Skip to main content

Chopping it Up: Having Fun and Reminiscing with Lindy Hop Great George Sullivan

George Who?

Step Back; Kick, Double Kick….

That little ditty and cutey of a song was popularized in Harlem years ago for a Charleston “stop” routine, which later came to be known as “First Stops”.  Its song author is George Sullivan.

George Sullivan has outlived many of his male legendary and famous peers of the late 1940’s/1950’s era of the Savoy Ballroom, but we are grateful he can tell so many of the missing links that greater Lindy Hop Land seems to neglect. 

He got into Lindy Hop by accident – literally.  His wife had a bad fall with her then partner Delma “Big Nick” Nicholson.  Big Nick went on and got someone else for the upcoming Harvest Moon Ball, and George (a Non Lindy Hopper) volunteered to step in.  Sugar Sullivan laughed heartily at that notion, but low and behold they were on the stage at Madison Square Garden a few weeks later!  With more time, practice and determination (and a few years) they won the 1955 Harvest Moon Ball as Champions - WOW!

They are the only Harvest Moon Ball Champions  - in any category - to be featured on Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town twice doing Harlem’s famed dance!

A little Q & A for Starters

This day in Florida the jazz was HOT and pounding on the street from his boom box.  His business partner was there as I approached – according to George with perfect timing – as they were discussing his dance career and the woman was in serious doubt about it.  My laptop opened, I got the video going and her jaw dropped.  The video performance from the Ed Sullivan show (Toast of the Town) had to be repeated three times as this woman was in shock and kept muttering “I don’t believe it… that’s his smile … that’s you?!”  She kept repeating in awe…

George just sat on the side in his chair howling, cracking up with joy like he just won the lottery!

Choppin' it Up

Afterwards we chatted and reminisced about a few matters related to Harlem, The Savoy Ballroom, Mama Lu Parks and her dancers… and his contributions with her dancers.  Also the Harvest Moon Ball (HMB) and his buddies who were like brothers to him...

So The Savoy was really the place?

You betcha – we were there at least 8 hours a day!  We went in early and practiced…. When the kids (Sherry and Gerry) were babies and toddlers they were there in the corner on a blanket or crawling around.    We went home very late, maybe got 4 hours sleep and were back there as soon as they opened.  We were serious, in love with the dance, the music and all of it.  That’s why the Savoy has been referred to as Home from so many.  When it was torn down it was a tough blow

You and who else from the guys of the 1950's Savoy Ballroom era helped Mama Lu Parks and her dancers get ready for the Harvest Moon Ball each year? 

It was me, Big Nick and Lee Moates.   We were there for the most part regularly. Those were some fun days; I miss them like brothers. 

Thankfully footage has been preserved for folks to see in the documentary film “Spirit Moves” of both of these legendary great dancers.  Its so good to hear from you what else they had done critically for Harlem outside of the film! Sugar is in the film dancing her way around but you are seen in glimpses in the background observing and such.  How come you didn’t get in the Jam Circle?

I couldn’t sell myself like that.  See that lady (Mura Dehn) was throwing bills at the dancers to get them to go “perform” and dance in front of the cameras.  I couldn’t demean myself; I had my pride.

I see and great you didn’t - and kept your stand.   Now getting back to the HMB: Why do you think Lee Moates never won?

Well truth be told he was shorter than us and we danced in front of him!  At a certain angle looking up from the judge’s vantage point you had to make an impression and get their attention.  Poor guy was blocked by 6 footers and up (giggling).

With the Mama Lu Parks Dancers and the new Harlem youngsters who showed interest, how did you prep for them for the Harvest Moon Ball?

Oh I pushed them, I was tough!  They are telling you the truth when they say we were hard on them.  But we wanted that tradition to go on forever for Harlem and them to be serious about it.  NO couple went out there unless they were ready!  Those were magical times

And that little tune you had for them...

It helped drill the steps and all into their memories.  Those were exciting and thrilling times, especially when we walked them home from the Savoy (Manor) over the 145th Street bridge still singing and stepping at times.  I'll never forget it. 

Its great that despite the accident and Sugar you were all able to remain friends within that classic Savoy 1950's group that remains cherished on film. 

We had integrity to the dance, Harlem and the legacy.  We really helped each other out and knew the importance of Harlem keeping the Harvest Moon Ball crown. I miss all the people who are no longer with us, but I am glad you are asking about them and want to get it down right for the future...

The Harlem Swing Dance Society sure does want to get it down correctly and appreciates so many like George Sullivan who take the time talking with us.  There is much more to this interview that will be coming up another post.  


Popular posts from this blog

In Remembrance of Ruby Reeves

Ruby Reeves went to Smalls Paradise in the 1980s and  witnessed the transition of social dancing going from uptown to downtown. She knew Mama Lu Parks and many of  the regular Monday night Harlem crowd that listened and danced to Al Cobbs Band. She performed professionally doing the Tranky Doo (or her version  the Cranky Doodle").   It has been stated but not confirmed that she was also part of the 1982 famous Harvest Moon Ball dance competition.  But b ack in 1988 when a tribute was given to Mama Lu ( Tapping Through an Evening in Honor of Mama Lu Parks )   she was in grand company Naturally she saw and experienced the "exodus" of Harlem's dance traveling from uptown to downtown. And uptown folk seemingly going with the flow because - in her words - "we weren't doing anything in our community".  Thus part of the sad rea

The Call of the Jitterbug Kids!

Dominick Robinson, Matthew Cherrington, Jessica Hand, Coral Foxworth, Kelly Robinson and Matthew Hunt "I've never heard of them!" people retort.  Well you missed out to a degree but they were part of Harlem's 20th century Lindy Hop story... perhaps rightfully so the 5th generation to keep the culture going  :>) The  Jitterbug  Kids were founded in 2001/2002 and were a group of 8...ranging in the ages of 7 to 10 years old. They were a fixture in Harlem and in NYC, performing at public and private events. Sarina Robinson started the group one year after she was inspired to start taking Lindy Hop/Swing Dance classes.  Having a Dance Studio helped as she gathered this group of children and trained them at dance workshops for one year. Then they were off! While they have grown up to be young ladies and gents they influenced many and got the attention of young and old alike.  These exciting and fun memories and groundwork that was established never

With Gratitude for Norma Miller: A Giving Spirit NEVER to be forgotten

This past Sunday on CBS (CBS Sunday Morning Show)   they mentioned our dear friend and supporter. Yes they again honorably mentioned Norma Miller as one of our beloved ones that we - and the whole world - lost this last year. As 2020 is about to begin we share some thoughts about the fantastic Queen of Swing.  Seeing her relaxed and chilling, shooting the breeze in her home surroundings.... talking excitedly and lovingly about her new home of Italy and her friends there.... creating and writing new songs... new projects and ideas... looking forward to more and more... Norma with some of her Harlem show-biz friends, representing the Cotton Club, Tap, Lindy Hop and more... Norma performing in Italy during 2019 However of the times we were visiting Norma in her personal sanctuary, one of the most precious and memorable was with Sugar Sullivan.   Both busy Queen Be