Who Found Frankie Manning in the 1980s

Written (copyright) by Harri Heinila

It is time to clear the facts about the Revival of the Interest in the Lindy Hop in the 1980s and tell which of the Lindy revivalists really first found Frankie then.

Everyone who was in the Frankie95 Lindy Revival panel discussion in May 2009 remembers the clip in which Margaret Batiuchok and Frankie danced together in the dance studio. That clip was from 1985. I asked Margaret later when she saw Frankie at the first time. That was even earlier: in 1984, when Margaret was an understudy in the rehearsals of the Norma Miller’s dance group. Frankie was sitting there and watching queitly the rehearsals. Frankie also frequented the New York Swing Dance Society’s Cat Club since 1985.

We also know that Lennart Westerlund with his friends, Anders Lind and Henning Sörensen, and Larry Schulz, who worked with Albert ‘Al’ Minns at the time, saw Frankie earlier than Erin Stevens and Steven Mitchell. They, however, did not attend to Frankie then. And it also should be remembered that Jiving Lindy Hoppers (Terry Monaghan and Warren Heyes and their group) worked with Frankie and Norma Miller at the latest in 1986.

Even that is not the whole truth. To be exact Frankie never disappeared totally from The Lindy Hop scene. Although he worked in the post office for decades, he still danced socially and participated in gatherings of the old Savoy Ballroom guard. He also judged in one of Louise ‘Mama Lou’ Parks Duncanson’s International Harvest Moon Ball competitions with other Lindy Hop masters like George Sullivan in the beginning of the 1980s. So, how to “rediscover” him, if he never really disappeared?

The official story still goes (by the Frankie’s official biography ‘Ambassador of The Lindy Hop’ and even by the Frankie document film ‘Frankie Manning: Never Stop Swingin’) that Erin and Steven called Frankie from California and they met him in 1986 at the Bryant Dupré’s party in New York. Frankie started to teach them after that. That was the official start of Frankie’s new career as The Lindy Hop teacher.

These, however, are the facts. Margaret Batiuchok should get the recognition that she was the first one of the revivalists of the Interest in the Lindy Hop who danced and rehearsed with Frankie Manning in the 1980s. We know that Margaret and Frankie danced regularly together also later because there are Margaret’s theses and DVDs (from 1987-88) in which Frankie dances with Margaret. Hopefully the history of the Revival of the Interest in the Lindy Hop will be reconsidered, and these facts are noted before the Frankie100 panels, because we do not want to repeat old mistakes.

This is the updated version which is based on Harri Heinila’s article in 2009.

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The Short Story of The Shim Sham

Written (copyright) by Harri Heinila (published originally in the late dancehistory.org site (the site by Peter Loggins) in 2009)

The story starts from 1926, when Leonard Reed met Willie Bryant in one of Whitman Sister’s shows. Whitman Sisters had one of the longest runned shows in the States, which lasted from about 1900 to 1943. They need for the show a quick finale, which Leonard and Willie made in the basement in very short time in 1927. They called this tap routine as ‘Goofus’ and it contained four steps: the double shuffle, the tack annie, the cross over and the half break as done by one chorus routine to a 32 bar tune. The tune that they used was ‘Turkey in the Straw’. They got the tack annie from a Tap dancer called Jack Wiggins who did a thing called ‘Pull it’. He used to say to the audience: ‘Do you want me pull it’. The answer was usually ‘Yes!’. Once he was performing to the audience, where was also his girlfriend Annie, Jack said those words again and added: ‘Annie next step may be tacky, but I gonna do it for you!’ The half break they composed from the rhythm of ‘Bugle Rag Call’ and the double shuffle they invented after seeing some guy doing shuffle in an old movie.

The dance was easy enough that they could teach even a total beginner to dance that in the show. One of dancers of the show got fired (obviously Joe Jones) and he went to New York, and created there a group called ‘The Three Little Words’. The Three Little Words started to doing the dance at Connie’s Inn in Harlem and they called it Shim Sham (if we trust on Stearns’ Jazz Dance) or they went to the club called Shim Sham where they started to call the dance by name Shim Sham Shimmy (if we trust on Leonard Reed’s own story). Anyway that happened in 1931 after which the dance (by original name ‘Goofus’) started to spread around rapidly. According to ‘Jazz Dance’, Shim Sham evolved also into a quasi ballroom dance without taps. That version also obviously spread to the television programs and shows as a finale.

An intresting fact is that when The Three Little Words performed Shim Sham in the club in 1931, they also invited everybody to get aboard and that happened. The tradition perform Shim Sham as a group started then very early.

Somehow that dance spread also into the Savoy Ballroom. Frankie Manning remembers that Shim Sham was done as a group line dance without taps. It was different than today’s swing dancers do. They did only two choruses into usually 32 bar chorus songs. It was not also organized thing or a big deal in the Savoy Ballroom. Only a few people joined to it according to Frankie.

It is interesting that later, obviously in the end of 1940s or in the beginning of the 1950s, they started to dance the Shim Sham version in the Savoy Ballroom, which we know as the Al & Leon Shim Sham (or Al’s Shim Sham) or as the Line Routine, according to Mura Dehn’s Spirit Moves. At least there are no earlier film clips of that routine than the Spirit Moves (from 1951), and it cannot be the same version Frankie told, because the Line Routine is longer than two 32 bar choruses. This version also differs mostly from the original Shim Sham. The origins of the A. & L. Shim Sham or the Line Routine are unknown.

