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Vernacular Jazz (also known as Authentic Jazz) Dance is a general term that encompasses a log list of dances. Another general term you might have heard of is “Swing Dancing”, and that is definitely part of it.

 

Vernacular Jazz Dance includes both partner and solo dancing. We think of it as dances that have their roots in African American Jazz Dances done to jazz music from the late 1800s to beyond. These dances include the Lindy Hop, Tap, Charleston, Black Bottom, Cakewalk etc.

Here is an excellent description of what Vernacular Jazz Dance is by Harri Heinila:

WHAT IS AUTHENTIC JAZZ?

When you search the Internet, you find out many different definitions what is Authentic Jazz Dance or Authentic Jazz for short.

Many of these definitions connect Authentic Jazz Dance to jazz steps which are especially from the 1930s. When you are doing those steps, you are jazz dancing.

That, however, is only a part of enormous dance collection which contains all jazz music-related dance forms including solo dances, group dances, and partner dances, briefly saying from Cakewalk via Charleston and Lindy Hop to Hip Hop dancing. It could be argued for even earlier dance forms than Cakewalk, which are part of Authentic Jazz Dance, even if, there is no clear connection to jazz music. African-American dancing has its roots in a much earlier time than Cakewalk.

Authentic Jazz Dance is a general term to describe these dances.

The term ‘authentic jazz dance’ is obviously from the end of the 1950s when Marshall Stearns began to use it. That happened probably because of the Modern Dance and Ballet-connected “modern” jazz dance movement started more and more to take over the term ‘jazz dance’. Stearns also reconnected ‘jazz dance’ term to mean original Jazz Dance forms in his Jazz Dance study in the 1960s, but his work had little effect on the use of the term. After him there were Old Timers like Albert ’Al’ Minns, Leon James, Charles ’Cholly’ Atkins, Louise ‘Mama Lou’ Parks Duncanson, Mura Dehn, and Alfred ‘Pepsi’ Bethel, who used the term ‘authentic jazz dance’. Charles ’Cholly’ Atkins used also the term ’authentic jazz’.

Some of these Old Timers like Al Minns and Mura Dehn still kept talking about Jazz dancing and Jazz Dance without an ‘authentic’ prefix even in the 1980s.

Also the term ‘traditional jazz dance’ was used by Old Timers like Mama Lou Parks and Mura Dehn. According to Terry Monaghan, the term ’traditional jazz’ is difficult to use because it is connected to Dixieland jazz music in Europe. The term ‘traditional jazz dance’ is connected to all jazz music-based dance forms.

Earlier, at the latest from the end of the 1910s, Authentic Jazz Dance was known as Jazz Dance. There was used at the time at least following terms concerning original jazz music-related dance forms, jazz dance, original jazz dance, modern jazz dance, modern jazz, and jazz (as connected to dancing). Even ‘jazz steps’ was used as a term concerning jazz dancing in the end of the 1910s.

Nowadays, original jazz dance, modern jazz, modern jazz dance, jazz dance, and jazz (where dancing is concerned) are usually connected to Modern Dance and Ballet-based dance forms, which are only loosely (if not at all) connected to jazz music.

Some authors also have used ‘vernacular jazz dance’ or ‘swing dance’ terms to describe original Jazz Dance forms. As Terry Monaghan has stated ‘vernacular’ means ‘ordinary’, and many times original Jazz Dance forms have been highly practiced, and they may contain complex techniques. To call the practicers of these dance forms ordinary would not be correct for them.

The terms ‘swing dance’ and ‘swing dancing’ have usually been based on swing music-related dance forms, even if there has been Texas Tommy Swing dance a long time before swing music emerged. The terms ‘swing dance’ and ‘swing dancing’, however, have been connected varyingly to only some jazz music-based dance forms during the years, and they have not been used as coherently as the terms ‘jazz dance’ and ‘authentic jazz dance’ have been used.

Although swing, especially big band swing music, has been important part of jazz music and Jazz dancing.

Authentic Jazz Dance is thus the best alternative to use until Jazz Dance is again firmly related to jazz music-based dance forms.

Here are some important features found in Authentic Jazz Dance:

The most important part of Authentic Jazz Dance is individuality. Each Jazz dancer is different. You should not copy anybody else exactly.

