Tag Archives: Lindy Hop

Book Review: Swingin’ at the Savoy: The Memoir of a Jazz Dancer

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 BasieGlen 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.

As always, I’m interested in your feedback, so please share any thoughts and ideas about this post or the site by commenting below or using other feedback mechanisms listed here. In addition, if you enjoy the site or the blog (or both), please consider contributing in whatever way that makes sense for you.

Swingin’ at the Savoy: Paperback Edition

Swingin’ at the Savoy: Audible

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Ask music4dance: Should you add a Single Swing Dance category?

Arne had another great question (paraphrased): I see Single Swing being danced a lot these days.  Should music4dance add another swing category? Is Single Swing a local thing, national, really new? Do people still dance triple-step Swing?

Here is a slightly cleaned-up version of my response:

East Coast Swing (the triple step variety) is a competition dance, so it’s still being danced regularly in ballroom environments. But the Lindy revival of the ’90s seems to have dominated the social swing scene from what I can tell.

In the ballroom community that I learned to dance in during the ’90s, they used the term East Coast Swing to refer to the competition dance, which was definitely a triple-swing. But if one was dancing socially to music too fast to comfortable dance triple swing, you would revert to something they were calling Single Swing or East Coast Single Swing or some variation on that.

I fell down a rabbit hole, trying to see if my recollection had anything to do with current thinking on this. This video shows a “Single Swing” basic that is exactly what I think of as Single Swing. Duet Dance and DanceTime both have descriptions of various kinds of swings. They seem to agree that what I think of as Single Swing could also be reasonably called “The Jitterbug” (which I had thought was just a different name for Lindy Hop). As with any of this stuff, the history is so twisted up that there probably isn’t a correct answer, or if there is, it would require a historian to dig up.

Even without adding a new dance, you should be able to find some good ideas for Single Swings by searching for generic Swing in the tempo range between 140 and 184 MPM. When I first responded to Arne, I had broken that feature, but it’s now up and running again. So you can go to the Advanced Search Page, choose Swing in the dances section, and type in the tempo range you’d like to filter on. 

I am interested in incorporating Single Swing into the music4dance catalog. Should I do this as Jitterbug or Single Swing or by adding single and triple tags to East Coast Swing? I’d love to get others’ thoughts on this so please feel free to send feedback.

Asking to add a new dance style to the catalog is certainly in the top ten questions I’ve been getting. So I’ve been working on streamlining how I manage dance information to make that easier. Most of this work has been under the hood (although the bug mentioned above was one side effect). One of the more visible aspects of this is a small redesign of the Dance Styles page to simplify it a bit and hopefully make it a little more usable.

As always, I’m very interested in your feedback, so please share any thoughts and ideas you have about this post or the site by commenting below or using other feedback mechanisms listed here. In addition, if you enjoy the site or the blog (or both), please consider contributing in whatever way that makes sense for you.

Dance as Language

I was delighted to find that the folks at the Rough Translation podcast produced an episode called May We Have This Dance?  For those who haven’t heard of it, Rough Translation describes itself as “a podcast about cultural mistranslation and what we can learn from them.”

In this episode, they explore the Lindy Hop and its odd evolution from a dance created by African Americans in 1920s Harlem to its revival when it was adopted by the Scandinavians (and others) in the 1990s.  Not being from either culture, I don’t feel equipped to talk about the core of the cultural issues addressed in the podcast and accompanying article.  But I would recommend both Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop and Stompin’ at the Savoy if the podcast piques your interest in the origins of the whole swing family of dances.  In addition, I haven’t read Swingin’ the Savoy yet but it is definitely going into my queue.

I will say that I particularly liked the discussion at about 30 minutes into the podcast about when LaTasha and Felix clicked as dance partners and dance became like a conversation.  I feel like the best of my social partner dancing has felt like speaking a language that’s more expressive than English.

Definitely check out the reference material they have at the end – if you haven’t seen the Lindy Hop sequence from Hellzapoppin, you’re in for a real treat and the clip of LaTasha and Felix was lots of fun as well.

Finally – they provided a list of LaTasha’s favorite music to dance to which I added to the music4dance catalog and then exported as a Spotify playlist.

As always, I’m happy for feedback and if you enjoy the site or the blog, please consider contributing in whatever way that makes sense for you.

The Pink Martini Solution

Not all artists are created equal when it comes to creating dance-able music.  For instance, one of my favorite artists of all time is John Coltrane.  Do you see him well represented in the music4dance catalog?  Absolutely not.   Because a consistent tempo just isn’t a core part of his music.  Which is part of the appeal when listening, but doesn’t work particularly well when trying to Lindy Hop.

Towards the opposite end of the spectrum, sits Pink Martini.  They are a band that plays a combination of original works and updated covers of classic melodies.  Many of both types of song are in a musical style that co-evolved with a partner dance.  Take “Let’s Never Stop Falling In Love“, which is a classic Tango if I ever did hear one, but still has the unique Pink Martini flare.  Or “Amado Mio“, which has a extremely dance-able Rumba beat.  And don’t forget “Hang On Little Tomato“, a wonderful Foxtrot as long as you can dance through the lyrics without cracking up, or possibly tearing up.  That little tomato has quite a challenge ahead of him!  And if you are up for a challenge yourself, try to West Coast Swing to “Hey Eugene” while keeping a straight face.

Pink Martini’s catalog is both broad and deep and most of their songs are well suited to partner dances.  Check them out on music4dance.net and if you like what you hear, let me know and I’ll catalog some more of their songs.