Harlem's swing jazz is still the heartbeat of swing dance, a craze that originated in the 1930s taking its name from a transatlantic flyer. In the 1980s it experienced a resurgence in popularity and continues to be a favorite to this day. The high-flying one, two, quick step is still the standard for the 80th anniversary celebration of the Savoy Ballroom.
This history was revealed by an panel presented by The New York Swing Dance Society on Saturday, March 12, 2006 at the Croatia Center. The panel was followed by the most packed "Social Swing Dance" the city has seen since the Society started taking Irving Plaza and turning it into a dance ballroom once a month.
Founder Margaret Batiuchok explained how she gave up a medical career, and wrote a master's thesis on the Lindy Hop. With partner George Ball, Batiuchok was part of the first interracial couple to win the Harvest Moon Ball.
Darlene Gist, the only black woman on the panel was inspired by Mama Lu Parks. She recollected being enthralled by what she called "fast dancing as a teen, but discovered New York's style to be much faster!
Larry Schultz recounted his experience inviting Al Minns out of retirement to teach in his wife, Sarah Cameron's Dance Center in 1982. Their dance events became the place where many dancers congregated. This meeting place resulted in Frankie Manning, an original member of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, being asked to choreograph dances for the Broadway show "Black and Blue.
Chester Whitmore, an fast-talking humorist, captured everyone's attention by speed talking through wonderful stories of his chance meeting with movie star and dancer Fayard Nicholas, his attempts at teaching ballet great, Nureyev, to swing, "vernacular dance, and partner dancing with himself. His hands roamed up and down his back to places a polite dancer would not allow!
And from London the Savoy Ballroom webmaster Terry Monaghan described tracking down hundreds of musicians including Eddie Durham with the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band, and dancer Norma Miller.
Swede Catrine Ljunggren was inspired by a swing dance movie to seek out Savoy originals. She brought Frankie Manning over for one week and now hosts the Herrang Dance Camp with an attendance of 450 international swing dancers a week for four weeks.
Peter Loggins, a "neo-swinger, who loved the Royal Crown Revue explained that he and his friends just wanted to dress up in 30's attire, drive vintage cars, and dance to rockabilly. Now he directs the California Jazz Dance Foundation.
Film clips brought to life the vibrant mood from that historic era. Snips from Rufus Jones for President included Sammy Davis Jr as a child. A Day at the Races showed what Hollywood did to black Swing. A 1939 World's Fair Pavilion newsreel, though silent, revealed couples challenging each other to do their best. The Harlem Blues and Jazz Band performing for Mama Lu Parks at the Village Gate in 1988 and "The Moochers dancing as winners of the American Lindy Hop Connecticut Convention in 1998 were the best examples.
Elliott Donnelley, an avid San Francisco organizer who produced the successful Basie Centennial at Columbia University, co-conceived the weekend events with Chad Fasca (a Cameron Dance Center instructor) and Terry Monaghan, as a way to raise awareness about the cultural legacy surrounding the Savoy Ballroom. David Rosenstock was in charge of turning the Croatia Center into a ballroom.
Dancer turned author, Norma Miller autographed copies of her 1996 paperback, Swingin' at the Savoy: The Memoirs of a Jazz Dancer. Ernie Smith, an avid film collector, said, "Norma Miller's memoir takes you, step-by-step, through the glorious Lindy Hop years of the Swing Era. She was there. Her recollections illuminate one of the great periods in music, cultural history, and American dance. Look for Miller's next book "Stompin' at the Savoy.
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