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Francois SzonyFrançois Szony

September 30, 1925 –

At an early age, François and his sister Giselle (one year his junior) began taking dance lessons in ballet, acrobatics, tap, and jazz in their hometown of Budapest, Hungary. Before long, they were performing together as a wunderkind specialty act. In their late teens, the Szonys began performing across Europe, including Vienna, Berlin, and Paris. In 1948, François and Giselle came to the U.S. to perform at the Palmer House in Chicago, which soon led to engagements at nightclubs and theatres across the U.S., including New York, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Boston. The Szonys pioneered what eventually came to be called adagio dancing—partnered acrobatic stunts and lifts integrated with ballet technique, vocabulary, and aesthetics. Although American dance acts like Veloz and Yolanda included lifts in the 1930s, the Szonys were the first to incorporate overhead lifts into their routines. Among the Szonys' signature moves were finger turns (later called the coffee grinder) which they entered from the overhead lift commonly referred to as “the bird.” At only five-foot four inches, François Szony relied more on timing and technique than brute strength for the dazzling effects of his lifts, which he entered and exited so smoothly that his partner often appeared to be floating. The Szonys were never a mambo act, but they influenced many of the mambo acts of the 1950s, including Augie and Margo Rodriguez and Mike Terrace, all of whom used to watch the Szonys perform at Latin Quarter Nightclub.

Francois Szony

After Giselle Szony retired from performing, François Szony partnered with several other female dancers, including Nancy Claire Wallace (Houssels), Rita Agnese, Marilyn Trembath, Cate Caplan, and Toni-Anne Gardella, whom he married. François Szony has performed at the most prestigious venues of his time, including, Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden, and the London Palladium, where he danced for the Queen of England. He has also appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and the Hollywood Palace. Francois Szony has opened for many of the greatest singers and comedians of the twentieth century: Judy Garland, Liza Minelli, Liberace, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Edith Piaff. He also danced with American Dance Machine, directed by Lee Theodore. Francois Szony trained many theatre arts legends, including Pierre Dulaine and Yvonne Marceau, David and Sharon Savoy, Billy Fajardo and Katie Marlow.

© Juliet McMains 2014

Television/Film Appearances:

Mr. Black Magic (1956) performing the Szony Waltz with Giselle

The Colgate Comedy Hour (episode 5.6, 1954) with Giselle

So this is Love (1953) with Giselle (performing as a couple on top of a wedding cake)

The Hollywood Palace with Nancy Claire


This information was relayed to me during a personal interview with François Szony in Coconut Creek, FL, March 24, 2014.

Additional Resources:

Bio of Nancy Claire Houssels

"Francois Szony" by Ron Bess

Dancers Palladium Project Info Resources Juliet's Bio Contact Us
Header photos: Mambo Aces (Aníbal Vázquez and Mike Vázquez) and Jackie Danois Website Design: Wren McMains, Additional Credits