West Side Stories: Robert Banas (“Joyboy”)

By Dr. Alan Carlos Hernandez on April 15, 2012

HOLLYWOOD (Herald de Paris) — Robert Banas (Joyboy) created the book Our Story: Jets and Sharks – Then and Now.   He worked diligently in assembling as many of the dancers as he could find to speak to the West Side Story life experience and archive their memories for posterity.

AC: Please tell us about the book. I understand it was your idea.

RB: It was my idea. I had a dream and wanted it to come true. I would hear these wonderful stories every time we would got together and said, “I’ve got put them in a book and share them with the world.” The best part is the stories; they all ring clear and each one is a gem. The response has been overwhelming – each time we do a book signing we relive our lives again and again. Such wonderful memories, never to be forgotten.

AC :Why should people read the book?

RB: I think any one in the film and theater business should read it. I think anyone in school should read it to better know the actors/dancers/singers that had a tremendous challenge as soon as they were picked to join the cast. The film was, and is, historical for all dancers – it paved the way for many more opportunities for dance as a cinematic art form.

AC: How did being featured in West Side Story change your life?

RB: It certainly changed my life, but it also changed the lives of millions of others. Some of the stories are breath-taking and amazing. And my next project is to do a documentary on the effect the movie had on everyday people. The film is about urban life and the challenges in the early 50’s, but it certainly has very much of ‘today’ in it. Schools all over America show the film in English Lit.

AC: When did you discover that you wanted to dance?

RB: I believe I was the ripe old age of five when music came on the radio and I would immediately run and stand in a doorway pretending it was a frame for a small stage. I then would jive, moving my body to and fro, trying to keep up with the beat of the music, knowing that when the music would crescendo I’d leap in the air defying gravity, only to land in a heap. I’d pick myself up and start it all over again. I just couldn’t sit still when I’d hear those big bands: Tommy Dorsey, Ray Anthony, Count Basie, Les Brown, and Stan Kenton.

But it wasn’t till World War II (in 1942) that my father decided that my sister, Faith, and I should take ballroom lessons. Again I was on the move trying different lifts with Sis and we had so much fun; at times we couldn’t stop laughing. I just couldn’t stop. I had the music in me and had to move or explode.

AC: What were the three steps leading to the role in West Side Story?

RB: It was more like five steps. Having worked for Robbins twice before on Broadway in “Peter Pan” and in the movie “King and I” I thought he would remember me and that might help my chances to being picked. But it didn’t. I had to go through five auditions and kept doing the same combination over and over again. Then finally, with tired feet and a spirit of almost-ready-to-give-up, I was asked to stay. I had the job.

AC: How did it feel when you knew you landed the role?

RB: I was so excited when I was told I had the job. I didn’t know whether to cry, yell, or jump for joy. I believe I did all three. There wasn’t too much of a hoopla as it was just another job. My friends, many of whom also auditioned, didn’t get the job. That was sad. My family was congratulating me but they knew that it was just another job and I didn’t have to borrow money from them. I finally had a job now and I could pay them back.

The best part of getting the job was making life long friends. The worst was sitting around waiting to go on. After you have warmed up and are ready to cut loose, you now have sit on your butt and wait for lighting and set dressing. It’s hard to get back up to speed after sitting for a while.

AC: How did it feel the first time you saw the film?

RB: I loved the opening overhead shot of Manhattan. I thought it was an okay film and nothing to shout about.

AC: What are a couple of things that people don’t know about your dancing history?

RB: Natalie Wood was my dancing partner when were kids in the Michael Panaieff Children’s’ Ballet Company. Jill St. John and Stefanie Powers were company members. Barbara Luna, I understand, was up for ‘Anita’ and ‘Maria’ parts in WSS.

AC: How did fame effect you?

RB: I never thought I was famous, but mention you were in the movie West Side Story… doors opened. I became a choreographer, associate producer, director, had my own dance company, taught jazz dance for years, was a staff member of The Dick Grove School of Music, and appeared in many movie musicals.

AC: Do you have any regrets?

RB: Regrets? I’ve had a rich and full life. I have done things that I set out to do, and they came about.

AC: What advice would you give to young dancers?

RB: My advice to young dancers is follow your dream, don’t give up, have faith, and be prepared for rejection…lots of it. But over-come it by making it work for you. Example: I was doing a music TV show and needed a replacement female dancer. This girl Mary came to try out and I didn’t pick her. She was not that good. She came to another audition and I almost did hire her as I saw quite an improvement. Then she came to a third and I hired her. She had improved, then proved to me that she wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer and I hired her.

AC: What do you think of the dancing reality shows on TV today?

RB: I like seeing what I call the ‘cream of the crop.’ They are the new breed and put a lot of acrobatic and street dancing into it. Though the modern aspect is quite pleasing, it is more appealing to the eye. I contend that I could never do even half that well.

AC: What would you like your legacy to be?

RB: The legacy I leave behind is this book – a book that salutes a gentleman that gave me a chance and opened many doors that I would not have had the chance to walk through.

Bob Turk September 2, 2012

Hi Bob, I just read your article regarding your live of dance and thought it was absolutely wonderful. I too had a wonderful career and don’t regret a moment of iy. Much love to you Bobby and hope you are i good health and like me rejoice in wonderfull memories.