Also Dean Collins created his version of the Shim Sham. Dean’s Shim Sham starts in the same way than the original Shim Sham but with some modifications, after which it goes totally different direction. Dean created his version for performances (not for social dancing) with exactly choreographied steps and body movements. Dean obviously created his Shim Sham somewhere in 1938. There are some film clips where Dean’s Shim Sham is done partially (as the Hep and Happy by Glen Grey Orchestra). Only film clip where this Shim Sham is wholly done is from 1983 (by Dean himself and Bart Bartolo).

Later came also new Shim Sham versions from the original creator Leonard Reed, who created the latest version ‘Revenge of the Shim Sham’ in 2002 in the age of 95. Other versions he made were the Freeze Chorus somewhere in the 1930s (this is basically same than the original one, but there are freezes instead of full breaks), the duet variation Joe Louis Shuffle in 1948 and Shim Sham II in 1994.

At least the original tap version from 1927 spread around into the Tap World as the simple finale dance, which was usually done in Tap performances.

The most know version in the today’s Lindy Hop World is the version which Frankie created somewhere in the very end of 1980s. Frankie used the original version, but without taps and he included also another chorus with boogie forwards, boogie backs and shorty georges. It is interesting to see Frankie doing the tap version in 1988 film clip (from a Margaret Batiuchok’s theses DVD). He also change for a while to the version without taps, but he did not do the third chorus with mentioned boogie steps and shorty georges (The second chorus is the original version but with freezes (not full breaks), which Frankie did partially in the clip).

Frankie started to do his famous version later in the New York Swing Dance Society’s dance happenings in the late 1980s after which he spread his famous version to around the world. Frankie put the pieces together for his Shim Sham and taught it to Margaret Batiuchok and some of the other members of the New York Swing Dance Society Board. Margaret had the idea and suggested to the other members of the NYSDS board that they do it once every NYSDS weekly dance at the Cat Club. Some other members on the board were skeptical, afraid it would take up dancetime. It took some persuasion but Margaret persisted and they agreed. Frankie lead the Shim Sham when he was in the town and when he was not, Margaret lead that. That’s the way the Frankie’s Shim Sham tradition started.

Today the Shim Sham has really spread around the world as you can see for example from Frankie95 videos in YouTube. The dance is now in the very solid base and it seems that there are almost as many versions of it as there are Shim Sham Dancers.

References:

– Film clip concerning Shim Sham (Al Minns & Leon James) (from Marshall Stearns’ dancehistory project. Clips can be found in YouTube) (from the beginning of the 1960s).

– Film clips concerning Dean Collins Shim Sham edited by Peter Loggins. Clips can be found in YouTube

– Frankie Manning: The Ambassador of The Lindy Hop. 2007.

– Marcus Koch and Barbl Kaufer: Dean Collins Shim Sham DVD (history part of it. Contains interviews with Mary Collins, Leonard Reed etc.). 2004.

– Mura Dehn’s Spirit Moves -document film (parts of the Line Routine might be filmed in 1951).

– The interview with Margaret Batiuchok (http://www.danceMB.com). 2009. New York.

– Margaret Batiuchok: The Lindy theses DVD (Frank Manning). 1988. New York.

– Rusty Frank’s ‘Leonard Reed Shim Sham Shimmy (interview with Leonard Reed). 1994.

– Marshall & Jean Stearns: Jazz Dance. 1968.

– The late dancehistory.org -site (Mostly Peter Loggins as concerning different Shim Sham versions).

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The State of Jazz Dance

Written (copyright) by Harri Heinila

In the end of September 2013, The National Hand Dance Association organized one of the most important events in Washington D.C. The event included a panel discussion with Old Timers from The Savoy Ballroom era and with The Washington D.C. Hand Dance veterans, in addition to other panelists from the current Swing and Hand Dance scene. The event also had Hand Dance and Lindy Hop demonstrations with help of Old Timers from both the Hand Dance scene and The Savoy Ballroom.

Luckily, the event gathered a lot of audience, especially Hand Dancers, but unfortunately it gathered less from the current so-called Swing Dance scene which mostly stayed away.

The same phenomenon happened in the Harlem Swing Dance Society dance in October. The Columbia University Swing Dancers basically represented the downtown scene, but that was mostly it. Luckily, the event gathered a lot of Old Timers from different eras: The Savoy Ballroom era and the post-Savoy era, and a lot of Harlemites came in. So, for those who really wanted to meet people from the Harlem scene from different decades, that was the place.

At the same time, all kinds of workshops and dance camps take a lot of dancers. Also Old Timers are regularly represented in those events, but mostly for authenticating younger generations’ dancing by telling stories from the past. It sometimes looks like those younger dancers just wait for the stories have been told and then they can go to learn from younger generation dancers how the dance should really be done. It looks like these dancers ignore the fact that Old Timers still can teach and younger dancers can learn from them. Are these younger dancers really capable of replicating what older generations did? If you asked that from the late Terry Monaghan, a famous The Savoy Ballroom historian, his answer would have been a firm NO.

Monaghan states in his “theses” concerning The Savoy Ballroom and The Lindy Hop’s relation to it, that there possibly are some of “new dancers” who are thinking that they are superior to Elders. They may think, for example, that they have larger “step collections” than Elders, and thus they have better knowledge about the dance. These “new generation dancers” also use different nuances from old film clips for their teaching without really understanding and analyzing the idea behind those movements. Monaghan states that “new scene” has micro-analyzed Lindy Hop technique, which has led to confusing facts how The Lindy Hop should be learned and danced.

