Liza May

US Open 2014 Update #1 - Who Is Raymond?

Every person thinks they're more important than they really are. They think the world can’t live without them. If you have that mentality you slow things down, you’re not an asset. Because the world can get along just fine without any individual. The longer I live the more I’m convinced of this.


By now you’ve heard that the Open has new owners – Phil Dorroll and Raymond Harris.

Phil you may know from Tampa, Summer Swing, Sweetheart Swing – or in earlier years Michigan and Nashville.

But you may not yet know Raymond, a relative newcomer to the west coast community.

I had a sweet chat with this sweet man from Nashville, Tennessee, to get to know him a little before the Open explodes and he realizes what he’s gotten himself into.

Here’s what he had to say:

“Being as I’m a little new in the community, what I’d like people to know about me is that I love to dance. I do what I do because of my passion for the dance.

“About nine years ago I’m sittin’ on a bar stool in Memphis – I remember the moment like it was yesterday – I was at a corporate event at this hotel and I’m down in the bar just sitting there watching.   And I see this couple doing east-coast swing, social dancers is all they were, and I thought wow. I want to be able to do that.  I want to be able to do something besides go into a bar and have a beer.

“I was a little unhappy in my personal life at that time.   Business was going well but there were some personal things I was missing.  So I made a “bucket list.”  I wanted to learn to fly. I wanted to learn a foreign language.  And I wanted to learn to dance.

“When I made that bucket list I had no idea dance would take over my life like it has.  I tell people it becomes addictive – you get a passion and you just can’t dance enough.

“Came back home, found flying lessons, learned Spanish, and I found dance classes.

“I’m a very slow learner.   So I asked the group instructor could I meet with her the hour before the group class.  “Whatever you’re gonna teach the group – teach me that. Then I’ll kind of have my feet wet.”  So that’s the way I started dancing.  I met Sandy in that group class and the rest is history.

“As far as owning the Open – well of course you don’t go into a venture this big, with this magnitude, not caring if it makes money or not.  It’s a risk, of course. But that’s not my reason for taking this on, as a money-making venture.  My focus is to share our love of the dance.

“I grew up in Lebanon, TN, about 30 miles east of Nashville.  Raised in a small family, raised poor, one brother seven years my senior.  The way we grew up, if you didn’t get to the table right away there wasn’t much left to eat when you got there.  My mom – she worked on a small budget and couldn’t make a lot of food.   And we’d always have several people joining us at the table, friends, people that worked with my dad,  when we were small I remember you had to walk miles around the table all filled with people.  So if you didn’t get there you missed out.

“I hunted and fished as a boy.  Loved cars – always a great love of mine, cars. Still are.  Corvettes.  Had a ’66 Corvette in high school.  Always regretted selling that car.  Bought a new Corvette in 2007.  I don’t drive it very much but I do have it!

“As far as school, the only thing I ever wanted from school was “out.”  I was in a co-op program in high school where I was worked the last two years.  Just couldn’t wait to get out.

“I didn’t know it then but looking back I think one reason I wanted to get out of school so bad was a lack of what you’d call “social interaction” skills.  Which is one of the things that later drew me to dance. Dance is such a great place to learn social skills.  Dance should be required in schools, along with reading and math, because it teaches so much more than how to move to music.  To me, the purpose of school is to put tools in your “toolbag of life.”  I feel the lessons of dance should be part of everyone’s tool-bag, everyone’s life.”

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L:  What is it about you that makes you so good at business?  People say you’re a brilliant businessman. Why is that? What special skills do you have that have made you successful?


“I got fired when I was 18 years old. I guess anybody who is successful gets fired at least once in their life. I was really cocky – I’d have fired me too. I think I learned from that.

“For an 18-year old I was making really good money, working really hard. I realized early on that I like nice things and I didn’t mind working to get them.  So the ability to work hard.

“I can say from my experience that you can’t force anybody to do anything. They have to get behind you and want to do the work.  Oh, you can throw money at somebody and put ‘em on board where they’re financially invested.  But their heart’s are not in it.  To get somebody really invested in your vision they have to really want to be a part of it. So I try to engage people, to get them to see my vision, my focus. So the ability to get people engaged.

“I have a long-standing rule with people who work for or with me. I don’t tell them how to do what I want done. I just tell them what I want done. I give them the tools, and then I get out of their way.

“And it’s not the people at the top that matter.  My copier technician, for instance – he’s more important to me than my top management guys. People like me, management, anybody can do what I do. I can be replaced.  If I don’t show up at work my job still goes on.  But the lower level people, that make things happen, if they don’t show up that’s when the system falls apart. It’s not the people at the top, it’s the people at the bottom who matter most in a business – those are the people you have to cherish and embrace and help along the way, and give them the tools they need to do the job. I don’t mean to sound hokey or anything but in my experience that’s the way it works in a business, and elsewhere.”

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L:  What’s the hardest part of your job?


“Hardest part of what I do – and I don’t know how to be politically correct in saying this – is negotiating all the attitudes, the personalities.”


L:  Oh we know about that in the dance world. Every person reading this will understand IMMEDIATELY what you’re talking about.  You have my word on that.


“I don’t direct that comment at any particular person.  This is a problem you get everywhere in life.  Because every person thinks they are more important than they really are.  People get caught up believing the world can’t live without them.  And if you have that mentality you are a speed-bump, you slow things down, you’re not an asset as far as I’m concerned.  Because the world can get along just fine without any individual. The longer I live the more I’m convinced of the truth of this.”


L:  Have you made business mistakes?


“Oh yeah, I’ve made a couple of those.

“Biggest one:  Not.  Knowing.  When. to  Pull. The.  Plug.

