Collins was born in Columbus Ohio, then moved to Newark, New Jersey. Dean started dancing at the Savoy Ballroom, in Harlem, N.Y. at the age of 14. By the age of 18 he received the dancer of the year award from the New Yorker Magazine. He left New York for New Orleans and finally arrived in Los Angeles (Venice, Ca.) in 1936 to get into the movies, the Savoy style of swing was virtually unknown to Californians (They did what was called the "Whip" or "New Yorker" prior).
It's said he danced in the Harvest Moon Ball contests in New York in the mid 1930's but I have found no record of that as
yet. He won his first dance contest in California at the Palomar Ballroom and started teaching His version of Savoy Style Lindy which lead the way for what is called West Coast Swing (today's Modern swing.)
West Coast Swing later went on to become the Official State Dance Of California which Dean is given credit as to inadvertently creating. To distinguish the difference between the original style and modern style of West Coast Swing, the original form is at times being called "Hollywood Style" which is hugely based on the original 'Movie style' of Dean's and others (this was the movie style mind you.) However most the movie billings would call it 'Rock and Roll' in the 1950's. However today's modern form of WCS looks nothing like its original version (1980's and before), so most Lindy Hoppers do not want to claim it, but it is what it is and westies would prefer not to be connected to Lindy..., but roots are roots and a few of us won't let them forget. Dean was way ahead of his time when it came to dance and he could style Swing like no other when the music got slow and could become a cyclone when it got fast. Dean and others danced to all styles of music in the 1960's and 1980's as long as it "swung (Aka dance to a rhythmic sound that coinicided with the dance)" as a lot of the good swing music was disappearing fast. The Blues was taking it's place in most swing dance circles. Here's a 1982 clip of Dean dancing at Happy Daze Disco and Nightclub to MJ's Billie Jean to show what I mean. Click Here (Video pop-up) [or see bottom of page for actual link]. But, of course, Dean did prefer faster swing music.
Dean went on to dance in or choreograph many Hollywood movies. His first big break came in 1939 when he was asked to choreograph 'Let's Make Music' in which he danced with Bertha Lee. He would go on to either dance and or Choreograph swing dance in Films such as Junior Prom, Hellzapoppin', Livin' It Up, Ride 'em Cowboy, Buck Privates etcetera. Dean taught most of the dancers and teachers how to do swing in the Los Angeles areas in the 1950s and 60's and many movie personalities as well (Ceaser Romero, Arthur Murray, the Andrews Sisters, Joan Collins, Abbot and Costello,
and many others stayed with a style they knew best over the years. Here is a clip of Dean and Jewel in one of their more rare videos called 'the Chool Song.'
Deans first partner when he arrived in Los Angeles was Bertha Lee who he partnered for about three years. Altho he would partner many females, his main partner (after Bertha) was Jewel McGowen who was termed the "greatest female swing dancer ever was" and danced with Dean for well over ten years. Dean and Jewel can be seen dancing in many Movies. Dean sponsored a Dance Championship contest at the Palladium in Hollywood CA. in 1983 called the " Super bowl of Swing" which included West Coast Swing, Lindy Hop, East Coast Swing and Hustle dancers (West Coast prevailed.) Dean married his second wife Mary and lived in Glendale, California. Dean's main haunt was the Rag Doll nightclub in North Hollywood, california and once even started the Valley and California Swing Dance Clubs. Dean was very active in the swing dance community right up till he passed away in 1984 at the young age of 67.