owned and ran his own dance studio on 23rd Street in New York City, New York, called, appropriately, "Newman Folk Dance Center," and has been dancing and teaching since 1951.
Sonny has choreographed musicals in Denver, Colorado, and Seattle, Washington, including The King and I, Bye Bye Birdie, Finian's Rainbow, Unsinkable Molly Brown, and Irma la Douce.
For 14 years, Sonny could be found in the Northwest Territories of Canada, canoeing the Mackenzie River, working on ice breaker ships, and cutting logs. He came back to Seattle, saw the show "Tango Argentinio" in Vancouver, B.C., and became hooked on tango.
Sonny has been a guest instructor at Yale, Princeton, University of California at Los Angeles, and for the Fuex Follets in Montréal. He has been on staff at University of the Pacific Folk Dance Camp (later renamed Stockton Folk Dance Camp), the Santa Barbara Folk Dance Conference, and the University of Colorado Dance Department. He also directed a dance conference in Seattle, Washington, at Camp Long called the "Summer Dance Camp" (July 26-31, 1971), teaching along with Joan Englander and Dick Oakes (center in photo below).
In addition to his teaching of Greek folk dance, Sonny is an exacting, impeccable teacher of dances of other nationalities, asking much of his students. His attentive pupils respond with a demonstration ability that surprises some and pleases all. Sonny brings a knowledge of the history and culture that inspire dance, and has an abiding love of music. Since 1987, Sonny has specialized in Argentine Tango its history, poetry, and dance.
In 1988, Sonny taught Greek dances and the tango at the Folk Dance Symposium in Santa Barbara.
Sonny is founder of the large movement toward Argentine Tango in Seattle where he opened his Sonny Newman's Dance Hall. The Dance Hall presented two annual Tango Balls, bringing in the finest musicians, teachers, and dancers available. Sonny taught several classes weekly, offering group and private instruction, performance, and regular dances in Argentine Tango. Other types of dance and activities available at Sonny's included Swing/Lindy Hop, Salsa, Waltz, Zydeco, and Jazzercise. The dance hall closed in May of 2013 but at age 80+, Sonny still teaches Argentine Tango in his home studio.
Dances Sonny has taught include Aino Kchume, Argentine Tango, Ballos, Ballos from Kassos, Daldalar, Dodi Dodi, Dodi Tsach Vaadom, Epirotiko Kalamatiano, Epirotiko Tsamiko, Ez Vakeves, Grigoro Hasapiko, Kalamatiano, Karagouna, Kasiotiko Sousta, Kastrinos, Kritiko Syrto, Leriko, Oberek, Papuri, Pentozali, Şiro, Sousta Medley, Syrto, Tamzara, Temilav, Tsamiko (16-count), "Turning" Syrto, Vari Hasapiko, W Dolina, Zagoritikos, and Zeybekiko.
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