AL MINNS: The Incorrigible Lindy Hopper, 1920-1985 by Terry Monaghan

I am thankful to the late jazz dance historian Terry Monaghan for this article. He sent it to me for corrections in 2009, but it was never published on his http://www.savoyballroom.com . The site has not been working for years after his death in 2011. On his savoyballroom.com, Terry published quite many profiles that mostly he and Robert P. Crease wrote about the Savoy Ballroom Lindy Hop legends. I paraphrased parts of this previously unpublished Al Minns article in my doctoral dissertation.

I am also thankful to Larry and Sandra Schultz, and Paul Grecki for discussions on Albert ‘Al’ Minns and for the discussions with all the others who knew and worked with Al Minns, with whom I have been lucky to discuss, and who have helped me with my Albert ‘Al’ Minns research. The idea of Al Minns’ birthday on January 1 comes from the Al Minns’ curriculum vitae that Larry compiled for Al. This is the original version without my corrections. Indeed, I removed a few pictures from it for the copyright reasons.

Back in the early 1980s all the main Lindy newbies around the World headed for New York to find Al Minns.  Emerging from ‘retirement’ for a third time, he had begun teaching the Lindy at the Sandra Cameron Dance Center in NYC.  Although it tends to be forgotten now, Al’s teaching there resulted in the emergence of the nucleus of enthusiasts who founded the New York Swing Dance Society.  The intrepid Swedish Swing Society separately got their act together, located him in NY and took him back to Sweden for their Lindy Hop induction.  Of the LA enthusiasts who came looking, only Erin Stevens struck lucky in happening to take class with him at the Sandra Cameron studio.  The London contingent arrived in Easter 1985 only to hear the sad news that he lay dying.  To have attracted such widespread interest in such a short space of time says a lot about this at times troubled but always brilliant Lindy Hopper, and it all took place during a brief coda at the end of a long and varied career.

Born in Newport News, Va. in 1920 he went with his mother to watch his father playing twelve-string guitar in wealthy houses, and began dancing at the age of 5 when his father played the same music at home.  Soon after they moved to Harlem, Al’s father took him out singing and dancing at house-rent parties.  Once started, he never stopped.  Eventually he made it to the Savoy, and finally won a dance contest.  On being invited into Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, he joined with Joe Daniels, Joyce James and Mildred Pollard.

The details become somewhat vague here, possibly to hide the more prosaic reality that Whitey had been primarily interested in recruiting Mildred.  Although WLH’s folklore has it that originally Al danced with Joyce and then switched to Mildred at Whitey’s suggestion, this seems unlikely as Joe and Joyce competed in the 1937 HMB as a team.  Al later told the story differently to Marshall Stearns, in describing how he’d learnt the company’s routines from an unnamed female member of WLH who partnered an early member Chick Hogan.  Al then clashed in some way with Leon James, after the latter insouciantly swaggered back into the Savoy in 1937 following the filming of the Day At The Races’ celebrated Lindy sequence in Hollywood.  While the story as reproduced in Jazz Dance sounds exaggerated, it would seem quite plausible that a kind of ego challenge occurred between the two, but on realizing how remarkably different their dancing styles were, Leon pointed out to Whitey his initial neglect of a major dancing talent.

Going apparently for the obvious comedy potential of the little guy with the big women, Whitey had meanwhile partnered Mildred with Shorty Davies who had actually won the HMB that same year with another partner.  Whitey sent them on the 1937-8 tour to California as part of the Big Apple Lindy Hoppers led by the 400-pound dancer Tiny Bunch.  It seemed this partnership didn’t cause any creative sparks to fly though, as Mildred featured in the Lindy sequence shot on that tour for the movie Radio City Revels on her own.  She put her new mastery of the twist-twist to effective use when truckin’ memorably across the main dance space.  After the tour Whitey replaced Davies with Al, thus unleashing an even greater potential by combining a male who could play with partnering techniques ranging from strong leads to submissive follows, with a female who possessed a similar range of abilities.

Whitey’s reorganization paid off later in 1938 when Al and Millie won the Lindy division of the HMB on their first attempt.  Despite predictions that Roseland dancers would finally take the Lindy prize away from the Savoy, no other couple could match the ‘devastating gyrations’ of Al and Millie in the finals according to the Daily News.  Even the HMB newsreel footage which rarely visually depicted the Lindy entrants sympathetically spotlighted Al and Millie’s special qualities.  Theatrical from the outset, Al had taken no chances and worn an unmissable white suit.  Subsequent newspaper reporting noted that Al and Millie received by far the most applause when they appeared in the traditional follow-up victors’ performance show at the Loew’s State hosted by Ed Sullivan.

Whitey then stepped up the pace.  As that year’s Lindy Hop champs Al and Millie featured in high profile performance slots.  Their inclusion in the fall show at the Cotton Club working alongside Cab Calloway from Sept 1938 to February 1939 took them to a new level; while the demand for ace Lindy Hoppers intensified.  In addition, from the following October Al found himself appearing in Knickerbocker Holiday at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, a commitment that also lasted into the following year.  Al, as one of eight ‘Algonquin Indians,’ simulated a ferocious attack on Walter Huston with a frenzied Lindy routine that included numerous air steps.  According to another ‘Indian,’ Willie Jones, their routine proved so popular the Director drastically reduced its length in order to minimize the prolonged applause it aroused.  Apparently Al and Millie also found time to fit in a week at the Apollo starting November 11in 1938 as the Prize Winning Jitterbugs.  Al must have been racing from one gig to the next, faster at times than he actually moved on stage, and that was quick enough.

1939 saw new challenges.  Al and Millie appeared in the Blackbirds of 1939 flop, but also in WLH’s major successful theatrical success in the Hot Mikado that opened at the Broadhurst Theatre.  It ran for 85 performances despite competing with the original version, the Swing Mikado, which it had in fact plagiarized.  After dancing all the way through this run, Al and Mildred carried on into 1940 when it switched to the World’s Fair.  But when the Hot Mikado finished Mildred decided to break with Whitey’s operation and turned solo.  She signaled this by marrying ‘Gip’ Gibson of the Chocolateers and became Sandra Gibson.

Promptly teaming Al up with another strong female dancer, Willamae Ricker, Whitey sent them almost immediately on a New Hollywood Hotel Revue tour of the Mid West in 1940.  Partnering Willamae proved to be fortunate indeed for Al.  Being keen to involve Willamae in the group of dancers Whitey had assigned to go to Hollywood to appear in yet another movie, Frankie invited the both of them to join.  They replaced Tops and Wilda, who despite being 1940 HMB champions lost their chance to be the featured team on this tour over a dispute about rehearsals with Frankie, the tour’s manager.

In just over three incredible years Al thus reached the pinnacle of appearing in the sensational film version of Hellzapoppin’, and the follow up Hot Chocolate soundie.  Few first time viewers of the Hellzapoppin’ clip forget Al’s seemingly lightning speed especially when his back leg extensions stretch out in perfect counter-point to Willamae’s characteristic powerful, but always feminine pivotal hunch posture, that culminates in him finishing upside down, with her holding him.  It represented a drastic updating of the classic conclusion to his and Millie’s winning HMB performance of 1938.  Perhaps the Hot Chocolate title of that latest piece contained some kind of allusion to Sandra Gibson’s new associations?  If so such ruminations were soon swept aside as Whitey dispatched three of this group’s four Lindy teams, which included Al and Willamae, straight to Brazil for an envisaged another major success.

Their major impact on the night club world of Rio and the Argentine though came to be overshadowed by the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii which brought the US into WW2.  German U-Boats attacks on shipping meant flights were hard to find, and stranded them in South America for ten months.  Finally making it back to Miami by late 1942, Al’s parents mailed his fare home as the US Army had already issued his draft papers to them.  Enlisting on 11 Feb 1943, Al curiously enough gave his former occupations as Cook, Parachute Jumper and Dog Trainer.  He appeared to be expressing contradictory feelings about the war, ranging from the strong African-American sentiment of that time about not wanting to sacrifice for a cause that remained indifferent if not hostile to their inclusion, to expressing his preferences as to which section of the Armed Forces he wanted to serve in.  He finished up in the Army Air Force, and spent time in the UK, where apparently some locals were lucky enough to be taught Lindy by him.  Following demobilization he came back to a very different Harlem that he didn’t respond much to and drifted off into a regular factory job.

Around that time Mura Dehn had come to a realization of the limitations of her own jazz dance performing ability and so set about mobilizing the remaining jazz dancers who were increasingly being swept aside by the new “white” trend in US entertainment.  She found Al working in a paint factory and brought him together with Leon James and other Lindy Hoppers for a 1947 production she devised and promoted.  They demonstrated the dances of the Savoy in her concert style lecture-performances.  Al and Leon became major featured dancers in her epic film ‘The Spirit Moves,’ shot in 1951 at the Savoy and in a studio, during which Al turned in a truly dazzling Charleston performance.  Al along with Leon James, Esther Washington, Pepsi Bethel and Blue Outlaw became the core of the remaining contingent of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers still actively dancing at the Savoy.  They also passed on that legacy to representative dancers of a new generation of Savoy Lindy Hoppers who were also featured in Mura’s film.  A couple of years later Al and Leon were recruited for Roger Tilton’s technically ground breaking 1954 film Jazz Dance, to inject some ‘authenticity’ into this film record of the then mid-town student jazz scene that consisted mainly of drinking beer to astounding music.

About this time Marshall Stearns met Al & Leon after he became involved in Mura Dehn’s live productions.  Whereas Mura focused more on their bodily dance ‘talking’ Marshall also took an interest in their vocal expressions, for which they were also renowned.  The timing proved good, as Marshal had virtually completed his book on Jazz Music and guided by the musicians he’d interviewed, his interest now moved towards jazz’s dancing aspect.  Who better to talk to, but Al and Leon?  Mura had aroused their former enthusiasm by working with them to identify old jazz dance steps that were resurfacing among the new 1950s dancing generations of young people who had begun dancing wherever they could to the new swing influenced rhythm and blues music.  In 1957 Marshall’s first wife Betty headed a funding initiative to raise funds to launch Al and Leon as a new professional dance company.  Lengthy interviews, panel discussions in jazz events, and performances at the Newport Jazz Festival and in TV documentary expositions of classic jazz steps and their new versions- 1960 ‘American Jazz Dances’ (1960), and ‘Chicago and All That Jazz’ and ‘Those Ragtime Years’ (1961) – followed.  They regularly advertised their activities at the time in Dance Magazine as the leading Authentic Jazz Dance teachers.

Although Marshall eventually followed the dance story more towards tap dancing and other more dedicated performance expressions of authentic jazz dance, Al and Leon enjoyed a busy schedule until Marshall’s health began to decline around 1965 and he retired to Florida to complete his epic study Jazz Dance.  Followed Marshall’s death in 1966 Al and Leon dropped out of the picture for a while when they ‘retired’ again.  The book’s 1968 publication however stirred them back into action to resume live performances as a tribute to Marshall, and yet again their efforts found enthusiastic audiences.  It also left a contentious legacy as the accuracy of Al and Leon’s observations made in Jazz Dance, have been challenged much more recently, especially by Frankie Manning.

Unfortunately the popular dancing aspect of the Stearns’ book was overtaken by the widespread, and grossly exaggerated fears about street-hoodlums, who thus were written into the Savoy story as being responsible for the Lindy Hop.  The myths that emerged about the Lindy Hop being invented by unknown street gangs high on drugs or alcohol, who occupied by physical force an equally mythically named Cat’s Corner at the Savoy thus became prominent, and possibly had something to do with the elimination of the Mambo from its otherwise intended inclusion in the book.  Al himself later repudiated the Cat’s Corner name when he met the new Swedish enthusiasts in 1984, but elements of this confusion still persist.  Seen as the almost inevitable consequence of difficult times when establishment USA seemed to want to bury the Lindy Hop as deeply as possible, all such efforts to keep the memory alive need to be respected, while making appropriate corrections.

Al and Leon’s performing renaissance came to an end a few years later when Leon died and Al retired and got into a bad way with excessive drinking.  The Lindy Hop world’s real caring continuity though still had some life in it, and just as Al and Leon had kept in touch with the old Savoy brigade through Mama Lou Parks’ annual HMB ‘Savoy prelim’, the same event threw out another lifelines to Al in the early 1980s.  When the Harvest Moon Association dropped the Lindy as a dance category in 1980, Louise Parks turned her ‘prelim’ into a standalone event that continued to rally the dance’s remaining loyal cadre.  The following year’s 1981 event had two directly beneficial consequences for Al.  At that year’s event Larry Schultz of the Sandra Cameron dance studio finally met up with this surviving Lindy legend, and set to work trying to revive his career.  Also in that same yet The Southbank Show – one of the UK’s leading TV arts programs – paid for Louise Parks to re-run her 1981 ‘Savoy prelim’ in Harlem as the basis for the first full-length documentary on the Lindy, in which Al spoke and danced with Sugar Sullivan.

It had proved to be an uphill struggle that sadly all too soon became downhill.  If anyone mints a Lindy awards medal, Larry Shultz should be the first recipient.  His intervention proved decisive.  Al still had a problem with the drink, and nursed old grievances, even muttering disdainfully about Louise Parks, while also rightfully remembering old wrongs, such as being excluded from the Roseland.  Larry persevered though, and even if a return to Broadway proved to be a step too far, he enabled Al to register significant successes that played a critical role in sparking off the new interest in the dance.  Most importantly Al began teaching Lindy at the Sandra Cameron Studio as Dance Magazine announced in July 1982.  He appeared on US TV with Sugar Sullivan talking thoughtfully about the past and present of the dance, and successfully performed in 1982 with Sugar in a cycle of dance tales called ‘In The Circle: Stories From The Savoy’ for the Riverside Dance Festival.  In 1983 he danced an impromptu Big Apple, at the Richard Yarde Savoy Art Exhibition in Harlem with his old partner Sandra Gibson plus Frankie and Norma, and Sugar & Sonny Allen who fortunately remembered the steps!  It was followed up by a truly memorable reunion of Savoy Lindy Hoppers at the Sandra Cameron dance studio.

