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

Written and copyright by Harri Heinila

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Crisis of Swing

Written and copyright by Harri Heinila.

The whole May 2015 was dedicated to the celebration of Frankie Manning, Savoy Lindy Hopper and Whitey’s Lindy Hopper, who is commonly considered the Ambassador of the Lindy Hop among so-called swing dancers. Manning, who passed in 2009, left countless number 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 on 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 organized? 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 to 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 to 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 respectful 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 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 to 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 kinds 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 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 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 at 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 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 do not have 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 of 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 for the 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 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 there has been historically important activity. It is a huge task to map and preserve all those places.

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

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Mama Lou Parks by Terry Monaghan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Afterthoughts from Frankie100

Written (copyright) by Harri Heinila

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By the way, here is the Apollo Theater show. It is the same 10pm show that I’m talking about. You can make your own judgement on how it really was. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_-AP8u1R94

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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.


– 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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