Skip to content

The 1935 Harvest Moon Ball

May 13, 2020

COVID ask 3

This is the SNACK-SIZED edition. For the longer, GEEK-OUT version, click here. Words that are a different color (like the link in the previous sentence) are links to source articles and information.

This is the first in a series that will explore the Harvest Moon Ball over the years. (It will be by far the longest.) It is a story of social disruption and mistaken memories, of rediscovered truths and the pioneers of Lindy Hop. Hope you enjoy. 

(The GEEK OUT edition of this article goes into a lot more detail in everything. It’s got more insight, pictures and newspaper article connections, and source material — it’s designed to be more like a museum exhibit.)

1935 First announcement Graphic

From the first advertisement introducing the Harvest Moon Ball, July 7th, 1935.

Riots and Dances

On July 7th, 1935, the New York Daily News announced it would hold an amateur ballroom dance contest. Preliminaries would be held at several locations around the city, with the finals at an outside stage in Central Park. They named it the Harvest Moon Ball.

There is a legend that the Harvest Moon Ball was part of a public response to the 1935 Harlem Riot— to understand what that means, we have to first know what that riot was, and what it was about.

Lino

Lino Rivera, 16. March 20, 1935

It all began when a Black and Puerto Rican teenager named Lino Rivera was caught stealing a small pocketknife from a five and dime store. The workers grabbed him, he bit one, they threatened him, and awaited police. A crowd gathered outside. Perhaps nervous of the crowd, the owner decided not to press charges, and per regulation, the policeman called an ambulance to come look at the bite. Desiring not to deal with the crowd himself, the officer made the naive decision to exit with the boy out through the basement. The crowd outside assumed the boy was being beaten. An ambulance soon pulling up did not help the misconception. Tension grew.

Word spread around the neighborhood about the incident, and soon more people were gathering around or going to tell neighbors. A local communist group with both black and White members put out leaflets demanding the police release the boy and those responsible for the beating be arrested — notice it was a call for protest, not for riot. The police tried to produce Lino, but his address had been miscommunicated in reports and they couldn’t find him. Tensions snapped, and a brick went through the window. And then another, and another. What would come to be called the 1935 Harlem Riot had begun.    

On paper, it was an unfortunate series of coincides brought about by a misunderstanding. In reality, it was the exploded frustration of an oppressed community, like a stray spark falling on gunpowder and kindling.

For decades, Harlem had seen what America had thought of its Black communities: The neighborhood was in disrepair, their hospitals neglected, and they were red-lined into areas with terrible amenities and property values. The unemployed gathered on street corners, and Black workers were often “the last hired and the first fired” — Harlem was a mostly Black community full of white-owned businesses that only hired Whites for anything but their most menial jobs.

And the Harlemites — for good reason — didn’t trust cops. Throughout American history, law enforcement in general has notoriously used their power to oppress people of other races and cultures. And the Black American population, from the country’s founding to this very day, and tomorrow, has been an overall victim of this oppression. Harlem was no different.

Riots are never invite-only, and soon the concerned and frustrated protesters were joined by looters and those wanting to hurt somebody. Some of the police took to beating community members simply making protests speeches, and some of the rioters took to beating police.  Properties all over the neighborhood were damaged or destroyed. The riots didn’t just involve People of Color doing the action; just as a few handful of groups of People of Color went around beating up Whites, a few handful of groups of White people went around beating up People of Color. Whites appeared in the arrest reports for looting and assault alongside Blacks. Someone took the opportunity to shoot someone and got away without discovery, the first death of the riot.

And then, symbolically, tragically, the horrifying deja vu Black America experiences over and over and over again — a policeman shot and killed a 15-year-old Black boy who had done nothing but run away when the officer told him to “halt.” The boy’s name was Lloyd Dobbs.

It would be around two in the morning before the police could finally track down Lino and prove he was alive and untouched, at which point the unrest was too far gone to stop. Ultimately, 4000 people were thought to be involved in the riot (less than one percent of Harlem’s population). And at least four people, all Black, died in its wake.