According to Monaghan, the original Savoy scene was consciously structured and modified over the years to integrate differing levels of expertise in a way that developed the dance form as a whole. Also the original scene respected social dancers more than today’s scene where to be kicked or to be collided is more likely than in the past. Nowadays dancers rather make exhibitions of themselves than really dance with their partners on the social dance floor. Monaghan thinks that the main departure from Savoy modes of organization is the replacement of a general awareness of the differences between performance, competition and social dancing. By categorizing dancers in ‘beginners’, ‘intermediates’ and ‘advanced’, the way to become an expert is to take more classes instead of the old ballroom test of successfully attracting congenial dance partners.

The old way to learn by individual observation and imitation is largely omitted from this world of dance classes. The categorizing also leads to standardization, as the goal is to reach ‘advanced’ level to be a good dancer. And even that is not the final goal as there is a level above ‘advanced’: ‘performance training’, which indicates that a logical goal to social dancers is to perform that they can be even better dancers than ‘advanced’. The top layer of the new scene of performance and competition dancers is sometimes called as ‘rock stars’ who have been the star attraction of the dance camps. They usually are the ones who define correct techniques which should be taught.

Thus, in effect, these ‘top layers’ of the new Lindy scene have replaced Old Timers as role models, where dancing is concerned. That also has led to a fact that to be able to increase amount of students in classes is achieved by winning competitions or by performing regularly in big enough events.

At the same time, when teaching is mostly “allowed” only to those who are “advanced” enough, also dance history information has been under “control” as there has been “collectors” who possibly have tried to use their information as “merchandise”. Certain people try to control the Jazz Dance-related information and think that they only are able to speak for Old Timers. Hiding information for their own use has led to the situation where Jazz Dance research has incidentally been slowed down, but hopefully only a bit as mostly this hidden information seems to be some random details which as such does not make a big picture, but probably can help in making the big picture.

Anyone, who really has researched history, knows how time consuming research really is. At the best it is a full time job and your life. You do not have much time for other activities. Thus, the easiness of “dance historians”, when they reveal their ‘revolutionary facts’ about Jazz Dance, reminds of the same micro-analysis than where the analysis of the dance is concerned. This “micro-analysis” of Jazz Dance has led to so-called ‘puzzle history’ where these “historians” are giving a piece of puzzle, but at the same time, they are hiding other pieces for the future use. This “information feeding” keeps their admirers “in check” as they are happy for even a small piece of information, although that piece did not mean much in the big picture.

Jazz Dance, and in it especially swing-related dances, and the Charleston have become a big business where you really can make big money if you can control information, and if you are able to convince others about your superiority in Jazz Dance. The acknowledgement of these facts as conditions for success has led some people to find “shortcuts” to these issues, and has created a new phenomenon at least in Finland, where certain people, who are calling themselves as “jazz dancers”, are trying to define what is correct in Jazz Dance. These people have masqueraded their operation in a form of ‘non-profit’ organization, but in reality they are probably taking a piece of the ‘big business’. Incredible, but true is that nobody has challenged them in any way. As local dance associations stay quiet in the case and are not willing to challenge these “jazz dancers”, the situation reminds old gangster films where streets were divided into different gang areas –in this case – of course – between different jazz gangs. Obviously everybody involved is happy about that they all can make money.

These people also control newspapers and information about them as you can see videos about them in YouTube, and all comments in these videos are disabled. You also cannot correct their misleading historical information in newspapers as those papers do not publish your comments obviously because their friends are responsible for those articles. They have their own dance events and classes and you cannot see them social dancing in other ballrooms (probably because they cannot social dance, although they claim to teach social dance), and definitely they are not going to be challenged in any public performances with real performers or in competitions. At the same time, they claim that they have superiority in Jazz Dance. That reminds a religion where reality is ruled out, and created a fictive world with details that match to their “religion”.

Also a question concerning authenticity comes up quite often. Who are authentic dancers? Can anybody teach someone else’s dance style authentically enough? To answer these: first of all, “authentic” is what you are doing. Everybody is “authentic” in his own thing. To be someone else authentically enough is not the easiest case: you can learn about someone else’s style even straight from the person, but you cannot get into his head, even if you were otherwise as good as possible. In other words you can’t replicate someone else’s mindset: You can teach only what you are.

This article quotes from the late Terry Monaghan and his ‘ ”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). Monaghan study is the study which everybody should read carefully.

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A Great Weekend in Harlem

Written (copyright) by Harri Heinila

Between May 9th and May 12th 2013, there was organized one of the most important events for years in New York. The event, which was based on the collaboration of The Harlem Swing Dance Society, The National Hand Dance Association (from Washington D.C.) and BABBLE organization (Balboa, Swing, Blues and The Lindy Hop exchange in New York), gathered hundreds of participants from the U.S. and abroad.

The event also gathered a lot of Old Time dance legends like Norma Miller, Sugar and George Sullivan, Barbara Billups, and Sonny Allen from the Savoy Ballroom era. The Savoy Manor era (the post Savoy Ballroom era) was represented by Mama Lou Parks dancers like David Butts Carns, Debra Youngblood, Joya Jaimes, Clementine ‘Tiny’ Thomas, and Crystal Johnson. The Washington D.C. Hand Dancers were represented by greats like James ‘Sparky’ Green, Lee Ware, Maxie Grant, and Lawrence Bradford.

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The dancers’ discussion panel from the left, Norma Miller, Sugar Sullivan, George Sullivan, Sonny Allen, David Butts Carns, James ‘Sparky’ Green, Lee Ware, Maxie Grant, and Lawrence ‘Brad’ Bradford.

