Harry Brauser’s life was full of twists and turns from the beginning. Born in NYC, at the Society for the Lying-In Hospital on 17th Street and 2nd Avenue, his parents divorced when he was only three years old. According to Harry, his mother remarried when he was eight and Harry grew up in Bradford, PA, home of Zippo lighters and Kendall Gas and Oil…with one unusual diversion.
(From Interview FACT TV) “In 1943 my mother sent me out to Los Angeles to be with my father so she could have time with her husband before he shipped out. Then my father would not send me back. It was not easy to travel cross country then with troops everywhere. She had to hire a private detective to find me.”
Harry’s life unfolded in Bradford where Les Brauser (Harry’s stepfather) owned a hardware store, and continued with stops and starts in the world of theater, dance and love. He criss-crossed the country many times and moved his possessions along with him time and time again. According to Google, the average American moved 11 times during their lives. I might have missed some moves, but it looks like Harry more than doubled that. He lived in Boston, MA, Bethel, ME, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Putney, VT, Bellows Falls, VT, Windsor, VT, New York City. (He moved back and forth from several of these cities more than once and moved several times within every city).
In addition (more moves) he went to school and/or taught some sort of dance at: Edinboro State College, PA – Bennington College, VT – Brandeis University (Boston, MA) – MIT (Cambridge, MA) – SUNY Brockport, NY – University of Arizona (U of A), Tucson – UCLA, Los Angeles, CA.
He taught Folk Dancing, Contradancing, Ballroom and was in the international performing dance troupes Westwind, AMAN and Mandala. His life in theater was mostly around stage work (making sets, lighting etc) with some acting thrown in.
I tried to do a timeline for Harry, but it has proven to be impossible. He moved so much …sometimes for a job, sometimes for a woman, sometimes to be closer to his son Brian. Growing up without a father, he wanted to remain part of his son’s life, after he was divorced. But sometimes work did not allow this. He moved to San Diego in 1991 to be there for Brian and stayed there 10 years despite erratic job opportunities.
I knew Harry well and had intended to do a complete bio…which after talking to many people who knew him throughout his life became less important than giving a portrait of who he was as a man and what was important to him. He loved theater and dance…and, it must be said, he loved women. Even at 75 years old, when working at FACT TV, he would bring flowers to one of the women in the office. He was described by Jake Stradling as an old-fashioned “ladies man.” Harry was thoughtful, kind and the most wonderful dance partner you could find. He was also chauvinistic, stubborn and disorganized.
In his life, Harry made some “spontaneous” choices, one being when he was in the prestigious Yale Drama School, a 3 year MFA program.
“About halfway through my third year, I was lying in bed, and could see the moon coming through the window, and I thought …why am I still here? So the next day I quit. Went down to the Village.” (Harry Brauser 2013)
Thus Harry lived his life…did I mention he married several times. As far as I can ascertain Margo was in The Village years, Lori (now Tyler) was around U of A period and Mary was a short marriage in the later San Diego years. He maintained contact with Tyler and their son Brian.
Harry’s last across country trek was to be closer to Brian. In 2016, Harry rented the largest U-Haul he could find and got rid of what he had to (1000’s of books among other things) and drove across the country. He was unable to find any affordable housing though in San Diego and returned to Putney where he resettled.
While diving into Harrys imperfect life and finding some surprises, it has been driven home how we are not all of a piece. I loved Harry and though many times I wished life could have been easier for him, I accepted his limitations. He was honest, kind, chauvinistic and charming. He lived his life as best he could – loving and being loved. In the end, he left a long list of women who claim he was the best waltz partner EVER, along with abandoned storage lockers all over the country.
Many people have gone through photos and contributed pictures of Harry at various stages of his life. I have credited those who have sent their pictures to me for this article/obit.
Thanks to Gretchen, Paula, Mary, James, Jacquie and AMAN for the amazing photos spanning 60 of his 86 years. And thanks to all of you who have shared your stories about Harry.
