In Defense of the Former Lincoln Theatre Building in Harlem

Written and copyright by Harri Heinila

It was recently reported that the former Lincoln Theatre building at 58 West 135th Street, which has been the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church for the last decades, will be demolished for a new apartment building. It was stated that the reason for the demolition and the new building is that the church can’t keep up with the cost of maintenance of the old building. So, the building is intended to be sold for 10.2 million dollars to a fund which demolishes it and replaces the old one with a new building:

Surprisingly, there have been no statements for saving the building. The demolition has not caused any stir among those who say that they are trying to promote and save the African-American culture in Harlem, and what is still left about it. That is very strange when compared to the noise that the demolition of the Renaissance Ballroom building caused in 2015. There were a petition, articles, comments, people protesting on the street, and even a picture of a historian arrested because of his actions during the protest for the late ballroom building. Practically, the demolition of the Renaissance Ballroom building was almost about one hit from the wrecking ball when the protest emerged. It was already destroyed so much by fire in 1979 when the ballroom was closed. Now, there is a culturally remarkable building waiting for the demolition, which has survived almost intact through the decades when Harlem’s culturally significant buildings were demolished, and at this moment in Harlem, there is nobody saying even a word for saving the building.

To someone who is not aware of all the twists and turns in the Harlem cultural history that all sounds unreal: how that can happen that there is no one in Harlem for saving the building? The fact, however, is that the demolition of the former Lincoln Theatre is a part of the downfall of Harlem culture of entertainment since the Harlem Renaissance Movement in the 1920s and 1930s neglected Harlem jazz dances as part of “low culture”, instead of acknowledging jazz dances like the Harlem signature dance, the Lindy Hop, as part of “high culture” and as a remarkable cultural achievement. That would have cemented the dance as part of the Harlem Renaissance, and it would have helped the Lindy Hop to survive through the decades when the interest in it was waning. Because the Lindy stayed as a fad, it was exposed to changes in fashion, and it slumped when it went out of fashion.

The Lindy Hop became a part of the Lincoln Theatre when George ‘Shorty’ Snowden, who with his partner Mattie Purnell invented the Lindy Hop in the dance marathon at Harlem’s Rockland Palace on West 155 Street and 8th Avenue between June and July 1928, did the Lindy Hop in the event at the Lincoln Theatre starting from the middle of September 1928. At the same time, the theater organized for the first time the Lindy Hop competitions every weekday for a month. The Lincoln Theatre was also connected to the naming of the Harlem Lindy Hop because the term ‘Lindy Hop’ in connection with the Harlem Lindy Hop was mentioned for the first time in advertisements and articles of the September event in newspapers.

That all has been downplayed and even obscured for the last three decades because the mainly white people-based movement of the revival of the interest in the Lindy Hop has ignored the real Harlem cultural history. The movement started at the beginning of the 1980s when the revivalists began to be interested in the Lindy Hop whose popularity had waned drastically by then. As the movement was at the very beginning genuinely interested in all Old-timers who were connected to the Lindy Hop, it turned out to be a movement for one person and his affiliates starting from the very end of the 1980s when the famous Frankie Manning was winning fame among the mainly white enthusiasts.

During the “modified” version of the revival of the interest, which could be called the revival of Frankie Manning, revivalists have ignored and obscured George Snowden’s part as the creator of the Lindy Hop and his role as the first and a remarkable exponent of the dance who took the Lindy Hop to contests, ballrooms, theaters, Broadway plays, and to places around the U.S. years before Frankie Manning really knew about the Lindy Hop, at least, in the context of the Savoy Ballroom (He frequented the Savoy at the earliest from 1933.), and Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers to which Manning belonged was even established. At best, most of the revivalists have recognized Snowden as the one who named the dance, instead of properly acknowledging his legacy of the Harlem dance. And as there is no real evidence for his role in naming of the dance, there is proper evidence for his creator role.

Thus, Snowden became a part of politics practiced by the revivalists who have exaggerated Manning’s role in the Lindy Hop, and at the same time they have downplayed the real Harlem cultural history, which includes the Lincoln Theatre and its Lindy Hop history. Indeed, Frankie Manning’s autobiography (see page 259) mentions that the Lincoln Theatre “presented virtually all of the great African American vaudeville stars…and was known as the home of Fats Waller’s…first professional engagement…”, and it mentions the role of the Lindy Hop in the theater, but only briefly (see page 245): “In fall 1928, [Snowden and his partner Pauline Morse] performed at various Harlem venues, including the Lincoln Theatre and Rockland Palace, in conjunction with advertised Lindy [H]op contests.” It could have mentioned that Snowden and Morse were a part of the ‘Lindy Hop Revue’ as it was advertised concerning the Lincoln Theatre performances, which refers clearly to the fact that they did the Lindy Hop. The Lincoln Theatre could be called one of the “sacred places” of the Harlem Lindy Hop, in addition to the late Rockland Palace, Savoy Ballroom, and Renaissance Ballroom buildings, and still existing Alhambra Ballroom. Also the former Smalls Paradise building still exists, but also its role in the Lindy Hop has usually been forgotten and even ignored. In Smalls Paradise, there were many Lindy Hop performances and dances since George Snowden’s days.

To those who have been “swing dance” enthusiasts (The term has obscured the real terminology of Harlem jazz dance. It was not about “swing dance” in Harlem in the past. That became part of the Harlem dance parlance later starting from the 1980s when the revivalists began to use the term.), other jazz dances have not been so interesting as the Lindy. That has led to the situation where an enormous amount of Harlem jazz dance culture has been ignored. Savoy Lindy Hoppers which Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers were as well were not the only exponents of Harlem jazz dancing. As Frankie Manning’s biography suggests, numerous acts like Tap dancers, actors, singers, bands and so on performed in the Lincoln Theatre during its lifetime between 1915 (some sources say 1909 but at this moment 1915 is the year) and the very beginning of the 1940s when the theatre was finally closed after being a picture theater for a while, and then again a theater for theatrical plays. And as mentioned before, it is a well-known fact that Fats Waller had a remarkable career as a musician in the theater, and Count Basie learned much of his craft in the theater. The Lincoln Theatre was among the very first theaters in Harlem which were for African-Americans as opposed to Harlem theaters which were segregated in the beginning. Therefore the theater was a remarkable part of the Harlem Renaissance from the beginning.

Ordinary Harlemites are no more aware of their cultural legacy of entertainment, and that is quite much because of the Harlem Renaissance neglected and even ignored “low culture” art forms as explained earlier. Although the Harlem cultural legacy is deteriorating because of all the recent demolitions (the Lenox Lounge in 2017, the Renaissance Ballroom in 2015, the Lafayette Theatre and Connie’s Inn/Ubangi Club in 2013), it is not yet too late. It is time to learn the real history and understand the real legacy of Harlem culture. People in Harlem have to understand what the legacy has been. Otherwise it could be destroyed to the last existing building.

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The Third Generation by Terry Monaghan

The late jazz dance and Savoy Ballroom historian Terry Monaghan originally posted this in his as part of the Savoy Ballroom story which was depicted in the website. The site is not working anymore.

The Third Generation by Terry Monaghan

Following on fast behind Whitey’s attempts in the late 1940s to get back into the Lindy Hop business in a big way were a new generation of dancers at the Savoy who had already begun bringing the Lindy Hop back up to speed. Many of them featured in Mura Dehn’s film “The Spirit Moves” and proved their point in a series of decisive victories for the Savoy in the Harvest Moon Ball which laid to rest some late 1940s allegations that the Savoy had lost its edge when it came to Lindy Hopping.