Rhythm is essential in Authentic Jazz Dance. For example, Pepsi Bethel has said: Without rhythm it is nothing. The rhythm is more important than movements you do. There is no definite way to do movements in Authentic Jazz Dance but the rhythm has to be consistent.

Everything should be done by music in Jazz dancing. When you are listening to music and Jazz dancing, you have a dialogue with music. You communicate with music and be a part of the orchestra as an instrument as for example Mura Dehn has explained in her Spirit Moves documentary.

That is Authentic Jazz Dance.

VERNACULAR JAZZ

Al Minns & Leon James - Authentic Jazz
Dancing at the Savoy Ballroom in the 1950s
Paris Jazz Roots Festival 2017 - Battle

Excerpt from AuthenticJazzDance

 
The Big Apple performed by Whitey's Lindy Hoppers

THE BIG APPLE

 

The Big Apple is both a partner dance and a circle dance that originated in the Afro-American community of the United States in the beginning of the 20th century.

The exact origin of the Big Apple is unclear but one author suggests that the dance originated from the "ring shout", a group dance associated with religious observances that was founded before 1860 by African Americans on plantations in South Carolina and Georgia. The ring shout is described as a dance with "counterclockwise circling and high arm gestures" that resembled the Big Apple. It is still practiced today in small populations of the southern United States.

The dance that eventually became known as the Big Apple is speculated to have been created in the early 1930s by African-American youth dancing at the Big Apple Club, which was at the former House of Peace Synagogue on Park Street in Columbia, South Carolina. The synagogue was converted into a black juke joint called the "Big Apple Night Club".

In 1936, three white students from the University of South Carolina – Billy Spivey, Donald Davis, and Harold "Goo-Goo" Wiles – heard the music coming from the juke joint as they were driving by. Even though it was very unusual for whites to go into a black club, the three asked the club's owner, Frank "Fat Sam" Boyd, if they could enter. Skip Davis, the son of Donald Davis, said that "Fat Sam made two conditions. They had to pay twenty five cents each and they had to sit in the balcony." During the next few months, the white students brought more friends to the night club to watch the black dancers. The white students became so fascinated with the dance that, in order to prevent the music from stopping, they would toss coins down to the black dancers below them when the dancers ran out of money. "We had a lot of nickels with us because it took a nickel to play a song. If the music stopped and the people on the floor didn't have any money, we didn't get any more dancing. We had to feed the Nickelodeon", recalls Harold E. Ross, who often visited the club and was 18 years old at the time.

The white dancers eventually called the dance the black dancers did the "Big Apple", after the night club where they first saw it. Ross commented that "We always did the best we could to imitate the steps we saw. But we called it the Little Apple. We didn't feel like we should copy the Big Apple, so we called it that."

In the fall of 1937, four couples from Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, a Lindy Hop performance group based at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, New York, traveled to Hollywood, California, to perform a Lindy Hop sequence for a Judy Garland movie called Everybody Sing (1938). Soon after arriving in California, Herbert "Whitey" White, the manager for the group, sent a telegram to Frankie Manning, the lead dancer for the group, about the new dance craze in New York City called the Big Apple. Manning had never seen the dance before but based on the description of the dance in the telegram, he choreographed a Big Apple routine for the group. Since the dance was based on combining jazz steps that the Lindy hoppers were already familiar with, such as Truckin', the Suzie-Q, and Boogies, the group quickly learned the new steps. They performed their Big Apple routine for Everybody Sing, but the dance scene was eventually cut due to a dispute between the director and Whitey over the dance group's not receiving a break in the filming schedule.

When the group returned to Harlem, Manning taught his Big Apple version to other dancers in Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, before ever having seen the version done by the Big Apple dancers at the Roxy. Whitey's Lindy Hoppers would dance the Big Apple mixed with Lindy Hop at the Savoy Ballroom until interest in the dance died out. Later in 1939, the group performed a Big Apple sequence for the movie Keep Punching, which has been recreated by Lindy Hop performance groups since the 1990s.

By the end of 1937, the Big Apple had become a national dance craze. On December 20, 1937, Life featured the Big Apple in a four-page photo spread and the magazine predicted that 1937 would be remembered as the year of the Big Apple.