The weekend was opened by the dancers’ discussion panel on Thursday, where the Savoy Ballroom legends and Harvest Moon Ball winners Norma Miller, Sugar and George Sullivan, Sonny Allen, and the Harvest Moon Ball winner David Butts Carns from Mama Lou Parks Dancers represented Harlem, and James ‘Sparky’ Green, Lee Ware, Maxie Grant, and Lawrence Bradford represented the Washington D.C. Hand Dancers. As the moderators worked Margaret Batiuchok who is another Harvest Moon Ball winner from 1983, and Dr. Katrina Hazzard-Donald from Rutgers University, who both also started the discussion session with their historical summaries of the African American dance and The Lindy Hop.

There were different topics in the discussion. Norma Miller opened on behalf of the discussion panelists by stating, how ‘the most talented and brilliant people’ had centered in Harlem, when she started her career. She also stated how swing differed from Dixieland music and how their dancing differed from earlier styles, because of swing music. According to Norma, they were originally dancing ‘a smooth style of Lindy’. Aerials came later. As Norma put it: ‘All dancing was flat prior to aerials’.

Sugar Sullivan told, how she ‘tried to put as many steps as possible’ into the swing out or into the swing as Old Timers usually call the swing out. She just did not want to ‘run out and run back’. ‘I wanted to do something with my feet’. ‘My thing was footwork’.

George Sullivan stressed in his statement the importance of rhythm: ‘It is all about rhythm. Everybody out there in your dances: when you walk, you dance. When you walk, you dance, it just when you put something with it, when you are on the floor and enjoy’.

Sonny Allen stated, ‘I’ve tried to put it easy’. He compared different tap dancers to each other as some of them have danced ‘into the floor’ and some of them have danced ‘on the top of floor’. To dance ‘on the top of floor’ is easier. ‘You don’t fight with floor’, as he said referring to those who are dancing ‘into the floor’. He also said referring to George Sullivan, how ‘this gentleman here danced like he was gliding across the floor’, which caused a storm of applause. Sonny also said, how ‘a lot of teachers’ are teaching people in the way ‘they danced in the 20s’ referring to ‘the down and up bounce to the every beat’, which is usually done by today’s Lindy dancers. As Sonny said, ‘you can’t do that to Count Basie’s music’. He continued, how they danced more horizontally ‘on the top of the floor’ than vertically ‘into the floor’. Sonny also referred in his later statement to social dancers who are competing with other couples on the social dance floor, and not dancing together as a couple and a group as they should be. George added to that ‘it is an agreement’ to dance with each other as a couple.

David Butts Carns stressed the importance of partnering as he referred to his over 15 years partner Debra Youngblood, with whom he won Harvest Moon Ball in 1980. David himself won HMB twice: first with Betty Silva in 1962 and then with Debra. He also stressed the importance of ‘flash’ (movements) in the performance mode of The Lindy Hop.

The special moment happened when Norma Miller surprisingly asked from a moderator Margaret Batiuchok in the end of the discussion session if the late George Lloyd, with whom Margaret danced for a long time, was Margaret’s favorite dance partner because George’s style was so smooth. As Margaret stressed that she likes diversity of styles, the late George Lloyd got highly praises from all the Lindy Hop panelists.

What comes to the Hand Dance panelists, the Turner’s Arena in Washington D.C. came up as the place for Hand Dancing between the late 1940s and the 1960s. In Turner’s Arena, ‘all good dancers gathered on Sunday evenings’ especially from Washington D.C. and Baltimore as a panelist Lee Ware stated, even if they danced at any places like community centers, schools, churches, on streets, and anywhere where they played music as a panelist Maxine Grant told.

James ‘Sparky’ Green answered to question: ‘How Hand Dancing changed his life’, that by Hand Dancing he was able to see ‘all the top bands like Count Basie and Duke Ellington’ as they played in the places where he went to. Dr. Katrina Hazzard-Donald concluded, based on the Hand Dance panelists’ answers, that ‘ ‘Hand Dance’ helped them improve social skills, gave them health benefits, and kept them out of trouble’.

The different code of dance ethics between Hand Dancers and Savoy Lindy Hoppers also came out. Where Hand Dancing was concerned, a lady couldn’t dance with someone else during the same song if man asked her to dance, and she denied. Otherwise there would have been ‘a trouble in the parking lot’ as Dr. Katrina Hazzard-Donald stated with acceptation of all the Hand Dance panelists. Norma Miller commented to the statement from the viewpoint of the Savoy Lindy Hoppers that they didn’t dance with everybody. They were ‘very snobbish’. The Savoy Lindy Hopping mostly happened on the left side of the ballroom where the Corner was located, and it happened in the Circle. George Sullivan added to Norma’s statement that it was about ‘skills’. James ‘Sparky’ Green and Lee Ware claimed concerning Hand Dancing in Turner’s Arena that the Circle phenomenon happened also there as far as good dancers were concerned. Lee Ware stated that good dancers were in the front of the bandstand or in the Corner on the right side of the bandstand.

Maxine Grant explained, how they did not go to the formal dance classes, they just picked up steps. Lawrence ‘Brad’ Bradford also added to that ‘if you didn’t know how to do a step, the community taught you how to do the step.’ Both basically similar procedures as Savoy Lindy Hoppers had. It also became clear that all the panelists agreed that music makes you dance and it is about feeling the music.

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The musicians’ panel from left, Albert Vollmer, Topsy Durham, Dawn Hampton, Dr. Larry Ridley, James ‘Sparky’ Green, Melvin Copeland and Lawrence Bradford.

