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R.I.P — Izzy (Hignett) Bishop (1922-2020)

February 18, 2020

Izzy.jpgIzzy Hignett, one of the last living original Balboa dancers, passed away on Valentine’s Day.

She was born July 31, 1922 and grew up in Compton in Southern California. She first learned to dance when she was 13, learning a box step by stepping on the corners of a newspaper. By 1936 she and a good friend would hop on the “Red Line” and travel down to “The Pike” on Long Beach, where they would split — her friend would go to the “slower” music spot Cinderella Ballroom where they did Fox Trot, and Izzy would go to dance at The Majestic Ballroom, known for its fast music and “Bal” — the dance we now call “Pure Balboa.” 

In the the height of the swing era, she was a young teenager who went to the Easter-and-Spring-Break Bal-Week event (with a chaperone), missed going to see her favorite, Benny Goodman, on Catalina because of a cautious father, and partnered with one of the So-Cal swing dance legends, Bob Ashley before deciding a life as a movie dancer wasn’t for her.

In 1952 she married a fellow Southern Californian and fellow (Pure) Balboa dancer Jim Hignett, and dancing was very important to them. She felt there were two kinds of (Pure) Balboa, and described themselves as “steppers,” not “sliders.” Izzy and Jim were part of the only Pure Balboa contest that I know of to have existed before the modern swing era. (It was put on by an early West Coast Swing event decades after the swing era, and all Balboa couples involved were apparently angry that the winning couple was actually doing Jig Trot — a pulsing, kicky dance similar to Balboa.)     

Izzy and Jim were married for 40 years before his death. Here is footage of their Pure Balboa and a partnership decades in the making. (Not seeing anything fancy? Pure Balboa is more often a meditative dance about the feeling of partnership, rhythm and swing rather than doing a lot of different movements.)

I was fortunate to interview Izzy on two occasions for the Pacific Swing Dance Foundation and with the assistance of fellow Balboa historian Lewis Orchard. Izzy was open and giving with her time and enjoyed greatly reliving memories from her earlier days. Because of her openness we now have rare recordings of one of the original Pure Balboa dancers discussing their life in dancing. Her memories helped paint a more accurate view of the world of Southern California swing dancing and we were very grateful she was willing to spend time with us. We very much enjoyed her lively, funny, and straight-talking personality.

Want to know more about the history of Southern California swing dances, or are confused by the terminology? Check out these history posts:

Swing History 101: SoCal Swings (Part 1) 

Swing History 101: Lindy Comes to SoCal (Part 2)

 

 

Long Live the Queen

December 3, 2019

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Norma Miller was made of spit, and fire, and grit, and hustle, and truth.

And she would have been 100 years old today.

Known as the “Queen of Swing” to Lindy Hoppers, she died May 5, 2019, in Florida, of degenerative heart disease. She died in bed, surrounded by loved ones, having watched some of her friends Lindy Hop for her, having listened to some of her own recently recorded new songs, as well as the hauntingly sweet song “Stardust.” And, apparently — in the makings of the kind of myths that are passed down through the jazz ages — she died just as “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” was coming on the speakers, as if the waves of Basie’s opening piano tide carried her away.

She was 99 years old.

Stories

Most dancers probably know a few famous pieces of her story: She grew up behind the Savoy ballroom. She became a Whitey’s Lindy Hopper and traveled the world and was in Hellzapoppin’.  And, oh yeah, wasn’t there something about getting taken into the ballroom as a child to dance in a contest or something? Read more…

Swing History 101: SoCal Swings (1935-1939-ish)

January 17, 2019

This continues our series on the history of swing era dances. This is part one of two for Southern California swing era dance history. See Part 2 here. For extra geeking out, check out the footnotes. Such as this one.(*)

Unseen Forces

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California fans await Benny Goodman.

In 1935, suddenly and surprisingly, New York discovered there was a region that could compete with its love of swing. That region was Southern California, and Benny Goodman famously discovered its fanaticism for himself after a rough cross-country tour that had left him almost certain that swing was not going to get anywhere outside of the East Coast.

Based in New York, the clarinetist’s band was the featured midnight swing act on a radio program called “Let’s Dance.” (The program also had a Latin band and a “sweet” band that played ballads and romantic tunes.) When the program completed its broadcasts after a year, Goodman decided to take his band on the road for a cross-country tour, but the further west he went, the more audiences booed the swing music and requested the sweet stuff. By the time they got to California, the band was broke and Goodman was considering quitting.

Read more…

Swing History 101: Lindy Comes to SoCal (1937-ish-1945)

January 17, 2019

This continues our series on the history of swing era dances for beginner dancers. In Part One, we discussed the terms “Bal-Swing,” “Swing” and “Balboa” and their origins. This is Part Two of Southern California swing era dance history, and these two posts are meant to be read together. For extra geeking out, check out the footnotes.

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The Audience at a night at Club Alabam on Central Ave in LA.

Missionaries

We know of two different, important times when New York Lindy Hop came to SoCal and truly influenced the dancing there.

The first is when Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers first started coming to Hollywood in 1937. When in town for film shoots and performances, the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers would perform and social dance at Club Alabam, an integrated ballroom that specialized in Black American performances and jazz. This club, and its nearby Dunbar hotel, were part of L.A.’s “Little Harlem,” with its own rich role in Black-American history.*

Throughout the years that followed, the Whitey’s would come stay for stretches of time, and by 1941, when they were there filming Hellzapoppin’, Norma Miller mentions their “new-found friends,” whom she calls the “West Coast Lindy Hoppers.” With a little bit of help from the greatest performers in the dance, Lindy had been delivered directly to the Black American dancers of SoCal.

Unfortunately, we have very little evidence of what this Lindy Hop looked like. Even though Hollywood did put out a few films aimed towards the Black American community, we only know of one film that featured Black American SoCal Lindy Hoppers social dancing — 1943’s Cabin in the Sky. Read more…

The Swung Furies — “The Subway”

November 27, 2018

When you ask Lindy Hoppers to meet you in the subway with two cell phones and a speaker, and somehow it all works out… (make sure to hit the “HD” button!)

(Also, this is a slightly different version than the YouTube version.)

 

A performance of Lindy Hop by NYC Lindy performance group The Swung Furies, which  perform in the style first developed by The Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers.

 

ABOUT THE FILM

 

Dancers & Choreographers

(in order of dancing appearance)

Jessica Miltenberger & Rafal Pustelny

Gaby Cook & Nathan Bugh

LaTasha Barnes & Bobby White

(Each couple choreographed their own jam. Final jam choreographed by Bobby White, based on the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers’ “California Routine.” Final “animals” developed by The Swung Furies.)

Read more…

Venn Diagram #7: Lindy at Bal Events

October 12, 2018

Bal dancers that lindy

Read more…

Happy 80th Birthday, Beach Clip!

September 6, 2018

This month, and most likely this weekend, marks the 80th year since “the Beach Clip” took place. What is the Beach Clip, you might be asking? It’s this:

While we’re at it, let’s answer a few other questions. Read more…