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Did Lindy Hop Really Die? I mean REALLY..... What the Fudge! "Alive and Kicking" - Part 3

Lindy Hop Died?  Find the tombstone please...

Don't get me wrong here - I love the film Alive and Kicking and what it offers as a glimpse of whats happening now.  Do I like everything in there as far as whats stated?  Nope but that doesn't take away from the film. For me this is still a lively, exciting telling film that is riveting!  Its a scene that all can learn from.  How someone could say it "fell flat" is beyond me!

This was a statement made to me after the Harlem Q & A Talkback.  I was supposed to "take a more forceful position" stronger in "my stand" - stronger or forceful about what?  That was my second time seeing the film and I learned a bit more (despite the enthusiasm/noise of the audience).  As stated in Part One of this series sound bites can be tricky.... but nothing I said in the film was twisted or slanted.

(Though at one point I thought it was but that was cleared up - I must have blinked and missed something while viewing the film LOL)

With my first Talk Back experience I had no idea what would be asked.... yet I definitely wasn't going to "spill the beans" on what The Harlem Swing Dance Society (THSDS) would be doing strategically in our current situation.  Wonder of wonders THSDS had a few frenemies present - black and white!  With them being destructive in the past (and currently) there was no way I would gladly add fuel to their fire on a silver platter...

My short presence on the screen was a nice enough disdain for them :>)

More on my experiences at the other two Talk Backs in another Musing.  Quite different in ways but equally as telling .

And just so you know: If I ever have the opportunity again to be in a film themed on Lindy Hop/Swing Dance I'd be happy and honored.


At Deaths Door?

Did Lindy Hop really die?  AROUND the WORLD?  You see where I'm going with this.Truly that depends on where you were at during the scene in its heyday and what you saw afterwards... what has been recorded for later viewing .  Thank God for Youtube and folks posting and sharing, sometimes not even knowing the historical significance.

Anyway, to the point that it didn't die or happen like that worldwide: For those perhaps caught up in either emotion, following others and/or in La La Land you'd believe that.

You would also believe that if you didn't do your homework or truly think about it.

Lets simply go into 2 sub-categories.  Do this for the area you are from and see what you come up with...
  • Social Dancing
Lets talk Harlem: Harlem had over 30 ballrooms at one point (some elders tell me there was more).  The Golden Gate was down the street form the Savoy, yet NO ONE talks of this.  It was also run by Moe Gale and was BIGGER than the Savoy (estimated 6,000 plus some have said)!  The Rockland Palace was the largest; it could fit 7000 or more.  So what does that tell you?  Simply put Harlem was a dancing place or capital!

These ballrooms gradually were demolished and disappeared.  Does this mean that Lindy Hop/Swing dancing and or social dancing followed in the same manner?  NO

There was always a group that danced socially Swing dancing in Harlem in differing venues. The spots were smaller than ballrooms thats all.  And, with time, the crowd got smaller.... BUT it didn't die out.  Folks did teach one another the dance and they went places.  But the facts do show it wasn't passed down like it could have or should have been for social dancing...yet and still it never died.

When Smalls Paradise was open there'd be dancing there with a band in the 70's and 80's.  This is where Larry Schulz saw Al Minns dancing in the crowd.... he was so stunning to Larry that he stood out.  What happened next you'll find out in another post..... ;>)

Smalls Paradise  - in the late 70's, early 1980's.... before a certain someone became a "god" on the scene.  

If you believe Lindy Hop Land stories because certain individuals were secularly working and/or not getting jobs - and that the dance (socially or otherwise) stopped..... well thats ridiculous!  You need to really calm down and think....

So there goes that so called "Death Warrant" on Lindy Hop/Swing dancing folks.  Other facts on this is in - for starters - Terry Monaghan's writings, Harri Heinili's thesis (free online). And  its in bios, interviews, magazine articles and other books in the library!  There are quite a few BLACK historians on dance and culture who could tell you different too.  Folks in Harlem who were at Jazzmobile from its humble beginnings in the 60's recall folks "dancing in the street" and their events

Need we say more?  NO - do your homework!
  • Performance

The seeming story in Lindy Hop Land is that after the Savoy Ballroom was torn down that was it.  Frankie was in the post office.... Norma - and she'll say it - "couldn't find jobs". So thats that Nothing happened fr close to 30 yrs fable that seems to have snowballed.

Are you kidding?  Thats the last nonsense our Harlem community needs to hear and have our young people start to believe... 

Folks found jobs, were creative enough to make a knitch . This was in Harlem, all over the US, Europe and even in Sweden ....

Who was that?!