Unfortunately his new partnership with Sugar broke up soon after though when they were offered a European tour with the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band in 1983.  For domestic reasons Sugar couldn’t make it, so the rhythm tap dancer Tina Pratt replaced her.  Her Lindy style though originated in Pittsburgh where they swung out differently from New York, and so the partnering aspect of the resultant performance was unsatisfactory, but they both danced brilliantly as individuals.  Al remained on form, enjoying what amounted to his stage swan-song.  Back in New York in 1984 he enjoyed a brief reprise when Norma Miller, reunited on stage Al, Frankie and Billy Ricker, the three surviving male dancers from Hellzapoppin’ during her own production at the Village Gate.  Shortly afterwards Al found himself being stalked around New York by three ‘Vikings’ who he suspected of being from the FBI.  Finally he spoke to them at the Red Parrot.  In fact were the members of the Swedish Swing Society intent on persuading him to visit Sweden, which he did later that same year.  An interview with Al was thankfully recorded in Sweden which can be seen on Youtube in part 1 and part 2.

After igniting a new intense enthusiasm for the Lindy Hop in Sweden that has blazed ever since, his poor state of health finally caught up with him soon after returning to New York early in 1985.  His terminal conditions became apparent as his health declined rapidly.  Bob Crease of the NYSDS who took class with him, and spent quite some time interviewing Al wrote a memorable article after his death, which this writer has gratefully drawn upon for source material, and especially Bob’s sensitive description of Al’s funeral:

On April 25 Albert Minns died.  A memorial service was held at a rundown chapel in Sugar Hill, once Harlem’s finest neighborhood.  On the walls black and white angels frolicked together.  A pale blue sky dotted with clouds was painted on the ceiling above Al’s coffin; he was in heaven.  On each side of the dais was a stand of flowers, one from the Swedish Swing Society, the other from the New York Swing Dance Society.”

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The Footage That Did Not Exist: Two Couples in the Harlem Dance Marathon on Their Way to the Municipal Building

Written and copyright by Harri Heinila

It was June 2011 when fellow researcher Judy Pritchett suggested that we should go to the New York Public Library to search articles and pictures of George Snowden in the Daily News, in particular, concerning the famous dance marathon at the Rockland Palace in Harlem between June and July in 1928. A little did I know then that the Harlem dance marathon was going to be an important part of my doctoral dissertation a few years later. When we went through the Daily News, there came out the dance marathon articles and pictures. Particularly, it was interesting to find a picture in which were depicted two couples on the truck on their way to the Municipal Building in downtown, Manhattan. One of the couples was going to be married, and they needed a license for their marriage, which they were going to get in the Municipal Building.

Judy said to me that there might be a footage in which the wedding process is depicted. I just listened to her, but at the same time I thought a discussion on the Yehoodi.com a few years before in 2009, in which the late jazz dance historian Terry Monaghan discussed the Harlem dance marathon and the footage George Snowden mentioned to Marshall Stearns in 1959 when Stearns interviewed him. The discussion does not exist anymore on the Yehoodi.com. According to Stearns, the Fox Movietone News took a close-up of Snowden’s feet. This is discussed in Marshall and Jean Stearns’ Jazz Dance (see page 316 in the 1994 version of the book). Terry Monaghan mentioned in the Yehoodi discussion that “only rich and powerful were filmed” referring to Snowden’s statement, and he did not think that the footage existed. So, I doubted whether Judy was correct that there was the footage.

On December 13, 2015, when I was checking a few things in my upcoming doctoral dissertation, in particular, regarding the Harlem dance marathon that I discussed in two chapters in my dissertation, I happened to take a look at the Wikipedia article, ‘History of Lindy Hop’,  which mentioned that the couple who was going to be married during the dance marathon was depicted in a footage that “was recorded by FOX Movietone News”. In the Wikipedia article, there was and still is the link to the Moving Image Research Collections at the University of South Carolina. I immediately clicked the link, and it led to the description of the Harlem dance marathon film. It was certainly surreal to find out the footage which should not have existed. I had already sent my dissertation for printing, so I had to ask to stop the printing. Luckily, they were able to stop it for a moment. I made a correction in my dissertation regarding the footage, and the printing went on successfully. So, there is a short discussion on the footage in my doctoral dissertation on page 138.

After my doctoral dissertation that I defended in January 2016, it took years until I was able to confirm what really took place in the footage. I had a picture of it as based on the description on the Moving Image Collections site. In June 2017, I answered to DC Copeland who commented on my blog article, ‘In Defense of the Former Lincoln Theatre Building in Harlem’. He mentioned the footage George Snowden talked about to Marshall Stearns. I said in my reply that there is a footage in which George Snowden and Mattie Purnell are depicted during the wedding process, in addition to the couple who was going to be married. I also added to my reply that “[i]f anybody is able to take a look at the film, and [to] tell us what really happens in it, thanks.” I was not able to go to check the film at the time, and it took a few years after that until I saw the film.

When I read at the end of November 2019 that the Harlem dance marathon film was premiered at the International Lindy Hop Championships (the ILHC) event in Washington D.C. as a “newly discovered” footage, I was perplexed. It definitely was not “newly discovered” as the aforementioned story clearly shows. Also, the Harlem dance marathon pictures that were shown in the exhibition were not for the most part “newly discovered” as I discussed most of them in my doctoral dissertation. Those pictures were mostly from the Daily News. As far as I know, I am the only one who has scientifically analyzed and written about the Daily News pictures of the Harlem dance marathon. The ILHC should have credited those organizations which the pictures and the footage were from, in addition to us who have researched the Harlem dance marathon years and even decades before the ILHC. Marshall and Jean Stearns in their Jazz Dance discussed the Harlem dance marathon already in 1968, and after them there have been researchers who in articles and studies have explored the dance marathon. We all definitely deserve to be credited for our research.

I am not criticizing the possibility to see those pictures and the footage in the ILHC exhibition. It is wonderful that people had the chance to see those rare pictures and the footage. I did not publish any pictures in my dissertation because of the copyrights. The US copyright laws are pretty tough to be messed with.

Then a few words about the footage. First, it becomes clear that the Lindy Hop was not created during the truck ride to the Municipal Building as much as the footage covered the wedding process. The description in the Moving Image Research Collections describes pretty exactly the events of the film. The couples, Aurelia Hallback and Bernard Paul (the soon-to-be-married couple), and George Snowden and Mattie Purnell can be seen dancing in a close position as couples on the truck during their trip to the Municipal Building. There were a few moments that suggested a slightly more energetic dancing than the quite motionless dancing for the most time of their trip, but the breakaway did not take place on their way to downtown.

Instead of the breakaway, it could be argued that the rhythm Snowden and Purnell, and also the soon-to-be-married couple used in their dancing on the truck and in front of the Municipal Building was more like the 4/4 rhythm than the 2/4 rhythm which prevailed before swing music started to take over the jazz scene in New York. Interestingly, the partners of the couples are separated for a moment at the end of the footage when they are stepping down from the truck. According to the rules of the dance marathon, the partners of the couple were “not allowed to separate from each other while on the dance floor, for any unreasonable length of time”. Considering the phrase “unreasonable length of time”, the breakaway in the dance marathon could have been done the way Snowden described it happened accidentally. But likely the breakaway did not take place on the truck, which leaves the beginning of the Harlem Lindy Hop to Harlem as it is described in my dissertation, in Terry Monaghan’s article of George Snowden in the Jassdancer blog , and in Stearns’ Jazz Dance.

I would like to thank the Moving Image Research Collections at the University of South Carolina and particularly Benjamin Singleton from the Moving Image Research Collections for the opportunity to see the footage.

 

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African American Jazz Dancers in Africa until the 1970s

Written and copyright by Harri Heinila

African American jazz dancers have visited Africa since the Jazz Age between 1917 and 1930. The first jazz dancer in Africa was probably Louis Douglas who toured in Egypt for a month in 1927 and later between 1929 and 1930[i]. He was followed by Percy Winters and Cora Merano, who performed with a French revue in North Africa. They performed particularly in Tunis and also in Egypt for three months in the middle of the 1930s.[ii]

In the 1950s, the United States Department of State began to fund musicians and dancers who toured outside the US. With the help of President’s Special Emergency Fund, the State Department sent the Modern dance-based José Limón Company to South America in 1954. Two years later the State Department had the Cultural Presentations Program, and in 1965, it had the National Endowment for the Arts. All that made possible the rapid growth of the Modern dance-based dance companies in the 1960s and the 1970s because the State department mainly sponsored the US Modern dance-based dance companies and the US Ballet companies during the decades.[iii]

Another important organization that sponsored the US musicians and dancers was the American Society of African Culture (AMSAC), which was established in 1957. It ended in 1969 after losing many of its members when in 1967 it was exposed that the CIA had funded the organization. AMSAC consisted of 400 members who were mainly African Americans.[iv] The society included celebrities like musician Duke Ellington and the NAACP’s counsel Thurgood Marshall. AMSAC tried to enlighten African Americans regarding their cultural heritage and advance “mutual respect between Americans and Africans” by spreading information of the cogency of African and African American cultural contributions. AMSAC provided a liberal, anti-communist approach to African affairs.[v]

AMSAC sponsored the Festival of Negro Art and Culture in Africa and America in Lagos, Nigeria in December 1961, which marked the opening of the AMSAC cultural center in Lagos[vi]. According to historian Lonneke Geerlings, the event was meant to examine “the relationship between the culture and art of Africa and the Americas” in connection with the Négritude movement.[vii] Poet Langston Hughes as a narrator in the event, in addition to 37 other African American delegates, implied the connection[viii]. The delegates included jazz musicians like Lionel Hampton and Edward Pazant, and jazz dancers, Albert ‘Al’ Minns and Leon James. Because the cultural center in the Lagos was practically “an African American embassy on African soil” as Lonneke Geerlings argues[ix], this was probably the first time when the U.S. government-related institution sponsored authentic jazz dancing in the events outside the U.S.. It should be noticed that the prefix ‘authentic’ is used in this article for distinguishing real –jazz music-based– jazz dance from Modern dance-based ‘modern jazz dance’ at the time.

The AMSAC festival in Lagos between December 18 and 19 consisted of the two parts: African American and African performances. As to the African American performances, the Al (Minns) & Leon (James) jazz dancing was received positively by the Nigerian press. One local reporter praised them for being “a picture of perfection and precision” and overall the reporters appreciated their dancing. There were also some negative tones in the reviews as their dancing was dismissed strangely as “Tap dancing”.[x]

While the jazz dancers made it in the festival, the jazz musicians fared worse than them. The local press criticized harshly Lionel Hampton and his antics. According to the African American magazine Ebony, the Nigerian newspaper Lagos Daily Express considered Hampton “a cheap entertainer” who clowned like an idiot[xi].  On the contrary, the African American newspaper The Chicago Defender reported that Lionel Hampton was received on the stage by “a tumultuous ovation”[xii]. The Nigerian press also considered a Nigerian-born musician Michael Olatunji, who had moved to the U.S., “a sad spectacle” and even a betrayer of his home, Nigeria.[xiii]

African dancers in the festival seemed to fare worse than other performers. The African counterparts of the contingent of the US performers were lambasted in the Nigerian reviews. The Nigerian-based Alumn War Dancers were rated as “poor in taste” and even as a cultural insult towards Nigerians. Also the US-based African dancer George Holder’s performance was considered “rubbish”[xiv], although, according to the Ebony, the Lagos Morning Post praised him[xv].

The criticism could be partly explained by the US neo-colonialism claims stated by the Nigerian press because the critics were aware of using Lagos as a “battlefield in the cold war”. At least some of the artists and the audience understood that the festival was more like “a cultural imperialist performance” than an innocent celebration. Also the festival did not satisfy the critics because the artists were considered mediocre by African standards.[xvi] Thus, being in effect an insult towards real African dancing and music. Lonneke Geerlings argues that Al Minns & Leon James’ jazz dancing was rated as relevant because jazz was African American and it had roots in Africa[xvii]. However, the press lambasted Lionel Hampton because of his antics, and even his jazz music could not better the situation. Therefore, it would be more correct to say that the Minns & James performances were more respectable than Hampton’s and jazz dance likely helped in that because it was an American invention with African roots, which did not insult African standards.

In spite of the criticism, the festival enhanced the US participants’ feeling of their African heritage and probably bettered communication between African Americans and Africans[xviii]at least in formal situations because jazz dancer Al Minns complained that they could meet only few ordinary Lagos residents[xix].

African American jazz dancers returned to Africa in 1969 when the Cultural Presentation Program of the State Department sponsored Russian-born dancer Mura Dehn’s American Folk Dance Theater that visited Morocco, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Somalia, Nigeria, Gambia, Guinea, and Senegal between June 7 and August 3. The dance theater consisted of jazz dancers, Avon Long, Cook & Brown, Albert Gibson, Buster Brown, James Cross, Pepsi Bethel, and the Mama Lou Parks Dancers including Louise ‘Mama Lou’ Parks, Gloria Thompson, Jessie ‘Gi Gi’ Brown, Micki Wall, Gregory Arnold, David Butts, and Dickie Harris. Dick Vance led the orchestra. Mura Dehn acted as the organizer and director.[xx].

The American Folk Dance Theater was an authentic jazz dance and jazz music-related production. That was the first time when the State Department sponsored a genuinely African American jazz dance and music production in Africa. The aforementioned AMSAC production in 1961 had also non-jazz artists[xxi]. The State Department had sponsored the US jazz musicians like Wilbur De Paris and Louis Armstrong in Africa before the jazz dance productions took place.[xxii]

According to Mura Dehn, almost all of the concerts in the tour ended with a standing ovation.[xxiii] Dehn’s claim is supported by the unpublished film called ‘The Jazz Dance Theatre’ which depicts the African American jazz dancers and their interaction with the audiences in various countries in Africa. The applauding audiences are captured in the film in most of the visited countries.[xxiv] Also documents on their visits in countries like Morocco speak for the appreciation. Regarding their visit in Morocco, and there in Tangiers, Marrakech, Casablanca, and Rabat, an undated document, supposedly based on the U.S. embassy comments, states that they packed houses in those towns, appealed to various social classes, and achieved cultural communication to a great extent.[xxv].

