If you attend concerts in Los Angeles regularly, chances are you've noticed an older man with long white hair dancing and twirling at a few of them.
His name is Howard Mordoh. He's 66 and a retired clinical laboratory scientist. Not only does Mordoh go to four to five shows a week on average, he drives all the way from Woodland Hills to get to them. He's one of Los Angeles' most infamous characters but few people know him by name. To some, he's just “the dancing man”; on Facebook, he's known as L.A. Rocker.
“My license plate was where the name started,” Mordoh says. “LAROKRR was as close as I could get to L.A. Rocker, when personalized plates became available. Going to shows more often started happening when I got interested in a lot of the newer bands, especially after going to my first Coachella [in 2004]. Luckily, saving my 401(k) for 35 years made me able to afford to go to more shows.”
As for his distinctive dance moves: “My sister and I would try and imitate the moves we saw on American Bandstand, and I started to take my own liberties,” Mordoh says, specifically referencing his peculiar twirl. “My mother says I was dancing before I was walking.”
I've enjoyed Mordoh's antics from afar for years. This year I took a shuttle to San Francisco music festival Outside Lands and there was an open seat next to him, so I sat down and introduced myself, and we had our first conversation about his life as “the dancing man.”
Mordoh says you can see him for a split second, as a young man holding an 8mm movie camera, in The Last Waltz, the documentary film about The Band's 1976 farewell concert. He also had me look up a hilarious video of him dancing prior to LCD Soundsystem's supposed final show at Madison Square Garden in 2011.
This year alone, Mordoh attended Coachella, Arroyo Seco Weekend, FYF Fest and Music Tastes Good — with Coachella coming two weeks after he had arthroscopic knee surgery. Despite occasional pain, the surgery did not slow down his dancing much.
“My left knee does go out a little bit when the weather changes, but thank God I can still dance and there is no constant pain,” he says.
It's a running gag among my friends who work at local venues that if Howard Mordoh is at your show, it means you have the best show on the calendar that night. His taste is broad; you'll catch him at more age-appropriate shows such as Sheryl Crow and Paul Weller but also at concerts of millennial-leaning acts like Odesza, Moses Sumney and even Katy Perry.
When still working as a clinical scientist, Mordoh didn't let his work get in the way of landing hot tickets to shows. A former co-worker, Eudinne Dalupang, recalls that Mordoh scheduled his work life around his concert habit when they worked together at Esoterix, an endocrinology lab in Agoura Hills.
“He always timed his lunch breaks for when tickets would go on sale,” Dalupang recalls. “He started at 5 a.m. and I started at 6. He'd always be playing music, turning it down a bit when the administrators would come into the office. People in the office knew him as the guy that loved to go to shows and dance.”
Since retiring in 2012, Mordoh and his partner of 38 years, Ken Warren, work multiple browsers on two computers to try to score tickets to shows the minute they go on sale. You won't be surprised to learn that Mordoh and Warren's first date was a concert — an Oingo Boingo show at the Whisky A Go Go. Warren doesn't make it to as many shows as he used to as he's dealt with some health issues, but anytime it's a seated venue, you can usually count on him being somewhere nearby while Mordoh is off dancing.
“My left knee does go out a little bit
“When he goes to shows with me, he'll put in air quotes, 'Your “fans” are coming over.' They've sometimes pushed him out of the way,” Mordoh says.
“Sometimes when I'm at the Hollywood Bowl and I'm dancing, girls would tell their boyfriends, 'Look at that guy dancing, I'm gonna go dance with him.' And then I'd see the boyfriends and they're fuming,” Mordoh laughs. “I get really nervous that they're gonna come over and whack me — but then I tell them, 'Relax, I'm gay.'”
Though Mordoh has forged friendships at various venues that sometimes help him get into the most exclusive gigs, he's also willing to go to insane lengths when all else fails. When The Rolling Stones played the Wiltern in 2002, he camped outside beginning at 6 a.m. When the venue finally released a handful of tickets for $50, Mordoh was one of the lucky few to obtain one.
Mordoh isn't just famous among L.A. concertgoers and venue staff. He's known to bands that tour regularly through the area as well. On an Oct. 16 episode of KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic, British synth-pop duo Oh Wonder recounted one of their favorite moments performing in Los Angeles, which included Howard the dancing man.
“I vividly remember that guy dancing up on the balcony at the Troubadour,” singer Josephine Vander Gucht said. “He was just like this 50-year-old dude absolutely loving life. And I was just like, 'This is why I wanted to make music, this guy right here.'”
Later that same week, Alana Haim ran out into the audience and danced with Mordoh at Haim's sold-out concert at the Greek Theatre. The band later uploaded video of the moment to an Instagram story with the caption, “best. dance. partner. ever.”
Concerts in Los Angeles can oftentimes be stuffy, almost as if some people are too cool to give themselves over to what's happening onstage. Part of what makes Mordoh's presence on the L.A. concert scene so memorable is that his energy usually rubs off on those around him and takes their enjoyment level up a notch.
“It's my addiction,” he says of dancing at shows. “From when I first started going to concerts, I pretty much would let the music wash over me and take me over. It's nice that everyone still enjoys my presence.”
Mordoh's show schedule is often insanely packed. In November, he's hitting 20 shows in 18 days, including Bruce Springsteen's Broadway show in New York. (As much as Mordoh loves concerts, he's equally enamored of musicals.)
He's also found a way to turn his love for dancing into something charitable by lending his time and dancing skills to dementia and Alzheimer's patients, working with them as a pool and gym buddy at the Motion Picture & Television Fund near his home in Woodland Hills.
I ended up seeing Mordoh at Outside Lands later on the same day I rode the shuttle with him. He was wearing a pair of yellow sunglasses, dancing by himself, his hair blowing in the wind as he twirled like there was no tomorrow to singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers. Around him, other festivalgoers watched in amusement and admiration, taking pics and Snapchatting his moves.
“That guy's my hero,” I overheard one girl say to her friends.