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  • Writer's pictureOlivia Fortunato

The Harlem Swing Dance Society – The Harlem SWOP! Harlem Swings into Spring

Hello from Harlem!

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Spring has sprung – and we have thawed out!  Here’s what’s been happening in our neck of the woods:

May 1st: A Dance Retrospective featuring Swing, Lindy Hop and the Savoy!


A couple of months back The Harlem Swing Dance Society (THSDS) was invited to be a part of a retrospective showing the influences of dance throughout

NYC.  Maysles, a neighborhood documentary cinema, wanted to feature Harlem’s famed dance and the Savoy Ballroom to start of the 3 month series.  The series is titled “The Spirit Moves”, and naturally Maysles called THSDS with plans to feature clips not only from the famous Jazz dance documentary but also feature those who were at the Savoy on a panel discussion.

The featured film however is “Queen of Swing” starring Living Legend Ms. Norma Miller!  To have this introduced in Harlem once again to an intimate and varied audience is always exciting – and to see the audience reaction.  Hopefully for a future run we can have Queen Norma there herself to discuss her extraordinary experiences in Harlem during its famed renaissance and beyond.  This coming fall will be Norma’s 80th – YES 80th – anniversary of being in the 1st Harvest Moon Ball (HMB)!  Hopefully Harlem and others will be able to honor her once more for her many wonderful accomplishments…..

spirit moves dvds


This is all a great start for Frankie Month, and with a Harlem kick off to talk more of the significance of World Lindy Hop Day in the area we can only expect great things.  Recall that last year many in Harlem missed it as it fell on a Holiday weekend. Folks attending will meet legendary dancers who graced the Savoy during the 1950s (Sonny Allen and Barbara Billups, both HMB Winners) and it will be so cool that they can name the dancers in the clips.  Also we will have someone who worked at the Savoy AND on “Spirit Moves”: 93 year young THSDS buddy Charles Dorkins!  Surely there will be great remembrances and more preservation for The Harlem Swing Dance Society to work with.

Bad News/Great News

Bad news with the Renny (Renaissance Ballroom and Casino) destruction… but now locales are having great discussions, talking of the past and what Harlem needs to do to save what’s left. The link here connects you to a very good detailed article on the history from start to finish of the almost 100 yr structure. Social media has been spreading the word, and there are pro-active groups being formed. A great awakening for some of sorts – all helping to see the need of preservation not only of buildings but the memories, artifacts, etc.  

And now the great news: Alice Barker, the 102 year old dancer who FINALLY got to see herself on video as an 18 yr old for the first time. While not known for being a Savoy Ballroom dancer,  Alice danced at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem and in movies! This incredible find encourages The Harem Swing Dance Society to find more such like ones right in Harlem.  As you see the time and effort to meet these dance greats and then listen/share their incredible experiences is priceless!  If you have not seen Ms. Barker’s delightful experience and reaction here it is!

alice barker

Spring Dance Program – moved to the Summer!  Spring preparations…

Time flies but it also seems to be on time! While we would have wanted things sooner there is an excitement brewing for the Youth during Summer 2015 to learn more about Harlem’s dance.  To get them in the mood there will be a few FYI sessions exclusively with them before tests and graduation time in June to have them view clips, tell their friends and get honest feedback.  Nothing will be forced … and they’ll get a  chance to learn some more about their history in a fun informative way.

We’ll keep you posted on how it goes :>)

Harvest Moon Ball Honoree Sugar Sullivan embarks on her 85th year

In 2013 The Harlem Swing Dance Society honored Sugar Sullivan, and in April she was honored in Florida for her dance contributions in an in depth newspaper article here for her 85th year! A happy and excited supporter of THSDS and its mission, she has a wonderful archive worthy of a museum retrospective – and 5 Harvest Moon Ball medals.  Sugar helped many to learn and master Harlem’s dance in the 1950’s (including George Sullivan her then husband!) and Barbara Billups to name a couple. What many don’t note is that she assisted with many of the future Champions and winners the 1960’s and 1970’s.

This year is her 60th anniversary of winning that famous contest this coming Fall… Let’s see THSDS can do something special for this Special Lady! :>)

May 26th: World Lindy Hop Day – Harlem Style

Uptown in Harlem there will be a celebration that includes discussion of World Lindy Hop Day but more importantly the whole Harlem renaissance experience.  This is a means to recall, remember and revere this period and talk of better ways to archive and preserve ALL facets of this cultural richness in the area.  Local speakers, authors, musicians, lovers of fashion and more are scheduled to speak.  There will be a swing dance after the lively discussions that will include film clips and Q & A and networking.  

an eve in harlem renaissance

The Harlem Swing Dance Society and others sees this effort as a needed way to get the community involved in a variety of ways to further appreciate what they have (and what they have to offer).  A memory…   a photo…   a scrapbook…  all so very precious to one’s family and the community with archiving. Time and time again THSDS meets true Harlem treasures that give us a wealth of information and resources to tap into.  Naturally we hope with the new Harlem Renaissance we can have more “discoveries” to share and document with the community (and you!) to truly help build a Lindy Hop and Swing Dance community where it all began….

We will see you in June to recap what promises for all to be an exciting May month!  If you are planning to visit the Harlem area please contact us: We’ll help you see some sights in Harlem.  We have our regular Tuesday Dance Class with Savoy Ballroom Master Sonny Allen not too far from the Savoy Ballroom area.  Our April Harlem Swing Dance was postponed till June so maybe you’ll drop by :>) And as the weather warms up there’ll be more activities going on to help promote Harlem’s famous dance culture in Harlem and the NYC area.

See you soon – and as always Swing Back!

Contributed by Barbara Jones

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The Harlem Swing Dance Society Info:

Phone: 347 – 709 – 7022        Email:

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