The Mama Lu Parks Dancers 

THIS is incredible history for all but especially Harlemites and folks of color who need to see images of themselves - most times - as a catalyst to be excited about the dance.  More on this Lady - Louise Parks Duncanson - and her historic dancers will be coming in another post  but just for starters here: 

  • Her group of dancers started after the Savoy in 1959/1960 (The Lou Parks Dancers, The Parkettes; Mama Lu Parks and her Jazz Dancers - as well as other incarnations)
  • They were a staple at the Apollo Theater - YES on the Marquee
  • Here dancers were the formation and basis for the next 15 years of the famous Harvest Moon Ball (HMB) Lindy Hop competition portion (hosted by The Daily News)
  • Ms. Parks had her own Harvest Moon Ball for some years!  
  • Her teachers included George Sullivan, Delma "Big Nick" Nickerson and Lee Moates - all HMB Champs who helped further Champions and Winners. Even Sugar Sullivan and Barbara Billups helped out 
  • Jiving Lindy Hoppers (JLH) - yes theres a connection - and lessons went on to JLH members
  • They were at the Nixon Inauguration Ball (1968), in the Olympics ceremony in Mexico , were in Africa for the Ali Fight (1974)...  were in a Super Bowl parade....

There is so much more info - and many of the dancers are still here to tell it. And there are dancers who were with her who were inspired to teach others in Harlem over the years.  Her dancers' personal archives are priceless!  Some footage exists online and/or in special public libraries; others are in private exquisite collections worthy of a museum.  But you can certainly read about them if you do your homework  :>)

Sonny Allen and the Rockets
Sonny Allen is walking Harlem History.  He did a recent interview online but Google him also and see what you find.  Or take a little time to talk wtih him

After he won the Harvest Moon Ball Championship (within 9 months) in 1958 he eventually got an act together and took it on the road.  They performed the Lindy Hop keeping it alive amongst singing and other dancing.  They were in Canada and other parts of the US doing their contribution to keeping the dance alive well into the 60's and early 70's.  Sonny, Sugar Sullivan and Barbara Billups are full of stories of performing and the exciting times they had!

Both of these groups are connected to Harlem and we are hoping that whomever is with us will document this - like yesterday :>).


So: Why didn't Norma or Frankie find jobs?  Maybe it was just those select time periods... whom they dealt with?..... or maybe they were getting "too old" for certain establishments???  

Or maybe...JUST MAYBE.... a slew of new fresh younger dancers with a different hook and take just excited entertainment folks more locally and elsewhere?

If your a believer in Lindy Hop Land stories that say because certain individuals were working and/or not getting jobs thats why "Lindy Hop stopped" - ya need to stop.  Thats ludicrous!

Ya think...

Now about that TRIFECTA

The 3 things mentioned that help propel life into the dead Lindy Hop scene in perhaps your neck of the woods - according to the dancer - was this: 

The Gap Commercial, Swing Kids film and another swing documentary (sorry can't recall name).


All well in good - to whom it applies.  Most Harlemites weren't gonna see Swing Kids. However the Gap commercial was popular hands down (and was blasted on TV screens non stop)

Now: What COULD HAVE (or should have) helped black folks in Harlem and elsewhere get back into the swing of things more so were these films - 

The Ballroom dance scene in the film Malcom X, and the dancing scenes in Idlewild.

For me... in retrospect...Janet Jackson's "Alight" video had every Harlem element in it BUT Lindy Hop!  She could have made a difference or impact, but maybe that just went over her head ...
You mean she couldn't find Norma Miller or any other Dancing Diva besides Cyd Charrise?!  
Well what can you say....Maybe her situation perhaps was like the film makers with "Hidden Figures": They had an ad out looking for Black Lindy Hoppers when they were making the film. You see where that idea eventually went....and where that "scene" is in the film right?

Obviously they didn't look hard enough.  Black dancers are a "pinhead" in the grand equation... but low and behold we are here!  Bless'm though for not using a Spanish Swing dancer and saying she or he was "light-skinned". Yet maybe they had googled and saw so many non black dancers, and gave up hope.....Surely "they are all gone" they could have concluded...


So - again: What happened to Black Lindy Hop Dancers in general .... especially in Harlem??

Bits and pieces will be examined - and probably a full Blog post  - in the future.  Obviously something didn't take or catch on as it could have or perhaps should have after Ms. Parks died. But did the responsibility fall (or have to) on her noteworthy efforts?  Its a tricky subject to get out of folks - but if you do you get some varying explanations. Perhaps it just wasn't encouraged on differing levels and locales.... or where it would have made the difference  - in households....

In a nutshell it died down - but it didn't die in Harlem.  Thats facts.

However one thing is for Sure: Black folks cannot blame Lindy Hop Land or white dancers for something that should have been of importance on their own heritage chain. My people have to look in our own families or inner circles to see where the ball was dropped - and why. 