After dancers’ panel came musicians’ panel which gathered musical greats like Topsy Durham, daughter of the late Eddie Durham; Dawn Hampton from the Hampton Jazz family; Dr. Larry Ridley, a legendary Jazz bassist who had played with many musical greats, and in addition to them James ‘Sparky’ Green, Melvin Copeland and Lawrence ‘Brad’ Bradford. Albert Vollmer, the manager of Harlem Jazz and Blues Band, joined to the panelists in the last part of the panel. As moderators worked Larry Schulz from Sandra Cameron dance studios and Beverly Lindsay-Johnson, the President of The National Hand Dance Association. Dr. Ridley opened on behalf of the musician panelists by stating how jazz music is from Africa and it is about feeling the music, which makes you move. Topsy Durham told, how his father, who arranged for many Jazz greats, wanted to make blues music danceable by using blues in swing music. Dawn Hampton stressed, how she didn’t know what swing was until she went to the Savoy.

Norma Miller brought up the difference between Hand Dancers and her generation Savoy Lindy Hoppers: Hand Dancers dance to the vocal music and her generation danced to bands referring Hand Dancers as social dancers and her generation as performers. Sparky Green corrected Norma as he stated, how he went to dance to the Big Band Swing events where there was played instrumental music. Panelist Brad Bradford stated, that when he teaches Hand Dance he wants to see you doing what he hears, because a dancer is a ‘visual instrument’ of the music. Dr. Larry Ridley stated the importance of improvisation as that makes you do what you hear from music. Melvin Copeland, who comes from the 1950s and the 1960s Hand Dance era, agreed with Dr. Ridley as they (Hand Dancers of his era) never had time to rehearse their dancing. Thus, it was about improvisation. A different procedure compared to Savoy Lindy Hoppers who used most of the day for rehearsing, and that happened every day. This, however, did not mean that Savoy Lindy Hoppers could not improvise when needed.

On Thursday evening, the most of Savoy Lindy Hoppers went to the Alhambra Ballroom where Cab Calloway Orchestra played with the lead of Cab’s grandson, Christopher Calloway Brooks. The event became memorable gathering of the Savoy Lindy Hoppers in one of ‘rare, still going on’ Harlem ballrooms. On Friday, Hand Dancers and Savoy Lindy Hoppers went to the Harlem bus tour where Old Timers took turns telling Harlem history with great help of the tour guide Barbara A. Jones, the President of The Harlem Swing Dance Society. The bus tour ended at the Savoy Plaque where The Savoy Ballroom was located. We saw memorable dance performances and Shim Sham, where great dancers like Norma Miller and Sugar Sullivan danced together.

The one of most anticipated happenings of the event were the Saturday dance classes. Brad Bradford gave a lesson for adults about the Hand Dance basics, and at the same time Deonna Ball gave a Hand Dance lesson to youth. The classes culminated in the reunion of the two most important Third Generation Savoy Lindy Hoppers: Sugar and George Sullivan, who taught together first time for a long time, and that happened twice as David Butts Carns was not able to help Sugar with teaching in the first Lindy basics class, and George came in to help Sugar in that. The magical moment of the class happened when Sugar and George danced together. According to George, that happened for the first time after 58 years, referring to their Harvest Moon Ball championship. They, however, did competitions occasionally after that at least until the end of the 1950s. To the article writer, the real test was dancing in the front of Sugar and George in their master class, when, at the same time, on the background, other Old Timers were looking at us. It felt like we could not move our feet but we did our best. I guess that other pupils in the class felt the same. The experience, however, was such a great! Sonny Allen’s, who was George Sullivan’s student, master class finalized classes for that day in a great way.

Before Sonny’s master class we went with George to the Savoy Plaque where he told about The Savoy Ballroom and how he experienced that. At the same time, the plaque was frequented by tourist groups, who did not recognize George Sullivan! One of those tourist guides just turned away without asking, whom they were dealing with. Sonny Allen would have said in the case: ‘That’s George Sullivan!’, referring George’s importance in the Savoy Lindy Hop 1950s era and in the Savoy Manor era after that. George started to dance The Lindy Hop in 1951, because of his ex-wife Sugar Sullivan was hurt when doing an air step with Delma ‘Big Nick’ Nicholson. George promised to start to dance with Sugar after that, even if he first had to learn The Lindy Hop. As George and Sugar participated in the competition for the first time together after Sugar’s recovery, others laughed at George who did not know what to do. He, however, was determined to learn. He decided to make it to the Harvest Moon Ball finals, and they did it. It took four years endless training to win the Harvest Moon Ball, which happened in 1955.

George became one of the great Savoy Ballroom Lindy Hoppers, who with Sugar was known about ‘lightning speed and smooth style of dancing’, and as Sonny Allen puts it: ‘Nobody couldn’t touch George in his prime in dancing’. Also Sylvan Charles, an avid Savoy Ballroom social dancer from the post World War II period, has stated, how George Sullivan was his generation’s idol in the same way than Frankie Manning was the earlier generation’s idol.

When George and Sugar stopped dancing together, George started to train kids (mostly Mama Lou Parks Dancers) in The Lindy Hop. Many of his students remember how George took them into the corner and taught them to dance. George was known as a demanding teacher with zero tolerance. As he puts it: ‘I was hard to kids, but in the end there were results’. The results were impressive as it is said, that he trained 26 Harvest Moon Ball winners. And that is not all, when you also add second and third places to the amount. The figure must be a lot bigger; at least tens of Harvest Moon Ball participants. Although George was the main man in these wins, according to Sugar Sullivan also she helped George with teaching as George used to call Sugar to show some patterns to his students and especially when George and Sugar started to train Jiving Lindy Hoppers from London in the 1990s. Some of George’s students also remember Lee Moates as another coach. Lee Moates was George’s main teacher in The Lindy after Sugar first taught George to dance The Lindy. Lee Moates, who George calls as the ‘monster’ (in the sense of respect) who knew everything, was the first of the Third Generation Savoy Lindy Hoppers with Sugar Sullivan from the end of the 1940s.