The members of the theatre interacted also with local residents in the African tour. The film shows that the members were interested in various African culture forms in their spare time[xxvi]. Partly, that was likely for the US propaganda for emphasizing the harmony between African Americans and Africans. Historian Clare Croft has suggested, that using dancing in the US foreign politics was a method for bringing out the US more like a global partner than “a dominant power”[xxvii]. In the case of the dancers of the theatre their interaction with local residents was mostly depicted in a very dignified manner. Whether the film was intended for the propaganda purposes or not, the members of the theatre were genuinely interested in the African cultural heritage[xxviii].

The African tour turned out to be a success also when, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Emperor Haile Selassie presented all the members of the theatre with gold medals. According to a press release, the Ethiopian newspapers considered their show “the best musical and dance performance ever presented in Addis Ababa’.[xxix] Similarly, other notable African politicians like the Prime Minister of the Gambia, Sir Dawda Jawara, and the Governor of North Central State in Nigeria, Colonel Abba Kyari, met with the members of the theatre[xxx].  In addition, the US Ambassadors in the visited countries treated them as guests of honor and gave them a reception.[xxxi] Another recognition of their performances was when, according to Mura Dehn, the director of the Addis Ababa national museum visited in every performance in Ethiopia. She also suggests a larger public interest in the jazz dancers when in Somalia, a nomadic tribe, in a friendly way, started a challenge dance against the dancers at a formal reception, and in Nigeria, after the performances, the public followed the jazz dancers into nightclubs for learning dancing from them[xxxii].

Despite the success, there were also obstacles on the road. According to the late jazz dance historian Terry Monaghan, one of the members of the theatre, the late Dickie Harris, told a story about how Mura Dehn persuaded the members to participate in an impromptu performance in Nigeria when there was a curfew at night because of the Nigerian civil war. Soldiers with submachine guns checked Dehn and the group of dancers, but let them go after finding out that they were American jazz dancers.[xxxiii] Mura Dehn did not discuss the incident, but she mentioned in her unpublished article that in Nigeria, in one of their performances, the chief commander of armed forces jumped onto the stage and joined the dancers in the finale.[xxxiv]

Terry Monaghan claimed that “a number of the dancers” did not want to work with Dehn anymore after the incident in Nigeria[xxxv]. That is not necessarily true when judging from newspaper articles published after the African tour. Her group continued almost with the same dancers.[xxxvi]

It seems that the State Department did not sponsor authentic jazz dancers after the African tour. According to Clare Croft, since the beginning of the 1960s, the support for performing arts was slowly decreased. In the late 1960s, because of global politics that were largely tied to the US participation in the Vietnam War, the support for dance companies was more decreased. By the end of the 1970s, the funding for large dance company tours had almost disappeared.[xxxvii]

The Mama Lou Parks Dancers went back to Africa when a member of the dance company, David Butts, and his partner Lola Love, performed with James Brown in a music festival in Zaire in September 1974. The music festival was planned to happen just before the famous boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Because George Foreman hurt himself in rehearsals, the boxing match was rescheduled to October. The music festival took place between September 21 and 23. It was filmed and later published in the movie, ‘When We Were Kings’, which also depicted Muhammad Ali preparing for the boxing match. David Butts and Lola Love can be seen dancing in the film.[xxxviii]

It seems that their participation in the James Brown performance was not reported in the US press.  Although The New York Amsterdam News reported that James Brown succeeded in the festival[xxxix], the festival was not a real success. The New York Times wrote that there were 10,000 people in the audience in the first night when James Brown performed[xl]. The Washington Post stated that James Brown with other stars sang to very few in a 60,000-seat stadium in the second night when there were only 1,000 people listening to the stars because ticket prices were extremely high for an average Zairian[xli].

In spite of a few setbacks in the success of African American jazz dancers in the African tours, authentic jazz dance was significant in the relations between the US and African countries, which speaks for the fact that it was a serious vehicle in foreign policy of the US. It seems that Africans perceived authentic jazz dance positively and recognized African American jazz dancers as a continuation of the African heritage, therefore recognizing the jazz dancers as remarkable cultural exponents of the heritage.

However, there is needed more research how much the jazz dancers affected communication and relations between the US and African countries. Also why the State Department did not sponsor more the jazz dancers’ touring productions in Africa needs more research. There might have been more privately funded jazz dancers touring in Africa, which should be researched as well.

Endnotes:

[i]Ivan H. Browning, ’ Across the Pond’, The Chicago Defender, May 28, 1927, p. 6. ’Louis Douglas and Show Touring Europe’, The Chicago Defender, November 9, 1929, p. 7. ’Negro Troupe in Egypt’, Variety, December 18, 1929, p. 3.

[ii]Edgar A. Wiggins, ‘Hands Across the Ocean’, The Philadelphia Tribune, March 12, 1936, p. 15. Edgar Wiggins, ‘Across the Pond’, The Chicago Defender, March 14, 1936, p. 8. ‘Winters and Merano Dance Team “Take” Parisian Fans’, The Philadelphia Tribune, April 23, 1936, p. 14. ’Across the Pond’, The Chicago Defender, June 26, 1937, p. 10.

[iii]Clare Croft, Dancers as Diplomats – American Choreography in Cultural Exchange(New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), pp. 6 and 15.

[iv]Lonneke Geerlings, ‘Performances in the Theatre of the Cold War: the American Society of African Culture and the 1961 Lagos Festival’ in the Journal of Transatlantic Studies, 16_1, 2018, pp.  1-2.

[v]Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America(Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2008), pp. 205-206, 209. See also Geerlings 2018, p.  2.

[vi]Geerlings 2018, p. 2. ’33 U.S. Negroes Off For 2-Day Cultural Program in Nigeria’, The Chicago Daily Defender, December 12, 1961, p. 4.

[vii]Geerlings 2018, p. 2.

[viii]Geerlings 2018, p. 4. For Langston Hughes’ connection with the Négritude movement see Anna Micklin, ’Negritude Movement’, June 29, 2008, published on the Internet at https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/negritude-movement/.

[ix]Geerlings 2018, p. 7.

[x]Geerlings 2018, pp. 9-10.

[xi]’African-American Cultural Exchange’, the Ebony, p. 88. See also Geerlings 2018, p. 11.

[xii]’Lionel Hampton Heads Star Group In Africa’, The Chicago Defender, January 6, 1962, p. 10.

[xiii]Geerlings 2018, pp. 11-12. See also ’African-American Cultural Exchange’, the Ebony, p. 88.

[xiv]Geerlings 2018, pp. 10-11.

[xv]’African-American Cultural Exchange’, the Ebony, p. 88.

[xvi]Geerlings 2018, pp. 11-12.

[xvii]Geerlings 2018, p. 10.

[xviii]Geerlings 2018, pp. 14-15.

[xix]Robin D. G. Kelley, Africa Speaks, America Answers – Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times(Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2012), p. 69.

[xx]’Dance Theatre Returns’, Back Stage, August 22, 1969, p. 18. ’ Jazz Dance Group Home’, The New York Amsterdam News, August 16, 1969, p. 18. Jesse H. Walker, ‘Theatricals’, the New York Amsterdam News, June 7, 1969, p. 43. Regarding the visited countries, the list is based on the unpublished film called  ’The Jazz Dance Theatre’ which depicts the 1969 Africa tour.  The author of the article has seen a copy of it. The list is similar to the list published in the August 16 issue of The New York Amsterdam News and to the list mentioned in Mura Dehn’s unpublished article, but Gambia was not mentioned. In addition to the other countries, Dehn mentions Cameroon. See Mura Dehn’s list ’Black-American Folk Dance in Africa 1969’ in the Papers on Afro-American social dance, box 1, folder 9, the New York Public Library. See for the members of the group the endnotes of the unpublished film.

[xxi]Geerlings 2018, p. 10.

[xxii]John S. Wilson, ‘American Jazzmen Overseas’, The New York Times, July 14, 1957, p. 83.Penny M. Von Eschen, Satchmo Blows Up the World – Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2004), p. 58.

[xxiii]’Black-American Folk Dance in Africa 1969’ in the Papers on Afro-American social dance, box 1, folder 9, the New York Public Library.

[xxiv]The unpublished film, ’The Jazz Dance Theatre’.

[xxv]See ’American Embassy in Rabat Comments on Successful Visit of Jazz Dance Theater to Morocco’, undated, in the Papers on Afro-American social dance, box 21, folder 251, the New York Public Library. See also ’Rabat… LE PETIT MOROCAIN…June 16, 1969 (At the National Theatre of Mohammed V)’ in the Papers on Afro-American social dance, box 21, folder 249, the New York Public Library and ’Casablanca… LE PETITE MOROCAIN’, undated, in the Papers on Afro-American social dance, box 21, folder 251, the New York Public Library.

[xxvi]The unpublished film, ’The Jazz Dance Theatre’.

[xxvii]Croft 2015, p. 14.

[xxviii]This is demonstrated, for example, in Louise ’Mama Lou’ Parks’ comments in Nigeria regarding her mother who was from Nigeria. Concerning the dancers interaction with the local residents, there is one scene in the film where Louise Parks looks angry after visiting in a local shop in Morocco. However, that is a rare exception in the film. See the unpublished film, ’The Jazz Dance Theatre’.

[xxix]See the press release ‘FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (August 1969)’ in the Papers on Afro-American social dance, box 21, folder 250, the New York Public Library.  See also ’Jazz Dance Group Home’, The New York Amsterdam News, August 16, 1968, p. 18.

[xxx]‘The Prime Minister of the Gambia, Sir Dawda Jawara, congratulates the JDT after their hit in Bathurst.’ and ‘Dancers Meet Governor:’ in the Papers on Afro-American social dance, box 24, folder 313, the New York Public Library.

[xxxi]See the press release ‘FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (August 1969)’ in the Papers on Afro-American social dance, box 21, folder 250, the New York Public Library. The receptions were depicted also in pictures captured in the African tour. See ‘Members of the Jazz Dance Theatre Meet Ambassador Henry J. Tasca’ and ‘20. Orchestra Ethiopia shown performing at Ambassador and Mrs. William Hall’s reception in honor of the Jazz Dance Theater.’ in the Papers on Afro-American social dance, box 24, folder 313, the New York Public Library.  See also ’Jazz Dance Group Home’, The New York Amsterdam News, August 16, 1968, p. 18.

[xxxii]’Black-American Folk Dance in Africa 1969’ in the Papers on Afro-American social dance, box 1, folder 9, the New York Public Library.

[xxxiii]Terry Monaghan, ‘The Legacy of Jazz Dance’, in the Annual Review of Jazz Studies, 1997/1998, p. 300.

[xxxiv]’Black-American Folk Dance in Africa 1969’ in the Papers on Afro-American social dance, box 1, folder 9, the New York Public Library.

[xxxv]Monaghan 1997/1998, p. 300.

[xxxvi]See for example Linda Winer, ’The Jitterbug Is Back in Town’, the Chicago Tribune, October 17, 1972, p. B4. ’Jazz Dance Theatre opens at Goodman’s’, The Chicago Defender, October 14, 1972, p. 20. Basically, only Pepsi Bethel and Avon Long from the African tour were not part of Mura Dehn’s jazz dance group in 1972.

[xxxvii]Croft 2015, p. 23.

[xxxviii]See ’When We Were Kings’, Polygram Filmed Entertainment, 1996. See also Ulish Carter, ’Comment on Sports’, The New Pittsburgh Courier, September 28, 1974, p. 25. ’Better Line Up an Exhibition in Gabon’, The Evening Press, September 17, 1974, p. 12-A. Brad Pye Jr., ’Muhammad Ali Is Still Something to See’, the Los Angeles Sentinel, September 26, 1974, p.  B3.

[xxxix]’Theatrical Spotlight’, The New York Amsterdam News, October 19, 1974, p. B6.

[xl]Thomas A. Johnson, ’100’000 Cheers Greet Mobutu ’Gift,’ a Rebuilt Stadium’, The New York Times, September 23, 1974, p. 3.

[xli]David B. Ottaway, ’Zaire Festival, a Comedy of Errors’, The Washington Post, September 25, 1974, p. D1.

Sources

Bibliography

Archive Sources

New York Public Library:

Papers on Afro-American social dance circa 1869-1987, Mura Dehn, 1902-1987, Jerome Robbins Dance Division.

Newspapers & Magazines

Back Stage, New York, New York, 1961-2000.

Chicago Daily Defender, The, Chicago, Illinois, 1961.

Chicago Defender, The, Chicago, Illinois, 1909-1967.

Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, 1963-1996.

Ebony, Chicago, 1945-2015.

Evening Press, The, Bingham, New York, 1974.

Los Angeles Sentinel, Los Angeles, California, 1934–2005.

New Pittsburgh Courier, The, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1966 – 1981.

New York Amsterdam News, The, New York, New York, 1922-1993.

New York Times, The, New York, New York, 1857-2011.

Philadelphia Tribune, The, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1912-2001.

Variety, Los Angeles, 1905-2000.

Washington Post, The, Washington D.C., 1877-1998.

Audio & Video

The Jazz Dance Theatre, unpublished, the author of the article has seen a copy of it.

When We Were Kings, Polygram Filmed Entertainment, 1996.

Literature

Croft, Clare, Dancers as Diplomats – American Choreography in Cultural Exchange(New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

Geerlings Lonneke, ‘Performances in the Theatre of the Cold War: the American Society of African Culture and the 1961 Lagos Festival’ in the Journal of Transatlantic Studies, 16_1, 2018.

Kelley, Robin D. G., Africa Speaks, America Answers – Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times(Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2012).

Micklin, Anna, ’Negritude Movement’, June 29, 2008, published on the Internet at https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/negritude-movement/.

Wilford, Hugh, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America(Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2008).

 

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From the Pepsi-Cola Junior Club of Harlem to the Harlem World Disco

Written and copyright by Harri Heinila

Between May 1945 and June 1947, the Pepsi-Cola Junior Club at 121 Lenox Avenue in Harlem nurtured the future Third Generation Savoy Lindy Hoppers like Sugar and George Sullivan, and it could be considered in a certain way a starting point of the emerging Third Generation of the Savoy Lindy Hoppers. Later, the club building also provided a rehearsal place for the famous Sonny Allen and the Rockets, a versatile Harlem singing and jazz dance company, and the building re-emerged in the end of the 1970s as the Harlem World Disco which became famous for its Hip Hop activities. Thus, suggesting the continuation of Harlem jazz dance over the post-war decades.

