The Crisis of Swing

Written and copyright by Harri Heinila.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About authenticjazzdance

The author of the site is Harri Heinila, Doctor of Social Sciences, political history, and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Political and Economic Studies at the University of Helsinki. He is interested in Authentic Jazz Dance: all jazz dances from different eras of jazz. E.g. Cakewalk, the Charleston, Black Bottom, The Lindy Hop, Mambo, Rhythm Tap. Heinila researches jazz dance, in particular, in the context of Harlem, New York. His doctoral dissertation, An Endeavor by Harlem Dancers to Achieve Equality - The Recognition of the Harlem-Based African-American Jazz Dance Between 1921 and 1943 is a groundbreaking study in the field of jazz dance and Harlem.
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13 Responses to The Crisis of Swing

  1. An interesting statement made by the late-Terry Monaghan in a 100 page essay he wrote about the Savoy in ‘African Diasporic Dances In Britain’ : “Although 80’s dancers fortunate enough to be taught by original Savoy dancers absorbed elements of their background detail and cultural context, due to the teaching-learning-teaching chain growing longer it has caused an increasing lack of certainty, combined with a tendancy to mix techniques from social, competitive and concert dance modes which has increasingly confused matters”. He also went on to observe : “(Savoy ballroom owner) Charles Buchanan died in ’84 after a deteriorating illness and the failure of various attempts to write the Savoy’s story. His wife died the following year, after destroying remaining Savoy records. This opened the way for alternative versions by many surviving Savoy dancers to emerge. Although, thankfully Norma Miller brought Frankie Manning back to the public’s attention in the early 80’s, even their recollections differ wildly in some areas. It is the reluctance of members of the Swing scene to question conflicting stories that has lead to increasingly inaccurate media coverage of them”.

  2. Hi Mark,

    Thank you for your comment. I definitely agree with you. That is how Terry thought about the current swing scene. Current enthusiasts have not always been aware of his statements, and those who have been part of the “Revival of the Lindy Hop” movement in the 1980s and later have mostly ignored the statements. They even got the name of the movement wrong: It should be ‘the Revival of the Interest in the Lindy Hop’ as Terry suggested so many times in his comments, articles etc.. Those words went mainly unnoticed as most parts of his research as well. So, again, thank you so much for your comment! That is the way it is.

    The current scene is too much about myths, false stories, a lack of proper research, and mainly Frankie Manning and Norma Miller’s controversial stories which have not been properly connected to the bigger picture, and those comments have been interpreted inaccurately by the current enthusiasts. You have to delve into numerous interviews to get the picture what Miller and Manning have really said. I have done my best in my doctoral dissertation and my articles to get jazz dance research back on the right track. Terry did his best, and there are others like you who do their best. So, I’m very happy to get your comment!

    We should interview Old-timers before it is too late. There were millions of customers only at the Savoy. And do not forget the Renny, the Renaissance Ballroom, where there were different dances and dancers than at the Savoy, and many other Harlem ballrooms and other outside Harlem ballrooms where there frequented many great Lindy Hoppers and other dancers who never went to the Savoy. So, it is a huge job still left to do before we can say that we know even a little of what jazz dance/swing dance has been. You name it but to me it is about jazz dance. The situation is very crucial at this moment because we have lost so many entertainers including jazz dancers during 2016. Funding is needed to get the interviews done, and to do the research. In that sense, nothing has realized during this year. Ignorant grant/fund providers have totally left jazz dancing out of their plans. They do not care, and there is no light in the end of the tunnel, so we have to find other ways to get funding for the project until it is too late.

    • Dear Harri

      Your reply is most thought provoking.

      Given that the late-Terry Monaghan was indesputably the major knowledge of anything to do with the Savoy Ballroom and all connected (as Professor Robert Farris Thompson is to the Mambo at the Palladium and all connected); right down to the cloakroom attendants, he told me that he was really recognised more in the US than elsewhere. He clashed time and time again with people in the UK scene, who just ignored the truth. Something he told me (which was great advice), was that even when interviewing first generation dancers et al, he still needed provenance, because one cannot accept that recollections from so far ago would be accurate, no matter how sharp their minds are. My dear friend, the late-Bryan Webb, said this of soldiers from WW2 that he’d interviewed. Question everything.