When asked, how George feels about all those Harvest Moon Ball champions he trained, he said, that he did that for kids. George is known as a humble man who hided when those Harvest Moon Ball wins happened. He did not make a number of himself as the mastermind of those wins. His former students still love him and praise him as The Master of The Lindy Hop.

The Harlem part of the event culminated in the Saturday night party at Joseph P. Kennedy center, which was organized by BABBLE. The only minus concerning the party goes to the live music which mostly was plain Dixieland and caused a lot of complaints from today’s and former Harlemites, who wondered, how they can play Dixieland in Harlem! Obviously that happened for the first time in that scale since the beginning of the 1920s before Harlem orchestras started to develop swing in the middle of the 1920s. George Sullivan, however, set critics straight as he stated, that he saw people had a ball in the dance (as many downtown dancers came to the dance and Dixieland has traditionally been big in the downtown crowds). George also said, that even if it was ragtime and not Count Basie, Basie, however, came after that, so Dixieland was the base for the later swing and thus it was understandable to play also earlier jazz forms.

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The event participants in the front of Joseph P. Kennedy center. From left, Sonny Allen, Norma Miller, Sugar Sullivan, George Sullivan, Dawn Hampton, Barbara Billups and Margaret Batiuchok.

The Saturday evening culminated when Old Timers were honored by The Harlem Swing Dance Society. People applauded in such a powerful way that you understood that something remarkable had happened in Harlem and the Swing Revival of The Interest in Harlem is on its way. It is coming back at full throttle to where it started.

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Sad Losses in Harlem

Written (copyright) by Harri Heinila

Very sad news has been carried recently as the former buildings of Lafayette Theatre, Connie’s Inn and Hoofers’ Club have been destroyed for making a way for new buildings in Harlem.

A great part of the Harlem Jazz Dance history has thus gone forever with those demolitions. All the mentioned places were showcases for several African American Jazz Dancers like Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, Honi Coles, Eddie Rector, Toots Davis and Earl ‘Snakehips’ Tucker just mention a few of those countless dancers. Without them Harlem would n0t have been the place for the African American dance entertainment during its Golden Era between the 1920s and the 1950s.

The most important reason for forgetting these buildings and their significance to Harlem culture for years has possibly been the distance between the Harlem Renaissance movement and Jazz Dance and its practitioners. That distance was created already from the very beginning of the movement in the 1920s, when Harlem was developing to the most important center for African Americans in the U.S. According to Terry Monaghan, Jazz Dance and especially one of its key dances, The Lindy Hop, were mainly left outside the movement and thus disconnected from their logical context as part of the Harlem Renaissance.

It also has been forgotten that the exceptional freedom, which Harlemites felt in the segregated U.S at the time, was remarkably achieved by those Jazz Dancers who helped to tear down racial barriers with their all races approved dancing, and they thus paved the way for the later Civil Rights Movement. The mentioned distance still can be felt as current dancers are rarely deeply interested in Harlem culture and Harlem’s cultural contributions to Jazz Dance, as far as the Harlem entertainment is concerned. Because of that Harlem has become more or less ‘storied’. We just can hope that new generations take a firmer stance on Harlem Jazz Dance and the entertainment history before all that has been forgotten and demolished.

The Connie's Inn building on August 21st 2012

The Connie’s Inn building on August 21st, 2012.

The history of the ‘Connie’s Inn building’ as an entertainment place started in November 1921, when Jack Goldberg opened Shuffle Inn at 165 West 131st Street. The name ‘Shuffle Inn’ obviously came from the successful ‘Shuffle Along’ theatrical play which gave stardom at least for Josephine Baker and Florence Mills. Shuffle Inn was integrated from the beginning, although it seems that white customers were in the majority. After two years of its existence, George and Conrad ‘Connie’ Immerman, two brothers, bought Shuffle Inn and made it Connie’s Inn with the new entrance at 2221 Seventh Avenue by June 1923. The original Connie’s Inn orchestra was Wilbur Sweatman’s Jazz Kings. By September 12th there was a show – in ‘the nature of a big opening’ -: ‘Harper & Blanks And Their Sensational Musical Revue’ including Eddie and Grace Rector, Cole and Parker, and Mutt and Jeff. Leroy Smith and His Orchestra provided the music. Although Connie’s Inn initially advertised that ‘all are welcome’, the management started quite soon to favor white customers and Connie’s Inn became a cabaret for “white tourists” from downtown.

The orchestras kept changing during years as Allie Ross’ Orchestra replaced Leroy Smith’s Green Dragon Orchestra in 1926. Later, between 1929 and 1930, Louis Armstrong came in with Carroll Dickerson’s orchestra, when ‘Hot Chocolates’ show created possibly the greatest stir in Connie’s Inn. Thomas ‘Fats’ Waller and Andy Razaf wrote the show and it produced hit songs like ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ ‘ and ‘That Rhythm Man’. Fletcher Henderson Orchestra came in after that for 1930-1931 and was replaced by Louis Russell Band in May 1931. Don Redman’s ‘Chant of the Weed’ orchestra replaced Louis Russell Band in October 1931 and stayed in Harlem until the end of the Connie’s Inn era.