“Big Nick” Nicholson, Teddy Brown, and George and “Sugar” Sullivan were only the most notable in this respect. Other dancers who didn’t win, were nevertheless regarded as equals on the Savoy Ballroom floor as members of the new third generation of Savoy Lindy Hoppers such as “Little Nick” and his wife Iva, Smitty & Bee, King & King, Lee Moates, Ronnie Hayes, Willie Posey, Vicky Diaz, “Mommy” Thacker, Barbara Billups, Mama Lou” Parks who all contributed significantly to restoring the Savoy’s swinging dance supremacy before the ballroom finally closed down. An even newer group of talented dancers were edging onto the floor in their wake like Sonny Allen, Ray McKethen and Gloria Thompson in the very last period before the Savoy ‘s doors were finally locked forever.

The unfortunate neglect of the third generation Savoy Lindy Hoppers came about through several factors. Roles for African-American dancers in films and on Broadway were very few indeed after WW2. The downtown press no longer took any interest in Harlem other than to depict it as a “no go” menacing area. These dancers thus performed an amazing task in ensuring that the Savoy’s unique music-dance dynamic survived the major wartime attempts to finish it, and thus passed the legacy on to those who continued to keep it alive.

As there were some but comparatively few opportunities to perform, compared with pre-WW2 days, winning the Harvest Moon Ball became their major pre-occupation and finding and training (if necessary) the “right” partners the central activity. Moreover they challenged the rules and procedures of the HMB, as in after 1956 when an attempt was made to ban air-steps. The following year the dancers insisted on going back to “flying.” Ronnie Hayes in another year was disqualified by dancing the entire competition blind-folded, including air-steps. Despite his fault-free performance, the judges did not think this was “correct.”

Fortunately some of them are still active. “Sugar” Sullivan, often with the help of Barbara Billups teaches at major “swing scene” events. Sonny Allen is a regular dancer on the NYC scene. Gloria Thompson and Waco contributed greatly to a memorable performance as part of the Mama Lou Parks Dancers at the Basie/Snowden Centenary celebrations at Columbia University in 2004.

Unfortunately a number of “swing” websites seem to go out of their way to perpetuate the myth that there was no significant Lindy Hopping after WW2. Quite why people who claim to be enthusiasts for the dance form are prepared to go to such lengths in their attempts to deny significant parts of this same dance tradition remains a mystery. However the truth is out there for anyone who wants to take notice in Mura Dehn’s documentary “The Spirit Moves.”

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Frankie Manning Revised – A Few Thoughts About His Role in the Lindy Hop

Written and copyright by Harri Heinila

The late Frankie Manning is likely the most known Lindy Hopper in the world at this moment. You can find interviews, articles, comments and videos about him almost everywhere. There are people who literally worship him to the extent where all kind of criticism is squashed immediately if someone dares to challenge the statements he made during his lifetime. This article discusses especially his first air step claim and tries to start a critical discussion where his statements are compared to the other evidence, and thus connected to the bigger picture of the events. Manning was mythicized and made as some kind of a “godlike being” who could not be criticized, at the latest, from the end of the 1980s when he started to win fame among the newcomers in the Lindy Hop who began to worship him without any kind of proper criticism.

This all was connected to his come back to the Lindy Hop where various people took honors in bringing him back. Indeed, there are videos, for example, in YouTube where you can see Frankie Manning dancing already in 1983, years before his “official” come back in 1985-1986. He had retired from the professional Lindy Hop dancing in the middle of the 1950s when there was not anymore the Lindy Hop dancing as another popular myth goes. These popular myths are simply wrong. Manning did not disappear after his retirement in the 1950s. He still danced through the decades like so many other Savoy Lindy Hoppers did as well. Manning might not have performed until the 1980s since his retirement, but other Savoy Lindy Hoppers and their descendents performed and kept the Lindy Hop alive through the decades like Manning did too, although he obviously only social danced during these decades. Also the Lindy Hop did not disappear during the 1950s: The Savoy Ballroom was still going on strong until 1958, and Savoy Lindy Hoppers taught new enthusiasts during the following decades. There was no kind of gap in the continuation of the Lindy Hop when the new, mostly white enthusiasts began to raise interest in the Lindy Hop starting from the beginning of the 1980s. These 1980s enthusiasts’ actions are still errorneously called the revival of the Lindy Hop. Actually, it was the revival of the interest in the Lindy Hop because the Lindy Hop never disappeared.

It also should be remembered that many of Savoy Lindy Hoppers like Norma Miller, Al Minns, and Louise ‘Mama Lou’ Parks Duncanson brought out Manning’s importance in the Lindy Hop when the new enthusiasts began to be interested in Manning’s stories and dancing in the 1980s. It did not just happen like snapping fingers. It took persuation to get Manning interested in teaching newcomers. The reasons for that are not clear. There likely existed decades old grievances between the Savoy Lindy Hoppers, and Manning possibly did not feel comfortable to start any kind of conversation concerning his Lindy Hop career. One of the newcomers told me that he was astonished when Manning began to speak about his experiences in the Lindy Hop. It obviously really took persuasion to get him talking about the experiences. After he started to talk, he really talked, and he obviously became the most interviewed Lindy Hopper from the Savoy Ballroom. Although he stressed that he did not want to be egoistic, he usually brought out his achievements in the Lindy Hop. One of those achievements was the first air step which he claimed to have been responsible for.

Manning’s claim on the first air step in the Lindy Hop has usually been accepted without any criticism. It seems that only the late Terry Monaghan criticized the claim. He stated that Manning’s air step invention was possibly true in the localized context as Manning claimed to have invented it in the Savoy contest against George ‘Shorty’ Snowden. Air steps, however, were used in the Lindy Hop before Manning’s air step invention which happened, according to Norma Miller, during spring 1936. Indeed, Miller was not in the U.S. at the time because she was performing with the Harvest Moon Ball 1935 winners in Europe. Concerning the early air steps in the Lindy Hop, there exist both written and visual sources where these “air steps” are described. The Chicago Defender article in March 1931, described the Lindy Hop as follows, “A couple will swing off into space and hop up and down. Another couple will break into the exaggerated steps of, the stage adagio team. He will lift her from the floor and swing her about just as high into the air and as long as he can maintain his breath…” In fact, The Afro-American published the description with slightly different words already in February 1930. It becomes clear from the articles that they really were executing early “air steps”. Another proof for the early “air steps” is the short movie called ‘Rufus Jones for the President’ in 1933 where a couple performed a similar kind of a lift which was described in the articles. Frankie Manning obviously was not frequenting the Savoy at that time, so he was not aware of these early “air steps”. In addition, also Norma Miller has told, how she was dancing with “Twist Mouth” George Ganaway at the Savoy in 1932, and her legs did not touch the dance floor. Isn’t that a “air step”?

Frankie Manning explained how he executed the first air step in the Lindy Hop in the Savoy contest against George Snowden and his dancers. According to Manning, Snowden wanted to show to the younger generation that he still was the number one Lindy Hopper. When considering the fact that Snowden had lost at least one competition before the claimed 1936 contest, the claim is suspicious. Even Snowden admitted to Marshall Stearns later in 1959 that he (Snowden) was already known at the Savoy, and they wanted “a new talent” to be a winner, when Snowden claimed that he lost the Opportunity Contest at the Savoy to a New Jersey couple obviously at the beginning of the 1930s. So, why would he have challenged the younger Lindy Hoppers somewhere in 1936 if he had lost already before? He knew that he can lose. Secondly, The New York Amsterdam News stated in September 1936 that Snowden was “the king of them all” when the paper described three Savoy couples in one of its pictures. Indeed, Frankie Manning was not in the picture. If Manning won Snowden in the claimed contest in spring 1936, and Manning became the star dancer at the Savoy, why he was not mentioned in newspapers for his success in creating the groundbreaking first air step?

