Dayton, Denishawn And Double Takes: The Harry Losée Story

"With Harry Losée doing the choreography, the show became dancing on ice, the fusion of skating and ballet I had fervently imagined since my days of regarding Pavlova as a goddess." - Sonja Henie, "Wings On My Feet"

The son of Bertha (Mielke) and Walter Loose, Harry Walter Loose was born August 29, 1901 in Dayton, Ohio. He and his older sister Emma had a modest upbringing. His father worked in as an assembler in a factory; his mother was a saleswoman. With dreams 'bigger than the Midwest', he left home at a young age to study at The Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts at a young age.

Jane Reece photograph of Harry Losée, 1922. Photo courtesy Library Of Congress.

Black-haired, blue-eyed Harry became a favourite of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn and quickly made a name for himself in New York City's dancing circles. Though he had no French roots (his mother was a German immigrant and his father was thoroughly Midwestern) he changed his last name to 'Losée' for impact. In the roaring twenties and early thirties, he danced in such productions as "Blood And Sand", "Salomé", "The Thief Of Baghdad", "The Manhatters" and "The Merry Widow Revue". He and another of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn's protégés even travelled to California to give a number of recitals. His "Indian Dagger Danse" became a signature number.

When Ted Shawn left the Denishawn School to focus his attention on developing an all-male troupe, Harry became Ruth St. Denis' partner for a time and began to focus more so on directing and choreographing. In the early to mid thirties, he worked on the Broadway productions "The Show Is On", "Very Warm In May", "Keep Moving" and "At Home Abroad". In 1934, he presented "The Passion Of St. Sebastian", set to a Debussy score, at the Metropolitan Opera House.

Harry by accounts a colourful character. In his autobiography "This Bright Day", composer Lehmann Engel recalled, "Harry Losée was the first of many dancers I was to know. Harry and his friends seemed to me both fascinating and evil, and I was dazzled by their cheap glamour... Harry, a tall, well-developed man in his mid-thirties, lived in a cheap hotel, a hangout for infrequently employed vaudevillians. He was always surrounded by other dancers, booking agents, hangers-on (but to God alone knows what). Because of prohibition, he himself produced quantities of gin. We stayed up late every night. I wrote music for him, which he used in a free recital at Wanamaker Auditorium - his gesture toward 'art'. He wanted, as many performers want (in an abstract sort of way), to be a 'great' artist, but he was unwilling to sacrifice anything from the frippery of his wasteful life for sustained work. One engagement brought Harry to Radio City Music Hall early in its existence. Harry worked on a dance number for himself, a female partner, and the resident corps de ballet. A day before the opening performance, it was discovered that the music he had worked with (Ravel, I believe) was not available. Harry called me to the Music Hall at about midnight prior to a scheduled 10:00 am orchestra dress rehearsal, asking me to compose new music. Two exhausted dancers lay on the floor of a small office where I worked at a piano. When I would complete a phrase or two, the dancers would come alive, stand up, try out the steps to music, then lie down again... This went on all night. At 11:00 am the orchestra played the music, and the dancers changed none of their choreography. I was paid seventy-five dollars."

Harry's 'big break' in Hollywood came in 1937, when Hermes Pan hired him to do the ballet sequences for the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers RKO film "Shall We Dance". He was immediately hired to work on Sonja Henie's second film "Thin Ice", which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Dance Direction. It was the beginning of a long association with the Norwegian skating queen. Even though he had zero skating background himself, he drew accolades for his work translating dance to the ice in her films "Happy Landing", "Second Fiddle" and "My Lucky Star". He also did choreography for Sonja's Hollywood Ice Revue and her earlier shows at Madison Square Garden. In a review that appeared in "The New York Times" in 1939, critic John Martin wrote, "Sonja Henie's recent ice show at Madison Square Garden [which] leaves one more convinced than ever that the ubiquitous art of the dance has poked its nose into the field of sport on something more than a mere snooping expedition... The amusing thing and also the hopeful thing about Mr. Losée is that he is not skater at all, but a dancer, and the things he asks his company to do are probably shockingly unorthodox as well as sometimes downright impossible." Harry and Sonja shared the same work ethic - do it again and again and again until it was right. "I first outline on paper what I want to do, and then talk it over with him. He knows everything about camera angles," Sonja explained in an interview in "Silver Screen" magazine.

Harry's work with Sonja Henie may have been his most remembered contribution to the skating world, but it certainly wasn't his only one. He also worked on the Wartime skating films "Ice-Capades", "Ice-Capades Revue" and Abbott and Costello's "Hit The Ice". In 1940, he directed the "New York Ice Revue" tour, which starred Vivi-Anne Hultén and Maribel Vinson Owen. Two years later, he directed the "Hollywood Ice Revels" at the Tropical Ice Garden in Westwood Village, which starred Maribel Vinson Owen and Belita. It was at this show that Belita was 'discovered' by producers and offered a speaking role in "Silver Skates".

Sadly, Harry's important contributions to figure skating didn't continue long after World War II. After being in ill health for some time, he suffered from gastro-intestinal bleeding and cardio-respiratory arrest. He died on December 16, 1952 in Los Angeles. He was only fifty-one.

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