The Third Generation by Terry Monaghan

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

The Third Generation by Terry Monaghan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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2 Responses to The Third Generation by Terry Monaghan

  1. Sugar Sullivan says:

    Harry Heinila, did his research and he tries hard to tell our History of Lindy Hop at the Savoy after the 1940s. We were Dancing every nite with a packed house until the doors were locked in 1958.

  2. Thank you, Sugar Sullivan! I published Terry Monaghan’s article because he knew you, The Third Generation of Savoy Lindy Hoppers very well. I’m researching your generation at this moment but, unfortunately, things are moving slowly because of unpredicted setbacks. In the meantime, we have the article, and I wish there will be autobiographies of The Third Generation Savoy Lindy Hoppers. I consider any information about The Third Generation very valuable. People have to know that you have existed, and you have done an enormous job for keeping The Lindy Hop alive. Thank You for that!

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