Despite the violence that did happen, the riot would become known as the first race-based riot where people in general took their frustration out on property rather than physically fighting people of other races.

Picture from the Harlem 1935 Race Riot

From the Daily News picture spread on the Riots, March 20, 1935

 

At the hearing, when the leader of the communist group was asked why the group had assumed there had been a beating without any proof, he said because so many similar occurrences had happened before, they saw no reason to doubt it. Let that remind us all — the riot’s origin in misunderstandings is a red herring that can take our attention away from the fact that the resulting explosion of frustration was inevitable.

How does the Harvest Moon Ball play a role in all of this? The legend goes that, following the riot, the Mayor worked in conjunction with the Daily News to put on a dance contest to raise the spirits of the city. We’ll examine that more in a moment, but first, here are some things we definitely know happened after the riot.

Within a few days, Mayor LaGuardia put together a group of experts and community members, both Black and White, to report on the causes of the riot. The exhaustive study would take a year to complete. When it was released, it was hundreds of pages that touched upon every corner of Black Harlem life.

Perhaps to the surprise of the government, and the anger of law enforcement, the committee found no one person or group responsible, but instead blamed “injustices of discrimination in employment, the aggressions of the police, and the racial segregation” of the city as the culprit.

To his credit, the mayor took some action. (And to his discredit, not that much, ultimately, and also never officially issued the report to the public, presumably to cover up the alarming results of the study). But Harlem got some new schools and a new health center, and the mayor hired Black American judges and staff members to help him keep his finger on the pulse of the Black community. But in reality little changed for Harlem — another, bigger, more deadly riot would happen before a decade would pass.

Almost four months after the riot, when the Harvest Moon Ball was first announced on July 7th of 1935, they announced four dancing categories: Tango, Waltz, Fox Trot, and Rhumba. Lindy Hop was not part of the original plan, probably because they originally envisioned the mainstream “Ballroom” dances, not taking into account that Black New Yorkers had a incredible “Ballroom” dance to offer from right there in their city.

It just so happens that Harlem’s Colonial Park had held an outside Lindy Hop dance in the park on July 11th, and one of the park administrators thought it would be perfect for the event. They contacted the Daily News, and apparently that was enough to convince them, and they announced the Lindy Hop competition on July 13th.

You never know what small action will lead to changing the world. The paper’s reason taken at face value, had that park administrator not gotten in contact with the Daily News, there might not have been Lindy Hop in the Harvest Moon Ball. And then, as we’ll discover, Lindy Hop’s future might have looked very different.

In her book, Norma talks about a meeting between two people from the Daily News and the Savoy’s manager Charlie Buchanan, and Herbert Whitey, who was seen as “the prime motivation behind the dancing seen at the ballroom.” Her book does imply this meeting took place before the overall contest was announced, but since the Lindy was added later, that looks like Norma might have been in error, or that the meeting’s matter did not come to a conclusion until another date, at least. Perhaps this meeting took place between that July 11th dance and the July 13th announcement. She also implied that the addition of the Lindy Hop to the contest was part of raising the morale of the neighborhood, and probably getting some much needed business back after the Harlem riots, which it certainly could have been — if not spoken outright, it would be completely understandable if it were part of the unspoken reasoning while they discussed whether or not to be part of it. The energy and tension of the riots was still around, so much that a White nightlife journalist would write a column in September about the uneasy feeling still to be found there.

However, the story that the Harvest Moon Ball itself was ever created by the mayor working with the paper explicitly as a response to the Harlem riots is not mentioned once in all of the articles we have seen. The only thing they mention about its creation was that it was the idea of the paper’s “women’s editor,” Mary King. As much as the average 1930s citizen might have enjoyed dancing, uptown Harlem did not need a midtown ballroom dance contest put on in the spirit of harmony to heal its injuries — it needed access to better jobs, roads, hospitals, schools, playgrounds, and, as always, better overall treatment by law enforcement. 

