James Anthony "Jimmy" LaVita was born on June 20, 1942 in Brooklyn, New York and was an independent scholar, dancer, performer, folklorist, and choreographer based in Boulder, Colorado, who worked primarily in traditional, ethnic, and vernacular dance as a dance ethnologist, teacher, and artistic consultant. He studied, taught, lectured, and wrote about traditional dance, its social settings, and its improvisatory techniques. He was also a mathematical genius, a disenchanted life-long democrat, a former KGNU disk jockey, a creative mastermind, a black beanie-wearing anthropologist, and a lover of delicious food.
Jimmy met Katie Elliott, his life's true love, in the late 1990s at Boulder's historic Penny Lane Coffee Shop where they talked dance into the wee hours of the morning, ultimately forging a life together as well as an artistic partnership that spanned two decades.
Jimmy collected his first PhD in applied mathematics from New York University in his early twenties. His passions led him to the University of California, Berkeley where he received an MA in folklore. He settled at the University of Denver where he taught as a tenured professor and eventually garnered a second PhD in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin. Jimmy retired from DU earlier in 2017 and while at DU he received the Burlington Northern University of Denver Distinguished Teaching Award and published exhaustively on subjects ranging from mathematics, computer science, digital media, anthropology, and folklore.
A professor, performer and choreographer, Jimmy worked primarily in traditional and ethnic dance as a dance ethnologist, teacher, and artistic consultant. He studied, taught and lectured about traditional dance, its social setting and improvisatory techniques, specializing in Scandinavian couple dancing, spending many summers studying in Norway and Sweden studying traditional couple dancing and was the recipient of a Norwegian Marshall Fund Grant to study at the Rådet for folkemusikk og folkedans in Trondheim, Norway. He formed and directed the traveling ethnic music and dance group Narodno< Ethnic Music and Dance Ensemble. He set choreographies on a number of folk ensembles, and served on the boards of Westwind and Khadra ethnic dance ensembles in San Francisco. Jimmy's passion for traditional dance was equally paced by an insatiable appetite for modern forms, digital media, and modern social and cultural trends that fed his artistic work with the 3rd Law Dance/Theater.
Jimmy taught traditional and vernacular dancing nationally for more than two decades. He gave instruction and lecture demonstrations in traditional Scandinavian couple dancing at a large number of camps, weekends, and evenings from California to Wisconsin to Washington, DC. For many years he taught traditional dancing in the Denver Metro area.
He was a research associate in the Department of Scandinavian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and taught courses in a number of disciplines in the Division of Arts, Humanities and Social Science at the University of Denver. Along with Katie, he received the "Living Legends of Dance in Colorado" award honoring companies that have made an outstanding contribution to dance.
As a dance ethnologist, Jim had a project involving the ethnography of the Scandinavian folk dance movement in the Denver area, and a project on popular dance life in an urban environment. He worked on a monograph about dance ethnology and was the producer and moderator of the film and interview series "Lives Lived in Dance."
In another life Jim was a professional disk jockey. He co-emceed two popular folk and traditional music shows, Caravan and Musica Mundi, at public radio station KGNU, in Boulder, Colorado.
Jimmy's intellectual acumen was matched with an extraordinarily social disposition. On any day that he wasn't teaching or rehearsing, he was entertaining with friends and colleagues who could be found in his backyard enjoying stimulating discourse and elegant food. By night, he made a habit of seeing performances from local artists or dining out with his wife. He exuded endless gentleness, warmth and wit, an appreciation for fun and was always fascinating to be with. Many sought him out for advice and counsel, and he was always good for discussions ranging from the cultural significance of food to the politics of local arts. Those who knew him will know it is Katie, his wife, collaborator, and greatest friend to whom he would express his deepest gratitude and unending love.
Jimmy passed away at his home in Boulder, Colorado with his wife Katie by his side.
Dances Jim taught include Bakmes i Polska från Klaralvsdalea, Bingsjö Polska, Dutch Hop, Göteborg Mazurka, Hambo Variants from Northern Sweden, Kringellek från Gagnef, Masurka från Göteborg, Realänder från Vemdalen, Schiottis från Södermanland, Senpolsa från Torp, Setesdal Gangar, Slängpolska från Gammalkils, Shottis från Sodermanland, Slängpolska från Dunker, Slängpolska från Gammalkils, Slängpolska från Klaralvsdalen, Stigvals i Bakmes från Kall, and Telenganger.