Women’s History Month: Norma Miller!

Norma Miller: author and lindy hopping queen.

Miller and Leon James are the second couple in this sequence from Day at the Races (1937):


Miller (dancing with George Greenidge) is half of the sixth couple in the jam during the jitterbug contest section of Keep Punchin’ (1939):


Miller dances with Billy Ricker, as the second couple in the iconic scene fromHellzapoppin’ (1941):


Miller is in the Hot Chocolates/Cottontail (1941) soundie, but I’m not sure which dancer she is:


There are some interesting photos of Norma Miller, Frankie Manning and other dancers in the Getty Images collection.

[Once again I’m using Bobby’s article about iconic clilps to identify dancers.]

Women’s History Month: Dawn Hampton!

Ryan Swift’s Photo of Dawn Hampton at LindyFest 2011 decided me on Dawn Hampton for today’s Woman Jazz Dancer.

Hampton played a bundle of instruments in her family’s band and has had a long career in music and dance. But she’s best known today for her musicality classes, and there are a couple of clips of her scaring teaching dancers about musicality at Lindyfest this year. I really like these clips because she does the sort of nuanced dancing that reminds me of dancers like Leon James – stillness and minimalism combined with sharp, dramatic movements.

A demonstration dance with Virgine Jensen, Steven Mitchell and Frida Segerdahl:


Teaching a musicality class:


Women’s History Month: Big Bea!

I have a fondness for female dancer-comedians. Bea was an excellent dancer, and the ‘shorty’ part of George ‘Shorty’ Snowden’s joke wouldn’t have worked without her.

(from the 1937 film ‘Ask Uncle Sol’)

Women’s History Month: Esther Washington!

Whitey’s Lindy Hopper of awesome!

Second couple in this scene from the 1947 film Boy! What a Girl!:


At 3.00 dancing at the Savoy with Leon James (from 1950 Mura Dehn docoSpirit Moves):


In a whole series of sequences from Spirit Moves, wearing a shiny skirt and strapless shirt:

  • at 2.00 doing the California routine
  • at 4.16 doing the Big Apple routine


[Thanks again to Peter Loggins for helping me figure out who’s who in the clips, AND for suggesting Esther!]

Women’s History Month: Pearl Primus!

I know very little about Pearl Primus, but I’ve been fascinated by this photo since I found it on the Google Life photo collection (you can see more photos here.
She’s not a ‘jazz dancer’ in the strictest sense – she probably fits a little more comfortably into the concert dance or even ballet basket. But she was very much an activist, with a passion for African and African American dance, and she was definitely active as a dancer, performer and choreographer during the 1930s and 40s.

I did a bit of googling and came up with very few actual videos of her dancing on youtube, but I did find this little doco about her that only fuelled my interest:


Then I found this video of her dancing, which isn’t too great – you can’t really see what she’s doing, and I’m not sure it really does her work justice.

NB that first photo is from a series called ‘Jam Session’ by Gjon Mili in the Life Magazine collection on google, which features many other amazing pics.

Gjon Mili is interesting because he directed ‘Blues for Greasy’ jam session film which starred:
Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison: trumpet
Lester Young: Tenor Sax
Flip Phillips: Tenor Sax
Bill Harris: Trombone
Hank Jones: Piano
Ray Brown: Bass
Buddy Rich: Drums
Ella Fitzgerald: Vocals

Mili worked with Norman Granz on this film, and Granz owned the Verve record label as well as organising the Jazz At The Philarmonic concerts and being hardcore anti-segregation.

Women’s History Month: Ann Johnson!

Member of the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, Ann Johnson was seriously badass (you can see her undies – and hardcore leg muscles – here. She and her partner (Billy Williams) are the first onto the floor in the jitterbug contest section of the ‘Keep Punchin” short (at about 3.08 in this clip):


She and her partner (Frankie Manning) are the fourth couple in the Hellzapoppin’ sequence (at about 3:59 in this clip):


Props to Bobby White for listing all the dancers in his post on iconic dance clips. There are lots of women dancers that I really want to list, but who aren’t identified in the footage!

Edit: I’m going to try to add all the clips featuring a dancer I can find to each of these posts. Try.

“Jitterbug History” features the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers from 2.01, and Ann Johnson (with Frankie Manning) is the third couple (thanks to Bobby again for the cast list.

Women’s History Month: Katherine Dunham!


Dunham was a dancer, but also a choreographer, and I think I want to give some concert dance choreographers of the 1920s, 30s and 40s and 50s a bit of space as well.
Dunham’s piece ‘Barrelhouse Blues’ is really interesting. I think it gives me a place to start thinking about ‘blues dancing’ performances in historical context – this piece was a response to (and incorporates) the vernacular dance of the period, rather than an ‘accurate’ ‘depiction’ of vernacular dance.
It’s the second piece in this clip, but I want to include the first piece ‘Ostrich’ because it’s so amazing, and really positions Dunham within the context of other choreographers and dancers of this period who were exploring African dance within an African American context. Also, because ‘Ostrich’ is AMAZING.


Here’s a documentary about ‘Barrelhouse Blues’ which discusses Dunham’s work in a bit of details, plus has some footage from a 30s performance of the piece:


And here are some Life Magazine photos of Dunham, just because.