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:


[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 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 . 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 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).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.


[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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

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] .


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



[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 . 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

[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 . 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 .

[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 .

[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 .

[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 .

[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 .

[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 .

[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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

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?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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, on 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.

When it 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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 21 Comments