It is possible that Manning really did the air step in the contest against Snowden, but it seems that the results of the win did not transmit to the newspapers or to other sources at the time. Thus, his possible invention should be seen in its localized, Savoy Ballroom context. Maybe, it created some kind of a stir at the very beginning, but there is no proof for long-lasting results. Air steps were executed already at the time when Manning claimed to have made his invention. Maybe, Manning was responsible for that Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers turned these air steps into spectacular air step routines as Terry Monaghan has suggested. Anyway, Manning was not the originator of the first air step.

What comes to other inventions in the Lindy Hop, which Manning claimed to have been responsible for, more research is needed to ascertain the facts behind these inventions. Manning’s stories should be connected to the bigger picture of the Lindy Hop. Now, the research has stuck on Manning’s statements without proper grounding on other sources. There still is a lot to research at least as far as the Lindy Hop history from its beginning to nowadays is concerned. This does not take away Manning’s significance in the Lindy Hop, it rather helps us to understand his real role in the big picture of the history of the Lindy Hop.

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Swing Dance or Jazz Dance – A Few Words About the Use of the Terms

Written and copyright by Harri Heinila

Contemporary dancers have used the terms ‘swing dance’ and ‘swing dancing’ as the terms which have been interchangeable with the terms ‘the Lindy Hop’ and ‘lindy hopping’ for the last decades. When compared the use of the terms in newspapers and magazines between 1920 and 1943 to the use in newspapers and magazines between the beginning of the 1980s and 2015, it seems that ‘swing dance’ and ‘swing dancing’ have been used hugely more in the press since the 1980s than during the 1920s and the 1930s. When searched the New York Public Library database, there were only over 500 results on ‘swing dance’ and ‘swing dancing’ between 1920 and 1943. When the terms were searched similarly between 1980 and 1989, there were even 700 results. The search results between 1990 and 1999 were many times greater than any time before: almost 4,500 results. And that is not all: The years between 2000 and 2015 gave almost 14,000 results! It could really be said that ‘swing dance’ had the breakthrough between the 1990s and the 2010s. Partly, the bigger amount of results resulted from the more developed press, that means that the press coverage is likely bigger today than before, but the difference is so huge that it can be assumed that there have been fundamental changes in the use of the terms between different generations of dancers.

When sampling the terms from so-called African-American newspapers like The Afro-American, The Chicago Defender, and The New York Amsterdam News starting from 1999, it seems that the use of the terms ‘swing dance’ and ‘swing dancing’ has been minimal when compared to so-called mainstream (mainly white) press. It seems that when sampling the terms from The Afro-American, ‘swing dance’ and ‘swing dancing’ gave only 6 results between 2003 and 2014. Similarly, the terms gave only 9 results between 2000 and 2010 as far as The Chicago Defender is concerned. Where The New York Amsterdam News between 1999 and 2015 is concerned, the terms gave even 17 results. Overall, these results are very minimal when compared to the results of the mainstream press. Thus, it seems that the boom of the terms ‘swing dance’ and ‘swing dancing’ between the 1990s and 2015 happened because white enthusiasts began to use these terms hugely more than never before. In fact, that is self-explanatory when considering the fact that the revival of the interest in the Lindy Hop since the beginning the 1980s included mainly white enthusiasts.

When sampling the terms from the African-American newspapers before 1944, it seems that the use of the terms ‘swing dance’ and ‘swing dancing’ was similarly minimal in the African-American newspapers. The Chicago Defender between 1921 and 1943 gave only 11 results, The Afro-American between 1921 and 1943 gave only 8 results, and The New York Amsterdam News between 1922 and 1943 gave only 6 results. Thus, these African-American newspapers used the terms only minimally when compared to the mainstream press.

The late Terry Monaghan, who researched Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom, claimed that Harlemites considered a ‘swing dancer’ the dancer who could not lindy hop properly. This may partly explain why the terms did not succeed in the African-American newspapers. There is proof for Monaghan’s claim: The Apollo Theatre organized dance competitions for both white and African-American participants between 1934 and 1935. In the beginning, the white contests were called ‘Swing the Lindy Night’ competitions and the African-American competitions were called the ‘Lindy Hop Night’ competitions. Thus, there probably existed a distain for the term ‘swing dance’ among Harlemites. Indeed, these competitions were merged together in 1935, and they were called the Lindy Hop competitions. Maybe, this indicated the appreciation of the white Lindy Hoppers as time went by. The distain for ‘swing dance’ seemed to remain through the years when judging from the results of the African-American newspapers search.

Another question is how ‘jazz dance’ with its multiple prefixes like ‘authentic’, ‘original’ etc. were established in the mainstream press during the decades. This question is discussed in my doctoral thesis (An Endeavor by Harlem Dancers to Achieve Equality – The Recognition of the Harlem-Based African-American Jazz Dance Between 1921 and 1943, published in 2015), where I explain the background of the terms. It seems that the terms ‘jazz dance’ and ‘jazz dancing’ without any prefixes survived from the 1910s until nowadays. From the 1950s, the term ‘jazz dance’ was transubstantiated to mean modern dance influenced ‘modern jazz dance’. There, however, still were jazz dancers who used the term in its original context; they used the term to mean jazz music-related dance forms. As the modern jazz dance emerged, this led to a large amount of variations of the term ‘jazz dance’. This also is discussed in my dissertation. Contemporary dancers, who relate themselves to the Lindy Hop, the Charleston etc. original jazz dances, have also begun to use ‘vernacular jazz’ and ‘vernacular jazz dance terms more and more during the last years. These two terms were not similarly established in the newspapers than the terms ‘jazz dance’ and ‘jazz dancing’ were established.

As I have searched different databases, newspapers, and magazines for these terms, it seems that the term ‘vernacular jazz’ was used for the first time in the study called The Annals of America – Great Issues in American Life in 1968. What comes to the term ‘vernacular jazz dance’, it seemed to be used for the first time in 1981 (I claim in my dissertation that ‘vernacular jazz dance’ was used for the first time in Dance Magazine in 1982, but after further research it seems that the term was used for the first time in the study called Encyclopedia of Black America in 1981. In addition to that the term ‘vernacular jazz dancer’ was used in another study called Slow Fade to Black: The Negro in American Film, 1900-1942 in 1977). Thus, ‘vernacular jazz’ was used at the latest from 1968 and ‘vernacular jazz dance(r)’ at the latest from 1977/1981. Anyway, these terms were used only occasionally, and their use was not comparable to the use of the term ‘jazz dance’ which still had almost 3,000 results between 1970 and 1979 when searched the New York Public Library database. Needless to say, that the amount mostly resulted from the use of the term among ‘modern jazz dance’ enthusiasts.

It should be noted that all these results, including the results of the terms ‘swing dance’ and ‘swing dancing’, are only directional and relative. There can be problems with indexing in those databases, and that is why there can be more results. Anyway, this concerns all the searches, so basically the searches with similar search words are comparable in that sense. To be 100 % sure, all the hard copy versions of the newspapers should be searched. That would be a huge task. Anyway, there still are a lot of sources to go through until we can really be sure about the varied use of the variations of the terms. As I discuss in my dissertation, the term ‘jazz dance’ should be transubstantiated to mean “authentic” jazz dances like the Lindy Hop, the Charleston, Tap dance etc.. In that way, we can clearly avoid the mess of varied use of the terms. In my opinion, it is possible to sacrifice the term ‘modern jazz dance’ to the modern dance-influenced “jazz dancers”, but otherwise the term ‘jazz dance’ belongs to “authentic” jazz dancers, as it used to belong to.


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The Crisis of Swing

Written and copyright by Harri Heinila.

