“Shorty George” Snowden
Shorty George Snowden was the top dancer in the Savoy Ballroom from its opening in 1927 into the early 30’s, when he formed the first professional Lindy Hop troupe, the Shorty Snowden Dancers. They performed with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra at the Paradise Club downtown through most of the thirties.Although he was barely five feet tall, Snowden made his height an asset rather than a liability. With comic genius, he parodied himself in his signature “Shorty George” step, in which his bent his knees, swinging from side to side, exaggerating his closeness to the ground.
Leroy “Stretch” Jones
A popular first generation Lindy Hopper, in the early years of the Savoy Ballroom (1927 to early 1930’s), Leroy “Stretch” Jones was one of Frankie Manning’s idols. Frankie thought of him as the Fred Astaire of Lindy Hop, with his grace and flashy movements. His partner Little Bea was like Ginger Rogers. Stetch was 6 feet tall and Little Bea was about 5 feet; they formed an amusing counterpoint to contemporary Shorty Snowden, whose partner Big Bea towered one foot taller than Shorty.
“Twistmouth George” Ganaway
The dancer known as “Twistmouth George” –no doubt to distinguish him from his rival, “Shorty George“– was one of the great dancers and innovators from the earliest days of the Savoy Ballroom. He went on to become a professional solo dancer and did not frequent the Savoy Ballroom as much in the thirties as George Snowden and Leroy “Stretch” Jones, whose dancing had so much influence on the 30’s generation of dancers.
Ruth Rheingold (Ettin)
Ruthie Rheingold Ettin first entered the Savoy Ballroom in 1934 when she was 16. It was a fluke — her brother and his friend had been shown up by their dates, so they took her and her girlfriend instead. She recalls, “Although I was a little shy, the music took the shyness away.” She became a regular at the Savoy.
Naomi was Frankie Manning’s partner in the Cotton Club show and in the 1937 European tour that followed it. Frankie considered her his first professional partner because he saw the Cotton Club show as the official beginning of his professional career. After Naomi’s return to New York she left Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers and became a chorus girl, working in the Savannah Club. In later years as Bronx resident Naomi Gay, she had been active in promoting African-American culture.
Norma Miller was first discovered as a gifted young Lindy Hopper by Herbert “Whitey” White when she was just 14 years old. Since she was too young to go into the Savoy Ballroom, she often danced outside on the sidewalk where the music could be heard quite well. The first time Whitey saw her she appeared out of nowhere on the dance floor and won a Savoy dance contest with Twistmouth George as her partner.
Russell Williams (Rashul Ali)
Russell Williams aka/Rashul Ali was a dancer with Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers who won the Harvest Moon Ball competition with partner Connie Hill in 1940. They are shown dancing together in the famous photo above by Cornell Capa. After WW2, known as “Ali”, he danced in Frankie Manning’s Congaroos Dancers. His untimely death occurred in the 1960s when he attempted to split up a fight between two other men.
Willa Mae Ricker
Frankie Manning says of his longtime friend Willamae Ricker, “She was one of the greats of Lindy Hop… she was the soul and heart of the dance”. He specifically notes her skill in doing all of the aerials, and her physical strength “to hold men up so they could shine”. Although Willa Mae and her husband Lindy Hopper Billy Ricker were high school sweethearts and enjoyed a long and healthy marriage, they rarely danced together professionally. She partnered Leon James, Al Minns, Frankie Manning, Russell Williams and others. She won the first Harvest Moon Ball with Leon James in 1935.
When Harry Rosenberg first walked into the legendary Savoy Ballroom in 1936 and looked around the dance floor at the great dancers, he was not intimidated. “I’m gonna be the best dancer in the Savoy Ballroom,” he told himself. Then his eyes fell on Frankie Manning. As Harry told the story, Frankie had not even swung out, he and his partner were just jockeying in place. But Harry saw something and quickly revised his prediction: “I’m gonna be the best white dancer in the Savoy Ballroom,” he decided.
Billy Ricker and his high school sweetheart and wife, Willa Mae , were close friends with Frankie Manning from their pre-Savoy days in the early 30’s at the Rennaissance Ballroom till Ricker’s death in 1987. Ricker was a member of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers and later worked as one of Norma Miller’s Jazzmen. He developed a long friendship with fellow Jazzman Chazz Young, Frankie Manning’s son.
One of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. Her name changed after she married Chocolateer tap dancer Albert “Gib” Gibson, but she was best known by her nickname, “Boogie”. Don’t miss her solo dance in Mura Dehn’s The Spirit Moves to see how she earned her nickname. This film clip is excerpted in Call of the Jitterbug, where she is shown in a recent interview as well.
An important figure in the Golden Age of Lindy Hop, and a member of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, George Grenidge danced in three of the five feature films that were made by the group, including the ill-fated Everybody Sing, with Judy Garland. During the mid to late thirties, when the Lindy Hop grew like wildfire nationally and developed into a substantial dance form at the Savoy, Grenidge was one of the prime movers, along with Frankie Manning and Snooky Beasley. The three often vied for first place in the Saturday night competions at the Savoy Ballroom. Grenidge and his partner Ella Gibson won the Harvest Moon Ball in 1936.
No one has contributed more to the Lindy Hop than Frankie Manning — as a dancer, innovator and choreographer. For much of his lifetime he was an unofficial Ambassador of Lindy Hop. Originally touring as a dancer and choreographer with Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers in the 30’s and 40’s, he helped spread the popularity of the Lindy Hop through three continents. Once again, since the swing dance revival that started in the 1980s, Frank Manning was a driving force worldwide with his teaching, choreography and performance. His own love of swing music and dancing was contagious as his dazzling smile.
One of the great dancers of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, Al Minns was an energetic dancer with a wild, crazy-leg style reminiscentof “Long-Legged George” Grenidge. Minns was in Whitey’s top group, known as The Harlem Congaroos and appeared in the feature film Hellzapoppin’ and in the popular soundie Hot Chocolates. As the youngest dancer in this group, he was particularly fit and flexible. On the initial backstep of his swingout, he formed a striking horizontal plane.
Leon James, one of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, had one of the greatest on-stage personalities in Lindy Hopping. With his constantly moving legs and hands and his flashing eyes, everyone would always notice him first. His styling was a favorite of the ladies at the Savoy, who still like to remember the way he moved his hips. He and partner Willa Mae Ricker were featured in the 1943 Life Magazine spread on Lindy Hop, along with the white Broadway dancers, Stanley Catron and Kaye Pop whose picture appears on the cover. The photographs of individual dance steps by Gjon Mili are sensational.
The Lindy Hopper known as Tiny Bunch was a huge King Kong of a man, over 300 pounds, but he was a graceful and agile dancer.
Dorothy “Dot” Johnson
Tiny Bunch's partner, Dot Johnson, was quite petite like King Kong movie co-star Fay Wray. Tiny and Dot did not try to downplay their non-typical sizes, but instead played them up in exaggerated fashion through contrast.
A wonderfully athletic and agile dancer, Ann Johnson was Frankie Manning’s partner in Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers in 1940-1942. Manning says she was like a cat: ” No matter what way I threw her, she would land on her feet…She was also a wonderful human being.”.
The Congaroo Dancers were a Lindy hop performance group led by Frankie Manning after he returned from serving in World War II in 1947. The group originally got its start in 1939 as the primo group of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers known as The Harlem Congaroos. After playing the Cotton Club, they danced in the movie Hellzapoppin‘ and in the soundie Hot Chocolate.
Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers
The undisputed all-time champions of Lindy hop, the original Swing Dance. It is almost a century 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.