But, even if the creation of the Harvest Moon Ball and its addition of Lindy Hop was separate to the 1935 Harlem riots, it’s still very important for the dance’s history to remember that both happened near each other in time and space. And the latter certainly affected what would happen in the former — you don’t have a giant dance contest that first didn’t — and then did — feature a dance created by Black Americans from the neighborhood uptown that a race riot had just taken place in, and not have there be some underlying currents of racial energy and tension. (It’s surely one reason Norma tied them together in her book. And, it’s why we’ve spent so much time discussing the riot ourselves.)

So, Whitey, who had been coaching young Lindy Hoppers at the Savoy for years, suddenly had the biggest Lindy Hop contest in the world to prepare for. According to Norma, he was concerned about the judging of the contest, and understandably so — the Lindy Hop is a dance rooted in Black American artistic tradition and values, and he was hesitant to have it judged by White ballroom dance experts.

There was one rule, however, he was probably very happy about: No professionals allowed. The Harvest Moon Ball was proudly an amateur contest. Whereas all of Whitey’s dancers had other occupations, this rule meant that the dancers of “Shorty” George Snowden’s professional performance Lindy Hop troupe would not be allowed to enter the contest. (This is speculation on our part, it’s not mentioned anywhere, but the savvy Whitey surely had to see that this dance event was going to be a great chance for the promotion of his young dancers.)

Anyway, Whitey agreed to the contest, and at his command, the Savoy’s up-and-coming kids were going to practice rigorously every day — he was not going to waste this opportunity.

Prelims

Overall, around 2,750 dancers competed across the five categories and seven nights of prelims. The final night — Friday night, Aug 9th — was at the Savoy. According to Frankie, this was the first contest at the Savoy that you had to register for, that had a set amount of dancing time, and which was not judged by the audience. Even though the Savoy was their home, they were in unfamiliar territory.

When the band started playing, Norma remembered it this way: “It was every man for himself. The loud yell from the the dancers meant it was on. They made noises similar to those of martial arts, the sound that releases pent-up energy.”

The Daily News put it this way:

Thirty couples, most of them colored, danced the Lindy with a relish, giving themselves up completely to the tunes of Teddy Hill’s orchestra and showed conclusively that the dance not only originated in Harlem, but is highly perfected there. 

FINALIST CLIP Savoy prelim clip Daily_News_Sat__Aug_10__1935_

The winners of the Savoy Lindy Hop prelims, who would go on to compete in the finals.

They choose six of the couples to move on. Leon James and Edith Mathews, Norma Miller and Billy Hill, Frankie Manning and Maggie McMillan, Snookie Beasley and Mildred Cruse, Lillian Travers and Charles Tynes, and Anna Logan and her brother George Logan were chosen to go. We know them as pioneering dancers and our art form’s elders, but the paper’s announcement reminds us dancing was not their lives (yet): Leon was a superintendent, Edith a maid, Mildred a student, Charles a painter, Frankie a furrier. (Also, isn’t it weird that the paper TOTALLY PUBLISHED PEOPLE’S ADDRESSES NEXT TO THEIR NAMES.)

After the prelims, Whitey gave Leon and Edith, and Frankie and Maggie, his attention —according to Norma, Leon and Frankie were his prized dancers.

NORMA PIC Savoy prelim clip Daily_News_Sat__Aug_10__1935_To prepare for the finals, Frankie changed the way he was training — he was told the rules for all the other dances would apply to them. He mentions you weren’t allowed to separate from your partner, or jump, for instance. As you can imagine, this was not quite the spirit of Lindy Hop, but he wanted to do what he could to help win the contest for the Savoy.