Below are some of the stories, and links found – my attempt to represent Harry Brauser and celebrate his life!
Saturday Night, Knott County Kentucky. Tucson Ethnic Dance Ensemble and the Fiddle Club 20th Anniversary concert 1983 Big Circle Clogging, Waltzes and song. from Appalachia. Choreography by Nadine Dougan.
Harry makes a cameo appearance in this one at minute 1:30
Here are some memories! (Dates are not exact.)
David Skidmore – Boston, MA
There’s a bunch of us still around who remember Harry Brauser from the 70s, a remarkable dancer and teacher at MIT and in Mandala. I’ve just had word that he passed away just over a week ago in Vermont and I thought I should pass the news on. I know I have a lot of crazy memories of him, not the least of which was the time he started teaching Pata Pata at a Sunday night MIT dance, got stuck halfway through the dance, so I jumped up to try to help him out, and then I couldn’t remember how that part went either – we both ended up laughing hysterically and we just put on the music and told everybody to do their best. He was an incredible combination of elan, charisma, machismo, sarcasm, and downeast humor. I’ve missed him for years.
Miamon Miller – Montezuma, NM
I met Harry when he joined the Aman Folk Ensemble in the mid 70s and you could immediately see that he was an excellent dancer with wonderful stage presence. However, we got to know each other much better through our mutual friendship with Dick Crum. About ten or so years later when we both found ourselves in ‘transition’, we decided to share a house I had been asked to take care of; and after that had run its course, we shared an apartment. Two decades later, somehow we became neighbors in Vermont and although we didn’t live in the same space, we instantly resumed the friendship we had begun years before in Los Angeles.
Thinking about Harry now, I came to the realization that I don’t remember him ever getting angry. Quite the opposite, he had this very natural way of rationally and calmly diffusing any and all tension. Just one of his many gifts.
Bill Cope – San Jose, CA
I was so jealous of Harry’s mustache. I could never grow one like his and Miamon’s – their mustaches were impressive. Harry and sure had a lot of fun at the time carousing … as single men are wont to do.
Martha Wild – San Diego, CA
Harry was the best waltz partner EVER. It was joy to waltz with him.
I knew Harry when he was a caller here, in fact he used to live in a room attached to my garage that I rent out, which is still known to all as “The Brauser Estate.” I am sorry to hear of his passing. He had some fun dances and a quirky humor as a caller. I still remember driving up with him to a dance camp – he brought more stuff with him than an opera diva might take on a world cruise! He was quite the gardener, too, and grew all sorts of veggies and herbs in my side yard, though he never seemed to want to eat what he’d grown, so I was the beneficiary of much parsley, cilantro, tomatoes, and tiny purple chili peppers that my Aztec-Mexican friend loved to chop into salsa for her husband. I can see why he didn’t eat those – whew. He came out here again briefly a while back, but when I tried to contact him again, he wasn’t there – so I guess he must have moved back to Vermont very quickly. Having lived a bit in Vermont, I can see the attraction.
By the way, I have six dances of his that I collected while he was here, and would gladly share them if anyone would like to add them to their collection. When we dance again, I think I will include a few in his honor. My favorites are “Jane Janetsdotter’s Reel” and one called, pardon my French “The City Council Really Sucks,” a name you might expect from Harry Brauser.
Susie North – Los Angeles, CA
Harry was smart, sweet and funny. I know he will be missed. RIP Harry.
Jacquie Wohl – Tucson- AZ
We were looking for a caller to start the first contradance in Tucson in 1980 and met Harry which proved to be serendipitous indeed. He was our first caller and we travelled to many gigs together – with just me and Craig as the band sometimes. He called a contra at our wedding in 1980. Harry came along exactly when we needed him.
Karen Bodding – Tucson, AZ
It is funny to think about my time with Harry now after all these years… the things you remember. One memory that I have of Harry is how wonderful it was to dance with him. Ballroom, contra, folk dancing, etc. I’ve never had a partner that danced like Harry. It was like heaven to me.
