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Swing Back: The Harlem SWOP  with The Harlem Swing Dance Society

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By Barbara A. Jones

The Harlem Swing Dance Society(THSDS) is the sole organization in Harlem promoting and preserving Lindy Hop and various forms of swing dance culture where it all began.  With this exciting challenge have come great discoveries and collaborations to showcase and bring attention to Harlem’s famed dance.  We love working with community establishments to bring awareness, and to likewise meet the “Savoy Ballroom Survivors” who can tell us firsthand their cherished memories.

Starting in September we have been privileged to have Savoy Ballroom Legend Sonny Allen teaching the 1950’s smooth style swing to our students – a rare and needed treat! Fall 2014 also had us introducing an Intermediate Class with international award winning instructors Mimi Liu and Jeff Leyco.  This class allows a student to get on the spot assistance from two wonderful instructors.We want Harlem to see that their dance is beloved and cherished by all…



Barb B, Sonny, Tiny and Crystal

November 8th we had our annual Harvest Moon Ball Swing Dance and had HMB Champions and Winners present to tell their stories: Beatrice Pierce (Champ, 1953), Barbara Billups (3rd Place, 1958) and Sonny Allen (Champ, 1958). Rare and history making champions present were Tiny Thomas (a TWO time Champ: 1971 and 1976) and Crystal Johnson who was a 2nd generation champion: She won in 1972, and her father Tops Lee (of Tops and Wilder) won in 1940.  The surprise of the evening was Ralph Hopkins, a 2nd and 3rd place winner in the late 1960’s and 1970’s with a slew of medals to prove it – and getting back into his costume of over 40 plus yeas ago!  His partner was Sheryl D. Sullivan….. yes the daughter of George Sullivan and Sugar Sullivan 1955 Champions.

ralph hopkinsmedals

Ralph Hopkins and medals

 Recounting and hearing their first hand experiences had many guests excited; this with a free dance lesson,classic film clips, music and dancing made the evening electric!  Researcher Harri Heinila was on hand to tell the importance of why this culture needs to be cherished in its Harlem home. We also had Ray Davis and Kristan Jackson demonstrate the future of Lindy Hop in Harlem by fusing some Hip Hop moves and demoing it for the crowd.

Fall 2014 also brought College students, Community newspapers and television to document our organization and classes!  The Harlem Swing Dance Society looks forward to working even more so within the community landscape and an exciting 2015.  If you’ll be in town  visit us, our classes or the Savoy Ballroom scene in Harlem: Message us at our Facebook page (700 plus likes!) or email us at Hotline 347 – 709 – 7022.

Contributed by Barbara A. Jones

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