      Of course, this leads me to the recent trend of line-dancing in the UK Swing scene : Is it living history or are we allowed to change and develop it? To me, I want to see it preserved. The line-dances I see at events are all known 80’s and 90’s country line-dances ; especially the dreaded Cowboy Charleston (invented by Jeanette Hall and Tonya Miller, Ohio, 1995; known in the UK Swing world as ‘Charleston Stroll’). It goes back to ‘teacher, learner, teacher’ again, where someone (obviously from a country line dance background) has done it in a club for a bit of ‘fun’, then others have learned it, and taught it with the urban myth that it was a war time dance that the women did because the men were away fighting! Of course, certainly in the UK, one was only allowed to partner dance. No dance would have been allowed to get in the way of the anti-clockwise movement of the dancing throng (hence the Jitterbug ban here). Currently these line-dances are epidemic here (remember that these are modern country line-dances!) and any objections to them are met with “They’re a bit of fun, and we’re enjoying ourselves” and the other common answers “It gets the non-dancers up”. The blame lies solely with the dance teachers who continue to purpetuate this myth that they are original 40’s dances! And then of course, it didn’t help !matters much that in the 80’s Frankie Manning used the Disco line-dance ‘The Electric Slide’ as a warm-up to his classes. “If it’s good enough for Frankie……… “. So what we have here is a complete re-writing of period dance history that is not going to stop anytime soon. Still, never mind history, as long as they’re enjoying themselves.

      Of course, this brings us to the thorny subject, ‘The Shim Sham. As Norma said recently in a seminar : except in cabaret by Leonard Reed and Willie Bryant, the Shim Sham was never danced at the Savoy. It was partnered-dancing only. There was no line-dancing”. The audience gasped.

      Am I going to take the entire world on about that great tap-dance routine, the Shim Sham and should it be danced on the modern Swing dancefloor? No. I value my life too much.

      • Dear Mark

        Thank you for your response. There is an old saying, you can’t be a prophet in your own land. I guess that Terry felt effects of that as we all do. You have to look for those who are in tune with you elsewhere than in your own neighborhood. One big problem in the UK scene has been British DanceSport which stubbornly supports only their “truth” with the standardization of dances according to the rules in their books. This standardization has obviously destroyed social ballroom dancing to a great degree in the UK, and it is going to destroy social dancing elsewhere where DanceSport holds the ground. As to the UK scene, that is what Terry claimed. I’m pretty sure that he clashed also with those people.

        As I agree with you and Terry that you can’t remember all the decades-old things correctly, I would like to emphasize that despite inaccuracies you can also get hints where to find more information when interviewing people. So, it is still extremely important to interview those who have been connected to the decades-old events. You just have to question with the help of other sources whether their recollections are correct. I love to interview George Sullivan who has never got a proper recognition from the current swing scene as the mastermind behind tens of the Harvest Moon Ball winners and Champions. For his tremendous success as the mastermind who trained those winners and Champions with the help of others like Sugar Sullivan and Lee Moates, he was acknowledged by The Harlem Swing Dance Society in 2013, but other current swing-connected organizations have forgotten him. So, George always said to me clearly if he could not remember what really happened. He is very strict when you talk with him. He should be in the Encyclopedia for the correct reason where Frankie Manning is for the wrong reason as the innovator of the first air step which he was not. Anyway, all interviews should be checked with other sources which is a standard routine among professional historians but not necessarily among amateur “historians” or history buffs which most of the current enthusiasts represent.

        Thank you also for your line dance statement. I agree that there are people who have obscured the history of those dances. The line dances you mentioned are only an example of the misinformation where “recently” invented dances are mixed with those which actually are from the past. This does not worry many of the enthusiasts because history and the precision of the details is not important to them. As the common saying among the enthusiasts goes, anything you do is correct. As this may apply to your dancing, and as I say that anything goes in dancing as long as it is not against the law and nobody is hurt, researching history is very different. Anything goes definitely does not apply to it! You have to know and master the basic methods of the history research to be able to research.

        I remember that Frankie Manning’s granddaughter taught him the Electric Slide, and Frankie got it from there. What comes to the Shim Sham, Norma may mean that they have not danced the Shim Sham correctly after Leonard Reed and Willie Bryant devised it. Even Leonard Reed criticized the Shim Sham dancers later that they did it wrong. Norma has complained, in particular, about the full break which current dancers do in a wrong way, and the Shim Sham step in the beginning as well. She definitely is not satisfied with the way people usually do the Shim Sham. Maybe, that is a reason for her comment. The Shim Sham was danced in Harlem and at the Savoy as well. There is evidence for it.

      • Thank you for your very interesting and informative reply Harri.

        There was no mistaking Norma Millers’ comment in the interview I saw on Youtube. She said Shim Sham was only danced at the Savoy in Leonard Reed and Willie Bryants (weekly?) cabaret: where I believe they finished with the Shim Sham, and many joined in, but it wasn’t danced there otherwise, as it was partnered-dancing only. I’m really just quoting her (verbatim).

