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Introducing: INTEGRATED RHYTHM Podcast!

December 3, 2020

Associate Professor, instructor, and swing and Zambian heritage dancer CHISOMO SELEMANI and I are proud to introduce INTEGRATED RHYTHM, a new weekly podcast where two swing dancing besties navigate race and the Black Experience in the world of Jazz Dance and other Afro-centric social dancing.

We will mostly spend our time interviewing a range of guests inside and outside of the Jazz dance scene, making bad puns, and occasionally singing. The goal is comfortable conversations about uncomfortable things.

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The Legacy of Norma

December 2, 2020

Happy Birthday Norma!

The following recollections were part of a eulogy for Norma Miller published at Swungover in 2019. You can see the full essay here

Norma grew up Black and a woman trying to pave her way through the 20th century. It was very important for her to connect with Black people in the swing scene, especially women. In honor of her struggle and the legacy she passed on, here are some reflections of only a *fraction* of the many Black women whose lives were significantly touched by Norma.

Mic & Normajpg.jpgMickey Davidson was a Norma Miller Dancer in the 1980s and since has followed in Norma’s footsteps, managing groups, choreographing, teaching, and touring with jazz dance and Lindy Hop ever since. She was one of the people closest to Norma.

“I had a 34-year journey with Norma as two hustling artists — Norma, coming from the past into the present, and me, in the present going into the future. Many things Norma did to keep working are things I do to keep working. As Dianne McIntyre said:  ‘Mickey reinvents herself.’ Norma did that many times during her 99 years on the planet. I saw America through Norma, as how some things changed and other things have not, but have a different spin to them.

“Norma, like many performers of her generation, are complex people. Few of us get the full picture of who they are from the inside out, the private person, their public persona, and as citizens of these United States. Norma’s life was in the entertainment trenches. Managing her own creative life and creating her own opportunities, Norma took on the role model responsibilities, as did many entertainers of color did, representing her community because few got the chance to see the world the way she did. And for many in the world, seeing Norma was their only exposure to African-American culture.

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Interview with an Everyday NYC Swing Era Jitterbug

October 22, 2020

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Venmo: @bobbyswungover

“Jitterbugs” in Central Park during the Swing era.

About five years ago we had the opportunity to talk with an average White American jitterbug from the original swing era about what dancing was like, and meant to, an avid social dancer of the time. “Anthony” (name has been changed at his request) was born in 1925 and grew up in an Italian American family in New York City during the 30s and 40s, where he loved to “Lindy.” When I spent the day with him, he and his wife were very warm people who love to laugh and make cracks at each other.

Things of interest we talked about before the tape recorder came out: Women wore heels to social dance; men, he said, didn’t look at how other guys danced, they looked at the women; and women had to learn to follow the different styles of New York neighborhoods cause the guys only knew their own neighborhood’s style.

So, both you and your wife grew up in New York?
Yeah, she was born in Brooklyn, I was born in New York. I was born on the steps of a building in the East Side of New York. [Across from a hospital, but they didn’t make it to the hospital.] I used to go to Madison Square Boy’s Club. Read more…

Consider This: Reframing Whitey’s Tiers

October 8, 2020

Covid 3 dollar

Venmo: @bobbyswungover

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“Whitey’s Hopping Maniacs:” (R to L) Mildred Cruse, Billie Williams, Lucille Middleton, Jerome Williams, Naomi Waller, and Frankie Manning.

In the past few months we have covered two specific groups of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers in detail:

In A Gaze into A Day at the Races we learned about Norma Miller’s main group in 1937. And in Whitey’s Lindy Hopping Maniacs at the Savoy, we learned about Frankie Manning’s main group in this same time period. And in the 1935, and especially the 1936 Harvest Moon Ball essay, we learned about the nationally-spotlighted contests that helped shape these groups.

Having gone through these early years in depth, we think it’s important to talk about the way some dancers today might perceive these groups thanks to the main retrospectives on the era available to the scene —  Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop by Frankie Manning and Cynthia Millman, and Swinging at the Savoy: The Memoir of a Jazz Dancer by Norma Miller and Evette Jensen. And even if you’re not a big geek about this stuff, we think it still raises some fundamentally important points about the past.

In Frankie’s memoir (pg. 123), he mentions how he was leading the top-tier Whitey’s group that was doing a gig at the Cotton Club in 1937, at the same time the other group was touring with Ethel Waters. (You can read about them here.) He says Whitey “put together his number-two group” to perform with Ethel. Read more…

The Life of “Tiny” Bunch

September 24, 2020

Venmo: @bobbyswungover

John Bunch dancing at the Savoy in 1935, a photograph by Aaron Siskind as part of his collection, “Harlem Document.” Colorized digitally and contributed by Renata Wlaczyga.

Part 1

Every now and then you get lucky in research. It all began with an advertisement for an All-Black revue called “Harlem Express” we found. At the bottom, in the biggest letters:

That Wilkes-Barre part is the lucky part — Wilkes-Barre is a small, mostly-White Pennsylvania coal city equally just as far away from Philadelphia as it is from New York. (Locals have T-shirts that joke about all the ways the town’s name is pronounced — Wilkes-BERRY, Wilkes-BEAR, Wilkes-BAR…) And it just so happens the Whitey’s Lindy Hopper known as “Tiny” Bunch grew up in this small community, and their local newspaper published many stories on the dancer and his family throughout their lives, even updating advertisements like the one above, when their hometown celebrity did something they knew about.

“Tiny’s” real name was John Wesley Bunch, Jr.  He was born September 24, 1910. And today is his 110th Birthday.

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