“I had a partner in a construction company and as good as he was at construction he was a lousy business person, and he had a lousy personal life.  And that cost me a lot of money. I kept wanting to fix him.  And I couldn’t, because you can’t fix somebody else.”


L:  I can’t even fix myself. Lord knows I need fixing.


“So it took me a long time, and probably a million dollars, not knowing when to pull the plug.  If I’d have pulled it sooner I’d be a lot better off financially today.

“Outside of that I wouldn’t change a thing, mistakes and all.  In the words of John Lennon, “everything that we have done has brought us to where we are today.”

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L:  Who are your heroes?


“My dad.  My greatest hero.  The person who’s meant more to me than anything is my father and I’d love to be able to reach up and see him again.  Henry Ford was an inspiration.”


L:  Who in the dance community have you not met yet, that you’d like to meet?


“I was just in Virginia Beach this past weekend and saw a lot of the “Old Guard” Shag dancers. I want to meet as many of the older swing dancers as I can, the ones who’ve preserved and kept swing alive for all of us to enjoy.”


L:  You’ve been to lots of events over the years, what in your opinion makes an event really good?


“The feel of the event. To me a good event is a good party.

“But it should also appeal to all the different roles people like to engage in.  If I’m a social dancer I want good social dancing at my level and above. If I’m a competitor I want good competitions. If I want to be a volunteer, or sponsor, I want those opportunities.  A good event will offer things for everybody.

“As far as the Open – I believe that we purchased the right to be caretakers of the Open.  It’s important to me that people know that.  The Open needs to be shared, everybody needs to put their stamp on it.  I don’t believe any one individual should shape it.  Because as much as there will be new champion dancers coming along, there will also always be new people coming along with fresh new ideas for the Open, to invigorate it and bring it along.  Someone is always coming along right behind us with better, fresher ideas.

“As for our short-term goals, I’d like to bring more genres of swing to the Open, bring back the ones that might feel neglected, or disenfranchised. Lindy, Shag, Hand-Dance. The different forms of swing.  What little I do with the Open – and mind you I’m only a stockholder, I’m not the Event Director – that’s Phil and he’s got a good handle on it – but I’d like to see more genres come to the US Open. Because as much as I love west coast swing – it’s near and dear to my heart – it may not be the form of swing that other people love the most, and I’d like to see all the forms of swing celebrated at the Open.”

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L:  As a relative newcomer to leadership in the west coast community, with a fresh perspective, what do you see as the greatest strengths of our community? And greatest threats to our future?


“Greatest strengths I see is all the up-and-coming “B-Listers” (hate to use the term because of the negative connotation, but everybody knows who those guys are.) I think those people are the greatest strength and hope for the dance, and should be embraced. Those folks are doing a great job, the ones I’ve encountered. Most of them don’t mind giving back, going the extra mile, working hard.  They’re passionate about spreading the dance, generous in sharing what they know.

“As far as concerns about our future – personal “agendas” I see as the biggest threat, if there is one.  By that I mean people who want to divide the west coast swing community.  I think the community is fractured.  I think it is fractured at the top, and unfortunately that fracture transcends all the way down to the Novice level dancer.  It’s like when a divorce occurs and they want you to pick sides.  So if there is a downfall of this dance  — and I don’t there will be because I think the community is strong enough to weather this kind of problem  — but if there would be a downfall that would be it. When the top pros take it upon themselves to have an agenda and then want everybody else to support their agenda.”


L:  Disagreeing “camps,” do you mean? Schools of thought? Is it about the philosophy of our dance? Teaching methods? Or is it personal animosities you’re speaking of, disagreements between personalities?


“These are just my impressions, as a newcomer.  But it’s personal agendas more than anything else, as I see it.  People who see their way as the only right way.  Because there is no one right way – there are many ways to do this dance. If “there are many right ways” was the prevailing message I think we could work together more. That’s just my business sense talking.  I just see the top pros not working together as much as I’d like them to.  But maybe that’s the way it is.  In the Arts in general, or in dance communities.   Or maybe it’s just that stars don’t play well together.  Maybe it’s just the way it’s supposed to be, I don’t know.  I don’t have experience in the dance community, this is all new to me.

“I’m really about the social dancer.  I believe you fall in love with this dance on a social floor. You don’t fall in love with it on a competition floor.  You don’t see this dance and say, “I want to be a competitor, that’s what I want to do.”  That’s not the first thing that comes to people’s minds.  This dance is first a social dancer’s dance.

“In my opinion there’s a subset of people we’re missing at dance and I think I know why.   We have juniors and young adults, and we have the 50+ crowd.  But to me it seems we’re missing the 30 and 40 year olds,  I think because they’re busy having and raising families. and building careers.  I think we need to figure out how to reach and attract that demographic.  In my opinion of we can figure out how to pull those people in, like in the Shag world, maybe then we’ll have more dancers over the long run.  Just my personal opinion.”

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L:  Where do you see yourself in ten years? 2025?


“I see myself loving this dance even more than I do right now.  I see Sandy and I being sponsors, working to grow the community.  I don’t see myself as owning the Open in ten years.  We may have a minority ownership, but I don’t see us owning at the level that we do now.”


L:  What in your opinion makes a champion dancer?


“Obviously being a great dancer. But also being a great business person.  And being a down-to-earth person. Humility.”


L:  Two last questions – the most important.   Who are your favorite comedians – and – do you cook?


“Rodney Dangerfield, Robin Williams, Clams and Linguini.

“I love to eat.

“Please downplay me. I’m humbled by the fact that you want to introduce me to the community, but the Open is not about me.  Phil is the Event Director.  He and Ruth are doing an amazing job. And my girlfriend Sandy is working hard too.  She’s a detail person.  I’m not, I’m a “big picture” guy.  I don’t see that as an asset, still working on that.  I’m a work in progress.”

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Filed Under: US Open

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