What comes to dancing, the act called Three Little Words brought the tap routine: Shim Sham on the stage of Connie’s Inn at that time, and the whole club joined them including waiters. That gave a feel of the integration in the otherwise segregated club. Three Little Words got Shim Sham from Leonard Reed and Willie Bryant, who had developed the routine (which was named originally as Goofus) in the “next door” building, Lafayette Theatre, a few years earlier in 1927.

The end of Connie’s Inn in Harlem is unclear. It seems to have happened somewhere between 1933 and 1934 as there were references to Connie’s Inn in Harlem in 1932. There still was a reference to the Harlem Connie’s Inn in March 1934. Conrad ‘Connie’ Immerman also had Connie’s Restaurant at 2524 Broadway in 1931. The restaurant probably was working under his management until he moved Connie’s Inn to Broadway and 48th Street in April 1935. Obviously The Harlem Club replaced the old Connie’s Inn for a very short time until it was closed in 1934 and replaced by the Ubangi Club. The Ubangi Club was working in Harlem until 1937, when also it was closed between April and May after losing the liquor license. The club moved to Broadway between 52nd and 53rd Streets. The Ubangi Club was a gay, integrated cabaret club, where one of highlights was “High, Wide and a Handsome” show including Gladys Bentley, Ralph Brown, and Alma Smith. Willie Bryant provided the music for the show. The Connie’s Inn building went through changes and it worked as a supermarket during the last years.

The Lafayette Theatre building on August 21st 2012

The Lafayette Theatre building on August 21st 2012.

Lafayette Theatre was located next to Connie’s Inn at 2227 Seventh Avenue. Seventh Avenue was known as ‘Great Black Way’ opposing Broadway as ‘Great White Way’. Lafayette Theatre, which was built in 1912, was originally a segregated theatre for whites, but it desegregated by 1914 becoming possibly the most stylish African American showplace in Harlem. Apparently almost every noted African American performer in show business performed in Lafayette. The Lafayette Players, Harlem’s first legitimate African American theatre group, re-created Broadway shows like ‘Shuffle Along’ and ‘Hot Chocolates’. Because of the African American emphasis on the play script and acting, the Lafayette Players were able to express themselves such as they really were without pleasing white audiences with the African American stereotypes.

After the Schiffman family took over Lafayette Theatre in 1925, the theatre became the place of jazz with a slogan ‘A New Jazz Band Every Week’. Lafayette Theatre continued to showcase African American talent and included for example such billing as Fletcher Henderson’s Jazz Fantasy. When the Schiffmans moved their operations to the Apollo Theatre in 1935, Lafayette Theatre continued especially under Work Administration Project (WPA)-connected Negro Theatre Project until 1939. The Williams Christian Methodist Episcopal Church bought the Lafayette Theatre building in 1951. The Landmarks Preservation Commission’s staff rated the building as of “outstanding significance”, but it was never designated.

Hoofers’ Club was the place for serious Tap dancers between the 1920s and the 1940s. According to Laurence ‘Baby Lawrence’ Jackson, the club located in two different ends of Lafayette Theatre: first, it was located in the end where Bill Robinson later, in 1941, opened his Mimo Professional Club at 2237 Seventh Avenue, and then, finally, it was located in the end next to the Connie’s Inn building. Hoofers’ Club was basically a cellar room, which the piano playing proprietor Lonnie Hicks from Atlanta established for those who wanted to practice, watch and learn Tap for free. He made his business with the gambling upstairs. The Hoofers Club gathered Tap greats like King Rastus Brown, Eddie Rector, John W. Sublett known as Bubbles, Honi Coles, Raymond Winfield, Harold Mablin, Slappy Wallace, Roland Holder, and Laurence ‘Baby Lawrence’ Jackson. According to Jackson, the names of the great hoofers were scratched on the wall of the club. Hoofers’ Club was re-created in the 1984 movie, Cotton Club, which also included the original Hoofers’ Club dancer Honi Coles.

Here is a dance scene from the movie:

This article is based especially on the studies and articles as follows:

–       Jean and Marshall Stearns: Jazz Dance.

–       George Hoefer: Jazz Odyssey, Vol. 3: The Sound of Harlem.

–       Jervis Anderson: This was Harlem: A Cultural Portrait 1900-1950.

–       Terry Monaghan: “Stompin’ At the Savoy” -Remembering, Researching and Re-enacting the Lindy Hop’s relationship to Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom.

–       Streetscapes: Harlem’s Lafayette Theater; Jackhammering the Past by Christopher Gray from New York Times, November 11, 1990.

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A Few Words about Blues Dancing

Written (copyright) by Harri Heinila.

During the last decade the term ‘blues dancing’ has popped up in different occasions as the term has particularly been connected to the couple dance style which is mostly danced to blues music, and which reminds slow Lindy Hop.

After reading various accounts especially from the late Terry Monaghan who researched the Savoy Ballroom and its connections to different dances, and after interviewing Old Timers in New York, there seems to be a terminological simplification as different traditional dance styles have been merged together, and they are called as blues or blues dance or blues dancing.

It is quite clear that in New York there was no specific African American blues dance, with the exception of modern dance and ballet-based, in other words, not related to authentic jazz dance, “blues dances” like Alvin Ailey’s ‘Blues Suite’, until the 1970s when Pepsi Bethel obviously created a dance called Blues for his dance company. Monaghan claims that Bethel’s version had more common with ‘Walking The Floor’ dance. There, however, has been Blues Dance in Europe as you can see from this 1960s German clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXbiSL5jV4Q

Arthur Murray defines in his 1941 dance instruction book the dance called The St. Louis Shuffle which is basically the same than the Blues dance step in the beginning of the Ehepaar Fern clip. The St. Louis Shuffle is basically a Foxtrot variation, which, according to Murray, expresses the feel of blues music.

