Swingin’ at the Savoy is a beautiful memoir of one of the greatest Lindy Hop dancers of all time. Ms. Miller was not only one of the dancers that defined Lindy Hop, but as Lindy Hop faded for a while post World War II, she launched a career as a Jazz Dancer.
It’s a real treat to see a slice of history that’s so important to American partner dancing through the eyes of one of its early practitioners.
I was especially touched by being able to catch a glimpse of what it was like to be a strong woman of color in a male-dominated world. Ms. Miller jumps from the pain of the internal politics of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers to the joy of dancing to Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman to tales of traveling overseas.
There is, unsurprisingly, a good amount of overlap between this memoir and Frankie Manning’s Ambassador of Lindy Hop. Having read them both, I feel like they complement each other and help paint the picture of the early Lindy Hop scene from somewhat different perspectives.
I grew up listening to and playing Big Band Music – Count Basie, Glen Miller, and Duke Ellington were some of my favorites in the genre, and she met and danced to them all live. Even though I built music4dnace.net in part to be able to find songs to dance to that aren’t part of the genre that they evolved with, one of the reasons I was attracted to Swing dancing in the first place is my love for Swing Music.
Another tidbit in this memoir was the mention of the “Savoy Hostesses” and the fact that you could purchase a dance with one for a quarter. They would even teach you to dance if necessary. This was the first I had seen of historical backing for the core plot line of a fun coming-of-age novel I read a while back called Ten Cents a Dance. Set in a 1940’s Chicago dance hall, the main character is something like what Ms. Miller describes as the Savoy Hostess. Of course, as I write this, I realize I must not have done even a light search on the background when I read the book. There is plenty of information about “Taxi Dancers” and even a song, a film, and another book called “Ten Cents a Dance,” all about dance hostesses or taxi dancers.
Swingin’ at the Savoy also includes a preface and epilogue that give some great context. “Portrait of the Swing Era” has a bunch of great tidbits, including some history of the Jitterbug that I’m hoping to do some more reading on and share with you. And “The Future of the Lindy and The New York Swing Dance Society” puts some perspective on the New York Swing revival.
Overall, Swingin’ the Savoy is an enlightening read about a fantastic woman.
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