Excerpt from Wikipedia

Frankie Manning & Chazz Young doing the Shim Sham
Al Minns & Leon James doing the Shim Sham
Dean Collins & Bart Bartolo doing the Shim Sham

THE SHIM SHAM

 

There are 3 main versions of The Shim Sham that every Swing Dancer should know:

   * The Frankie Manning version (most commonly known)

   * Dean Collins Shim Sham (involves some tap)

   * Al & Leon Shim Sham (also known as Savoy Shim Sham)

Dancers have created their own versions of this fun & popular line dance like The Hat Trick Shim Sham (Shesha Marvin & Kevin St. Laurent), The Caribbean Shim Sham (Remy Kouakou Kouame), The St. Louis Shim Sham (Jon Tigert) and more!

The Shim Sham is usually danced to songs like "T'aint What You Do", "Tuxedo Junction", "Opus One" or "The Shim Sham Song" by The Bill Elliott Swing Orchestra...any 32 bar structured song will work though!

THE SHORT STORY OF THE SHIM SHAM

Written (copyright) by Harri Heinila (published originally in the late dancehistory.org site (the site by Peter Loggins) in 2009)

The story starts from 1926, when Leonard Reed met Willie Bryant in one of Whitman Sister’s shows. Whitman Sisters had one of the longest runned shows in the States, which lasted from about 1900 to 1943. They need for the show a quick finale, which Leonard and Willie made in the basement in very short time in 1927. They called this tap routine as ‘Goofus’ and it contained four steps: the double shuffle, the tack annie, the cross over and the half break as done by one chorus routine to a 32 bar tune. The tune that they used was ‘Turkey in the Straw’. They got the tack annie from a Tap dancer called Jack Wiggins who did a thing called ‘Pull it’. He used to say to the audience: ‘Do you want me pull it’. The answer was usually ‘Yes!’. Once he was performing to the audience, where was also his girlfriend Annie, Jack said those words again and added: ‘Annie next step may be tacky, but I gonna do it for you!’ The half break they composed from the rhythm of ‘Bugle Rag Call’ and the double shuffle they invented after seeing some guy doing shuffle in an old movie.

The dance was easy enough that they could teach even a total beginner to dance that in the show. One of dancers of the show got fired (obviously Joe Jones) and he went to New York, and created there a group called ‘The Three Little Words’. The Three Little Words started to doing the dance at Connie’s Inn in Harlem and they called it Shim Sham (if we trust on Stearns’ Jazz Dance) or they went to the club called Shim Sham where they started to call the dance by name Shim Sham Shimmy (if we trust on Leonard Reed’s own story). Anyway that happened in 1931 after which the dance (by original name ‘Goofus’) started to spread around rapidly. According to ‘Jazz Dance’, Shim Sham evolved also into a quasi ballroom dance without taps. That version also obviously spread to the television programs and shows as a finale.

An intresting fact is that when The Three Little Words performed Shim Sham in the club in 1931, they also invited everybody to get aboard and that happened. The tradition perform Shim Sham as a group started then very early.

Somehow that dance spread also into the Savoy Ballroom. Frankie Manning remembers that Shim Sham was done as a group line dance without taps. It was different than today’s swing dancers do. They did only two choruses into usually 32 bar chorus songs. It was not also organized thing or a big deal in the Savoy Ballroom. Only a few people joined to it according to Frankie.

It is interesting that later, obviously in the end of 1940s or in the beginning of the 1950s, they started to dance the Shim Sham version in the Savoy Ballroom, which we know as the Al & Leon Shim Sham (or Al’s Shim Sham) or as the Line Routine, according to Mura Dehn’s Spirit Moves. At least there are no earlier film clips of that routine than the Spirit Moves (from 1951), and it cannot be the same version Frankie told, because the Line Routine is longer than two 32 bar choruses. This version also differs mostly from the original Shim Sham. The origins of the A. & L. Shim Sham or the Line Routine are unknown.

Also Dean Collins created his version of the Shim Sham. Dean’s Shim Sham starts in the same way than the original Shim Sham but with some modifications, after which it goes totally different direction. Dean created his version for performances (not for social dancing) with exactly choreographied steps and body movements. Dean obviously created his Shim Sham somewhere in 1938. There are some film clips where Dean’s Shim Sham is done partially (as the Hep and Happy by Glen Grey Orchestra). Only film clip where this Shim Sham is wholly done is from 1983 (by Dean himself and Bart Bartolo).

Later came also new Shim Sham versions from the original creator Leonard Reed, who created the latest version ‘Revenge of the Shim Sham’ in 2002 in the age of 95. Other versions he made were the Freeze Chorus somewhere in the 1930s (this is basically same than the original one, but there are freezes instead of full breaks), the duet variation Joe Louis Shuffle in 1948 and Shim Sham II in 1994.

