Danny and Betty Never Stop - Dancers, Danny Hoctor and Betty Byrd, Teach Dancing After a Long Career
Dance Magazine, September, 1998 by Marian Horosko
Danny Hoctor and Betty Byrd now share with dance teachers and students the knowledge they have gained from years of dancing.
"Who's she?" responded Daniel James Patrick Hoctor when his San Francisco high school teacher asked him to come to the front of the classroom and talk about his famous relative. Harriet Hoctor. A star of vaudeville, films, and musical theater, Harriet, a Russian-trained performer, could hold incredible back bends while executing bourrees on pointe. (Later, he learned that she was his father's cousin).
Not one to follow in even a famous relative's footsteps, Danny Hoctor studied tap dancing at the Reed McLane School, where he learned the basic technique and steps performed by Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, using the same type of wooden-soled shoes. Fate would have them meet several times later on.
Hoctor soon formed a team. With Shane & Hoctor, he appeared successfully in hotels, nightclubs, and theaters on the West Coast. When he saw a Fred Astaire movie, however, he realized that if he wanted to expand his career he needed to further his study of ballet. He was given a scholarship to the San Francisco Ballet School, where he studied with Willam Christensen. He eventually became a member of the company and toured with the group.
But the lure of showbiz was irresistible--there was an open audition in San Francisco for "Billy Rose's Aquacade," an extravaganza starring Olympic athlete Johnny Weismuller (the current Tarzan) and swimming star Esther Williams. Hoctor answered the call along with hundreds of dancers from across the country, easily passed the audition, and joined the cast of nineteen male dancers, twenty male swimmers, twenty-six female dancers, twenty-six female swimmers, eleven Olympic diving champions, Fred Waring's Orchestra and Glee Club, Morton Downey, and several other acts.
One day during the rehearsal period, Bill Robinson visited his friends, Billy Rose and Weismuller, on the set. Robinson, knowing of Danny's early training in "Bojangles" steps, asked him to join him, to the delight of cast members, in a short version of Robinson's signature routine, the stair dance.
Three Hollywood musical shorts followed the five-a-day Aquacade stint. Hoctor then he landed the singing and dancing lead in the road company of the hit musical Meet the People. When he was appearing in the show at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago, the bombing of Pearl Harbor stunned the country and hurled the United States into World War II. Hoctor knew he would soon be drafted and because he preferred the naval uniform to any other, he enlisted in the Navy. When his superiors learned that he was a male lead, and could sing, dance, and type, they made him the "Recruit of the Day" in Chicago and, with no boot training, bumped him up to Yeoman 3rd Class and assigned him to immediate active duty as Yeoman to Commander Eddie Peabody and the Great Lakes Band.
On his first weekend leave, Hoctor found himself back at the Oriental Theatre where Bill Robinson was appearing. When Robinson heard that Hoctor was in the audience he called him onstage for an impromptu performance. "What shall we do?" asked Robinson. After a moment Hoctor said, "You do a step, then I'll do one." Bill said, "Okay," kicked off the tempo for the band, and did the first step. Hoctor followed with the exact same step and for the next couple of choruses the audience was treated to a mirror image. While Hoctor was dancing, Robinson, surprised to see all his steps repeated, took the mike and said, "This is the first time you are seeing me in black and white."
Hoctor spent three years on duty as a Yeoman during the day and in the evenings performed one, two, or three shows with other enlisted performers and musicians including Billy De Wolf, Larry Storch, Eddie Duchin, and Ray Anthony. The shows were called Happy Hours for the 60,000 newly enlisted men who were going through boot camp training prior to being assigned to active duty.
Shortly before he was to leave for to Okinawa with his Commander and a few special musicians, he had a recurrence of a childhood bout with rheumatic fever. It caused him to be hospitalized for more than four months at Great Lakes, then at another hospital in Corona, California. He was finally released to limited duty at an ammunition dump in Seal Beach.
But before returning to limited duty, he and twenty-four other patients at various stages of the disease were informed that they had "volunteered" to go through various tests to learn more about the fever--what causes it, how to treat and cure it--specifically by using a new drug called penicillin. Later one of the doctors said that they had learned one thing: that strenuous exercise could either kill or cure you. Upon his discharge, Hoctor paid attention to symptoms of fatigue and confirmed his belief in the power of dance to heal. He took a job as tap teacher at Perry Dance Studios in Hollywood where singer Johnny Downs was one of his students. This was followed by a return to the stage in the chorus of the touring company of the ex-G.I. revue, Call Me Mister. The show's choreographer, John Wray, made him the dance captain and understudy to Bob Fosse--who, incidentally, was never ill in the nine months Hoctor was with the show. It was in this production that Hoctor met the show's ballerina, Betty Byrd, whom he married.
As Hoctor & Byrd, they formed their act: opening to Steppin' Out with My Baby, a solo Congo tap number to drums by Danny, another pas de deux, and a coda. The team was successful, not only on the American and European nightclub, theater, and hotel circuits, but on the new medium--live network television. They were the favorites on The Tonight Show, appeared for six months on Saturday Night Revue, five times on the Ed Sullivan Show, fifteen times on the Kate Smith Hour, four times on the Colgate Comedy Hour, and on the Perry Como Show. Inevitably, Hoctor choreographed for some of those same shows, and while appearing at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, with headliner Sophie Tucker, he responded to the demand by the studios, where he taught during his travels, for good training records by cutting his first tap technique record.
Four decades of convention and record history then followed. As composer and choreographer, Hoctor has supervised more than 500 LP recordings in all forms of dance, including ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, aerobics, gymnastics, folk, and modern dance. Ruby and Danny have conducted over 1,000 workshop-competitions at the Dance Caravan and Professional Dance Teachers Association conventions that they founded in 1959. In addition they have conducted five World Dance Conventions in Europe and one Round the World Trip. They plan to hold their sixth convention in Ireland, with visits to Scotland and London after their summer tour of the States next year.
Their concerns for teachers and students go deeper than providing the best teachers at conventions. He addresses the needs of teachers and studio owners through the presence of former New York State Supreme Court Judge Howard E. Goldfluss, who lectures at their conventions on pertinent legal issues.
Affable, slender, and cheerful, both Hoctors maintain an unending pace sustained by their belief that no matter what you do or who you are, dancing will help you. "Whenever I feel low or overcome with work," says Danny, "I move!"