What does ISDFNKA stand for, you might ask? Why, “incredible-swing-dance-followers-no-one-knows-about.” It’s a new series over here at Swungover, born out of some exciting research we’ve recently been conducting in our underground laboratories deep in the lava pits of Skull Mountain. Basically, we’ll discuss several of the great original followers who you might not have heard of.
You’ve heard of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers Frankie Manning and Norma Miller. You may also have heard of Al Minns and Leon James, even though you might not be able to point out which is which.* You may have even heard of Willamae Ricker and Ann Johnson, two of Frankie Manning’s favorite partners. But most swing dancers haven’t heard of a Whitey’s Lindy Hopper named Mildred Pollard. Or of an incredible solo Blues dancer named Sandra Gibson. And even fewer might realize they were the same person.
Mildred was born in Atlanta in 1919 and joined Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers in 1937, at the same time as Al Minns, Joe Daniels, and Joyce James (another noteworthy Whitey’s woman very few people know about. But that’s another post.) Here is a collection of her dancing we put together at Swungover, an aid to the history that follows:
[CLIP REMOVED UNTIL CORRECTIONS CAN BE MADE]
As a Whitey’s follower, Mildred was in two films; however, the dancing scene from the second film was cut because Whitey said the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Mildred was afraid to do aerials, but was quite strong herself, which is why at the end of her jam in 1938’s Radio City Revels, she picks up her partner. Though the speed of the dancing (and the continual demand to hold up her partner) keep her from really doing much in this clip, a picture of her in action shows how she had a powerful swivel:
Most of the Whitey’s had nicknames, and Mildred’s was “Boogie” because she was so good at boogieing, Frankie Manning said. He added that she did it “Very low down and funky.” (I can only conclude that the Boogie refers to the simple dance step where you shake your tail feather and possibly shimmy your shoulders. I believe Frankie Manning did a step like this in his video tapes with Erin Stevens. Anyway, the fact she was so good at it nicely foreshadows her second life as an exotic Blues dancer.)
She was usually partnered with Al Minns, though she didn’t dance with him in Radio City Revels, her only surviving film appearance. It was Pollard and Al Minns who invented the famous “shake-the-change” step Al performs in Hellzapoppin, where the follower holds the man upside down while he shakes his legs.
In 1938, Mildred and Al won the Harvest Moon Ball. (Though I’m not 100% sure, I’m almost positive she is the follower dancing with Al in the footage above.)
After her time with the Whitey’s, she continued in show business performing exotic dance and stand up comedy under the name Sandra Gibson. When many of the Whitey’s came together to film The Spirit Moves in the early 1950s, Sandra Gibson was one of the representatives of female Blues dancing. And, after having watched the footage and possibly taken a cold shower, I think you will agree it was a great choice.
The date of her death is unknown.
This article is technically unfinished, as I’m still researching Mildred’s life and death and trying to hunt down some more footage (as well as verify the footage we have, see below). However, rest assured, I will update it when I find that info, as well as make an announcement.
Also, a note: The Spirit Moves leads people to believe that two different dancers are Sandra Gibson. It’s not surprising The Spirit Moves could make such a mistake; the thing is rife with misspellings and mismatched names, and sometimes even mismatched, misspelled names. (For just one of many instances, they call it “Trunky Doo.”)
[UPDATE 6/27/2012: According to the documentary Call of the Jitterbug, this blues dancer NOW linked to in the article is Sandra Gibson. Thus, the article above had misinformation in its original publication.]
*—Al Minns has the proud posture, dark skin, and full-bodied dancing. Leon James has the lighter skin, “lazy” style, and tends to emphasize his hands and a humorous attitude.