Swing Dance Shoes
Whitey's Lindy Hoppers
the original Swing Dance
It is almost 70 years since Herbert "Whitey" White started a professional performing group of Savoy Ballroom swing dancers in 1935. Yet the film clips of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers continue to delight and astonish audiences and inspire new generations of swing dancers.
group was formed from the creme de la creme of the Savoy; they were
the top dancers in the top ballroom of the Swing Era. With Whitey's entrepreneurial
skills, these Harlem youngsters were catapulted into world recognition
thru both live performance and film. Their swing dance innovations had
permanent impact on the social dance styles of the United States, Europe,
Australia, and even Latin America and parts of Africa.
From its beginnings,
Whitey's Lindy Hoppers was much more than a dance troupe. It was a training
ground which prepared the most talented social dancers of the Savoy Ballroom
for professional gigs. It was also a social club which kept the young people
out of trouble by allowing them unlimited access to the Ballroom-- by day
to practise; by night to dance to the best swing bands in the
Whitey's Lindy Hoppers was the brainchild of Herbert "Whitey" White. An African-American man known as "Whitey" because of the streak of white in his hair, he was a former boxer who became a bouncer at the Savoy Ballroom. At one time, more than 70 swing dancers were employed by Whitey. He had a good eye for talent and, like a good coach, he knew how to nurture it. He gave many future entertainers their start in show business.
By late 1936, Whitey's dancers had officially made the big time. His top dancers worked a 6-month gig at the the famous Cotton Club under the name "Whitey's Hopping Maniacs" Meantime, Whitey pulled together a second group of top dancers to perform for the first time under the name "Whitey's Lindy Hoppers" in their first major Hollywood film, the Marx Brother's zany A Day at the Races.
Other films followed, as well as gigs at top venues in the U.S.A., Europe and Australia. Whitey did quite a juggling act; his dancers might be simultaneously performing at the Moulin Rouge in Paris, Radio City Music Hall in New York, a Broadway show and an upcoming Hollywood film. Whitey himself
|How Whitey's Lindy
Hoppers got their start:
In the early 1930's, as word got around about the sensational swing dancing at the Savoy Ballroom, requests came from downtown socialites and rich folk who wanted to have Lindy Hoppers perform at their lavish parties. Whitey, who got to know the young dancers well, was able to hand pick exciting dancers who were also socially adept and reliable. They were invariably delighted to make a few dollars doing what they loved (Aren't we all?). A father figure to many of these dancers, Whitey would send them downtown to those fancy digs with the admonition, "Remember, ain't nobody better than you." This advice must have come in handy in 1937, when a group of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers stood on line to shake hands with the Queen of England! This self-respect and pride permeated the Savoy Ballroom, one of the few places on earth where Blacks and whites could meet on the dance floor as equals.
"Remember, ain't nobody better than you."
In time, the sensational dancing of Whitey's hand-picked dancers came to the attention of the media. When they entered the Harvest Moon Ball competition in 1935, ballroom afficianados had their heads turned by the fast, fluid new dance to swing music which incorporated African influences and jazz rhythms into the standard European social dance framework.
dancers were always, first
and foremost, social dancers
|was on the set in Hollywood
for these first films. Norma Miller reports that Whitey kept the dancers
on their toes, interrupting their breaks and having them do their routine
whenever movie stars and VIPs
passed by. While away, he put Frankie
Manning in charge of the Cotton Club gig, and then the European and
Australian tours. Manning served as chief choreographer for all of Whitey's
groups, although he declined an offer from Whitey to have
the Cotton Club group named Manning's Lindy Hoppers. Dancer Louise" Pal" Andrews served as Whitey's "Gal Friday".
While in Hollywood working on the Lindy Hop sequence in the Judy Garland film "Everybody Sing", Whitey got in a dispute with the producer. It seemed that the producer gave young Judy Garland breaks from the set, but would not give the young Lindy Hoppers any breaks. Concerned about protecting his dancers from both exhaustion and second class treatment, Whitey tore up the contract. The sequence was removed from the film.
Between gigs these dancers always came home to the Savoy Ballroom. Their growing performance skills must have brought a lot of excitement to the Cat's Corner jams, where top dancers could shine in a circle of spectators. And the general standard of dancing at the Savoy must have been kept quite high with these talented dancers out there on the dance floor and competing in the Saturday night contests. No matter how far their professional careers went, Whitey's dancers were always, first and foremost, social dancers and true jazz dance improvisors, even after they had a number of choreographed routines under their belts. In this they paralleled the musicians of the great Big Bands, who could perform tight arrangements and still blow completely original jazz improvisations night after night.
The interaction between the improvisations of the great dancers and the great musicians made for fireworks! The dancers transposed the rhythms and riffs into movement and the musicians, watching, responded to what they saw with a frenzy of jazz innovation.
idea of relaxation after working hard at a Savoy Ballroom gig was to stop
by Minton's, an after hours club in Harlem. There they would meet up with
whichever other musicians were in town --Benny Goodman's band, Duke Ellington's,
Harry James and so on-- and they'd jam till breakfast time. Clearly, like
the dancers in Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, they loved what they were doing.
That joy was an essential ingredient of the greatness of the Swing Era.
|Written by Judy Pritchett with Frank Manning. Copyright, 1995, 1996, 1997.May not be reproduced without written permission. firstname.lastname@example.org. Last updated 10 January 2003|