The last time I saw Harry he was driving out of town in a 20 ft long U-Haul with all his possessions heading to Los Angeles. The first time I went to Harry’s house, I was not prepared for what I saw. I walked in and each room was wall to wall boxes everywhere. There was a path to get from the front door to the other parts of the house. The only room that was clear was the bedroom although there were some boxes there as well. Before he moved, and after he left the U of A, he had a job for a while assisting at the Goodwill distribution center. Just about everyday he would bring home items from the center that he thought he could resell at the flea market. What didn’t sell he tucked away into his b0x (Harry’s move 1983).
Paula Gordon – Bloomington, IN
Harry and I became close friends in late 1954 when we were at Brandeis, both in the Theatre Department. Harry could do it all: design and build sets, act, dance. He was also close to my dear ex-husband, David. Harry was at our wedding and then we travelled to Long Island for his wedding to Margo. We kept in touch over the years; he even visited us in Bloomington. After our divorce, David and I lost touch with Harry for a few years but eventually, by googling dance groups, I found him in Maine. By that time, my daughter Judith was teaching at Dartmouth so, on one of my trips to Hanover, NH, I was able to see Harry. Shortly after that visit, he moved to Putney. When my son Eric’s wife also was hired at Dartmouth, I started driving to N.H about four times a year and, on each visit, I would spend some time with Harry. He had a great set-up, a small apartment in a really nice seniors’ building, right next to the Co-op where he met friends for breakfast every morning. The library was next to the Co-op and Harry spent a lot of time there, usually using one of the computers. Outside his door was a communal garden. Harry had a plot and grew lots of veggies. He was very proud of his agricultural prowess. It was quite ideal and when he decided that he wanted to move back to San Diego to be near his son, I thought that was an awful idea. I begged him not to go, but you know Harry; he was determined and he had a stubborn streak.
On one of my visits, I helped him pack. He had literally thousands of books. Not only was EVERY wall in his apartment covered with bookcases but he had also built one down the length of the apartment, smack in the middle. We had dozens of boxes; one pile for the library, one for his friends, one for his favorites to take with (mostly art books), and so on. I counted over 200 cookbooks! “Harry, why do you have so many cookbooks? You barely COOK!” “I like to read them.” Harry liked to read EVERYTHING. He was leaving a good life and I was apprehensive for him.
With good reason… seems that this move probably hastened the decline but it all might have come out the same. Who knows. His friend Miamon referred to Harry as a curmudgeon, and I probably would agree.
He leased the biggest U-Haul he could find and attached his old car to the back. He had arranged with a young friend to share the driving out to San Diego. Of course, he had no housing there waiting for him. When I questioned him, he said he could always sleep on the beach. He didn’t realize how much San Diego had changed since his years there, how scarce public housing was and how expensive everything was. At the last minute, his friend demurred and Harry determined to make the drive himself. It took him over a week to get from Vermont to my house in Indiana, usually no more than a 13-hour drive. It was obvious that he was months away from California, so I hired a young man I knew to drive the van. They made it in a little over two days. But when they arrived, there was no place to unload the van. Harry finally rented storage space and, I’m afraid, that’s where his belongings, including his incredible art, ended up. But it did not work out and he went back to settle in Putney. Of course, by then he had lost his apartment and he couch-surfed until the State found him another placement. That was in Windsor. It was a fairly pleasant place, one room with a bathroom but not the independent living he was used to. Harry had lost all his art supplies and tools in San Francisco but he made art out of everything he touched, even the little cups that his pills were dispensed in. Stones and bits of wood; everything was artistic grist for his mill. And, luckily, there was a library not far from the home.