The whole May 2015 was dedicated to the celebration of Frankie Manning, Savoy Lindy Hopper and Whitey’s Lindy Hopper, who is commonly considered the Ambassador of the Lindy Hop among so-called swing dancers. Manning, who passed in 2009, left countless amount of friends, students and followers who have sworn to keep his legacy and name alive. Manning’s fan base was mainly created during two decades between the end of the 1980s and 2009 when he taught around the world. As based on his huge success, he deserves the annual celebration. The World Lindy Hop Day was designed as the annual official birthday celebration which brings together numerous so-called swing dance enthusiasts all over the world. The official main event was to be in Rome in May 2015. The event was canceled only a few weeks before it should have happened. Luckily, the local dance community in Rome was able to organize substitute events for those who were left stranded with their plans to participate in the main event.

The cancellation of the main event led to a bitter debate between the organizer and her former associates who blamed each other on the issue. Because the debate is well-documented in the Internet, it is not needed to repeat it here. The debate raises a question why the project was allowed to proceed until its sad end only weeks before the event? Why it was not overseen properly and stopped early enough, if malpractices in the event organization were known already in January? The whole episode is leading to the situation where there will not be anymore the main annual World Lindy Hop Day event (the WLHD event). Thus, Frankie95/100 kind of events will never happen again as one of the former organizers stated. This all raises another question, how the failure can prevent the future events? An answer comes from the former organizer who revealed the truth behind the Frankie100 organization: if one person had not stepped up to organize the Frankie100, it would have never happened. The whole event was practically in danger of collapsing before that.

As Frankie100 had a few thousands participants, which, by the way, was equivalent to one night at the Savoy Ballroom, the Rome event would have had even less, only a few hundreds participants. These figures are relatively small compared to any major event in sports etc. where thousands of spectators is an average figure. So-called swing dance scene, which should have tens of thousands enthusiasts around the world, has had trouble to organize relatively small size events to celebrate one of its central figures. This is contrasted with the fact that so-called swing dance camps have been running seemingly without similar financial problems.

If Frankie Manning is really appreciated, why his friends, followers and associates would not be able to organize frequently an annual international event for his birthday celebration in a similar fashion than Frankie 95/100 events were? There should be potential organizers among tens of thousands enthusiasts and Frankie fans, and getting money for that should not be a problem when considering how fast (in one week) the swing enthusiasts collected more than 25,000 dollars for tap dancer Mabel Lee’s surgery after her accident in a Korean swing dance camp in June 2014. This is used only as an example. The money was really needed for the surgery. Similarly, these enthusiasts have had money for dance classes, swing dance camps, even so that they, for example, have been able to pay 140 euros (almost 150 dollars a participant) in Helsinki, Finland for a few months’ weekly dance classes held by a person who has had minimal dance experience. People seem to rather use their money for other dance-related purposes than support Frankie 95/100 kind of events.

The Frankie100 organization also needed voluntary help for bringing Old Timers in the event. To those who helped were explained how the organization cannot afford to bring the Old Timers in. In some cases, costs of hotel rooms were covered, but that was it. At the same time, reports from respectful sources told how certain people were paid. No names here, but somehow it seems that organizers or people close to them were selective in who were paid for their participation. This may describe how “Frankie values” like inclusiveness, respectfulness, and generosity were “fulfilled”.

Anyway these values were less important to the organizers as far as the Third Generation Savoy Lindy Hoppers and their descendants were concerned. By giving even a small acknowledgement to these generations in one of the evening events would have bridged the gap between the newest and oldest generations. Only the 1950s panel, where small part of the whole Frankie100 audience participated in, discussed the issue. Thus, the major opportunity for acknowledging the missing links between Frankie’s generation and the newest enthusiasts with the help of living legends from the oldest generations was lost maybe forever, at least, where the major swing events are concerned.

It was not anyhow surprising to hear later in 2014 that certain Third Generation Old Timers were no more invited in one of the major swing dance camps as they were invited during earlier years. Another swing dance camp in the beginning of 2015 had a vote for which of the Old Timers would be invited in the camp. The camp had money to hire instructors from around the world to teach classes, but as far as certain Old Timers were concerned, suddenly there was no money. I do not know if the organizers really got it, but all that sounds disrespectful and definitely insulted the Old Timers who paved the way for them.

When comparing the way how so-called swing dancers treat their Elders to how tap dancers have treated their older generations, the difference is clear. Tap dancers have brought various Old Timers from different generations in their events, not only one or two of them. They have acknowledged widely different tap dance generations without voting or selective support. Their respective attitude for all the Old Timers is totally different than “swing dancers’ ” attitude. The latter has practically acknowledged only a few of the most known Lindy Hoppers and some of non-Lindy Hoppers who have had connections to the most known Lindy Hoppers. Practically during last decades only Frankie Manning and Norma Miller from the Savoy Lindy Hoppers have been frequently acknowledged by the swing dance enthusiasts. Even Norma Miller was not in the position where she is now when Frankie Manning was alive. One of the newcomers told years ago that they could not invite her in a swing dance camp because she talked too straight. She might have acknowledged the rules of the game lately, but there was the time when the enthusiasts did not appreciate her similarly than now.

The roots of disrespectful attitudes towards Old Timers can be tracked down to the 1980s when so-called Lindy Hop revivalists started the revival of the interest in the Lindy Hop. There still are enthusiasts also from the 1980s period who believe that they really re-discovered Old Timers who were forgotten a long time ago. All evidence supports the fact that these Old Timers were practically active in the 1960s and the 1970s where dancing is concerned, unlike the enthusiasts insist that the Old Timers were passive. Thus it is wrong to talk about the Lindy Hop Revival in any sense, because there was no need for bringing the dance back to the Old Timers. They kept dancing during the decades. Some even professionally, not only socially like Frankie Manning did during his post office years. Where the Harlem Lindy Hop is concerned, the 1980s newcomers only did not know that because they lived outside Harlem and the African-American community.

The 1980s newcomers encountered hostility from the Old Timers when they met them. Even Frankie Manning initially did not want to talk about his Lindy Hop experiences to white enthusiasts. It took time to get him to teach and talk. Norma Miller still stated in the beginning of the 1990s how newcomers had stolen their routines and she insisted that the newcomers should create their own routines. The Lindy Hop was Harlemites’ dance. Some Old Timers never talked to white revivalists. This all resulted from the racist practices which the Old Timers had experienced during decades. The experiences were hard to forget, especially, when you were forced to live for years or even decades in a slum called Harlem and without proper income. The Lindy Hop and African-American jazz dance were the only valuables which the Harlemites had. Those who have interviewed the Old Timers during last years still have encountered hostility to some degree, which might have surprised those, who are not familiar with the real Harlem social history.

To the 1980s newcomers learning to Lindy Hop also was not easy. According to Terry Monaghan, who was one of the 1980s newcomers, even experienced dancers had trouble to learn the Lindy Hop correctly. That can be compared to the experiences in the current Lindy Hop classes where even beginners are considered fast learners, and usually everyone looks good in the end of the class, as the teachers seem to state commonly. This may result from marketing tactics where happy customers are considered more valuable than customers who may not be happy in the end of the class, but at least they have been told honestly what they really can do.

Whether it resulted from the difficulties to learn the Lindy Hop correctly or from the mistrust which existed between the Old Timers and the newcomers, the 1980s newcomers gradually began to create lower standards which were better suited to their skill level. Thus, they eroded the base of the Lindy Hop, especially, where the competitions are concerned. The competition mode of the Lindy Hop, which always, since the beginning of the Lindy Hop, was danced to fast tempos and set routines, was shifted to slower tempos and non-choreographed dancing through the decades starting from the 1980s. Accordingly, to the social mode of the Lindy Hop was added elements from the competition and performance modes of the Lindy Hop.

