Dr. James A. LaVita
June 20, 1942 – October 25, 2017
Smart man, Dr. James (Jimmy) LaVita, a scholar, dancer, folklorist, mathematical genius, disenchanted life-long democrat, former KGNU disk jockey, creative mastermind, black beanie-wearing anthropologist and lover of delicious food died at his home in Boulder, Colorado with his wife, Katie Elliott, by his side on October 25, 2017.
Jimmy met Katie, his life’s true love, in the late 90s at Boulder’s historic Penny Lane Coffee Shop where they talked dance into the wee hours of morning, ultimately forging a life together as well as an artistic partnership that spanned two decades.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Jimmy collected his first PhD in applied mathematics from New York University in his early twenties. His passions led him to University of California, Berkeley where he received a MA in folklore. He settled at the University of Denver where he taught as a tenured professor and eventually garnered a second PhD in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin. Jimmy retired from DU this year. While at DU he received the Burlington Northern University of Denver Distinguished Teaching Award and published exhaustively on subjects ranging from mathematics, computer science, digital media, anthropology and folklore.
A professor, performer and choreographer, Jimmy worked primarily in traditional and ethnic dance as a dance ethnologist, teacher and artistic consultant. He studied, taught and lectured about traditional dance, its social setting and improvisatory techniques, specializing in Scandinavian couple dancing, spending many summers studying in Norway and Sweden. From there, he established the traveling ethnic music and dance ensemble Narodno. Jimmy’s passion for traditional dance was equally paced by an insatiable appetite for modern forms, digital media, and modern social and cultural trends that fed his artistic work with 3rd Law Dance/Theater. Along with Katie, he received the “Living Legends of Dance in Colorado” award honoring companies that have made an outstanding contribution to dance.
Jimmy’s intellectual acumen was matched with an extraordinarily social disposition. On any day that he wasn’t teaching or rehearsing, he was entertaining with friends and colleagues who could be found in his backyard enjoying stimulating discourse and elegant food. By night, he made a habit of seeing performances from local artists or dining out with his wife. He exuded endless gentleness, warmth and wit, an appreciation for fun and was always fascinating to be with. Many sought him out for advice and counsel, and he was always good for discussions ranging from the cultural significance of food to the politics of local arts.
Those who knew him will know it is Katie, his wife, collaborator and greatest friend, to whom he would express his deepest gratitude and unending love. He has also left droves of adoring friends as well as his dance family of 3rd Law in his wake.
Katie, family, 3rd Law company members, colleagues and friends will celebrate Jimmy’s life on January 13th at 4pm at the Dairy Arts Center in Boulder. A memorial fund has been established to continue his legacy
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