1974-1979 and 2000-2001
Dori Lehner – Los Angeles, CA
I was a member of Liberty Assembly in the mid-1970s when its director, Robin Evanchuk, told us someone was trying to start a contra dance in Los Angeles and we should check it out, so several of us went to a very small dance at a community center in West LA on Overland Avenue which Harry had organized with a friend (whose name I can’t remember). And that was my first exposure to contra dancing and to Harry Brauser. I think all told there were maybe 16 dancers and two musicians. Harry was studying at UCLA’s dance ethnology department at the time and living with Dick Crum. We saw each other for about a year around 1977-8. He was looking for work in the area, but ultimately ended up at State University of New York in Brockport. After that we lost touch. I got married and divorced, had stopped dancing — a familiar story.
In 2000 I decided to get back into dancing and went to some local contra dances. And, on a whim, I decided to do a Google search for Harry and discovered that he was living and calling in San Diego. I was surprised because the last news I’d had of him was that he was in Tucson, and I had no idea he’d even come back to Los Angeles for a period of time after that. I gave him a call and he said he’d let me know if he was coming up to LA to call any dances, and for a few months in late 2000 and early 2001 we went to dances in Los Angeles and San Diego, including a wonderful New Year’s dance in Santa Barbara, and he did a waltz workshop at Fiddling Frog in February 2001.
I think the last time I danced with him was in April of 2001 at a local contra dance weekend held at Harwood Lodge on Mount Baldy, very small dance floor, two sets of maybe eight couples each. We were dancing together, started at the top of the set, confidently dancing our parts all the way to the bottom, only to turn around and see the wake of chaos we had left behind because we had been dancing it wrong the entire time. Oops. I think it was doubly embarrassing because we were so sure we were doing it right. But what could we do but laugh? Later that year he moved to Vermont. Every time he moved, he hauled a trailer full of tools with him — which then went into storage. I treasure all the memories I have of him.
Mary Wolff – Boston, MA
Harry and I danced together in Mandala Folk Dance ensemble in the early 70s. I went to UCLA in 1973 to work on my master’s in the dance department at UCLA. There were a number of us – former Mandala members — there. I don’t remember exactly when Harry came to California but I know he took courses in the dance ethnology program – he was definitely there by 1974-5 academic year. I don’t think he completed a degree – he already had a master’s in dance from Bennington from I think around 1970.
In 2016 Harry called me from his car to let me know he could not be coming to the Mandala Reunion. He was on route back to San Diego hauling yet another 20 foot trailer behind his old car.
Leda Shapiro – Ashland, OR
I met Harry when he had just moved to Los Angeles at New Years Camp in Malibu. During the evening contradance, the caller did one of my favorite dances – Chorus Jig, which I danced with Harry. We started the dance at the top of the and sauntered down the middle… keeping time with that great music! I started the turn to go back up the set, but Harry pulled me back firmly and whispered loudly in my ear… I’M leading! (as he lead me into the turn). Nowadays, people think no one leads in contra, but I am sure Harry would debate that! When I danced with Harry after that, I just let him lead …and it was heaven.
Harry moved to San Diego in the late 1990s and I would see him when we came down to a dance. I called him on his birthday for many years after he moved to Boston/ Maine / Vermont. Then December 2020 the phone number I had was not functioning. So I called Miamon and the trail, unfortunately taking several weeks, lead to finding out he had recently passed. My memories of Harry are of dancing and love, and many passionate conversations.
2002 – 2021
Gretchen Henn – Ashville, NC
At some point after Harry made the move back to Boston in 2001/2, he needed work and was recommended by a friend of a friend to the job of lunch cook (!) at Mainewoods Folkdance Camp in Fryeburg, ME. This was the most recent incarnation of a summer folkdance camp in western Maine, started in the ‘50s (?) by Michael and Maryann Herman from International House in New York City. Harry continued the cook gig at Mainewoods for a few more summers and also had a very part time job for a while with the Maine Forest service where he got to wear a uniform!