The couples, which used to dance in harmony on the social dance floor, became mini-exhibitions where show offs with complex patterns are more common than listening to music and dancing at least somehow according to the rhythm of music. This resembles white, less-skilled Jitterbugs from the 1930s period (there were also skilled white Jitterbugs). As Albert ‘Al’ Minns has commonly been credited for saying that those Jitterbugs lacked control, the same has been stated by many other Old Timers, too. At the same time, as the Lindy Hop performance can go all kind of dancing whether it is really the Lindy Hop or not. For example, the current trend in the Lindy Hop is to add modern dance/modern jazz dance influences to the Lindy Hop, which has led to the emphasis on upper body movements, instead of the traditional emphasis on a lower body. Where decades ago tap dancers from the audience could enter the stage in Harlem’s Apollo Theatre just for challenging tap dancers who performed on the stage, and showing to them how it was supposed to be done, today’s audiences applaud politely even weak performances. Norma Miller stated years ago that they did everything on the stage for getting audience on their side. They would have even thrown themselves to the audience, if needed. It was that serious to them.

The disagreement between the 1980s newcomers and the earlier generations led also to a sad rift between the newcomers and the dancers who represented the competition and the performance modes of the Lindy Hop. The latter modes were, especially, represented by Mama Lou Parks dancers who got sidetracked by the 1980s enthusiasts because many of the enthusiasts did not understand the differences between social, performance and competition modes. This decades old rift still has repercussions. There have been recently new initiatives for starting the Harvest Moon Ball again in Harlem, and according to the old standards. These initiatives have received only a modest response from the new enthusiasts who seem commonly to ignore the initiatives. They rather settle to the contests where almost anybody can win whether they can dance or not, especially, because there are so many different divisions in those contests that it is almost impossible to lose. You can always find a division in their contests which suits best to your way of dancing, instead of mastering the Lindy Hop in the way that you can challenge anybody anytime like it used to be in the past.

It became “uncool” to the newcomers to learn from those who really knew the old standards of the competition and performance modes of the Lindy Hop. The 1950s Third Generation Savoy Lindy Hoppers and Mama Lou Parks dancers were not recognized properly where the modes are concerned. For example, Harvest Moon Ball Champions from 1955 and remarkable Savoy Lindy Hoppers George and Sugar Sullivan, who have trained tens of Harvest Moon Ball champions and winners, have never been recognized properly by the most of outside Harlem enthusiasts. Instead of them these outsiders have recognized Frankie Manning and Norma Miller, and even Dawn Hampton as ones who are master Lindy Hoppers also where the contests are concerned. It should be noticed that they never won the Harvest Moon Ball championship, in other words they never won any major contest. At the best, Frankie Manning was third and Norma Miller was second. Manning and Miller are extraordinary performers who lindy hopped and jazz danced in the movies and on the stages. Dawn Hampton did not compete or perform in the Lindy Hop at all at the time. She played in her family band which occasionally played also at the Savoy Ballroom in the 1950s. She danced socially there during band intermissions.

Possibly, this misunderstanding is one of the reasons why the real masters and champions in the competition mode of the Lindy Hop have never been recognized properly outside the Harlem community. The task of recognizing Harlem Old Timers has traditionally been fulfilled by Harlem jazz dance connected parties. During the last few years, especially, The Harlem Swing Dance Society (THSDS) has acknowledged the living Harlem masters of the Lindy Hop considerably more widely than any other Lindy Hop community outside Harlem. In spite of that, even THSDS has had little success in acknowledging Harlem social dancers who lindy hopped or danced otherwise in various Harlem ballrooms. Lack of resources probably has been the reason for that. The task has not been easy as the Harlem enthusiasts have struggled to get the message through. It is a common scene in the Harlem swing events that Harlemites sit down on the tables and do not even try to move their feet. At the same time, Harlem Renaissance Orchestra blasts the best big band swing in the world, but mostly in vain. Only a few locals, a couple of white enthusiasts, and a few Harlem Old Timers dance on the floor. There were times, not longer than two decades ago, when the dance floor was full of Old Timers. As years have gone by, it is natural that the oldest members of the community have left the dance floor.

A big problem has been how to engage younger Harlemites in the Lindy Hop. Those who have tried to maintain dance classes in Harlem have had trouble to get young people into the classes. The younger Harlem generations rather do something else than Lindy Hop nowadays. It is not cool enough to them. The reasons for this sad development can be tracked down to the Harlem Renaissance Movement which did never acknowledge respectfully the Lindy Hop during movement’s heyday in the end of the 1920s and in the 1930s. They neglected Harlem’s “folk dance”, which gradually affected Harlemites who did not support powerfully their dance during decades when the interest in the Lindy Hop was decreasing. That means especially decades from the 1960s onwards. In recent years also the current Harlem Renaissance Movement has begun to acknowledge the importance of the Lindy Hop.

After the demise of Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom in 1958, the task of keeping the Harlem Lindy Hop alive was left, in addition to George and Sugar Sullivan, and Lee Moates (who also trained the Harvest Moon Ball champions and winners) and their associates, and those who still social danced and competed, to jazz dancers like Pepsi Bethel, Mura Dehn, Leon James and Albert Minns, and to groups like Mama Lou Parks dancers, and Sonny Allen and the Rockets (also Norma Miller had her Jazz Men, but only until the middle of the 1960s). Instead of learning the Lindy Hop, new generations were more and more engaged in modern dance, African dance, ballet, and modern jazz dance. Probably, there was also a financial reason involved in this because it became more and more difficult to earn living the with help of the Lindy Hop and other authentic jazz dances.

As a result from this, the Lindy Hop has not been recognized in the way it should have been. The dance should be recognized officially as the dance of Harlem. This means, in the same way than West Coast Swing has been recognized as the state dance of California. The Lindy Hop has mostly been recognized as a fad. It has been a fun dance to the most of the new enthusiasts, and it has been taken seriously only by a few of them. When considering the enormous amount of training which mastering the Lindy Hop has needed, it should not be unclear to anybody that the dance has been more than a fad and a fun dance. As it is true that Old Timers usually have described how dancing the Lindy Hop is fun, endless training was needed to have all the fun. You can have fun with minimal Lindy Hop skills, but you cannot compare your skills to those who have really worked for having fun!

It is shameful that so-called swing dancers do not acknowledge properly the living Old Timers (also those who are not the Savoy dancers) who kept the Lindy Hop and authentic jazz dance alive between the 1950s and the 1980s when the Lindy Hop was only a “vernacular” or primitive version of jazz dance to those who represented modern jazz dance. Some of the Lindy Hoppers and jazz dancers even sacrificed their potential career in more profitable jobs because of dancing. Some of them have not social security. Some have hard time to survive economically. Some are homeless. American society is hard, if you cannot pay your rent.

The reality hit hard current “swing dancers” when one of their heroes turned into zero overnight. The fantasy world where the Lindy Hop made everybody happy collapsed almost half a year ago when it was revealed that one of the rock star newcomer Lindy Hoppers used his position wrongly. After the revelation, some of “swing dancers” began to plan “safe spaces” in the swing dance events. It could be asked how the Lindy Hop or swing dance (you name it) is supposed to prevent similar incidents in the future. Whether it is the Lindy Hop or something else, there always will be “bad people” who use every possibility for their bad intentions. Using common sense would be better cure for that. If common sense says to you to be careful, you should listen to it. That was the way the Old Timers worked in the past. You might have been safe at the Savoy Ballroom, but reality hit you when you left the place and walked the streets of Harlem. Without common sense you could not survive.