Roseland Ballroom in midtown was a stomping ground for many of the great White Lindy Hoppers. A few days after the prelims, the Savoy kids took a trip down to the Roseland, where they were planning to see the great Fletcher Henderson perform, and scope out the competition. When they got there, the doorman said they couldn’t go in. They got upset wondering why, but the doorman still refused — it was one of those things. Meaning, the Roseland Ballroom was segregated. They would have a Black band play there, but they would not allow Black clientele. Angry, the dancers returned to the Savoy, where anyone of any color was welcome. The same energy that fueled the Harlem riots was still very much surging through the city. But there’s more.

The night before the Savoy finals, Roseland ballroom had finished its own finals. At the All-White Roseland Ballroom, TEN couples were moved on to the finals.

In matters of appropriation, there are often complex examples that take a lot of exploration and consideration to navigate. This is not one of them. The Roseland held swing dances and regular Lindy Hop contests — a Black American art form invented up the street, done to a Black American music form. And yet Black dancers could not enter the place to take part. Furthermore, ten White couples were automatically going to make it into the finals, whereas there was no amount of Black dancers that were guaranteed to make it. It’s a perfect example of blatant, structural racial appropriation.

The finals were scheduled for August 15, six days after the Savoy prelims, in a band performance area along the Central Park Mall. (In fact, it was set up in the exact same place the outdoor dance of Frankie100 would take place almost 74 years later.) Those park finals would be postponed when over 100,000 people showed up. They had only planned for 25,000. It was moved to Madison Square Garden a few weeks later.

On the day of the finals, Whitey gathered them at the ballroom and brought them into a huddle. Norma remembers him saying, “Tonight, you’re going up against real competition. You’ve got to show them what the Lindy Hop is all about. That we are the champs. You have got to bring back that championship. You are the flag bearers of the Savoy…Go out there and let them know who we are. You dig?”

That night, Wednesday, August 28th, she and the other Savoy Lindy Hoppers were standing beside the stage of a packed, screaming Madison Square Garden. In the audience, Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell watched. A yellow moon hung from the ceiling. The stage — a large, 30′ by 40′ raised platform in the middle of the stadium — reminded one reporter of a prize fight.

When the Lindy competition was announced, Norma Miller said, “The yell from the crowd could be heard all the way back to Harlem.”

The Finals

They strutted, swaggered, and goofed to the stage. They weren’t the kings and queens, Frankie said — they were the jesters. And thankfully at least one newsreel of the event still exist.

There is only one 1935 Harvest Moon Ball newsreel, I know of. Let’s watch it:

This is the first glimpse of the second generation of great Lindy Hoppers. And, this is what Lindy Hop looked like right before the introduction of air steps. Notice that doesn’t mean Lindy Hop was without tricks. There’s plenty of powerful, dramatic, and eye-catching choices being made. This performative nature of Lindy Hop is not really that — performative, we mean — it’s more akin to sharing, which goes back to the dance’s West African dance heritage, wherein most cultures’ dancing was an act not simply performed, but shared with its community in “the circle,” the great elder of the “Jam circle.”

So, let’s see if we can put some names to the faces we’re seeing.

The Breakdown

If you want some good detail into how we broke down all the identifications, check out the geek out edition. But here’s a quick summary:

(1) Facial and dancing recognition is one way, BUT we don’t always see their faces or see them dance long enough to recognize their dancing. And several of these dancers we have never seen dance before, even though they might be mentioned in source material.

Sometimes, however, you get very lucky, and find a picture of the winning dancer at a stock footage site.

Edith Matthews HMB 1935

UNITED STATES – AUGUST 29: Edith Matthews shows friends and family how she won first place in the Lindy Hop. (Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

This picture, found at Getty images archives, helped us not only first peg this clip as 1935, it helped us identify Leon James and Edith Matthews confidently, because of her unique dress.

(2) Frankie and Norma’s books, and other resources like newspaper articles of winners and pictures helps us know who was in it, BUT those sources can be wrong. (As we will see in future episodes.)

(3) A list of contestants and numbers, if there is one, helps us confirm suspected dancers or learn new previously unseen dancers, BUT the numbers are often not visible, and furthermore, Frankie and Norma mentions there was sometimes partner switching at the last second.