There also exist a few articles in the past, where are mentioned ‘blues’ as a dance, as far as ballroom dancing is concerned. For the U.K. scene the oldest article seems to be from 1923, where it is stated:

“The Blues is simply a particular kind of fox-trot played a quarter slower than an ordinary fox-trot and ‘jazzed up’ with quaint effect. The slower time makes possible the combination of a complete new set of steps to go with the music, and consequently many professional exponents have devised Blues dances of their own. There is, however, no universal dance called the Blues, and any couple trying one of  the new combinations with an alluring name in a big dance restaurant ballroom will probably find themselves in a minority of two.” (‘A Blues Dance Season. Some New Steps, But No New Dances.’ from The Observer, September 16, 1923, p. 9).

For the U.S. scene there is for example an article where it is stated:

“Beverly and Girard, will present their dancing specialities, which include the modern waltz, tango and blues dance.” (‘ “Pleasure” At Strand ‘ from The Washington Post, March 13, 1927, p. F1).

Concerning African American “blues dancing”, a source of confusion is Mura Dehn’s Spirit Moves where Mura Dehn connects as “Blues” to:

1. Ballroom dance which, according to Monaghan, was in effect a slow Lindy Hop danced with a triplet feel, and which was danced at the Savoy Ballroom.

2. different slow dances from the past. Monaghan argues that those dances were especially “Fish-Tail” –type of dancing which became the ‘dancing-on-the-dime’ practice in the dance halls in 1900-1920, and Slow Drag or Grind in the post-World War II period.

There is a description about Slow Drag in John W. Roberts’ ‘From Hucklebuck to Hip-Hop’, where it is stated: “The Slow Drag was a dance done to slow and romantic songs and was always done by couples who held each other as close as could be gotten away with. Some indicated that the Slow Drag partner was carefully selected to show either strong romantic attraction or to signal an existing relationship…When you slow dragged, you slow dragged with a person that you really liked, you didn’t just Slow Drag with everybody”.

Monaghan states concerning the African American “blues dancing” term confusion, “The practitioners and Internet contributors, who use this term have clearly departed from the approach of the early 1980s enthusiasts, who attempted to revive the use of original dance names out of respect for the tradition.” That is true to the historical accuracy, too.

This short article is based especially on the studies and articles as follows:

–     Terry Monaghan: Stompin’ At The Savoy – Remembering, Researching and Re-enacting the Lindy Hop’s relationship to Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom from 2002.

–     John W. Roberts: From Hucklebuck to Hip-hop from 1995.

–    The discussion thread: http://www.yehoodi.com/comment/82776/clips-which-embody-blues-dancing/

–   Arthur Murray: How to Become a Good Dancer from 1941.

– ‘A Blues Dance Season. Some New Steps, But No New Dances.’ from The Observer, September 16, 1923, p. 9.

– ‘ “Pleasure” At Strand ‘ from The Washington Post, March 13, 1927, p. F1.

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Google Historians

Written (copyright) by Harri Heinila

As I have worked with my PhD dissertation, which combines dance, politics and culture in the context of Authentic Jazz Dance and Harlem, I have gone through many different opinions about dance and its surrounding environment where the internet discussions are concerned. One striking feature in these opinions has been how easily these “researchers” speak about their subject. Even large subjects are explained easily like they are simple entities, not complicated and versatile subjects at all. Anybody, who has lived this life by somehow looking at what happens in this world, realizes that life is not a simple thing to perceive. So, how history can be that?

That is why it has been amazing how so-called “Google historians” have succeeded in promoting their “truths” about history. The term “Google historian” was invented by dance historian Peter Loggins, who was getting tired about people, who “googled” his research results and advertised those as their own. He had a site called ‘Dancehistory.org’ which he closed down years ago after these occasions. As I was one of writers in his site, I first felt that was unfair to us, other writers in the site. After years I have understood that more and more. Why do you give information to others who do not even mention your name when they promote those results as their own?

It is very easy to be a “dance historian”: you can get details from here and there and put them together as a story. Basically, you need not to analyze how those details match to other details of the subject and to the surrounding environment, and to the earlier research about your subject. If you can sell the story to people, who do not know enough about the subject, it is that easy: you created “history”.

Just some examples about this: first, the Charleston and speakeasies. I have been astonished how easily people accept the story about the Charleston was largely done in speakeasies. Anybody, who has researched the Charleston and how it was danced, knows how the Charleston was banned from ballrooms because it was too wild for dance floors. How is it possible that it was done in speakeasies then? It is quite logical that speakeasies were places which were hidden. If they had trouble with dancers, it was over, when officials got idea about that. So, speakeasy owners likely did not want any trouble. Think about that.

Secondly, I know people who have taught Chorus line routines (or Chorus girls routines) to ordinary people, even if they have never talked with any chorus line dancers or even have never seen any living one. That is like anybody can learn to dance those routines. That is something which really underrates what chorus line dancers did. Basically, if those people do not know anything about chorus lines, but they have seen in YouTube, why to go to their lessons? You can do the same by looking those chorus line clips in YouTube.

Thirdly, some people claim that they teach Savoy Ballroom style Lindy Hop, even if those people never have been at the Savoy Ballroom or even never have seen the building. Are they really “authentic” in what they are teaching? For example, I have learned from dancers who have been at the Savoy Ballroom. Can I claim that I teach Savoy Ballroom style Lindy Hop? Definitely NOT. I can only claim that I teach what I have learned and made by myself. Think about it.

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