When the Pepsi-Cola company opened the junior club at 121 Lenox Avenue in May 1945, it was presented as a gift to African American Harlemites[1]. According to The Afro-American, the purpose of the club was to promote “good citizenship through self-government” done by the participating Harlem teenagers.[2] That meant that adults were allowed in the club only on special occasions[3]. Although adults were not usually allowed to participate in the club events, they, however, were part of the club organization. Mrs. Nina Purveyance was the director of the club for the two years it existed, and the club members were guided by the advisory board that consisted of fifteen men and women representing various activities in the Harlem community like police officers, priests, judges, and social agencies[4].

The club in Harlem was part of the chain of the junior clubs which the Pepsi-Cola company operated in the New York metropolitan area during the World War II and the years following the war. By 1946, there were three other Pepsi-Cola junior clubs, two of which were located in Northern New York and in Long Island. In addition to the junior clubs, the Pepsi-Cola company established Pepsi-Cola centers for servicemen and women which were open also to African Americans[5].

Despite a noble idea of creating good citizens by providing Harlem youngsters a place where they can learn principles of self-government and socialize with each other, practically, the reason for the club was economic. In the 1940s, there was a rivalry between the Coca Cola company and the Pepsi-Cola company. The latter had an idea of marketing Pepsi-Cola to African Americans by getting African Americans involved in the company’s activities starting in 1940 when the company hired three African Americans for its sales team.[6] The Harlem junior club was likely part of this strategy to win African Americans over to the Pepsi-Cola company.

Dances, Christmas and birthday parties, and other festivities were organized in the lavishly decorated club which was open almost every afternoon and evening, but not on Sundays, and it had a dance floor, a soft drink counter, a juke box, ping pong tables, and booths for card and checker games. The club also had an indirect lighting system that, according to The New York Amsterdam News, was comparable or even superior to the New York’s finer night clubs. Walter S. Mack Jr., the president of the Pepsi-Cola Corporation, claimed that the operation cost of the club was over 200,000 dollars during its existence. As the club had about 700 members ranging between 14 and 19 years, and it was visited more than 100,000 times, the cost per visit was approximately two dollars.[7]  While the Pepsi-Cola Corporation seemed to put much money to the club, which suggests the importance of African Americans’ support for the Pepsi-Cola products, and while the club attracted a lot of customers with a relatively small cost, which speaks for its success among Harlem youngsters, the club was likely unprofitable[8].

Particularly, two club events were reported in the African-American newspapers which brought out activities of the Harlem branch of the Pepsi-Cola junior clubs. The first of them concerned the twenty-second Women’s International Exposition at Madison Square Garden between November 13 and 18 in 1945. The exposition had 168-200 exhibitors including numerous groups based on various nationalities, youth, politics, and other social aspects. It was earlier a morale builder for the women who worked in the war-related jobs, but at this time the exposition delivered to the women various lectures, panels, forums, and exhibits, in addition to counseling service, as based on the idea of how to make a transition from war to peace activities.[9]

The New York Amsterdam News stated that the Harlem branch youngsters at the Madison Square Garden event demonstrated club workings and put on a dance show which led to an offer to “dance for soldiers every Thursday evening at the Hotel Astor”. George Sullivan and Ruth Guillroy (should be Guillory) who later has been known as Sugar Sullivan were among the seventeen members of the Harlem branch, who participated in the event.[10]  Their participation in the event and the offer suggest the continuation of the U.S. war politics which emphasized national unity between races at the same time when basic Civil liberties were denied to African Americans[11]. On the other hand, it speaks for the continuation of racial mixing in connection with Harlem jazz dance, which still continued in the 1940s, although to a lesser degree than in the 1930s and the 1920s[12].

Another club event which was reported in The New York Amsterdam News was the first anniversary of the Harlem branch in May 1946. The club celebrated the first anniversary by organizing a Big Barn Dance that included Square dancing, but also Jitterbug. The paper discussed, in particular, zoot suit clad Ruth Guillory and her partner Eugene ‘Ray’ Daniels, who were depicted in a picture showing the routine which helped them to win the club’s Jitterbug contest. According to the paper, Ruth and Ray won earlier the Jitterbug division of the Miss America Magazine dance contest, and as a prize of the magazine dance contest they had received original paintings from the Walt Disney Production, Make Mine Music, autographed by Walt Disney.[13]

As far as Lindy Hop/Jitterbug contests are concerned, the Miss America Magazine dance contest was a start of Ruth Guillory’s (Sugar Sullivan’s) dancing career which led to the Daily News Harvest Moon Ball contest and to Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom in the late 1940s. In 1955, she won with George Sullivan the Jitterbug Jive division in the Harvest Moon Ball contest. Both Sugar and George became famous also as the leading Third Generation Savoy Lindy Hoppers in the 1950s.[14]

The end of the Pepsi-Cola junior club of Harlem came in 1947, when the president of the Pepsi-Cola company Walter S. Mack Jr. announced that the club was going to be closed by the end of June. He stated that for the time the company sponsored the club, the Harlem community did never show appreciation for his efforts which helped to keep Harlem youngsters off the streets and gangs. All he got from the community was harsh criticism.[15] Walter S. Mack Jr.’s claims cannot be substantiated by the press which did not criticize his efforts when the club existed, but it is possible that there was some sort of criticism behind the scenes.[16]

The more plausible explanation for the end of the club, however, is that it did no more serve its purpose to promote profitably Pepsi-Cola products to Harlemites and African-Americans. This is suggested by the facts that the club existed only for two years, and when Walter S. Mack Jr. announced its end, he offered the club to any responsible party with one or one and a half years rent for free. The rent for one year was otherwise 10,000 dollars. The Harlem community was for the continuation of the Harlem branch, which also supports the explanation that the club did not make a profit for the Pepsi Cola Company. The general tenor expressed by the Harlem community including the club members and its president Ray Daniels, police officers, and various church representatives was that the club had significantly prevented juvenile delinquency and gang activity in Harlem. Despite this, there were no parties who had taken Walter S. Mack Jr.’s offer to continue the club.[17]

As the years went by, the former junior club building re-emerged as a rehearsal space for the Sonny Allen and the Rockets which also Sugar Sullivan belonged to. A versatile singing and jazz dance group Sonny Allen and the Rockets toured mainly around the U.S. and Canada between the very end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1970s. They sang and performed various jazz dances like Mambo and the Lindy Hop. The group, which consisted of five members, included also a full orchestra. When they were back in Harlem, they rehearsed on the first floor of the building that also worked as the Democratic club led by Sonny Allen’s father.[18]

In 1978, the former junior club building, after working as the Woolworth department store, was opened as the Harlem World Disco on June 28. According to one of its owners and the president of the club Earl Washington, the 30,000 square foot disco in Harlem was planned to be a tourist attraction which had raised interest in the Harlem community and its places of entertainment, in addition to serving Harlem community organizations which could use the place for their events.[19]

By paying homage to the Harlem jazz dance history which Harlemites still recognized at the beginning of the 1980s, the disco was described as part of the continuum of Harlem entertainment history and as a modern Savoy Ballroom, without forgetting other places of entertainment in Harlem like the new Cotton Club, the Apollo Theatre and the Smalls’ Paradise. The disco besides dancing and entertaining customers could decrease Harlem’s unemployment, and it was endorsed by politicians like Assemblyman George W. Miller and Major of New York City Edward Koch particularly for its presumed positive effects on Harlem’s economy.[20]  When considering the fact that the disco existed for seven years, it likely had positive effects on the Harlem community, but not necessarily economically because according to one of its employees, the place did not make a profit until the very end of its existence[21]. According to the press, the disco was also criticized by the Harlem Muslims who considered it could increase criminal activity in Harlem and nearby their mosque on 116th Street, across the street from the disco.[22]

Although originally intended to serve tourists and the local community, the Harlem World Disco turned to serve emerging Hip Hop communities from Harlem, the Bronx, and the New York metropolitan area. Famous Hip Hop acts like Cold Crush Brothers, Fantastic Romantic Five, Treacherous Three, and Busy Bee performed in the place. In spite of strong interest in Hip Hop at the Harlem World, disco nights with artists like Eartha Kitt, Arthur Prysock, GQ, and Atlantic Star were frequently organized there.[23]

Charlie Rock who worked in the Harlem World claims that the place was closed quietly in 1985 for financial and political reasons because politicians involved in the Harlem World were no more supporting it and the local community turned against it. Also, the owner of the place at the time could not afford to it anymore, in particular, because other clubs capitalized successfully on the idea of Hip Hop.[24]  Charlie Rock’s statements are supported by the fact that the closure of the Harlem World did not cause much discussion in public if not at all.[25] This suggests that the Harlem community was lost interest in it. The place was closed at the time when interest in Harlem was increasing because of the mainly white people-based revival of interest in the original Harlem jazz dance, the Lindy Hop[26]. It is another story to speculate what could have happened with the Lindy Hop revival if the Harlem World Disco had continued after 1985.

The former Pepsi-Cola Junior Club building in September 2012:

Endnotes:

[1]‘Opens Youth Center in N.Y.’, The Chicago Defender, June 2, 1945, p. 16.

[2]New Canteen Opens for Harlem Youth’, The Afro-American, May 19, 1945, p. 10

[3]‘Opens Youth Center in N.Y.’, The Chicago Defender, June 2, 1945, p. 16 and Nora Holt, ’Pepsi-Cola Club In First Anniversary’, The New York Amsterdam News, May 18, 1946, p. 14.

[4]’Pepsi-Cola Firm Equips Kiddies Club’, The Chicago Defender, June 2, 1945, p. 16. ‘Harlem’s Kids To Lose ‘Fun Center’, The New York Amsterdam News, June 28, 1947, p. 1. ‘Opens Youth Center in N.Y.’, The Chicago Defender, June 2, 1945, p. 16.

[5]’Negro Staff To Be integrated In Pepsi Cola Field Organization’, New Journal and Guide, October 11, 1947, p. 9. ’Pepsi-Cola Firm Equips Kiddies Club’, The Chicago Defender, June 2, 1945, p. 16. Nora Holt, ’Pepsi-Cola Club In First Anniversary’, The New York Amsterdam News, May 18, 1946, p. 14. Louis Lautier, ’Capital Spotlight’, The Afro-American, October 17, 1942, p. 4.

[6]Stephanie Capparell, ‘How Pepsi Opened Door to Diversity; A 1940s All Black Team Targeted a New Market And Broke a Barrier’, The Wall Street Journal, January 9, 2007, B1. Michelle Archer, ‘Pepsi’s challenge in 1940s: Color barrier; CEO hired black marketing team’, USA Today, January 22, 2007, p. B5. ’Pepsi-Cola Firm Equips Kiddies Club’, The Chicago Defender, June 2, 1945, p. 16.

[7]‘Harlem’s Kids To Lose ‘Fun Center’, The New York Amsterdam News, June 28, 1947, pp. 1 and 16 and ’Pepsi-Cola Firm Equips Kiddies Club’, The Chicago Defender, June 2, 1945, p. 16.

[8]The claim that the club was not profitable is discussed in the paragraph that starts with “The more plausible explanation for the end of the club…”.

[9]‘Women’s Exposition to Cover Wide Field’, The New York Times, November 13, 1945, p. 18. ‘163 Exhibitors Get Space’, The New York Times, October 11, 1945, p. 24. ‘ “Women In Peace” To Be Exposition Theme’, The New York Amsterdam News, October 13, 1945, p. 10. ‘Peace Theme in Exhibit’, The New York Times, September 29, 1945, p. 18.

[10]Kay, ’CanTEEN’, The New York Amsterdam News, December 1, 1945, p. 20.

[11]Harri Heinilä, An Endeavor by Harlem Dancers to Achieve Equality – The Recognition of the Harlem-Based Jazz Dance Between 1921 and 1943 (Helsinki, Finland: Unigrafia, 2015), p. 187.

[12]In the Harlem context, a yardstick for measuring racial mixing is Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom which was known for interracial dancing between African-Americans and whites. By the 1940s, less and less whites frequented the ballroom. See Heinilä 2015, pp. 116 and 126.

[13]Nora Holt, ’Pepsi-Cola Club In First Anniversary’, The New York Amsterdam News, May 18, 1946, p. 14.

[14]See Sugar Sullivan interview by Sally Somner, in Durham, March 19, 2001, the New York Public Library. See also ‘The Third Generation’ by Terry Monaghan, published in https://authenticjazzdance.wordpress.com/2017/03/11/the-third-generation-by-terry-monaghan/on March 11, 2017.

[15]‘Harlem’s Kids To Lose ‘Fun Center’, The New York Amsterdam News, June 28, 1947, p. 1.

[16]I have not found anything which supports Walter S. Mack Jr.’s claims. However, it is possible that Harlemites criticized the club in private.

[17]‘Harlem’s Kids To Lose ‘Fun Center’, The New York Amsterdam News, June 28, 1947, p. 1 and ’Pepsi-Cola Club Marked to Close’, The New York Amsterdam News, June 14, 1947, p. 27.

[18]Rennie McDougall, ‘In Harlem, They’re Still Dancing the Original Swing’, The Village Voice, September 6, 2017. Published in https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/09/06/in-harlem-theyre-still-dancing-the-original-swing/ . Sonny Allen interview by Harri Heinilä, in Helsinki, September 2013. Harri Heinilä has the original copy of the interview.

[19]’Harlem World Club Now At Noted Corner’, The Billboard, July 8, 1978, p. 49 and Nelson George, ’New disco expects to advance revival of Harlem’, The New York Amsterdam News, June 24, 1978, p. D6. See also Zamgba Browne, ’New Disco Stirs Muslim Protest’, The New York Amsterdam News, July 29, 1978, p. D1.

[20]‘Harlem disco to open soon’, The New York Amsterdam News, June 3, 1978, p. D2. Zamgba Browne, ’New Disco Stirs Muslim Protest’, The New York Amsterdam News, July 29, 1978, p. D1. Jeanne Parnell, ’Discomania!’, New Journal and Guide, January 19, 1979, p. A9. ’Harlem World praised’, The New York Amsterdam News, June 28, 1980, p. 31.