Much love,
Bob Turk

John O.Dwyer January 22, 2013

Hello Bob – As a former member of the Michael Panieff dance group (Five O”Dwyers) and the same class at HPS it is great to read your interview. Now to read your book.
All the best,
John Dwyer (ex Johnny O”Dwyer)

John O.Dwyer January 22, 2013

Hello Bob – Great to read about you and see that you are doing well. I too was with the Panaieff Theater (Five O”Dwyers) and also a fellow class member at HPS.. Now to read your book!
John Dwyer (ex: Johnny O”Dwyer)

stacey claire January 31, 2013

I am going to order the book immediately….I often think of Mr Banas..I was 5 years old when my Mother brought me to see him in Hollywood teach an all adult class…An agent friend of my Mom suggested that I go see him..My Mother asked him if I could just join in on the class even though Mr Banas was hesitant at first because of my age but he allowed me to join in and at the end of the class he told my Mother that if I wanted to come back I could because I had “guts and potential”..Dancing several times a week in Bob Bana’s crazy classes changed my life in many ways and brought me lots of pleasure…I never made it as a dancer because I let my social life get in the way when I became a teenager…wish I would have continued on with Bob..I wanted to be just like him dance on broadway and teach dance!!!!!! Ordering the book now!!! Peace and love to Bob and would LOVE an opportunity to see you again!!

Jamie Sciacca July 23, 2013

Bob, you probably don’t remember me but you were an influential part of my childhood and are remembered fondly! I took dance from you back in the 80’s (gulp!) in Encino, off Reseda (?) in Van Nuys, and I think we rehearsed Steam Heat at your house in the garage..?! You were such a fun teacher and I just wanted you to know you will never be forgotten! Much Love, Jamie Sciacca (Jamie Ferrandi now :))

PS I tried to look you up on Facebook but only came across this great artical (congratulations on all you’ve done!!)

Mike Barrier August 31, 2013

Hi, Bob,

I haven’t seen you since Hollywood High, but I remember you well as a guy who had the guts to perform as a dancer in the auditorium at that time. I remember that, although I’m no expert , I thought you showed talent. I never had any classes with you, and only knew you slightly, but I remember you seemed like a nice kid.

Best of luck from one eighty-year-old to another.

Mike Barrier

Lori (Ogle) Noel October 7, 2013

Hi Bob!
Just found this page. I was one of the dancers you offered a scholarship to in my senior year of High School. I learned so much in your classes and have such fond memories. I went on to dance in a show at Magic Mountain and then teach dance classes at a studio and then in a high school. After having kids, I have now danced the last three years in our Passion Play at church at the age of 45. It has been fun to show my daughter movies that I didn’t even realize you were in when I took from you, such as this one. I am wondering if this book has come about. We’d definitely buy it! 🙂 Thank you SO much for the opportunity to train with you back in 1985. It was such a blessing since I had never had studio training before. Our junior high and high school did a great job, but training with you took me to a new level. Thanks again!
Love & Blessings, Lori

Maureen Klein December 12, 2013

Hi Bob,
I’m going to get this book! For awhile in the late 70’s and in my early 20’s I’d drive to L.A (from Norcal) occasionally for dance classes and yours (Moro Landis) quickly became my favorite. A few years later my teacher sent me back to L.A. for a scholarship audition at another studio. My teacher had danced professionally with the owner and I was told by my teacher he’d give me a personal recommendation and that I’d be personally introduced to the owner. . I slept in unsafe conditions that weekend, made it half-way through the audition and then cut. Never met the owner, and was told when I was cut, “Good dancer, wrong body type.” And, over a teary conversation with my teacher that night, he concurred which was the biggest blow and very confusing. Before I headed back north, I decided to go take a class from you…Sunday? Monday? Can’t remember. You came up to me and asked if we knew each other. I explained I had been to your class a few times and then the flood-gates opened and I told you what had just happened to me. You looked me up and down and said, “You look fine to me.” You will never know how much that meant to me. I transitioned to Musical Theatre and acting and 30 years later I’m still in it. Whenever I think back to that weekend, what I choose to remember is how much I loved your classes and how much I liked you. Your words were a lifesaver to me and for that you will forever hold a special place in my heart. You impacted my life in the best of ways. Sincerely, Maureen

Derek Meyer January 25, 2014

Hi Bob! I hope to read your book soon. It sounds very exciting and interesting. I don’t know you pearsonaly,but you seem like a nice guy. Thank you for sharing your memories with everyone! We are all fans of west side story. We all love dancing, and like to practice some times in our house. One reason that we like this movie so much is because of the good dancing. I look forward to purchasing your book and hearing about all of the memories shared by actors from west side story. Many thanks and blessings, Derek

Scoot Sims March 12, 2014

Hi Bobby,
My husband Danny and I are in our late fifties and we were taking a walk down memory lane via YouTube and ran up on your nitty gritty dance. We both remember this show and you but until tonight we did not know your name.We wanted to know more about about who you were so we started searching and what we found ,we are not the only ones who was impressed by your dancing and knew very little about you.I read that you wrote a book about WestSide Story but do you have a bio.? If not I know lots of folks ,Danny and myself included,that would love to hear more about you.FYI we found out your name through The Best Boy Dancer of the Sixties. Danny and Scoot s

Irene G Bilducia April 24, 2014

I saw the video, fantastic. Your the only one dancer, I seen you broked out. I fig your style…… Love It!

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