At least the original tap version from 1927 spread around into the Tap World as the simple finale dance, which was usually done in Tap performances.

The most know version in the today’s Lindy Hop World is the version which Frankie created somewhere in the very end of 1980s. Frankie used the original version, but without taps and he included also another chorus with boogie forwards, boogie backs and shorty georges. It is interesting to see Frankie doing the tap version in 1988 film clip (from a Margaret Batiuchok’s theses DVD). He also change for a while to the version without taps, but he did not do the third chorus with mentioned boogie steps and shorty georges (The second chorus is the original version but with freezes (not full breaks), which Frankie did partially in the clip).

Frankie started to do his famous version later in the New York Swing Dance Society’s dance happenings in the late 1980s after which he spread his famous version to around the world. Frankie put the pieces together for his Shim Sham and taught it to Margaret Batiuchok and some of the other members of the New York Swing Dance Society Board. Margaret had the idea and suggested to the other members of the NYSDS board that they do it once every NYSDS weekly dance at the Cat Club. Some other members on the board were skeptical, afraid it would take up dancetime. It took some persuasion but Margaret persisted and they agreed. Frankie lead the Shim Sham when he was in the town and when he was not, Margaret lead that. That’s the way the Frankie’s Shim Sham tradition started.

Today the Shim Sham has really spread around the world as you can see for example from Frankie95 videos in YouTube. The dance is now in the very solid base and it seems that there are almost as many versions of it as there are Shim Sham Dancers.

Excerpt from AuthenticJazzDance

 
 
 
Vintage Tranky Doo - Al Minns, Pepsi Bethel & Leon James
Tranky Doo - Joel Plys, Gina Helfrich & Crista Seipp

THE TRANKY DOO

Along with the Shim-Sham and the Big Apple, the Tranky Doo completes the holy trinity of the original swing-era jazz routines. But whereas the histories of the Shim-Sham and the Big Apple are pretty well-known or easily found, modern dancers tend to know less about the history of the Tranky Doo. This post hopes to solve that problem.

The First Tranky Doo

It has floated around the scene for years that Whitey’s Lindy Hopper Pepsi Bethel invented the Tranky Doo. However, the legendary Frankie Manning describes inventing the choreography in his and Cynthia Millman’s book “Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop.” Here’s the basic story.

In the mid-1940s, Frankie and his performance group, The Congaroos, liked to add different flavors to their performances with non-Lindy Hop numbers. There was a chorus girl in a club in Chicago who was given the special honorof being the last chorus girl to leave the stage. The last chorus girl in line would often show off a little step before exiting, and this particular chorus girl’s show-off step was a fall-off-the-log into a shuffle into boogies. This chorus girl’s nickname was Tranky Doo.

Frankie took this step, used it as the first move of his routine, and then added to it, naming the routine after his inspiration. Frankie’s “routine” — he wouldn’t use the word “choreography” until the 1980s — was two choruses long. This is important, and will come up again. The routine was originally done to the song Tuxedo Junction.

In his book, Frankie further discusses how, when he and his fellow Congaroos would go social dancing at the Savoy, they’d do the routine there, and others caught on and soon it had spread to the social dancers of the Savoy. 

Tranky Doo: Spirit Moves

In the 1950s, a Russian-born filmmaker named Mura Dehn came to the Savoy Ballroom to document American Black dance for a film project that would be called “The Spirit Moves.” She asked many of the Whitey’s dancers to take part in her project. Though Frankie was filmed for a brief amount of time, he was not interested in continuing to work with the project. Several of the other Whitey’s dancers, though, were. Three of them — Al Minns, Leon James, and Pepsi Bethel — performed the Tranky Doo for her, also ending at two choruses.

The result would be the primary source for breaking down the choreography as we do it today.

Tranky Doo: Frankie Manning

In his later life, Frankie changed and added to the Tranky Doo. Many call this version the “Frankie Doo.” (But don’t let that make you forget that the original and the one we do today is also mostly the “Frankie Doo” because he choreographed the bulk of it.) 