[21]‘Charlie Rock of “The Harlem World Crew” and Harlem World. With Troy L. Smith’, Fall of 2003. Published in http://www.thafoundation.com/charock.htm. Later referred to as Smith 2003.

[22]J. Zamgba Browne, ‘Muslims protest disco’, The New York Amsterdam News, July 22, 1978, p. A1 and A2. Zamgba Browne, ’New Disco Stirs Muslim Protest’, The New York Amsterdam News, July 29, 1978, p. D1. Disco Protested’, the Los Angeles Sentinel, June 25, 1979, p. A8.

[23]Smith 2003.

[24]Ibid. I have not found any articles in which the closing date is exactly stated. The closing year 1985 is supported by the fact that the press referred to the Harlem World in the past tense in 1986. See for example, J.D. Considine, ‘Taking the Rap to Baltimore’, The Sun, June 8, 1986, p. 10L.

[25]The reasons for the closure which Charlie Rock mentions were not discussed in public to a great extent as far as the press is concerned. I have not found those articles from the time when the place was closed.

[26]The revival is discussed in numerous articles and studies. One of the best studies on it is Terry Monaghan’s “Stompin’ At the Savoy” -Remembering, Researching and Re-enacting the Lindy Hop’s relationship to Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom, (Dancing At The Crossroads. African Diasporic Dances in Britain. Conference Proceedings 1-2 August 2002).

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Who Introduced the Lindy Hop in Europe?

Written and copyright by Harri Heinila

Usually it is explained that GIs brought the Lindy Hop and Jitterbug-related dances from the U.S. to London and elsewhere in Europe during WWII starting from 1942[1]. Because it is clear that the British dancers knew Jitterbug dancing much earlier than GIs arrived, in particular, when considering that the first Jitterbug contest was held in London in 1938, it has also been suggested that actually “Swing dance” was introduced to the UK with the help of “American tourists, Hollywood films, and touring American musicians and dance troupes.”[2]

When it comes to the dance troupes, Herbert White’s dancers, usually known as Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, have been the leading candidates for the dancers who introduced the Lindy Hop and Jitterbug to Europe. Before WWII, Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers visited two times in Europe: first, between 1935 and 1936, when Norma Miller and Billy Hill, and Leon James and Edith Matthews, performed in London, Paris, and Switzerland. Next, in 1937, when Whyte’s Hopping Maniacs, Frankie Manning and Naomi Waller, Lucille Middleton and Jerome Williams, and Mildred Cruse and Billy Williams, toured Paris, London, Dublin, and Manchester.[3]

However, Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers were not the ones who introduced the Lindy Hop or Jitterbug, as the Lindy was known by the British scene, to Europeans.

As to the UK, Charles B. Cochran’s 1931 Revue, which consisted of 18 acts, toured London and Manchester between February and March, 1931.[4] Although Cochran was the British showman, he used African Americans Buddy Bradley and Billy Pierce for staging dances for his 1931 Revue[5]. When the show was over, the latter claimed in newspaper articles that he “introduced the Lindy Hop in Europe”. The claim was published at least in The Philadelphia Tribune, The Afro-American, and The Pittsburgh Courier in April 1931[6]. Pierce’s claim is substantiated by newspaper articles about Cochran’s 1931 Revue, which refer to the dance known as the Lindy Hop. In one of them, it is stated concerning the show in the London Pavilion in March that “[o]ther successful items that should be noted…include “The Lindy Hop,” a spirited dance scene”[7]. Another article about the show in February discusses “the costumes of “The Lindy Hop.”[8]. Because the show did not succeed, and had only a short run in London[9], it is likely that the Lindy Hop scene did not have a great impact on the British dance scene.

Although Pierce and Cochran’s 1931 Revue were probably the ones who introduced the Lindy Hop to the UK, at least, as far as theatrical productions are concerned, the dance was introduced to Paris, France earlier in June 1930 when the Black Flowers, the theatrical company, performing Liza, the “spectacular operetta”, toured Paris between June and July[10]. The company consisted of 50 artists including African American entertainers like Valada Snow, Louis Douglas (also the director of the show), Margaret Beckett, and the Utica Jubilee Singers[11]. The French newspapers like Comoedia and Le Journal advertised that the company performed the Lindy Hop, the new American dance, which, according to another French newspaper, Le Matin, was connected to Charles Lindbergh, the famous American aviator[12]. Margaret Beckett was mentioned to specialize in the role of “Lindbergh lady”, which possibly referred to her dancing[13]. Before the French newspapers, the Harlem Lindy Hop in connection with Charles Lindbergh was mentioned in the African American newspaper, The Chicago Defender, in February 1930[14].

According to the American magazine, Variety, the French audience received the show surprisingly with “the coolness” when compared to Blackbirds which toured Paris in 1929.[15] On the contrary, the French newspapers like Le Journal, La Rampe, and L’intrasigeant praised dancing in the show, and particularly dancers Louis Douglas, Valaida Snow, and Margaret Beckett[16]. Thus, Liza might have had some effect on the Paris dance scene.

So, it was the Black Flowers which introduced the Lindy Hop to Paris, and likely to Europe for the first time, in June 1930. Only after two years since the Harlem Lindy Hop was born in 1928[17].

This is an updated version of my original article. I added the “French connection” to the article and made a few corrections. I would like to thank Jean-Christophe Hep for finding the “French connection” and providing information about the Black Flowers company and its connection to the Lindy Hop.

Notes:

[1] Chris Jones, ‘The Lindy Hops the Atlantic: The Jitterbug and Jive in Britain, 1939-1945’ in ‘Conference Proceedings – Congress on Research in Dance – October 26-28, 2001’, New York University, New York, New York, p. 174.

[2] David G. Miller, Nicole Zonnenberg, Rebecca Strickland, Lindy Hop and Jitterbug: The Development of American Swing Dance in the United Kingdom (Florida: Florida State University, 1-1-2013). See also Jones, p. 175.

[3] Norma Miller, Swing, Baby, Swing! When Harlem Was King…And The Music Was Swing! (Blurb Inc., 2009), pp. 19-20. Norma Miller and Evette Jensen, Swingin at The Savoy – The Memoir of A Jazz Dancer (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996), pp. 89-97. Frankie Manning and Cynthia R. Millman, Frankie Manning – Ambassador of Lindy Hop (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007), pp. 135-137 and the picture of Whyte’s Hopping Maniacs (before page 65).

[4] Cockaigne, ’London’, The Billboard, February 7, 1931, p. 38. Howard Barnes, ’The Playbill’, The New York Herald Tribune, February 15, 1931, p. G1. An advertisement concerning the show in The Manchester Guardian, February 18, 1931, p. 1. ’Cochran’s Revue in Manchester’, The New York Herald Tribune, February 18, 1931, p. 16.. ’Chit Chat’, The Stage, February 19, 1931, p. 14. ’New Cochran Revue’, Variety, February 25, 1931, p. 56.. ’News of the Theater’, The New York Herald Tribune, March 20, 1931, p. 18. Cochran’s New Revue Not So Hot in London; Needs Plenty of Fixing’, Variety, March 25, 1931, p. 59. ’Chit Chat’, The Stage, March 26, 1931, p. 12. ’Cochran’s $50,000 Loss on Flop, But not Sad’, Variety, April 8, 1931, p. 59..

[5] For Buddy Bradley and Billy Pierce in the Cochran’s 1931 Revue see Cockaigne, ‘London’, The Billboard, February 14, 1931, p. 40. “Cochran’s 1931 Revue.”, The Stage, February 26, 1931, p. 18. ‘The London Pavilion. Cochran’s 1931 Revue.’, The Stage, March 26, 1931, p. 14. For Charles B. Cochran see John Carter, ‘Exploits of “the British Barnum” ‘, The New York Times, April 11, 1926, p. BR7.

[6] J. A. Rogers, ’Paris Gossip’, The Philadelphia Tribune, April 23, 1931, p. 6. ’Billy Pierce, Once Unable to Pay Rent, is Now Paid $1,000 a Week’, The Afro-American, April 25, 1931, p. 12. ’Billy Pearce, The Man Who Made Stars, Is Going To Hollywood’, The Pittsburgh Courier, April 25, 1931, p. 18.

[7] ’The London Pavilion, Cochran’s 1931 Revue’, The Stage, March 26, 1931, p. 14.

[8] ’The Cochran Revue’, The Manchester Guardian, February 23, 1931, p. 6.

[9] ’Cochran’s $50,000 Loss on Flop, But not Sad’, Variety, April 8, 1931, p. 59. ’Cochran’s New Revue Not So Hot in London; Needs Plenty of Fixing’, Variety, March 25, 1931, p. 59.

[10] ‘Le Theatre Negre A Paris’, Le Matin, June 3, 1930, p. 4. ‘Courrier des Théâtres’, Le Petit Parisien, July 2, 1930, p. 6.

[11] ‘C’est Le Théâtre Negre – “Black Flowers”’, Le Journal, June 5, 1930, p. 5. ‘Théâtre Negre – “Black Flowers”, L’Intransigeant, June 8, 1930, p. 7. Victor Glover, ‘Visiting Players Hold Forth at Paris Theaters’, The New York Herald Tribune, June 8, 1930, p. G5. For Louis Douglas as the director of the show see ‘Théâtres’, Figaro, June 3, 1930, p. 6.

[12] ‘Le Théâtre Negre A Paris’, Le Matin, June 3, 1930, p. 4. ’Théâtres De Drame De Comedie Et De Genre’, Comoedia, June 3, 1930, p. 5. ‘C’est Le Théâtre Negre – “Black Flowers”’, Le Journal, June 5, 1930, p. 5. ‘Théâtre Negre – “Black Flowers”, L’Intransigeant, June 8, 1930, p. 7.

[13] ’Avant ” Liza ” – ’a la Porte-Saint-Martin’, Comoedia, June 3, 1930, p. 2.

[14] See Harri Heinilä, An Endeavor by Harlem Dancers to Achieve Equality – The Recognition of the Harlem-Based African-American Jazz Dance Between 1921 and 1943 (Helsinki, Finland: Unigrafia, 2015), p. 142.

[15] ‘Colored Shows No Longer So Popular in Paris’, Variety, June 11, 1930, p. 51.

[16] ‘Music-Hall – REVUE NEGRE’, L’Intransigeant, June 5, 1930, p. 8. ’Le Théâtre nègre “Black Flowers” à la Porte-Saint-Martin’, La Journal, June 8, 1930, p. 6. ‘Représentations du Théâtre Nègre des “ Black Flowers “ : LIZA’, La Rampe, June 15, 1930, p. 7.

[17] The beginning of the Lindy Hop in Harlem is discussed in my doctoral dissertation. See Heinilä 2015, pp. 135-138.

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The Racial Imagination of the Lindy Hop from the Historical Standpoint – Comments and Corrections

American Allegory: Lindy Hop and the Racial Imagination by Black Hawk Hancock. Chicago, IL, University of Chicago Press. 2013.

Copyright by Harri Heinila

Dr. Black Hawk Hancock discusses in his study how an originally African-American jazz dance, the Lindy Hop, which he calls also a swing dance, was modified by mainly white enthusiasts who discovered the dance starting from the 1980s, and how particularly the 1990s enthusiasts obscured the roots of the dance by appropriation, whitewashing, and ignoring its African-American aspects.

Dr. Hancock did a doctoral dissertation on the Lindy Hop and the racial imagination in 2004. It was published in the form of a book in 2013. The study belongs to the field of sociology, and as such it is not a historical study of the subject. Dr. Hancock discusses also the Lindy Hop history and refers to it on many occasions, so history plays a significant part in his study.

I will present comments and corrections mainly from the historical standpoint to this sociologically remarkable and groundbreaking study which with respect to the history of the original Lindy Hop, which means the Lindy Hop before the 1980s, misses the mark quite often. Because the study was published for the first time in 2004, it is clear that the historical analysis was based on the studies which existed at the time. Nowadays, there are considerably more studies about the history of the Lindy Hop available. Thus, the 2013 book could have been an updated version of the dissertation with appropriate corrections. But it is also about the problematic use of historical studies which were available before his dissertation.

New York Scene

First of all, I’m surprised that Dr. Hancock obviously never visited New York for his dissertation. That becomes clear when reading his study, and there particularly page 7. He mentions on page 10 that “the swing revival” happened in New York, Stockholm, Los Angeles, and London in the 1980s, which I agree. All the remarkable scholars and enthusiasts of the Lindy Hop have been in New York for searching and interviewing those who defined various styles of the Lindy Hop between the 1930s and the 1980s revival[1]. It could be argued that no one who takes the Lindy Hop and its history seriously can bypass New York. It seems that the New York scene did not similarly affect Dr. Hancock as it did many others before him.

The dismissal of the New York scene leads to problems in his historical analysis, and it also affects other analysis. Two of the most significant problems in the historical analysis are his explanation of the birth of the Lindy Hop and its continuation after the 1940s.

The Birth of the Lindy Hop

Dr. Hancock states on page 11 that “Marshall Stearns gives credit to Shorty George Snowden for naming the Lindy Hop” by quoting Stearns in his groundbreaking study Jazz Dance in 1968. Actually, Stearns gives credit to Snowden for the naming and creating the Lindy Hop which happened in Harlem’s Manhattan Casino (Rockland Palace) dance marathon between June and July 1928.[2]

That had become clear to Dr. Hancock if he had quoted more Stearns who states in Jazz Dance that “Snowden’s mild conviction that he invented the breakaway and thereby the essence of the Lindy is probably true for his time and place.” Stearns continues that Snowden practically rediscovered the Breakaway in the dance marathon where Snowden was claimed to have named the Lindy Hop.[3] Dr. Hancock was possibly confused by Snowden’s explanation to Stearns that the basic step of the Lindy Hop was called the Hop for a long time before the dance marathon.[4] Thus, at first glance, it looks like Snowden underplayed his role as the creator of the Lindy Hop, but Snowden’s statement refers to the fact that he used already existing elements of dancing when he and his partner had an accident in the dance marathon, which led into the temporary separation of partners, and Snowden and his partner, Mattie Purnell, invented the basic principle of the Lindy Hop by “rediscovering” the Breakaway pattern.[5] That started the process which led into the acknowledgement of the Lindy Hop.[6] Thus, Snowden and Purnell are the creators of the Lindy Hop.