Through a woman he met at Mainewoods, Harry relocated to Bethel, ME. I got to know him when I went to Mainewoods in 2003, recently back into folk dancing after a long hiatus. Soon we were in a relationship; he would come from Bethel to visit me in Portland (ME) every other weekend and we would go contra dancing. I was completely enamored of this charming, witty older fellow – an incomparable dancer and a brilliant mind. After six months or so, that phase of relationship ended but we remained close friends and often went to dance events together. More than once I helped him with moving things from one storage facility to another, and later cried at the loss when he would yet again find himself ‘under water’ financially and abandon the contents. Through his move to VT – wanting to reconnect with Maimon and the life they knew in CA – and my move to western NC, we stayed in touch. In 2014, he came to visit me for a month, bringing gifts of books and ‘beauties’ that he had picked up on one of his many hunting trips to Goodwill, and we went dancing. I saw him one more time when I flew to NH to help him recover a few treasures from another storage unit about to be abandoned. Despite a few moments of sadness, it was a sweet visit and I was reminded yet again of what a rare treasure he was.
James Hutson – Los Angeles, CA
My local dance was at Westwood, where the primary caller was Harry Brauser. Harry was a very sociable, genial dance leader — not a perfect caller, but the kind of caller who could put new dancers at ease, which made him a very good community caller …and I got some advice from Harry as well. “When you get up on stage for the first time, no matter what you expect that it’s going to be like, it will be different.” I wasn’t sure what he meant at the time, but I got up on stage to call my first contra dance and I realized at a certain point that I did not know how to talk to the musicians. I knew the dance sequences, but I knew very little about the music, and dealing with the musicians behind me was as challenging as dealing with the dancers in front of me. So I put my study on that. I realized that Harry’s point was that no matter how well you prepare, there will always be something unexpected, and I have found that to be quite true.
Barry Cole – Bellingham, WA
Harry was the regular caller for a time at the West LA contradance, that I organized. I was also one of the regular musicians. When Hilary and I were married at the home of Clark & Elaine Weissman in June 1990, most of the 100+ guests were people we knew from contradancing. Harry composed three dances for us. It was very hot, so we didn’t dance them that day, but we still like the “Hilbar Reel.”
Frank Hoppe – Carpenteria, CA
When I first had the opportunity to run a dance and foist my playing on an unsuspecting yet wonderfully supportive community, Harry Brauser was the regular caller for my dance. It took place in Westwood at the Masonic Hall on Westwood between Pico and Olympic.
Harry was steeped in the calling tradition of Ralph Page. He would call many dances that did not always feature a corner swing. He called dances that were unequal – meaning that half the couples would have different moves from the other half, designated as active and inactive. This, of course, is a misleading way to describe the dances since the inactives had an equal stake in the success of the dance as the actives. Some dances did not even have a partner swing.
I learned to love the traditional dances from Harry. I still love them, even though most are rarely called these days. His legacy as a foundational figure in the then-nascent Contradance scene is an important one to recognize and honor.
He was a very funny and charming man, and he was very dedicated to the dance. I liked him a lot and will always remember him fondly.
1979 – 2021
Tyler Orion (Lori Brauser) – San Diego, CA
I first met Harry at a folk dance event back east, but I connected with him again in San Francisco when I was with Westwind and they were looking for some technical theater support. I was newly divorced with a 1 year old son, and Harry was charming. We married in 1979, and we moved to Tucson for his job at UofA. Our son, Brian, was born in 1980. Sadly, we realized early on that being married was killing a great friendship, and we divorced. But we stayed connected, and he did his best to maintain his relationship with both Brian and his older brother. Always mindful of how it felt to be without a father, Harry remained a part of our family and joined us for celebrations when geography permitted, including both boys’ weddings. He was a kind hearted soul, and very loving in his irascible way. He will be remembered fondly by so many.
RIP: HARRY BRAUSER
(December 21, 1934 – January 8, 2021)
I'm Just Wild About Harry & Harry’s Wild About Life