And again, sometimes you get very lucky and the paper just so happened to publish their names and numbers in the paper the day before the contest:

CONTESTANT NUMBERS

The contestant listing for the 1935 HMB. This was published in the paper the day before the contest.

And, (4) the order of numbers (four at a time) is how they went through the heats, so that’s how we know who should be in a heat, But, as you will see, that isn’t necessarily who is in a heat. We’re pretty sure this year, for instance, one of the first couples was a no-show because Leon/Edith and Frankie/Maggie are in different heats.

That’s a lot of factors in play.  That’s why, in our breakdown clip below, if we are reasonably sure of the couple’s identification and the evidence all lines up, we list their number and names near them. Otherwise, we list a “Most likely” above their names if we are almost positive, and a “Possibly” if there is at least some reason that it could be them but we are not sure.

With that in mind, let’s see that footage again, and get an idea of who’s on that stage. To make life easier, we split the footage into the two separate heats shown, and then show the footage again at 70%.

The 1935 Harvest Moon Ball Breakdown

All right, now let’s talk about what we’re seeing. (A collection of the original newsreel and this breakdown clip will be put on YouTube soon.)

Heat A

The obvious stars of the first heat are Edith Mathews and Leon James (#75). All of the eye-catching personality that Norma and Frankie attribute to Leon in their books is on full blast here. But let’s look at a specific moment:

Leon’s sense of timing and minimalism are truly masterful. In this little stop before going into Charleston (above), you see his legs cease moving and then slide with beautiful syncopation right into the energetic Charleston. He would take this skill to incredible heights, as seen in one of his dances in the jam circle in The Spirit Moves.

Leon James and Esther Washington jam in The Spirit Moves (1950s)

Edith Mathews has a very special place in Lindy Hop history — according to both Frankie and Norma’s books, she introduced the follower’s swivel motion into the dance. We don’t see her demonstrating swivels here, which is too bad. However, we can tell they were really popular at the time, as several of the other Savoy followers turn them on full blast.

Edith and Leon match incredibly well — she’s shaking her hand and her head in ways that match his “legomania” energy and finger pointing, and her expressive body language both compliments and counterbalances Leon’s minimalistic dancing. Edith and Leon’s outfits were perfect choices, they obviously pop on that stage.

mildred cruse

(Most likely) Mildred Cruse, showing off a dope ass outfit.

Next to them are most likely Mildred Cruse and Snookie Beasely. 

Sadly, the choice of the editor to repeat the move they do make it look like they spent half of their heat in a bent over kicking dip. So we don’t have a lot we can say about their dancing. But check out the move where the leader simply moves backward while walking the follower forward. How beautifully simple, and yet stylish. They have made a shine move out of walking.

Finally, before moving on, we should acknowledge that most-likely-Mildred’s outfit is really fantastic.

Heat B

Frankie Manning and his partner Maggie McMillan (#78) are clearly visible in this heat. But they are mostly only seen doing the same move from two slightly different camera angles. It’s not a lot, but at least it’s something. We see how graceful and connected they look, we see how relaxed and casual they are. They are also obviously very well matched — they practically move in unison.

Let’s look at the two other Savoy couples in this heat:

Recognizing Norma‘s partner, Billy Hill, in the footage was easy, once it sunk in that his nickname was Stompin’Billy. Sure enough, he does a swing out where he just starts slapping a foot on the ground, as if wanting to make sure future generations knew where they could find Norma in this clip. (We still say “most likely” in their clip ID due to erring conservatively, but it’s almost definitely Norma.) They aren’t on camera long, but you can see some of Norma’s powerful twists as Billy begins stomping.

The third Black couple dancing in similar ways to the other Savoy dancers is most likely  Lillian Travers and Charles Tynes (#76). (Want to know why? Geek Out edition!)

They do similar moves to the others, but the point where he lunges and points his finger is a classic moment from the Harvest Moon Ball footage.