Connecting African-American George Snowden firmly to the creator role would have helped Dr. Hancock to establish the Lindy unequivocally as an original African-American, Harlem-born dance. Marshall Stearns refers in Jazz Dance to the fact that also whites claimed to have invented the Lindy Hop[7]. The latest research has brought out the fact that there existed various Lindy Hop dances since Charles Lindbergh did his famous flight over the Atlantic in May 1927. These Lindy Hop dances were not connected to Harlem, and likely they were not invented by African-Americans.[8] Leaving the field open for interpretations of the origin of the Lindy Hop endangers Dr. Hancock’s main mission to show that the Lindy Hop was not acknowledged correctly by the white revivalists. Without Snowden and Purnell as the creators, it would be possible to claim that the Lindy Hop was not originally from Harlem, and an African-American invention. Given Harlem as the birthplace of the Harlem Lindy Hop, it could still be claimed that Harlemites only plagiarized whites as to the naming of the Lindy.

Thus, obscuring the origin of the Lindy Hop as a dance created by unknown or unnamed Harlemites without showing more precisely which of them really created the dance makes it possible to claim that actually it was white people who invented the dance.[9] In the case, it would be difficult to show that white revivalists recognized the Lindy Hop in a wrong way if it was not originally from Harlem and not even invented by African-Americans. In addition to the issue of plagiarism, leaving only the role in the naming to Snowden does not help either because there does not exist proper evidence for that.

Snowden purportedly named the dance in the dance marathon between June and July 1928, but there was no mention of the Harlem Lindy Hop in the US press until September 1928. The gap between the dance marathon and the first use of the term does not make sense if Snowden really named his invention as the Lindy Hop between June and July. It is also unclear whether it was Snowden or somebody else who named the dance for the newspaper articles and advertisements in which the term was used for the first time in September.[10] As this is based on current research, Dr. Hancock was not aware of this when he did his dissertation. However, he should have been aware of Dr. Howard Spring’s study in 1997 in which Dr. Spring brought out the fact that the term in connection with the Harlem Lindy Hop was used for the first time in newspapers in September 1928.[11]

African-Americans and Harlemites, Snowden and Purnell, recognized as the creators of Harlem’s Lindy Hop is the best guarantee of an African-American origin of the Lindy Hop.

Continuation After the 1940s

Dr. Hancock’s study is based on the assumption that the Lindy Hop’s perception was changed drastically by the Lindy Hop revival/Swing revival, as he calls the period between the 1980s and especially the 1990s when mainly white “swing dance” enthusiasts discovered the Lindy Hop which was considered to have laid dormant since its heyday in the 1930s and the 1940s, or at the latest when famous Savoy Lindy Hopper Frankie Manning retired from professional Lindy Hop dancing in the middle of the 1950s and Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom was closed in 1958. According to Hancock, while the dance lost its popularity among mainstream white society, the Lindy Hop never died in African-American communities as it mutated to other African-American dances like Boppin’, Hand Dancing and Steppin’.[12]

As I agree that the dance mutated and the interest waned during the decades before the 1980s revival, Dr. Hancock’s basic assumption of the dormancy is challenged by the fact that the Lindy Hop actually never disappeared in Harlem and New York.

Savoy Lindy Hoppers trained new generations in the Lindy Hop, in particular, for the Daily News-sponsored Harvest Moon Ball contest in the New York metropolitan area between 1935 and 1974, and for its continuations: the Harvest Moon Ball contest between 1976 and 1983, and Mama Lou Parks Duncanson’s International Harvest Moon Ball contest between 1980 and 1989.[13] The latter two of the contests happened at the same time with the beginning of the revival. The Lindy Hop was still practiced in its all three modes: social, performance and competition by both African-American and white dancers between the 1950s and the 1980s.[14]

There is no reason to state that the Lindy Hop laid dormant at the latest after the closing of Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. Its popularity waned, but it was maintained by various African-American and white dancers and dance groups before the revival. Thus, Dr. Hancock should have asked what the revivalists between the 1980s and the 1990s exactly revived and discovered? Many of the Lindy Hop Old-timers were active, and even Frankie Manning who worked in the post office still danced socially during the decades of the “dormancy”[15]. Had Dr. Hancock examined the decades between the 1950s and the 1980s, he would have realized that there was nothing else to revive but the mainstream interest in the Lindy Hop. Because of that, in fact, the Lindy Hop/Swing revival should be called the revival of the interest in the Lindy Hop.

“Whitewashing” of the Lindy Hop

One sign of the “whitewashing” of the Lindy Hop is the different terminology between the enthusiasts and Old-timers. On page 157, Dr. Hancock quotes Savoy Lindy Hopper and Jazz dancer Norma Miller who stated that Swing dance was called (the) Lindy (Hop) in the past when she danced at the Savoy Ballroom. On pages 139-140, he suggests that the revivalists used racially “neutral” terms like ‘swing dance’ and ‘swing dancing’ for decontextualizing and deracializing the Lindy Hop. According to him, in the late 1990s, it looked like it was promoted only “the teaching of ‘Swing dancing’ “. At the time, the revivalists began to distinguish the “authentic style” of “Swing dancing” from other “swing dances” for two reasons: because the famous Gap ad in which it was performed the “authentic style” increased the popularity of this style of “Swing dancing”, and because the revivalists wanted to distinguish the Lindy Hop from “Jive” which was “the more formal version of “Swing dancing”“. As the result, the revivalists started to use the term ‘the Lindy Hop’ and ‘Savoy Style Lindy Hop’. Thus, the proper name of the dance reemerged. On the contrary, jazz dance historian Terry Monaghan argues that it was the 1980s revivalists who put the term ‘lindy hop’ back into general use, and in effect acknowledged the African-American authorship of the dance[16].

Delving deeper into this issue could have shed more light on it. It is true that the use of the terms ‘swing dance’ and ‘swing dancing’ exploded between 1990 and 1999 as based on the use in the white mainstream press and compared to the decades before the 1990s. The explosion of the use of the terms ‘swing dance’ and ‘swing dancing’ in the mainstream press still continued through the 2000s, even so that the usage tripled by 2015. The usage of the terms in the African-American press at the same time and the decades before was only minimal compared to the mainstream press.[17] It seems that Harlemites were not for ‘swing dancing’.

This is reinforced by Terry Monaghan who claimed that Harlemites considered a swing dancer the dancer who could not lindy hop properly. Monaghan’s claim is supported by the fact that Harlem’s Apollo Theatre organized dance contests for both whites and African-Americans between 1934 and 1935. The white contests were called ‘Swing the Lindy Night’ and the African-American contests were called ‘Lindy Hop Night’.[18] Using the prefix ‘swing’ for the white contests possibly was meant to imply that whites did not do the pure Lindy Hop at the time.

Thus, combining this with Dr. Hancock’s analysis, the revivalists, who supposedly used the ‘swing dance’-based terminology for avoiding racial meanings, ironically used racially loaded and derogatory terminology.

The statement is confused by the fact that the Lindy (Hop) dancers on the West Coast referred to their dancing as ‘swing’ and ‘swing dance’.[19] Because the dancers were mainly white, it could be questioned whether the New York and East Coast revivalists borrowed the terminology from the West Coast usage.[20] Anyway, also this supports the fact that mainly whites used the terms.

Another terminological issue concerns the term ‘jitterbug’. Dr. Hancock argues on page 144 that the term jitterbug was a white name for the Lindy Hop, while on page 13 he confirms the sameness between Jitterbug and the Lindy Hop by quoting Frankie Manning who explained that Jitterbug and the Lindy Hop meant the same dance[21]. Indeed, Dr. Hancock disagrees with Manning to some degree because on page 172 he calls Jitterbug as one of “the basic six-count traditional Swing dances”. By doing a proper etymological analysis of the origin of the terms, the real racial identity of the terms could have been examined. Terry Monaghan argued that the term ‘jitterbug’ could have been derived from Cab Calloway’s usage of the term ‘jitter-sauce’, and there was the ‘Jitter Bug Club’ in Harlem in the 1930s, where the term could have been originated as well.[22] Anyway, the terms ‘jitter bug’ and ‘jitterbug’ were used in connection with Harlemites in the 1930s, and the term ‘jitterbug’ was connected to Savoy Lindy Hoppers by the end of the 1930s.[23] Thus, the term could have originated from either African-American or white sources, or both.

This is also confused by the fact that Chicago’s Savoy Ballroom dancers were referred to by the term ‘jitterbug’ in the African-American press in the 1930s and the 1940s[24]. Dr. Hancock, who examined also African-American Steppin’ dancers in Chicago, does not discuss this and Chicago’s Savoy Ballroom at all, although the ballroom was located in Southside Chicago, in an African-American area.[25] At one point, Chicago dancers were claimed to be even better than Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers[26], which emphasizes their importance. Indeed, this claim is very arguable when considering the success of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers and also contrary claims of the superiority of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers compared to their Chicago counterparts.[27] Anyway, the term ‘jitterbug’ was not used only by whites, and there is evidence for its African-American origin. Given Dr. Hancock’s claim of ‘jitterbug’ as a “white” term, it could be argued that African-Americans copied whites when they started to use the term ‘jitterbug’.

Another problem concerning “whitewashing”, which Dr. Hancock fails to discuss appropriately, is correct music for lindy hopping. He describes on page 91 how dancers “congregated in a “jam” circle” when Benny Goodman’s “Sing Sing Sing” was played. Dr. Hancock obviously was not aware of Frankie Manning’s opinion of the song. Manning stated bluntly, “Dancers today like doing jam circles to “Sing, Sing, Sing,” but we never jammed to music like that. We didn’t even like “Sing, Sing, Sing.” There was too much drum.” He also explained that he danced to fast and moderate tempo songs if they were swinging and he liked them.[28] Similarly to Manning, Albert ‘Al’ Minns stressed Swing as the music for the Lindy hop when he gave a lesson in music to a revivalist Robert P. Crease in the 1980s, who inadvertently played Dixieland jazz as good swing dancing music.[29] As based on my experience, “Sing Sing Sing” and Dixieland jazz at the expense of Swing music are frequently played in “swing dance” events in which mainly white lindy hoppers participate.

Thus, Dr. Hancock almost totally bypasses one of the most important pieces of evidence for “whitewashing” of the Lindy Hop. Instead of discussing the issue, on pages 91-93, he criticizes the “jam circle” displays and the teachings of traditional jazz steps like ‘pimp walk’ and fishtail as a form of minstrelsy and derogatory expressions. On the other hand, on page 76, he connects ‘Pimp-walk’ as a part of “African based dance”, which confuses the reader more. Overall, this obscures and even ridicules his idea of the “whitewashing”. Practically, the “jam circles” which were usually known as ‘circle(s)’ in the past are one of the most important expressions of the current Lindy Hop scene, which can be associated with Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. Savoy Lindy Hoppers danced usually in the Corner and there in a circle formation called the Circle at the Savoy. Sometimes, the Savoy Ballroom was full of circles. So, also other Savoy dancers than Savoy Lindy Hoppers danced in circles. Circles were part of the Savoy tradition, and they were based on African-American dance traditions like circle dancing and “cutting contests”.[30] In order to criticize the circles and traditional jazz steps, Dr. Hancock should criticize the original Lindy Hop culture and African-American jazz dance which the circles and steps originated from.

He also confuses Modern dance-based “modern jazz dance” with “authentic” (original) jazz dance. On pages 132 – 133, Dr. Hancock describes in detail an episode where his dance partner refused to participate in a basic jazz class by the Joel Hall Company, although the instructor of the class invited her to participate in it for free. Dr. Hancock criticizes his partner who did not want to participate in the class because she as a white person was afraid of being compared to skilled African-American dancers, whom the company and the class consisted of. As Dr. Hancock notices appropriately that the episode was ridiculed by the fact that his partner taught and performed African-American dances to whites, but she did not want to participate in a class taught by African-Americans, he misses the point that the Joel Hall Company taught Modern-dance based “jazz dance” which had nothing to do with original jazz dances.[31] Maybe this also affected his dance partner. In fact, It could be asked why African-American dancers were so interested in “white” Modern dance-based dance forms[32], instead of learning “authentic” African-American jazz dances like the Lindy Hop?

He addresses the issue to some degree in a subchapter ‘Blaming the Victim’, on pages 132-139, by asking from both black (the US and the non US people of color) and white dancers why African-Americans are not willing to learn the Lindy Hop anymore. He got varied answers from both sides. It seems that white dancers considered in general that African-Americans were just not interested in old dance forms and wanted to move on to new dances. Black dancers emphasized as the reason the lack of interest in the African-American history and culture of the Lindy Hop and original African-American dances among people of color. As on page 139 he refers to the “white” domination and power structure, which maintain “racial divisions” in the US society, and which also affects African-American lindy hoppers because the Lindy Hop is dominated by whites, he could have delved deeper into the subject from the African-American point of view. Now, he ignores the involvement of the Harlem Renaissance Movement which neglected the Lindy Hop and other jazz dances as “low culture” and did not acknowledge the Lindy as an important cultural achievement. The movement practically acknowledged the dance only as a fad, and therefore it was not culturally remarkable.[33] This may explain to some degree why original “authentic” African-American jazz dances have been rejected by so many African-Americans who are more interested in “modern” dances like Hand Dancing and Steppin’ including Hip Hop dancing which also is a continuation of “authentic” jazz dance[34].

Another historically critical point which Dr. Hancock mentions, but he fails to discuss correctly, is how Swing culture, particularly during so-called Swing Era in the 1930s and the 1940s, supported multiculturalism and racial mixing between African-Americans and whites. He mentions on page 13 that the Lindy Hop was danced by African-Americans and whites in the 1930s and the 1940s, but only occasionally mixing. He also quotes Norma Miller who argues that African-Americans did not want to let whites take their dance implying a claim that whites were not part of the African-American dance activity which Ms. Miller represented.