As life used to be hard in Harlem, and it still is like that to so many of the Old Timers, new initiatives are needed for helping those who need financial and other help. They are the people who paved the way for today’s dancers. They deserve to be appreciated for their work, don’t they? The things also have not changed where the research is concerned. New initiatives are needed for interviewing all the living Old Timers whether they are dance superstars or not. A sad example about this is how only recently was found 102 years old chorus dancer who used to dance in Harlem. The Harlem community seemed to have forgotten her a long time ago, but luckily she was found by outsiders who interviewed her and she saw a film clip about her dancing first time in her life. A lot of knowledge will be wasted, if there is not going to happen a miracle and somewhere start to appear interview projects and money to those projects. Harlem still has a lot of Old Timers who competed, danced socially or performed in the ballrooms. They all should be interviewed until its too late. It is really frustrating to be in a position where you only can watch how everything is going to be wasted because there is no proper interest in the interviews and in Old Timers where Harlem is concerned.

Harlem also has had hard times with its infrastructure. Only two years ago the Lafayette Theatre and Connie’s Inn (The Ubangi Club) buildings were demolished. All happened so fast that there were no initiatives for preserving the buildings. When the Renaissance Ballroom building was recently demolished, there were initiatives for preserving it. Over 4,000 signs in the petition were not enough for that. The fact seems to be that the most of Harlem’s culturally important buildings are not landmarks which have been protected from potential demolition. Those buildings could be demolished just like snapping fingers. New initiatives also are needed for their preservation. You can find almost any old building in Harlem as a building where has been historically important activity. It is a huge task to map and preserve all those places.

New thinking, new resources, new enthusiasm, and recognizing the beginning of the Lindy Hop are needed for bettering the Lindy Hop/jazz dance/swing world. It is on a sad track now, but maybe tomorrow is better. There is a huge work waiting for those who want to put things back on the right track and this work must be started as soon as possible until its too late. The future of the Lindy Hop and jazz dance as based on their original forms depends on that.

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Mama Lou Parks by Terry Monaghan


Always in a hurry, Louise “Mama Lu” Parks crashed cars regularly. Usually about one a year, and they were usually Lincolns or Cadillacs. That activity was indicative in two ways of Mama Lu – she was a classy woman who went in pursuit of her goals with a ferocious enthusiasm. She had to. Coming to the Savoy Ballroom during its last phase she was lucky enough to imbibe its infectiously swinging atmosphere, but like many others unlucky enough to have experienced its sad demise.

Mama Lu was not to be downhearted though; there was still work to be done. Charles Buchanan, the Manager of the Savoy, urged the last illustrious group of Savoy Lindy Hoppers to take on the responsibility of staging the Lindy Hop preliminaries, at the new Savoy Manor in the Bronx, for the Harvest Moon Ball Dance Competition held each September at Madison Square Gardens. Coming to the fore, Mama Lu created a replacement scenario that attracted new dancers at one end whilst turning out Lindy Hop Champions at the other.

After being born in Raleigh, North Carolina she moved to Boston at an early age and only made it to New York when she was old enough to strike out on her own. Her family wanted her to be a minister, but she had her sights fixed on the stage and appeared in various productions. In 1955 she got a grant from the state to teach “square dancing” to young people but decided that was not such a great idea for a 127th Street venue in Harlem and got to work on jazz dancing instead. Starting as a hat-check girl at the Savoy, Mama Lu soon progressed to becoming a significant dancer there in her own right and finished up getting some of the best of her contemporaries – including Lee Moates, George Sullivan and “Big Nick” – to teach the youngsters. These three-month summer classes became an annual event that both attracted new youngsters to the dance form whilst the experienced ones prepared for the Harvest Moon Ball that took place at the end of September or the beginning of October. Invariably the winners finished up dancing in her company. By 1961 a professional company had been established which stayed on the road until her sad demise in 1990. Their 29 year run, set a record that no other group of Lindy Hoppers has come near to challenging.

At a time when popular dance was moving rapidly away from couple dancing, keeping the Lindy Hop alive as a performance and competitive dance form became an increasingly laborious task but she had powerful allies to work with. Redoubtable spirits like Marshall Stearns and Mura Dehn who argued the case for, and staged, dance demonstrations to show that the “latest” dance crazes were still only variations on traditional historical dance forms, created precedents by which various types of authentic jazz dancers got together in demonstration/performance shows that showed various continuities of the dance forms. What better setting for her dancers than to work alongside so many former great dancers?

Local politics played a part as the Republicans began to make inroads into New York City. Governor Rockerfeller, who had attended the Beaux Arts Ball at the Savoy regularly before it closed, became a helpful ally. The bedrock for success, however, remained the talents of the company, which Dickie Harris and Thelma Grant clearly demonstrated, in their decisive victory at the Harvest Moon Ball in 1966. Shortly after, the company made it to Radio City Music Hall, the first group of Lindy Hoppers to perform there since Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers in the 1930’s. The resultant publicity, backed up by the remorseless work of Mura Dehn secured the inclusion of the company in the group of artists representing the USA at the Cultural Festival that preceded the Olympic Games in Mexico in 1968. Working regularly with Lionel Hampton, another staunch Republican, led to a gig in the White House for the New Year Inaugural Ball for the newly elected President Nixon. Later that same year, they joined the (State Department sponsored) “Back To Africa” tour that Mura Dehn organized in which they toured and performed across eight African countries. For the Mama Lu Dancers it was something of a homecoming as they re-met African artists who they had made friends with in Mexico. Experiencing everything from dodging bullets in the Nigerian civil war to being personally presented with gold medals by Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia in his palace widened their horizons and was to prove a useful antidote for the difficult years of the 1970’s that lay ahead.

Disco-soul proved to be a more insidious threat, to the continuity of the old dance forms, than anything else to date as its’ watered down Latin rhythms took new generations further and further away from an interest in, or even an ability to recognize, swing. In 1974 the Daily News, the major sponsor, withdrew its support for the Harvest Moon Ball. Eventually, the much smaller replacement event dropped the Lindy Hop in 1979 in favor of the Hustle. However the Mama Lu approach that was developed in the 1960’s of making sure her dancers were always the best at whatever was the latest style enabled her company to always be accepted and to keep the Lindy to the forefront.

Mama Lu had already seen the writing on the wall and looked again to Europe for new possibilities. Some of her dancers had already toured Sweden in 1963 – 4 with the “King Coleman Show”, along with other brief performing visits to other parts of Europe. The company started working the George Wein circuit of European jazz festivals in 1978, which ironically brought them back together with the major big bands; they had danced so avidly with in the US.

Other possibilities arose from this initiative. They made repeated tours of Sweden and contact was established with Wolfgang Steuer of the World Rock ‘N’ Roll Federation in Germany, which led to Steuer sponsoring the winners of the new Mama Lu Harvest Moon Ball event, to compete in the international finals in Europe. (A lot better deal than the same organization has been offering other groups recently!) This was a fortunate coincidence, as by then the official Harvest Moon Competition Organization had given up on swing dancing altogether. These new European activities attracted the attention of the British TV Company who produced the major arts, program “The Southbank Show”. In 1981 they paid for one of Mama Lu’s events to be re-staged at Small’s Paradise Club on 7th Avenue in Harlem, which became the first major TV programme on Lindy Hop.

New allies appeared on the scene. Neighborhood dancers in the South Bronx launched the hip-hop uprising against the, by then, smooth conformity of disco, and the re-surfacing of many old dance styles gave the surviving parts of the Lindy scene a new boost. Mura Dehn started filming the breakers, Mama Lu incorporated them into her shows and generally a new interest in Lindy, as the roots of Hip Hop, began to take a hold.

