Mr. Szony passed away this weekend in Florida. In his mid-90's, Francois was a legend in the world of "Adagio" and his career spanned almost a century. He was born in Hungary, but has lived in the USA since the end of the Second World War. His career spanned film and cabaret performances in Las Vegas as well as ballroom demonstrations.
On a personal note, I met Francois Szony when I first moved to the USA in 1979. Although not a keen coach, Francois did teach me some of his adagio moves, moves that I continued to use throughout my dance career. He was an irascible character with a pithy sense of humor. I remember performing some shows with him and Toni Ann Gardella in the mid 1980's and it was something I will always treasure.
In 1991 we interviewed Francois for our nascent Dance Beat newspaper and we re-post this interview below. I hope it gives some sense of the man and the legend!
Editor, Dance Beat
Francois Szony – The Ultimate Performer!
“A notable person,” that is Webster’s definition of a legend. Dance Beat was delighted to have the opportunity to interview one of dance’s most notable people, Francois Szony. Szony and his partner, Toni Ann Gardela, make their home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that is, when they have time off from their busy performance schedule. The house is crammed with books, records and photographs. It is hard to be involved in dance, both theatre and ballroom, and not know of Francois Szony, a man whose career in in its 5th decade.
At a time when most of his contemporaries have hung up their shoes, Szony still maintains a full schedule of performances. We caught him just before he left to perform on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean. The obvious question is why do you continue performing?
Szony: I think I would miss it (performing) if I stopped. I’ve been doing it for so many years. Also I think it keeps me in shape.
Francois Szony has certainly kept in shape, looking to carry no extra weight and as trim as ever. Szony is not a big man, proving his assertion that good adagio is the result of timing, not strength. How about injuries?
Szony: (Laughing) Three operations on my knee, my arm is gone and my back is always bad. But I still do it! I never lifted weights, but now I am beginning to, because working on the ships I do not have to perform every day.
Francois Szony was born in Hungary, where he began dance lessons with his sister. He has not returned since the war. His initial training was in classical ballet, acrobatics and tap, he never considered himself a ballroom dancer. He and his sister were spotted by a promoter and booked into a Chicago Hotel to appear in a variety show with Liberace. The show ran for twelve weeks and was followed by more bookings and they never returned to Hungary.
Why did he develop his brand of dramatic adagio with the inherent spectacular liftwork?
Szony: Necessity! We were dancers following dancers. You have to do something spectacular, it was unheard of to follow dancing with more dancing in a Las Vegas style variety show. We couldn’t just dance a box step with variations. I borrowed a lot from my classical training. The Bolshoi used a lot of spectacular things, but of course with the ladies in toe-shoes. This did not look right in a nightclub atmosphere so my partners always wore high heals. Some of the things that I developed, like the “coffee grinder” and the “roll down,” I still see other people performing. They were good money makers (laughing), I wish they could be copyrighted. My sister and I worked out our own lifts. Finally, we split up as we did not fully agree on the direction our work should take. I wanted to infuse more artistic material and less tricks. Also she was getting a little bottom heavy.
Szony worked all over the world with his various partners. His main market in the USA was Las Vegas, but he also worked for TV.
Szony: We performed shows like the Ed Sullivan Show, Vic Damone Show and even Arthur Murray’s Dance Party. Usually we performed a short three-minute segment with full lighting, scenery and sometimes a chorus. Producers of that time thought that nobody could sit through a long dance show.
What were his favorite pieces?
Szony: I think a number I choreographed to a Chopin Etude was my favorite. It was too classical in its time, but maybe today it would be better received. I also liked a work I choreographed for three men and three girls to a Schostakovich piece. It was in modern classical style and received good reviews in the concert filed.
Video tapes of some of these old shows have survived and can be obtained from See Do Productions (ad on page 2).
Szony danced with many partners, but tried to keep them for at least ten years to justify the expense incurred. “I kept them till they wore out,” said Szony glancing at Toni Ann with amusement.
The fate or goal of most dancers in whatever genre, is to end up as teachers or choreographers. We asked Szony if he had ever considered this avenue.
Szony: At one time I did, but to do this you have to give up dancing and once you quit, even for a short time, that is the end of your performing. I was never in one spot long enough to teach. Now I am becoming increasing involved with teaching and I am interested in coaching couples. I have worked with several of the Theatre Arts teams on the Ballroom Circuit, notably David & Sharon Savoy and Tom Slater & Anna Christine. I think that the Theatre Arts division is under appreciated in the ballroom community. The couples are now producing work of a very high quality, lifts that you just don’t see every day and that takes a lot of work. I wish that they would find a better name for this style of dance than “Theatre Arts!”
Szony himself, with Kate Kaplan, won the Theatrical division of the Classique du Quebec nine years ago and was invited to compete in Blackpool. Unfortunately, he broke his arm and was unable to attend. “I have played Blackpool, however,” he told us, “but at the Queen’s Theatre. At the time I watched “Come Dancing” on the the TV, but I was not that interested in what they were doing.”
Szony did take some lessons in Ballroom Dancing, however. He listed Bill Davies and John Luchessy as his instructors.
Francois & Toni Ann have danced together for about eleven years. Toni Ann is classically trained and only started ballroom dancing and jazz upon her association with Szony.
Francois Szony’s enthusiasm for dance and particularly adagio is undiminished. He told us a story of a show he saw in Copenhagen recently. “The man walked up an angled tightrope holding a board between his teeth upon which a girl on pointe in an attitude was balanced. That,” said Szony showing great enthusiasm, “is something you don’t see every day! That is impossible!”
This interview appeared in the April 1991 edition. Unfortunately, Francois Szony was predeceased by his last partner – Toni Ann Gardela.