  3. Mark, thank you again for your quick response. I’m sorry that I misread your comment which states clearly as you say in your latest comment. Norma’s statement sounds strange. Even Terry says that the Savoy Ballroom “organized [the Shim Sham] demonstrations and competitions” and that is based on Charles Buchanan’s interview which I don’t have, so I can’t check how Terry concluded that. Anyway, it sounds like there was more than Leonard Reed’s cabaret at the Savoy. An interesting thing is that Frankie Manning stated that it “wasn’t organized thing” and they did it “as a group line dance” at the Savoy, which is very contrary to Norma’s statement.

    So here we go: What is correct and what is not?

  4. I know. Just because it’s a great, here is that very interview. Out of interest (right or wrong) the Shim Sham comment is at 21.20 :

  5. Thank you, Mark! Norma sounds very adamant as those know who have talked face to face with her. As I said before, to me Norma’s statement sounds like they did not do the Shim Sham at the Savoy because it was a tap routine, and Norma seems to refer to that they did not do it correctly at the Savoy. That means they did it without taps or otherwise incorrectly. As we know Norma, she says that she learned from the best. She has not settled for less. Her standards are sky-high. So, that explains why they did not “do” the Shim Sham at the Savoy. Others can disagree with her, but that is Norma.

    • Good morning Harri

      Norma followed up that statement by saying that it was partnered-dancing only and there was no line-dancing. I guess we will never know, but if (as I have read somwhere) the audience traditionally joined in with the Shim Sham at the end of the weekly cabaret and there were (as Terry Monaghan observed) Shim Sham demonstrations and (possibly) competitions, then that would certainly give it presence. It would be a good subject to discuss and clarify with Norma Miller if you, or your subscribers, get the opportunity. Given that there appeared to have similarly strict dancefloor ettiquette there as in the UK, then it wouldn’t surprise me to find that it ONLY appeared in cabaret, demonstrations and possibly competition; after all, the Corner was there so as not to interrupt the circular movement of the dancefloor, and so the Shim Sham would definitely have done that (unless is was done in the Corner, which is also a possibility). As I say, perhaps you or one of your subscribers can clarify if the opportunity arises to speak to Norma Miller.

  6. Hi Mark, there was the Shim Sham dancing at the Savoy. As I said, Norma may disagree but there was, no doubt about it. Please, check Mura Dehn’s Spirit Moves where they do the thing called the Line Routine at the Savoy, which is a version of the Shim Sham. I have discussed this in my article, so I do not want to repeat the same statements here. You can find it at

    https://authenticjazzdance.wordpress.com/2014/01/07/the-short-story-of-the-shim-sham/

    At the Savoy, there were danced various dance routines, which can be called “line dancing”, in addition to partnered-dancing. Indeed, the Big Apple was done in a circular formation. There exists a lot of evidence for that. So, Norma may remember things incorrectly.

  7. Barbara says:

    “In spite of that, even THSDS has had little success in acknowledging Harlem social dancers who lindy hopped or danced otherwise in various Harlem ballrooms. Lack of resources probably has been the reason for that.” Not just “lack of resources” or a lack of dancers still around…. a lot have moved away or have passed away. Its a bit more complicated. We may add that a few select ones have been brainwashed to be un-supportive to THSDS’s efforts. Thats the breaks

    • Hi Barbara!

      Thank you for your update on what is happening with THSDS and Harlem.

      It is perfectly true that “lack of resources” is a big problem at this moment. There is no money or other resources available to the Harlem research. That is mainly because the Academy, grant providers, and their affiliates do not take Harlem jazz dance seriously. There are exceptions among academics like me, but it is still a small time activity because of lack of money and interest in the subject. The private fund providers are another option for funding, but that means likely a compromise between objectiveness of your research and premeditated research results. The latter means that you are supposed to emphasize certain characters at the expense of the objectiveness. I do not say that private fund providers are not a real option, but at this moment things in that sense are moving slowly. There are still too many biased people who you may call “brainwashed”. Thus, we have to research as much as possible with very limited resources.

      I’m also preparing to open up Harlem jazz dance to the Academy by writing more scientific-oriented articles than before. That happens in the meantime before I’m ready to publish the continuation of my doctoral dissertation. The continuation still takes time, in particular because of lack of funding, and it won’t be finished soon. But it will be finished, that is my promise.

      I wish that there was more “civil courage” in people who know old-time dancers in their communities. Those dancers should be interviewed as soon as possible. We definitely know that for example in Harlem, there still are many social dancers who have never been interviewed. As we know that millions of dancers went to Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom and other ballrooms in Harlem, it is a huge number of people without any recognition. If I could, I would do those interviews 24/7 for sure. But there are many others who could actually do those interviews if they were willing to interview the dancers. It is the most important of all to interview them now. The interviews can be used for studies and articles later.

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