For many years Mama Lu’s Harvest Moon Ball preliminaries and then her stand- alone events, had been the rallying point where old Lindy Hoppers re-met and kept in touch. Awards were given annually to former great, and by then virtually forgotten, dancers like Al Minns, Norma Miller and Frankie Manning. But they did not remain forgotten for much longer. The new spirit re-ignited the smoldering embers of swing and before long other productions were afoot. In 1984, Norma Miller directed a two-performance gig at the Village Gate featuring the Nicholas Brothers and former members of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. Mama Lu’s Company leapt right in and followed up with a regular gig at the same venue with the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band for the next three years called “Jitterbug Jazz”.

Throughout the difficult years Mama Lu’s collaborators had been able to sustain the original inter- relationships of the social, competitive and performance modes of Lindy in close proximity to each other. The new interest in the Lindy that emerged in the early 1980’s saw an increasing separation of these aspects and in particular a predominant narcissistic fascination with the individual’s own dance experience. The old ballroom practice of watching other dancers on the floor went into sharp decline. The Mama Lu dancers, increasingly out of touch with these sentiments, became largely performance dancers. That was still a good gig, but it put a considerable distance between them and many of the new enthusiasts!

Other new allies however were to hand. The Brooklyn Academy of Music, otherwise known as BAM moved into the forefront of promoting the new spirit of black dance on stage and scored a spectacular hit with their 1983 production “Dance Black America.” The noted film director Pennebaker made it into a superb documentary. Mama Lu’s dancers were prominent of course as they were in the following year’s production of “Sweet Saturday Night.” The Village Voice reviewer recorded “Mama Lu’s dancers Lindy like no one I’ve seen.” It wasn’t that the Mama Lu dancers had lost their old competitive skills, as Dickie Harris and Joya James decisive victory in the 1985 TV entertainment competition “Star Search” demonstrated. It was rather that they moved almost unthinkingly into new areas where work needed to be done, leaving the old territory to the new enthusiasts. Thus in following up their British TV coverage the Mama Lu dancers toured the UK in 1983 and 1984 and left a trail of new Lindy Hop enthusiasts in their wake, the most prominent being the Jiving Lindy Hoppers.

Surprisingly little credit has been given recently to the sterling efforts of Mama Lu and her company in keeping the memory of the Savoy Ballroom and its dancing alive throughout the difficult years of the 60’s and 70’s let alone arousing new enthusiasm for the dance form. Larry Shultz met Al Minns at one of her Harvest Moon Ball events which led to the emergence and founding of the New York Swing Dance Society (NYSDS). Their many visits to Sweden must have played a significant role in promoting the resurgence of Lindy Hop there, which eventually led to the formation of the Swedish Swing Society and subsequently the Rhythm Hot Shots and the Herrang dance camp. Without a doubt Mama Lu was central to the emergence of the new scene in the UK. The fixation with “classes” had begun to take hold elsewhere however, and the new enthusiasts were less interested in performance. In 1988 the NYSDS held its 4th anniversary dance at the Cat Club featuring the Count Basie orchestra and despite her offer of performing being declined Mama Lu marched her dancers through the doors and they swung out with their friends in the Basie band anyway.

Fortunately her status was recognized more generously elsewhere and later that year in December, the Bronx Arts Council honored her at a special evening show at Alice Tully Hall in the Lincoln Center, at which one of her former youthful protégés Gregory Hines appeared alongside the veteran tap dancers of the Copasetics who had toured Africa with her company back in 1969. In June 1989, the Mama Lu Dancers scored a major hit with the Basie Band at Carnegie Hall for Joe William’s 70th birthday party.

But Mama Lu was not in good health, legally blind and suffering from diabetes, she kept up an unrelenting pressure and despite many pleas from her wide circle of collaborators and friends, refused to take it easy. She fell ill whilst directing her dancers on a cruise ship off Florida in August 1990 and had to be brought ashore. She died on the 23rd September back in the Bronx. That year her Harvest Moon Ball was cancelled and never re-staged. Tina Pratt, the tap dancer, got together a celebration of her memory in the Bronx in April 1991, which brought together a wide circle of contacts, reflecting the life she lived.

Her company has been through some rough times since then, but kept together under the guidance of Richard “Dickie” Harris, and continuing to rehearse weekly in the 127th Street venue where she first began so long ago. Recently the company has enjoyed a new influx of recruits and once again is making its presence felt on the NY Scene. At the Mid-Summer Swing event at the Lincoln Center in July 2000, eighteen dancers got together – 10 from Mama Lu’s Company, 3 from the Jiving Lindy Hoppers and 5 from the Lindy Hop Ensemble of Singapore – to perform a ten minute number in memory of this great woman who had passed away ten years previously. A number of her old Savoy Ballroom friends and collaborators turned up – “Sugar” Sullivan, Barbara Billups, “Little Nick” Mosley and Charlotte “Mommy” Thacker along with a number of former Harvest Moon Ball Champions she had trained. It was a gorgeously warm evening marked by that frenetic but inclusive ambience that Mama Lu invariably generated, when she wasn’t crashing cars.

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Afterthoughts from Frankie100

Written (copyright) by Harri Heinila

Between May 22nd and 26th, 2014, it was organized one of the biggest events concerning so called ‘Swing Dance’ scene for years in New York. The event obviously gathered about 2,000-3,000 enthusiasts at least from 47 different countries. The late Frankie Manning had passed five years ago, only one month before his 95th birthday which also was celebrated in New York in May 2009.

After asking opinions about the latter, Frankie100 event, the common tenor has been that the event was well-organized. Both Old Timers and newcomers of the scene have stressed that. The obvious purpose of the event was to bring together different parties in the name of celebration of the man, who has been claimed to contribute so much in the “Swing Dance” scene during decades. Even The New York Times published an article on May 24th, 2014, where the picture label stated, “The Festival is named for Frankie Manning, a Lindy Hop creator”. Indeed, in the main text of the article, it is stated more modest that Manning was only “one of its early creators”. It should be noted that Manning never claimed, at least, in public that he was the creator of The Lindy Hop. Also all existing evidence does not support this.

According to the article, “[t]he look of the original Lindy Hoppers did not last into the 1950s and 1960s, and its popularity faded”. Thus, the article gives the picture that during the 1950s and the 1960s there was not at least originality or even The Lindy Hop at all.

The article talks about “the revival of The Lindy Hop”, in which were participated dancers from California, Britain and Sweden. Oddly, the article passes the New York connection and does not even mention Larry Schulz, who found Albert ‘Al’ Minns from the Mama Lou Parks event in 1981, and brought him to downtown Manhattan to teach The Lindy Hop in summer 1982, without forgetting other events, where he got Albert Minns to perform. That happened a couple of years before the Swedes brought Minns to Sweden to teach The Lindy Hop in October 1984. Some say that Minns’ visit was the real start of The Lindy Hop in Sweden. It also should be noted that it was not even Larry Schulz, who “found” Minns before the Swedes. Historian and Academic Sally Sommer suggested to Schulz to come to the event for seeing a remarkable dancer. Minns also had become activate, where teaching is concerned, before Larry Schulz met him. Thus, although Larry Schulz’s part was remarkable, where the activation of Albert Minns’ career in the 1980s is concerned, Albert Minns, like other Old Timers, had not disappeared. He, like others, still danced The Lindy Hop through the decades. So, what did the newcomers really reinvent or rediscovery in the 1980s?

The article also claims, “dance historians say Swedes were essential” in the process. One of those Swedes claims in the article that she learned The Lindy Hop already in 1979 by watching The Lindy Hop scene of ‘A Day at the Races’ movie. Especially the Swedes are described as “Godlike” in their attitude concerning The Lindy Hop. Indeed, at least one of them has stayed unsure about the status as she tells in the article, “The thing about godlike, I’m not sure”. In spite of that, she however states, “But we were pretty much the first people who took it seriously again after the ’30 and ‘40s”.