He could have added to the analysis that actually whites were part of Herbert White’s dance group which usually is known as Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, and consisted mainly of African-American dancers. There were at least three white dancers in the group who performed successfully along with their African-American colleagues[35]. Racially mixed dancing was the fact at the Savoy Ballroom. In general, Swing culture was racially mixed before World War II. Because of the Swing culture, the US overall was culturally inclusive, in particular, between 1935 and 1942.[36]

His lack of knowledge of African-American culture and history shines through when on page 130 he describes episodes where allegedly “racist” terminology was used by teachers and dancers. He quotes various white lindy hoppers who commented their mistakes by using phrases like ‘I can’t get this! I’m so white!’ and ‘Oh my God, I feel so white.” He did not seem to be aware of the fact that also African-Americans commented other African-Americans with similar phrases when they did not dance in the way they are supposed to.[37] As I agree with him that using the phrases marks racial identity and leads to think that the “white” identity in dancing is inferior, he misses the point that in this respect both whites and African-Americans seem to think in the same way, but likely for different reasons considering the long history of slavery in the US. That means, arguably, African-Americans dismiss “white domination” by using the phrases, and thus condemning African-Americans who dance like their “white” counterparts, but to whites the phrases mean only bad dancing. It could also be argued that a “white” identity is not usually appreciated in the Lindy Hop, which also Dr. Hancock’s interviews with both white and African-American dancers point to[38].

Similarly, he seems to miss the point when he quotes Steven Mitchell, who is widely condemned in the “swing dance” community because of his alleged sexual assaults on dancers.[39] On page 106, Mitchell is quoted stating, “There is no sex in the dance” referring to the lack of passion between a man and a woman in dancing. Dr. Hancock interprets this to mean that “the blackness of the dance” has been removed because of whites both desire the dance and feel reserved when dancing. As a result of this, whites deny “the sexuality of the dance.” On page 99, Mitchell is quoted stating the contrary, “people have taken [the dance] so far out, it’s not even dancing any more. It’s just sex out there…” This makes the reader to wonder what happened between the interviews: it looks like a pseudo analysis unfolded under Dr. Hancock’s nose.

On page 39, he defines four of the most fundamental aspects of the Lindy Hop. He does not include ‘rhythm’ to them, although he mentions it later when defining what is the Lindy Hop. That is a significant difference compared to the eminent Savoy Lindy Hoppers, Frankie Manning, who represented the Second Generation of Savoy Lindy Hoppers, and George Sullivan, who represents the Third Generation of Savoy Lindy Hoppers. Both of them have stressed rhythm as the most important aspect in the Lindy Hop.[40] In regard to Manning and Sullivan’s opinion, when discussing “whitewashing” of the Lindy Hop, correct rhythm should be the main concern. A famous African-American entertainer Ethel Waters stated in her autobiography that “Most of colored people can’t bear to dance with white folks. Invariably whites dance in a broken rhythm, don’t listen to music and the count. They are off the beat most of the time.”[41] On page 41, Dr. Hancock explains how dancers can “play” with the music by being “ “on” the beat and “off” the beat”. He does not mention that dancing on the “off” beat is actually a basis for the original Lindy Hop rhythm[42]. What is the off beat has not been clear to many of current enthusiasts.[43] Therefore, once again, Dr. Hancock bypasses a sign of current “whitewashing” in the Lindy Hop.

Commodification and History

In the subchapter ‘Commodification’, Dr. Hancock argues that whites have produced a “white” version of “blackness” to entertain white people. The Lindy Hop has been turned into a consumer good in the marketplace. As I agree with him on the “white” version, he mistakes the African-American Lindy Hop history. That happens when he states that the dance went underground for a long time, and it was turned into “a consumer good” by the revivalists. As I stated before, the Lindy Hop never disappeared or laid dormant in Harlem. The popularity of the dance waned during the decades after its heyday in the 1930s and the 1940s. After that the Lindy Hop was kept alive by African-Americans and whites, who also made their living out of it as they did during the heyday. It is arguable how correctly they were paid for dancing, but basically the Lindy Hop was “commoditized” by African-Americans and also whites decades before the revival in the 1980s.[44] However, I agree with Dr. Hancock that the revival created dance teachers whose knowledge was based on a very short practice.

His lack of knowledge of the history comes out again when he relies on the idea that the dance should be taught in classes, instead of learning the Lindy Hop by watching and imitating dancers on the dance floor as it usually used to be in the past as to the Savoy Ballroom scene[45]. This fixation with dance classes prevails in the “swing dance” community, so Dr. Hancock only follows the latest trend[46].

On the other hand, it would be wrong to say that there were no “classes” by Savoy dancers. Some of them had even dance schools for a while[47]. However, for the most part, when Savoy Lindy Hoppers taught newcomers to dance, it was more about mentoring than “teaching classes” per se[48]. The Savoy Ballroom and its Lindy Hop scene were part of the Harlem community where dancers traded steps even on the street corners[49]. Basically, the community taught you a step if you did not know it.

This type of a communal aspect has disappeared to a great extent because it is supposed that current dancers learn to dance in dance classes which are organized by organizations like dance schools and dance camps, and individual teachers[50]. The school system standardizes the Lindy Hop and practically destroys real social dancing which emphasized togetherness of couples on the dance floor: everybody danced on the “same” beat at the Savoy. Now, the couples practically compete with each other because schools teach mainly performance mode of lindy hopping with big movements and emphasis on “correct” patterns, instead of rhythm which creates harmony between the couples which try to follow music rather than do the patterns and steps in the way they were taught in classes[51]. It comes out both implicitly and directly in the interviews that Dr. Hancock conducted and also in his comments that in order to learn to dance socially, dancers have to dance on the social dance floor. The dance classes cannot teach real social dance.

The class-based teaching system has also been criticized by those who frequented the Savoy Ballroom. The primary criticism has been that dance classes are “feel good sessions” without the same seriousness which Savoy Lindy Hoppers represented.[52]

I’m not entirely convinced of Ryan Francois’ comment on the white revivalists on page 113. He is quoted concerning an incident where the revivalists pleased Norma Miller and Frankie Manning only because they wanted to get Manning and Miller’s ideas for creating “their own power structures” in the Lindy Hop world. According to Francois, he and Steven Mitchell were the only other two black persons, in addition to Manning and Miller, in the room where the revivalists met Manning and Miller, and the only ones who did not attend to Manning and Miller in a disturbing way. It is possible that Francois mistook the situation because of enthusiasm which the revivalists expressed for the famous Savoy Lindy Hoppers[53]. It could be even argued that had African-Americans expressed similar enthusiasm for Savoy Lindy Hoppers, there were versatile African-American Lindy Hop communities around the US, in addition to Harlem. Arguably, the only Savoy Lindy Hoppers in whom most of the few African-American lindy hoppers/”swing dancers” have been interested are the Second Generation Savoy Lindy Hoppers Miller and Manning, and Sugar Sullivan from the Third Generation. Many other Savoy Lindy Hoppers, and their descendants have been ignored and forgotten.

The “white domination” is also supported by the “power structures” which the dance school, dance camp, and class-based teaching of the Lindy Hop create and maintain by insulating the Lindy Hop for those who participate in those activities, instead of active local social dance scenes where “each one teaches one” without fee. Participating in the activities takes money. African-Americans’ economic situation is not as good as whites’ economic situation in the US in 2017. African-Americans’ median income is only 60 % of the whites’ median income and a fourth of African-Americans live below the poverty line compared to a tenth of whites.[54]

In that regard, the reasons for the lack of African American lindy hoppers, which Dr. Hancock presents on pages 136 and 137, do not convince me. He argues that the lack of marketing the Lindy Hop to African-American communities, the lack of images of African-American Lindy Hop, “complex and contradictory sentiments” circulating within racial groups, and the diversity based, for example, on class, age, and gender possibly affect the case. I agree that the insufficient marketing to African-Americans and the lack of images of the current African-American Lindy Hop count in the case, but the poverty-related structural problems are hard to overcome by only marketing positive images of African-American Lindy Hoppers. Also a tendency to fragment the “swing scene” into smaller dance events for different skill and age groups is contrary to the Savoy Ballroom practices and affects the “swing scene” as a whole.[55] .

Conclusion

The biggest problem in Dr. Hancock’s analysis is that he was an insider in the “swing dance” scene which he researched. The objectivity of the study is questionable because this insider status. He was an outsider when he researched the Steppin’ scene in Chicago. His success in the Steppin’ scene resembles Frankie Manning’s observation of the Savoy Ballroom scene where “they never looked at your face, only at your feet”, and asked “can you dance?”[56]. Concluding from Dr. Hancock’s Steppin’ story explained on the chapter ‘Steppin’ Out of Whiteness’, the similar skill-based inclusiveness prevailed in the Steppin’ scene.

However, I’m not entirely convinced that his carnal sociological approach worked in the way it was supposed to work because of his inadequate knowledge of the original Lindy Hop history was not the most solid ground for a serious research. In other words, because he was taught in the same type of classes which he criticized, that could explain the inadequate knowledge of the history: he was not taught and mentored by those who know “how it really was” as it has become clear in my sometimes harsh criticism.

The interviews that he conducted brought out new and interesting facts about the current “swing dance”/Lindy Hop scene, which can be used for the future research. I agree with him that the current scene does not replicate the original Lindy Hop scene, but I do not always agree on the reasons why these scenes are different.

Harri Heinilä

Doctor of Social Sciences

Political history

The University of Helsinki

 

Notes:

[1] First of them was Mura Dehn who came to New York in the beginning of the 1930s. See Harri Heinilä, An Endeavor by Harlem Dancers to Achieve Equality – The Recognition of the Harlem Based Jazz Dance Between 1921 and 1943, Doctoral Dissertation, Department of Political and Economic Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki, Unigrafia, Helsinki 2015, p. 37. Other remarkable scholars have been Marshall Stearns, Sally Sommer, and Terry Monaghan who came to New York with his Jiving Lindy Hoppers in 1985. See Norma Miller, Swing, Baby, Swing! When Harlem Was King…And The Music Was Swing! (Blurb Inc., 2009), p. 21. Other remarkable revivalists (not including all of them) who started in the 1980s, and who were looking for Old-time dancers in New York are Larry Schulz and Sandra Cameron, Margaret Batiuchok, Erin Stevens, Lennart Westerlund, Anders Lind, Henning Sörensen, Robert P. Crease, Paul Grecki, and Simon Selmon.

[2] Marshall and Jean Stearns, Jazz Dance – The Story of American Vernacular Dance (New York, New York: Da Capo Press, 1994 – originally published in 1968), p. 315.

[3] Ibid., p. 324.

[4] Ibid., p. 323.

[5] Heinilä 2015, pp. 137-138. See also Terry Monaghan, ’George Snowden’, The Dancing Times, July 2004.

[6] Snowden’s role as the creator of the Lindy Hop and as the Lindy Hopper who laid down the foundation for the success of the Lindy Hop is explained in detail in my dissertation. See Heinilä 2015, pp. 134-138 and 165-168. Also Terry Monaghan discusses Snowden’s creator role and career in dancing. See Monaghan 2004.

[7] According to Stearns, Tap dancer Ray Bolger stated that he invented the Lindy Hop in 1927. See Stearns 1994., p. 323.

[8] Peter BetBasoo is the first researcher who brought out these Lindy Hop dances in his Lindy Hop and Argentine Tango, copyright Peter BetBasoo, published in the Internet, 2009. All the dances were named as ’Lindy Hop’. See BetBasoo 2009. The very first of the dances was ’Lindbergh Hop’ with six basic steps, which was referred to as ’Lindy Hop’ in the headline of the newspaper article. See ’ Lindy ’Hop’ ’ Difficult Dance’, Pittsburgh Gazette Times, May 25, 1927, p. 3. There are no references to any African-American origin of the non-Harlem Lindy Hop dances.

[9] As it is arguable how many times it has actually been referred in public that whites created the Harlem Lindy Hop, there have been at least two serious claims that whites created it. One was Ray Bolger’s statement which was mentioned in footnote 7, and other was done by a Daily News authority who claimed in 1940 that a white dance teacher created the Lindy Hop. See Heinilä 2015, p. 194 and footnote 753. Dr. Hancock quotes Dorthea Ohl in Ohl’s article in the 1956 Dance Magazine in which Ohl claims that the Lindy was born at the Savoy Ballroom by an anonymous dancer who shouted that he flied like Lindy, referring to Charles ’Lindy’ Lindbergh’s famous flight in May 1927. As Ohl explains, that was based on a legend. See Black Hawk Hancock, American Allegory: Lindy Hop and the Racial Imagination (Chicago, IL, University of Chicago Press, 2013), p. 12. There is no evidence for the story.

[10] See Heinilä 2015, pp. 141 and 165-166. The naming of the Lindy Hop is discussed in Heinilä 2015, pp. 138-141 and Monaghan 2004.

[11] Howard Spring, ‘Swing and the Lindy Hop: Dance, Venue, Media, and Tradition’, American Music, Vol. 15, No. 2, Summer 1997, pp. 190 and 204.

[12] Dr. Hancock explains in his study, in particular, on page 15 that the Lindy Hop had been forty years in dormancy until it was revived in the 1980s. Otherwise see pages 13-14.

[13] See Heinilä 2015, p. 189. See also Terry Monaghan, ‘ “Stompin’ At the Savoy” – Remembering, Researching and Re-enacting the Lindy Hop’s relationship to Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom’, Dancing At The Crossroads. African Diasporic Dances in Britain. Conference Proceedings 1-2 August 2002, London Metropolitan University, 2005, pp. 49 and 70 (footnote 113).

[14] The competition mode of the Lindy Hop was maintained by the Harvest Moon Ball contests between 1935 and 1989. The performance mode was maintained the Savoy Lindy Hoppers-based groups like Sonny Allen and the Rockets and the Mama Lou Parks Dancers. See Monaghan 2002/2005, pp. 45-49 and Terry Monaghan, ’Crashing Cars & Keeping the Savoy’s Memory Alive’, republished as ’Mama Lou Parks by Terry Monaghan’ in https://authenticjazzdance.wordpress.com/2015/04/25/mama-lou-parks-by-terry-monaghan/ . Frankie Manning’s comments about social dancing during his post office career see Frankie Manning and Cynthia R. Millman, The Ambassador of Lindy Hop (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007), p. 218. About swing dancing in California between the 1950s and the 1960s see Tamara Stevens, with editorial contributions by Erin Stevens, Swing Dancing (Santa Barbara, California: Greenwood, 2011), pp. 139-142. Dean Collins continued his swing dance activities in the 1970s see ’Swing Dancers Yearn for Music of Big-Band Era’, Los Angeles Times, October 15, 1972, p. 4. ’3Rd Anniversary Celebration’, Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1976, p. M1. According to the latter article, Dean Collins performed ’Lindy Hop’ in 1976.