Don't Believe the Hype

Most Newbies to the Swing World  - or perhaps those in other countries who are relatively new - are hanging on to certain peoples words like the holy grail on this topic.  And thats the sickening thing; they are believing it and passing it down and around.  Maybe because of the language difference and not having certain resources they can't do the proper homework?  Ya think...   you have to wonder....

We'll allow that as a plausible possible explanation to a certain extent.  Clearly there is an agenda to spread some out and out lies from those who should know better.  Individuals and/or organizations.

Letting the fudge jobs continue so strong that, like a bad rumor, it seems to become a "truth".

All we can say is if you come to Harlem with the nonsense you'll be called out on it nicely but pitifully by us - and harshly by others.

With the flood of propaganda from entities out here.... there needs to be more appreciation and dialogue about the dance to get more of color involved. Thanks to Alive and Kicking dialogue has begun and that can and should help.  Screening parties with panel discussions in areas to begin to understand the history and dynamics is great!

To be honest a slew of palefaces doing and teaching "their" dance much better than they/black folks can is not the automatic "fix" that can help.  This is not meant as a cut against noteworthy efforts and boundaries that have been broken.  Its truly important, and in time Black folks will know or sense whether they are truly welcome.... or if its only their ka - ching...

Likewise destructive black dancers on the scene won't help either. How so?  What are they doing?! This will be examined ever so cleverly in future posts (just one won't do it!).  This has now become a delicate yet urgent process folks, but for The Harlem Swing Dance Society it can and must be analyzed and done.  You all are certainly welcome to your opinions once that is out :>)

Stay tuned for MORE in this month of May that will surely bust some more folks' egos and bubbles - and will have newbies stunned and reeling (who may have been duped).

Hey just remember - don't shoot the messenger ok?



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  2. Thank you for writing about a subject which has been dominated for a long time by those who are considered 'rock stars', 'swing dance superstars', ' "legitimate" swing dance historians' etc., you name them. Anyway, people who seldom has proper knowledge of the subject, but they are very popular among the great, mainly white "swing dance" audience because of their dance, promotion etc. similar, non-research-related skills.

    Thank you also for mentioning me in your article. My doctoral dissertation and its upcoming continuation try to refresh the spirits of Harlem jazz dance research which has been downplayed for years because of the "white" interpretation of Harlem jazz dance history which you may call also 'swing dance' history. To me, the term ‘jazz dance’ is more appropriate as a term for the Harlem dance history. The interpretation has distorted the history in the way where certain jazz dance characters have been overplayed, and their achievements are exaggerated. That does not exclude their role in Harlem jazz dance history, but their overwhelming presence when compared to other crucial characters in the history has clearly decreased the interest in still living dance legends, and in underrated and unknown parts of the history. You may talk about an unbalanced history, and that is the case as to Harlem jazz dance history and particularly to the Lindy Hop history. It is our jazz dance historians' task to write and rewrite it for most parts.

    It is sad to notice that there is no funding for Harlem jazz dance research in the form of grants. The most realistic funding options are either lotteries or GoFund etc. similar campaigns. In order to succeed in the latter, you have to please the "great, mostly white audience" which expects, excuse my expression, "a-s kissing" and overrating the characters they consider essential, as based on the fact, that these characters have known how to be friends with the audience for years, and that has been part of their success among the audience.

    It is another story why the interest in "authentic" jazz dances like the Lindy Hop waned in Harlem. It should be noted that the interest in modern dance and also ballet increased hugely in Harlem during the decades when the interest in the Lindy Hop and other jazz dances decreased. Some also say that 'hip hop' dancing destroyed the Harlem partner dancing. When you talk with Old-timers, this comes up often. I would say that the waning interest in partner dancing was a worldwide phenomenon, so the waning interest in the Lindy Hop in Harlem was part of this trend. I think that you can blame the Harlem Renaissance Movement and its descendants that they neglected Harlem jazz dances. They acknowledged the dances mainly as "low culture", instead of promoting Harlem jazz dances like the Lindy Hop as remarkable cultural achievements. In other words, part of the Harlem "high culture". If that had happened, in particular, the Lindy Hop had been embedded in the Harlem culture in such a way that it had stood the hard times. Because there was no proper promotion by the Harlem Renaissance, the Lindy Hop stayed as a fad which was exposed to changes in fashion.

    I wish you good luck in your endeavors to get the Lindy Hop, and hopefully also other Harlem jazz dances back to Harlem. It is hard times now, but the future can be better if we keep researching and also interviewing Old-timers for finding out how it really was in Harlem, and we provide that information for those who are willing to listen to us.

    Harri Heinila,

    Harlem jazz dance researcher and historian,
    Doctor of Social Sciences, political history, the University of Helsinki.

  3. Your welcome! Things are looking up and moving forward for Harlem despite certain obstacles and propaganda that can do damage. Rebuilding has its challenges, successes and rewards:>)


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