Also the headline of the article states for “Comeback for the Lindy Hop (Give Credit to Sweden)” like The Lindy Hop really was brought back by these new enthusiasts mainly in the 1980s when there was the first revival of the interest, and then in the 1990s when there was the second revival of the interest as the late Terry Monaghan defined these two revivals in his research. Monaghan insisted on “The Revival of The Interest in The Lindy Hop”, because he claimed that The Lindy Hop never faded totally during decades unlike The New York Times article claims.

Although there exists a lot of evidence for Monaghan’s claim, it, however, did not worry the organizers of the Frankie100 panels to name their revival panel as “The Revival of The Lindy Hop”. The common tenor of the revival panelists was for bringing back the dance which had faded, and there were left only inferior and watered down versions. Only the leader of the panel, Lennart Westerlund credited Mama Lou Parks and her dancers for maintaining the performance version of The Lindy Hop during the decades (mainly between the 1960s and the 1980s) when the couple dancing was not in fashion. Also other panelist Darlene Gist, who was part of Norma Miller Dancers in the 1980s and who also worked with Mama Lou Parks Dancers, gave credit to George Sullivan who trained over 20 Harvest Moon Ball finalists, of which the most were Harvest Moon Ball Champions.

Otherwise the panelists concentrated on stressing the “fact” that they brought back the proper versions of the dance, which mostly had faded from the scene. Some of the comments even made George Sullivan, who sat next to me, to look at me like what these people are talking about. He was there during the decades, when, it is claimed, The Lindy Hop did not exist at all, and suddenly he hears that what he did: danced and trained the Champions was nothing compared to what these newcomers did later.

This disrespect of George Sullivan and other Lindy Hoppers and Jazz Dancers like Sonny Allen and The Rockets, Mama Lou Parks Dancers, Albert Minns, Leon James, Pepsi Bethel Authentic Jazz Dance Theatre, Mura Dehn, and etc., including so many unnamed performers, competitors, and social dancers in their mission to keep alive the Authentic Jazz Dance forms during the decades from the 1950s to nowadays, did not come as a surprise to the author of this article. As one of the organizers stated to me that “George Sullivan is not in their scope”, when I suggested that they should ask George Sullivan to participate in the event. They, however, invited him to ‘the 1950s and Cat’s Club’ panel. He, like many other Old Timers, was rarely mentioned during the event. You can compare that to the event one year ago in Harlem, when The Harlem Swing Dance Society and The National Hand Dance Association from Washington D.C. invited many Old Timers in their event in May 2013. George and Sugar Sullivan and many others were invited and celebrated then. Also The National Hand Dance Association in Washington D.C. did a good job in this sense in their event in the end of September 2013.

The Apollo Theater event in the beginning of the Frankie100 included the fundamental truth, that you cannot do only one thing for the whole show. Instead of performing only The Lindy Hop, the show contained various Authentic Jazz Dance forms, in addition to The Lindy. Thus also honoring the environment of the dance during the decades when Frankie was active in the past. At the time different Jazz Dance forms and practitioners affected each other. It was not only about The Lindy Hop. According to different sources, thanks for this goes to Chester Whitmore who had put the pieces together for the show. The various forms of the dance showcased a lot of talent. When once again asked from the Old Timers, the overall tenor concerning the show was that “it was good”. The more profound analysis, however, revealed that there were differences between the performers, when observing Old Timers’ reactions in the audience. It was striking to see how some of The Old Timers did not applaud for example to the “Swedish kids” whose performance in the show was otherwise praised by others who were not strictly Lindy Hoppers in the past. As one of these Old Timers told me later, that they “did too many mistakes. They had shortcuts. They have not practiced enough. We practiced differently.” Also there were other Old Timers who stated the same. In spite of that, one of “Swedish kids” told in Facebook how they practiced for six months for the show, and they were praised for their performance. Maybe next time these kids have to practice longer and better.

Basically, it seems that also “Swing Dance history” follows “Swing Dance” as the branch where mistakes are allowed, and it is the most important to have fun. The serious attitude is not appreciated among most of the enthusiasts. So, you can twist the facts into the form you want and make your own kind of history writing like it seems to be the case, when taking a look at the current Facebook sites and other Internet sites where historical “facts” are stated. The author of this article recently participated in a bitter debate in one of those sites. Some of the opponents began to post threatening messages which included personal facts. The safest way was delete my comments concerning the recently published study where the author of the study has serious methodological weaknesses. That was not first time as the author of this article has got “hate mail” from various parties. They rather posted these personal attacks than defied the study especially by bringing out its merits. Does that mean that they stay uncertain what are really the merits of the study compared to already existing research about the subject? Anyway, are these hostile, personality targeting attacks the way so-called ‘Swing Dance’ community really works?

What comes to the Frankie100 Research Roundtable, it was a hard fought battle. When the author of this article suggested not to talk about ‘Vernacular Jazz Dance’, which has not had a proper definition, he got only the answer that it cannot be changed and vernacular does not mean only ‘ordinary’. That came after when the author of this article suggested that ‘ordinary’ is not a correct term to describe complex Jazz Dance techniques. It was also told to him that ‘vernacular’ can also mean ‘native’. So, it is a correct term, and there is no need for further discussion. Period. Well, if ‘vernacular’ means native, it is then ‘native jazz dance’. What is that? Where the U.S. is concerned, the Indians were only natives, who existed there originally. So did the Indians Jazz Dance? With all respect concerning their own dance culture, I, however, do not think so because jazz music did not even exist then, and the original connection comes from people whose origins are in Africa.

One of the reasons for the unwillingness to criticize current “Swing Dance” and “Swing Dance history” is probably money. Many of the practitioners of the branch seem to want to make money with people involved in the scene. It has been a big business for a while. Some people claim that you can earn even 700 dollars per day in the dance camps. Surely you can earn even 100 dollars per hour for private lessons. That is probably why many of the practitioners seem to keep telling how everything is good in the community. At the same time, they seem to ignore some of their Elders and keep classifying even social dancers into different skill levels, because of the dance classes, and thus scattering the scene into small pieces when the original social dance scene worked for incorporating different dancers onto the same dance floor.

Basically, you do not need many dance classes or not even one class when considering the fact that many of Old Timers learned by observing other dancers. When you know your basics, you can always add your own style without paying all your money for maintaining or improving your dance skills. That has been the common tenor when the author of the article has discussed with Old Timers. It also should be noted that during this era of YouTube and Internet, it cannot be unclear to the most of the enthusiasts how people danced in the past, and how they dance nowadays. There exist so many examples about different dance styles for free that you really cannot miss those if you have access to Internet. Of course, it is true that there have been dance styles which you cannot find from the Internet clips, but anyway you get an idea what it has been about.

It is not exaggerated to claim that nowadays this “swing culture” is too often based on modified truths. There have been “dance teachers” who have said that you are better than before when you leave the class. That is not usually true: Very few learn immediately. The most of the Old Timers, I have discussed with, have stated that you have to really practice to be good. There also are “teachers”, who claim to teach authentic styles. As mentioned before in one of the earlier articles, you only can be authentic in your own style. If someone claims, that he teaches ‘Savoy Style’, and has never been in the ballroom or has not even seen the building, how that is possible?

Well, it is time to finish this article for this time. Thank you for reading this. I save your time and leave you waiting for the part 2, which is coming in the near future.

By the way, here is the Apollo Theater show. It is the same 10pm show that I’m talking about. You can make your own judgement on how it really was.

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