[15] See Manning and Millman 2007, p. 218.

[16] Monaghan 2002/2005, p. 57.

[17] This is discussed in my article, ’Swing Dance or Jazz Dance – A Few Words About the Use of the Terms’, January 7, 2016, published in https://authenticjazzdance.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/swing-dance-or-jazz-dance-a-few-words-about-the-use-of-the-terms/

[18] Ibid.

[19] Stevens 2011, pp. 95-96. See also ’Swing Dancers Yearn for Music of Big-Band Era’, Los Angeles Times, October 15, 1972, p. 4. ’3Rd Anniversary Celebration’, Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1976, p. M1. Jazz dance historian Peter Winquist Loggins claimed, when I discussed with him in 2017, that Dean Collins’ dancing was called The Lindy, and not the Lindy Hop. However, the aforementioned Los Angeles Times article clearly states that Collins did ’Lindy Hop’ in 1976.

[20] How much the West Coast dancers’ terminology affected the New York dancers needs more research. I have discussed with one of the 1980s revivalists, Margaret Batiuchok, who explained to me, as based on her experience, that Old-timers used the terms ’lindy hop’ and ’swing (dance)’ interchangeably. There are Savoy Lindy Hoppers like Norma Miller who have used the terms interchangeably. On the contrary, Savoy dancer George Lloyd argued that he did swing dance in the 1980s because he did not do “set routines” which were included only in the Lindy Hop. He used to do those routines, and thus the Lindy Hop in the past. See Margaret Batiuchok, The Lindy. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts to the faculty of the Gallatin Division of New York University, May 16, 1988, George Lloyd interview by Margaret Batiuchok, DVD. How much the use of the term ’swing dance’ by Savoy Old-timers actually has stemmed from the intention to keep up with the current terminology needs research as well.

[21] Frankie Manning’s opinion of Jitterbug is supported by Louise ‘Mama Lou’ Parks Duncanson who also considered the Lindy Hop and Jitterbug as the same dance. See Monaghan 2002/2005, p. 57. Another Savoy Lindy Hopper Albert ‘Al’ Minns explained that a Jitterbug was a person who danced in a uncontrolled way. See Al Minns interview by the Swedish Swing Society in 1984. This can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6DlmqOWBlg . Minns’ opinion is supported by Terry Monaghan who defines the term ‘jitterbugs’ as “raucous swing fans” who danced the Shag or did not dance at all. See Karen Hubbard and Terry Monaghan, ‘Negotiating Compromise on a Burnished Wood Floor – Social Dancing at the Savoy’ in Julie Malnig (editor), Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake – A Social and Popular Dance Reader (Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2009), p. 145 (footnote 35). The definitions do not take a stand on racial identity of the dancers who danced Jitterbug or were Jitterbugs.

[22] Monaghan 2005, p. 77. Chad Heap, Slumming – Sexual and Racial Encounters In American Nightlife – 1885 – 1940 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009), p. 256. See also ’Now We Have The ’Jitter Bug’, The New York Amsterdam News, December 6, 1933, p. 7 and Roi Ottey, ’This Hectic Harlem’, The New York Amsterdam News, January 17, 1934, p. 9.

[23] See Heinilä 2015, p. 254.

[24] See ’Jitterbugs Set to Swing at Bronzeville’, The Chicago Defender, October 8, 1938, p. 19 and ’Girl’s Band Takes City’, The Chicago Defender, January 15, 1944. These articles are only an example. The subject needs more research to find out how frequently the Chicago Savoy dancers were referred to by the term.

[25] See Terry Monaghan, ’The Chicago and Harlem Savoy Ballrooms – Different Cultures – Different Fortunes’, Society of Dance History Scholars Conference Papers, Susan C. Cook, Compiler, 9-12 – June Northwestern University – Evanston, Illinois, published by Society of Dance History Scholars, 2005, p. 155.

[26] The New York Amsterdam News claimed in its article, by referring to the Chicago’s Federal Theatre Project’s Swing Mikado, that “the most popular dance would shame Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers” without explaining exactly what was the dance. It was stated in the article that the “Chicago company can truck and lindy and swing with the best of ‘em”. Thus, referring clearly that the Lindy Hop was one of the dances by which “the Chicago company” was able to challenge the best exponents of the Lindy. See ‘WPA Show Upsets B’way Equilibrium’, The New York Amsterdam News, March 11, 1939, p. 16.

[27] The success of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers is discussed in my dissertation, in particularly in chapters, ’The Savoy Ballroom Between 1926 and 1943’, ’Savoy Lindy Hoppers’ Second Generation Between 1934 and 1943’, and ’Harvest Moon Ball and the Savoy Lindy Hoppers Between 1935 and 1943’. In the end of the 1930s, promoter Michael Todd tried to find Lindy Hoppers in Chicago for his Hot Mikado show on Broadway. He did not find any of the requisite standard, and he had to use Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers for the show. See Monaghan 2005, p. 159.

[28] Manning and Millman 2007, p. 70.

[29] Norma Miller and Evette Jensen, Swingin’ at The Savoy – The Memoir of A Jazz Dancer (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996), p. 257.

[30] Heinilä 2015, pp. 122-123. See also Monaghan 2002/2005, p. 55.

[31] Joel Hall was interviewed in 1999 when the episode happened. His style was described ”an intoxicating cocktail mix of hip jazz dance and modern dance infused with classical ballet”. See ’Dancer/Choreographer Joel Hall Brings his Urban Jazz Dance to ”Dance Chicago” ’, Hyde Park Citizen, November 25, 1999, p. 13. See for differences between ”modern jazz dance” and ”authentic” jazz dance Heinilä 2015, pp. 43-45.

[32] Modern dance was created by whites, although it was later developed also by African-Americans. A good presentation of the origins of Modern dance is Margaret Lloyd’s The Borzoi Book of Modern Dance (Dance Horizons, New York, 1974).

[33] See Heinilä 2015, pp. 330-331.

[34] Terry Monaghan argues that Hip Hop dancing is part of ”authentic” jazz dance. See Terry Monaghan, ’Crashing Cars & Keeping the Savoy’s Memory Alive’, republished as ’Mama Lou Parks by Terry Monaghan’ in https://authenticjazzdance.wordpress.com/2015/04/25/mama-lou-parks-by-terry-monaghan/ .

[35] The dancers are Harry Rosenberg (later Rowe), Ruth Rheingold and Jimmy Valentine. See Heinilä 2015, p. 171 and Peter Loggins, Jimmy Valentine, published on August 31, 2009 in http://jassdancer.blogspot.fi/2009/08/jimmy-valentine.html .

[36] See Monaghan 2002/2005, pp. 35-36. See also Heinilä 2015, pp. 17, 19-20, and 126.

[37] Warren Berry, one of the famous Berry Brothers, told in an interview how Nyas Berry commented Warren’s incorrect timing by saying, “What is this, a white boy we got here.” See Rusty E. Frank, ‘Warren Berry’, Tap! – The Greatest Tap Dance Stars and Their Stories – 1900 – 1955 (Da Capo Press, New York, 1994), p. 160. Also according to my experience, African-American dancers have commented other African-Americans with “white boy”-related phrases when others do not dance in a correct way. A famous African-American entertainer Ethel Waters stated that African-Americans usually rated white people’s dancing inferior to African-Americans’ dancing. See also Ethel Waters with Charles Samuels, His Eyes on the Sparrow – An Autobiography (Da Capo Press, New York, 1992), p. 134.

[38] Hancock 2013, pp. 83-88.

[39] This is discussed in various forums. One of those discussions can be found at https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/nzxepd/how-swing-dancing-faced-its-sexual-assault-scandal .

[40] See Joel Dinerstein, Swinging The Machine – Modernity, Technology, And African American Culture Between The World Wars (Amherst, Ma: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003), p. 265 and Harri Heinilä, ’A Great Weekend in Harlem’, published in https://authenticjazzdance.wordpress.com/2013/05/19/a-great-weekend-in-harlem/ .

[41] Waters 1992, p. 134.

[42] Marshall Stearns explains that the basic step is ”a syncopated two-step” which is currently known as a triple step, or a box step, which both accent ”the offbeat”. See Stearns 1994, p. 323.

[43] This is based on my experience on the dance floor and available videos of the current dancers on YouTube. Entertainer Dawn Hampton explained in the video what is the off beat. The video can be found on YouTube. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEny_nB5yyA .

[44] This commodification happened by the end of the 1920s when the Lindy Hop was danced socially in ballrooms, competed, and performed. See Heinilä 2015, pp. 144 and 165-166.

[45] Monaghan 2002/2005, p. 54.

[46] This statement is arguable and based on my own experience on the social dance floor. The statement needs more research.

[47] For example, George Snowden, Alfred Leagins, Albert Minns and Leon James had a dance school and they gave dance classes. See Terry Monaghan, ‘Remembering “Shorty” ‘, The Dancing Times, July 2004, p. 51. Monaghan 2002/2005, pp. 35 and 64 (footnote 24). Heinilä 2016, p. 62. Along with the revival of the interest in the Lindy Hop, Savoy Lindy Hoppers like Frankie Manning, Sugar Sullivan, George Sullivan, Barbara Billups, Sonny Allen, Charlotte ‘Mommy’ Thacker have taught the Lindy Hop classes. See Monaghan 2002/2005, pp. 49-52 and Harri Heinilä, ’A Great Weekend in Harlem’, published in https://authenticjazzdance.wordpress.com/2013/05/19/a-great-weekend-in-harlem/ .

[48] Monaghan 2002/2005, p. 54.

[49] See Robert P. Crease, ’Eunice Callen’, Footnotes: November – December, 1989. Vol.4, No. 3, published by The New York Swing Society.

[50] This claim is arguable and needs more research, but according to studies which are mentioned in this article, the claim is an obvious conclusion. It could also be argued that the Lindy Hop is still taught in communities, but only the nature of communities has changed. That is why I used the expression, ’this type of a communal aspect”.

[51] Terry Monaghan and Mo Dodson, ’Has Swing Dance Been ”Revived”?’, Dancing in the Millennium, proceedings, 2000, p. 319. Terry Monaghan and Mo Dotson, ’Fusion: Globalising the Local and Localising the Global – The Case of The Lindy and Other Fusion Dances/Musics’, c2am Congress on Research in Dance. Conference (34th : 2001 : New York University). Proceedings. vol. 1, p. 224.

[52] See Eddie-Q, ‘Sonny Allen – From the Savoy to the Palladium’, Salsa and More, unknown date, p. 15. I got a copy of this from Sonny Allen in 2013. He stressed that they were not “a feeling good generation”, which emphasizes the seriousness of Savoy Lindy Hoppers.

[53] According to Terry Monaghan, one of the 1980s revivalists, the 1980s revivalists had a ”stepaholics” goals to get information about the original Lindy Hop, and its steps and patterns, which could explain the enthusiasm. See Terry Monaghan and Mo Dodson 2000, p. 318. However, it is not known if he was one of those people in the room.

[54] See National Urban League – 2017 Equality Index – IHS Global Insight – 2017 State of Black America Protect Our Progress, p. 8.

[55] Monaghan 2002/2005, p. 54.

[56] Manning and Millman 2007, p. 71.

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Reasons for Celebrating George ‘Shorty’ Snowden’s Birthday on July 4

Written and copyright by Harri Heinila

On that date in 2012, I wrote an article about George Snowden and Mattie Purnell, the creators of the Lindy Hop, where I stated:

“When the United States prepares to celebrate its independence day…some of its most important cultural characters in the field of dance stay mostly unknown and uncelebrated.”

I also stated that “However, George Snowden and Mattie Purnell have not been celebrated for their remarkable invention as the originators of the Lindy Hop.”

To this day, there have not been any major celebrations, with the exception of the Jiving Lindy Hoppers in 2004, when was Snowden’s centennial, where Snowden and Purnell were acknowledged as the originators. Possibly there have been minor celebrations for them, at least I wish so. I have celebrated and reminded people to celebrate them every year, but Snowden and Purnell still lack the recognition they deserve for their achievement, and in the case of Snowden, he also should be acknowledged for his other major contributions to African-American jazz dance and entertainment. Next, I will give a few insights into the contributions.

After Snowden and Purnell devised the basic principle of the Lindy Hop in Harlem’s Rockland Palace between June and July, 1928 (This is discussed in detail in my doctoral dissertation, and it is also discussed in the late Terry Monaghan’s article about Snowden, and in my article about Snowden and Purnell), Snowden was part of the Lindy Hop Revue at the Lincoln Theatre in Harlem starting from September 1928. He also performed with Bill Robinson at Harlem’s Rockland Palace in November 1928. At the same time with the performances, there were organized the Lindy Hop contests on a weekly basis in Harlem. By the very beginning of the 1930s, the Lindy Hop contests were organized also outside Harlem. Snowden and his group were the first Lindy Hoppers who performed in Broadway plays like Blackbirds in 1930 and Singing the Blues in 1931.

Savoy Lindy Hoppers took the Lindy Hop to other places in the U.S. at the latest starting from the beginning of the 1930s. The Lindy was performed in Chicago in 1931, and Snowden toured around the U.S. with Bill Robinson and Paul Whiteman. It was Snowden and his dancers who laid down the foundation for the success of the Lindy Hop and paved the way for the next generation of Savoy Lindy Hoppers who are usually known as Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers.

Thus, in addition to his role in creating the Lindy Hop, Snowden should be credited for being the leader and the most important dancer of the very first Savoy Lindy Hoppers who took the Lindy Hop to contests, ballrooms, night clubs, and Broadway plays. He and his group also performed in a short movie called After Seben in 1929 in which arguably the first couple of the three couples performed the swing out, which is the most essential pattern in the Lindy Hop. The short movie is probably the first movie where the basic pattern was performed. Snowden’s group also experimented with early air steps before Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers developed their spectacular air step routines. And it should not be forgotten that Snowden was the first Lindy Hopper who had a step called ‘Shorty George’ named after him.

So, are not there reasons enough for celebrating George Snowden every year?

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