Ironically, the only Savoy follower who doesn’t spend some time carving out some swivels in the footage is Edith, their inventor.

Harry Pic sliced Daily_News_Mon__Aug_5__1935_Finally, there’s a snippet of a White couple dancing in this heat. If they followed the numbers on the list, and the heats are mapped out as they appear, then the young leader there is Harry Rosenberg (#79), who would become one of the small number of White dancers in Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. It’s hard to get a comparison of his face, but here is a picture of the couple from the preliminaries, and its probably a good bet it’s them.

If Whitey was worried about the judging, he had good reason to be — they included no one that seemed connected at all with Harlem, or appears to have been Black American to judge this Black American art form, but did include the owner of New York’s Roseland Ballrooms (no conflict of interest here), and dance school magnate Arthur Murray himself, who would go on to simplify and arguably white-wash Black American dances like Lindy Hop for teaching in his schools.

The winners, according to the paper the next day, were Edith and Leon in 1st, Rita Mullen and John Kay in 2nd (they were Roseland finalists), and Maggie and Frankie in 3rd. The 2nd place Roseland couple most likely appeared in a final heat that is not shown.

Now, veteran swing dancers: I could maybe tell you the winners of my first few big contests, or an experience that stuck out in my head, but I certainly would have problems pinning down 2nd or 3rd, or telling you much more about the experience. And those are contests that have happened within the last two decades. Now imagine you are Frankie or Norma, and you are being asked to remember details about events that happened almost five or six decades ago? No matter how hard you tried, there’s bound to be fifty years of memories mingling, retold stories evolving, and fantasy fading into facts. Like beauty, history is in the eye of the beholder.

In their books, Norma and Frankie both remember the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers taking the top three spots, but the paper announced otherwise. Memories are tricksters. But far from blaming them for recalling false memories, we must always remember the difficult thing we asked them to do — to sift through thousands of similar memories that happened more than half a century before.

“Rules”

Remember how Frankie was sweating over the rules? Leon and Edith did not. They broke apart from each other and danced solo Charleston side-by-side. They didn’t stay in their corner. Though we don’t see it, they perhaps even jumped. They went out and danced the Lindy Hop the way they thought it should be danced. And won. Frankie played by the rules, and got 3rd.

Overall, Frankie wasn’t beat up about losing to Leon. He was happy the Savoy dancers won top awards, and he knew that, at the Savoy, he was considered a great dancer, and that’s the only place he cared about.

The Next Day

The New York Daily News had made news. The Daily News was known for its use of photographs, and throughout the day it offered two-page photo spreads of the ball, and some of the champs. 

1935 XX HUGE ASS BACK PAGE PICTURE Daily_News_Thu__Aug_29__1935_

This giant picture took up the entire back page of one of the final editions of the Daily News. Aug 29, 1935.

Leon & Edith pic __1935_

1935 Good additional pics of Leon Edith Daily_News_Thu__Aug_29__1935_

The day after that, the Daily News also posted a candid story on the experience of deciding to put on the ball. To show you how candid the article was, they mention how they had found out only the day before, from their own weather bureau, that the Harvest Moon was in mid-September, not August.

They also announced the 1936 Harvest Moon Ball. It would take place in August.

The Aftermath

Following the contest, Leon and Edith performed at Loews theaters in New York for a week as part of their first prize. But arguably the biggest winner of the night was Lindy Hop in general. The dance was the favorite dance of the night, and even more importantly, it was the favorite dance of the newreels, which would introduce it to people all over the world.

Whitey immediately began getting requests for his Lindy Hoppers to perform, the biggest offer being a long tour of Europe for the winning Savoy couples — one source said 22 weeks. Frankie did not want to go — he had a good job assisting a furrier and thought that was going to be his career. When he didn’t go, and Maggie was not allowed to without him, she was upset and soon after joined Shorty’s troop. Norma skipped school to go on the tour, with her mother’s permission. By this time, the wise Norma knew that Professional dancing was going to be her life, and she wasn’t going to wait.

