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HMB

The Harvest Moon Ball Project

The Harvest Moon Ball (HMB) was a New York City-wide amateur ballroom dance contest. Though it held divisions in several popular ballroom and folk dance forms, it was most famous for showcasing the epic artistry of several generations of Harlem Lindy Hop and Jazz Dancers.

From 1935 to 1974, the New York Daily News’ HMB was held each year in Madison Square Garden. The event allowed for the crowd, newspapers, newsreels, — and later, television audiences on Ed Sullivan’s shows — to see this Black American art form done by its finest. After the Daily News’ grand amateur-contest dissolved, Lindy Hop torch-bearer Mama Lou Parks continued the Lindy Hop tradition of the contest by hosting the Harvest Moon Ball Lindy Contest in Harlem yearly. (And a third organization picked up the HMB name for contests continuing into the mid-1980s.)

Though the contest itself was a notable historical event, its main importance to us is it that it provided a yearly vehicle for Black American visionaries Herbert “Whitey” White, Louise “Mama Lou” Parks, and those they inspired, to bring Harlem and Black excellence to the world. They also serve as living proof of Lindy Hop’s vibrant life from the Swing era to its 1980s resurgence in White American and international communities.

Having occurred yearly for around five decades, the event also serves as a sort of “year book” for the history around it, allowing us to explore what Black Americans were facing in their daily lives while social dancing, training, and performing on stage for thousands of mostly non-Black spectators.

This Harvest Moon Ball Project is exploring the legacy of Black American Jazz Dance at the Harvest Moon Ball through writing educational articles, creating videos breaking down and identifying dancers in the HMB newsreels, and building a collection of research for future jazz dance scholars. Its main goal, however, is to identify and highlight forgotten artists of Lindy Hop over all of its generations.

The project will cover the HMB’s entire history. As each new article is put out, it can be found here.

Videos can be found at a playlist on our YouTube channel.

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This project requires a great deal of costs in research and time, as well as the incredibly important task of paying former-Harvest Moon Ball competitors and Harlem Lindy Hoppers for their time in interviews. It was also undertaken as a project to help income during the Pandemic, when two years of dancing employment was wiped out for its author. Please consider donating (if you are able), especially if you are an instructor or researcher.

paypal.me/bobbywhite3

venmo: @bobbyswungover

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The Rise of the Whitey’s (1935-1941)

Herbert Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers rise from the first HMB a well-gelled, sought-after performance company, and their continued dominance in the contest’s first decade allows both the HMB’s and the group’s publicity to skyrocket. During this time, the group will go from regional performances to world tours and now-renown movie dance scenes. At the HMB, they establish the Lindy Hop as the crowd — and newsreel — favorite.

The 1935 Harvest Moon Ball (& “Geek Out” version) — The first HMB, Harlem Riots, Leon, Frankie, Norma & more.

The 1936 Harvest Moon Ball (& “Geek Out” version) — ’36 Olympics compared to Lindy history, rogue Shag couple in Lindy finals, a strange switch up in first place, Roseland Ballroom Lindy prelims filmed, Suzy Q introduced. Norma, too!

The 1937 Harvest Moon Ball (& “Geek Out” version)— Shag division comes to HMB, “Comedy” team Gladys & Eddie “Shorty” win, Big Apple becomes popular, Peckin’ introduced at Savoy prelims.

The 1938 Harvest Moon Ball (& “Geek Out” version) —Savoy prelims filmed, Shag has an identity crisis, Harlem nightspots move downtown, Al Minns & Mildred Pollard come to the HMB, skirts above the knees and sneakers come to HMB Lindy. Norma’s back.

The 1939 Harvest Moon Ball (& Geek Out version) — Shag’s final year; Frankie’s 2nd year, Norma’s 4th year. “Mutinies” become the rage.

The 1940 Harvest Moon Ball (& “Geek Out” version)— Tops & Wilda shine, Conga comes to HMB, Jimmy Valentine kept from finals possibly do to racial reasons, White couple Tiny Anne & Tony Small do a notable Harlem-style comedy team partnership, big signature moves reign, final year for most of the veterans, including Frankie & Norma. (Frankie’s 3rd year, Norma’s 5th year.)

Shag @ the Harvest Moon Ball (1936-1939)— All the Shag articles from its years, and a video of all the Shag we’ve seen in the HMB footage.

(The 1941 essay is currently in production, requiring extensive research.) If you have a copy of the 1941 Program, we would love to see a picture of the listings!!

Wars & Dancing (1942-1945)

While World War II comes to America and takes its young men away, Whitey tries to keep his Lindy Hoppers strong despite the drafting of many of his dancers and the hemorrhaging of others due to his business behaviors. According to accounts, the official group will dissolve during this time. But throughout it and until his death, Whitey will never stop sending all the Lindy Hoppers he can to fight for the HMB title.

The 1942 Harvest Moon Ball. (No Geek Out article.) First HMB during WWII, serviceman’s division introduced, Harlem hosts a mini-HMB for kids, Harlemites picket outside the Savoy prelims, vets Snookie Beasely & Louise Pal Andrews are back, the very tall Ray Harris of Sugar Hill Masquerade dances, Alfred “Pepsi” Bethel’s first HMB.

The 1943 Harvest Moon Ball (& “Geek Out” version) The Savoy Ballroom gets closed down and the 1943 Harlem Riot erupts. At the HMB, mysteriously only five of the planned eight Harlem couples go to the finals. Most of those Harlem dancers are unknown and lost to time. Articles at the time discuss “Smoothness” & “Originality” in the Jitterbug Jive contest. For the first time, a White and non-Harlem couple wins the Jitterbug division.

The 1944 Harvest Moon Ball. (No Geek Out article.) A study, An American Delimma, is published, showing the data proving America is rigged against Black Americans. Harlem dancers take back the Jitterbug prizes. Pal Andrews, a dancer very close to Whitey, takes the championship. Currently there is no footage of this year’s Harvest Moon Ball.

The 1945 Harvest Moon Ball. (No Geek Out article.) Black American Tuskegee airmen help bring Allied victory in Europe while the Government’s Tuskegee Study does unethical experiments on Black Americans. At the Harvest Moon Ball, the servicemen show broader America’s take on jitterbugging. Currently the only footage we’ve seen of this year shows only the servicemen’s division.

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