Did Frankie mind it that the Tranky Doo had changed over the years? Not as long as it “stayed in the same groove,” according to his book. “For Frankie it was alright for routines to change and change again. That is Jazz,” said Judy Pritchett, a swing-dance historian and Frankie’s longtime companion. “Frankie was alternately amused and appalled by attempts to codify steps and routines by the modern generation. Remember, he didn’t have to worry about accuracy or authenticity, that came naturally. All he had to do was his Frankie thing.”

I witnessed this first hand; having taken two or three Big Apple classes from Frankie in the early 2000s, he taught the “choreography” differently every time.

So, there you have it. Even though there’s still some mystery to the Tranky Doo, we’ve hopefully cleared up some of it. And the mystery that remains just shows how the dance moves and shapes and changes in unknowable ways, remaining a dance touched by who knows how many invisible hands.

 
Trickeraton - Adam Brozowski
Norma Miller Interview

THE TRICKERATION

Trickeration is a Jazz dance routine choreographed by the legendary dancer Norma Miller, original member of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers from the Savoy Ballroom and acclaimed as the "Queen of Swing."

 

Originally Norma lifted the routine from Chorus Girls at New York's Apollo Theatre and would later use it as the audition material for her dance company.

 

In 2010 professional "Jazz Age" dancer & teacher Adam Brozowski assisted Ms. Miller in a series of master classes in New York in which Norma allowed them the chance to learn the Trickeration routine again after several years of not seeing it. It is a special routine full of rhythmically challenging choreography, and an important piece of the "authentic jazz" dance heritage.

WHO IS THE "QUEEN OF SWING"?

Norma Miller was born in Harlem, New York, in 1919 to mother Alma and father Norman, a soldier, both from Bridgetown, Barbados. Norma was named after her father, who died a month before her birth from pneumonia. She had an older sister, Dot. As a young child, her mother enrolled Miller in Amanda Kemp’s dance classes while still struggling to pay rent. When the Great Depression began in 1929, Miller and her family moved to a new apartment that faced the Savoy Ballroom. Miller got her first job at the Apollo and soon thereafter began her career at The Savoy as a professional Lindy hopper.

On Easter Sunday in 1932, when Miller was twelve years old, she was dancing outside the Savoy and approached by Twist Mouth George, “the greatest dancer at the Savoy,” as Miller put it. Twist Mouth asked Miller to dance with him at the Savoy. Later that year, Miller entered the Savoy Lindy Hop Contest, which was held at the Apollo Theater. Miller entered with one of her high school friends, Sonny Ashby and they won the contest. Winning gave Miller recognition and prompted Herbert "Whitey" White, the dance master as the Savoy, to ask her to join his group, Whitey's Lindy Hoppers. In 1934, she joined the Savoy for her first paying job. She was the youngest member of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers at 15 and the dance group toured Europe for seven months.

The group rose to prominence after winning a contest called The Harvest Moon Ball in 1935. In 1936, the group had reached critical acclaim and began a tour of the U.S. with headliner, Ethel Waters. In California the group appeared in a movie by MGM Studios, A Day at the Races

Next, the Lindy Hoppers were asked to appear in the movie Hellzapoppin'. She has a memorable role as a dancing cook in the film. When they returned from filming the group set out on a six-week tour of Rio de Janeiro. Because of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the group stayed in Rio for 10 months. Upon returning to New York, entertainment was different and Miller decided to perform with the Lindy Hoppers one last time in 1942.

From 1952 to 1968, Miller directed the Norma Miller Dancers and Norma Miller and Her Jazzmen, both of which included Frankie Manning's son Charles "Chazz" Young as well as her long-time partner Billy Ricker. The group always debuted their new work at the Apollo Theater. 

With the resurgence of Lindy Hop & Swing Dancing in the 1990s Norma has been traveling the world inspiring a new generation of dancers with her stories, dance moves & words of wisdom. 

As of 2017, Norma Miller is 97 years old and spreading the joy of swing!

Excerpts from YouTubeWikipedia

 

MAMA'S STEW

A challenging jazz routine that focuses on classic repertoire, hot rhythms, and styling. It's a classic called "The Stew", choreographed by Lee Moates, George Sullivan, and Delma Nicholson of the Savoy Lindy Hoppers who mentored the Mama Lu Parks dancers.

This routine is often called the Mama’s Stew routine as Mama Lu & The Parkets very famously performed it together.

 

The Stew was used as warm-up choreography by Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers before practicing their routines.

Excerpts from YouTube

Mamas Stew - Mike Faltesek