Billy also came along, and Whitey was relieved, as it got him away from a woman he was dating — a White woman. Black Americans are never allowed to forget about their race for very long — and the practice of White women going to Harlem to dance and interact with Black men was noticed by a lot of downtowners, who started spreading rumors about the Savoy in an attempt to get it closed down. Whitey and everyone in the ballroom’s management was nervous about anything that could cause trouble. The Harlem Riot energy was still around. (And still is.)

So, Norma, Billy, Leon and Edith became the first Lindy Hoppers of their generation  to perform in Europe. They had a disappointing time with their performances on tour — the bands couldn’t swing and the crowds didn’t yell like back home at the Savoy. One silver lining for Norma was getting to sing some numbers on the tour, the beginning of her multi-talented stage career.

While Norma, Leon, Edith and Billy were away on tour, it just so happens that back in New York, Frankie more or less began the next Renaissance in Lindy Hop. First off, as he recalls, a few months after the Harvest Moon Ball, he took part in a contest at the Savoy that pitted Whitey’s young dancers against “Shorty” George Snowden‘s veteran Lindy Hoppers. Shorty and his partner Beatrice “Big Bea” Gay had an act they had perfected but which had changed so little it had become predictable to the young dancers. In it, they had a famous exit step where she would walk off with him on her back kicking his legs in the air. Riffing on this step, Frankie and his contest partner, Frieda Washington, made it so that Frankie not only took her onto his back, but kept her going — flipping her over. The first air step in Lindy Hop was born. Suddenly finding a whole new unexplored dimension in the dance, all of the younger dancers started making up new air steps.

But that wasn’t all — not going to Europe opened up Frankie to all of the New York’s gig opportunities that came from the Harvest Moon Ball, and the constant performing inspired other new innovations like ensemble Lindy and the “stops” routine.

Though dancing in Europe was a disappointment, the touring Lindy Hoppers understandably had a blast. And if you ever had the fortune of knowing Norma Miller, just imagine the young-adult version of her strutting through London and Paris without chaperone. Upon her return, she decided to light a sophisticated cigarette in front of her mom. It got snatched out of her mouth, and Norma got snatched back to her teenage reality.

The night they returned, Whitey took them to see Frankie and his group at the Apollo — imagine what it was like for those recently-returned Lindy Hoppers to go away for several months and come back to see the dance they knew and loved had changed, possibly dramatically, while they were gone. Norma would hop right into the new ideas, whereas, at least according to Frankie, Leon’s dancing would be somewhat spiritless after the tour. Looking at the footage of Leon’s dancing throughout the years, he seemed to have gotten over it, though, and created decades of incredible dancing for us to enjoy.

After this, the first Harvest Moon Ball, the young “upstarts” Whitey had begun training suddenly found themselves professionals. They would all in their way come to terms with it. But it was not only them, but also their Lindy Hop that had found itself professional — their youthful, creative, powerful, fly-by-the-seat-of-its-pants version of Lindy Hop, this new blossom opening on an ancient tree. And a great deal of that was because of a man with a vision — a man who, despite his faults, was still happily willing to use those very faults to insure his mission of taking America’s true Folk dance to its highest level, and its deserved recognition.

And, when Norma looked back at that night, the night of the first Harvest Moon Ball, she realized all of that started to fall in place after they took that stage. “The Lindy Hop competition belonged to us,” She wrote. “We entered the Garden as the Savoy Lindy Hoppers, but we left as Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers.”

flourish

COVID ask 3

Sources

  • All newspaper articles and pictures were taken from editions of the New York Daily News. 
  • When not otherwise stated, all other information, especially regarding the opinions and experiences of the original dancers, was from 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.
  • Harri Heinilä, Doctor of Social Sciences at Helsinki, wrote a great, short paper “The Beginning of the Harvest Moon Ball and the Myth of the Harlem Riot in 1935 as the Reason for It.” It helped clear up some of the misinformation out there and helped me gain confidence in my conclusions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: