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  • Writer's pictureOlivia Fortunato

The Harlem Swing Dance Society – What’s Happening in Harlem

Contributed by Barbara Jones

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Hello all!  If you’ve been watching the weather its been EXTREMELY frigid in NYC – almost debilitating!  Despite this life goes on, and The Harlem Swing Dance Society (THSDS) has interesting news to share. 

We missed you in the February Issue so here is a combined update on topics and more:

SAVE the Renny – Wintry UPDATE

Saving what can possibly be saved of the Renaissance Ballroom and Casino is still a work in progress as of this writing.  As of the week of Feb 16th a barricade was put around the building for either asbestos or the beginning of the demolishing.  We are getting mixed messages in the current media BUT it was found that within the last 48 hours that some of the building is salvageable.  So it remains to be seen what the developers have in mind – we hope for the best.

Frigid weather and combined illness had The Harlem Swing Dance Society postpone their “Save the Renny FYI Event” three times!  Yet the publicizing and the gathering of folks via Facebook and other means has got a great buzz going on about the preservation of Harlem staples.  Needless to say this is right up THSDS’s alley: through this we have met numerous Harlem board members, dancers, archivists, activists, historians, tour guides and more who share the same common goal.  One of the local libraries also allowed THSDS to talk on this topic with Lindy Hop being the main focal lead-in point of preserving Harlem’s unique cultural contributions.  


We also got to introduce Sonny Allen and Sugar Sullivan to many that were not aware of their dance accomplishments and history within Harlem.  They both had Renaissance Ballroom experiences that we were able to share on Facebook, and more remembrances will be shared. 

So till next time we’ll keep you posted.  If you haven’t signed the online petition in support please do so here.

Invaluable Winter Outreach – Frigid Fun!

Each winter season plans are made to do local outreach to various organizations to have  Harlem’ dance present at events.   We love doing the footwork to speak with our children, youth, and seniors…. and this has had us quite a few places in and out of the city. This started for us in mid December and continues.  But extra special is February – it being Black History Month.

“Black History is Harlem History” – plain and simple!  Starting in January events were “pre” Black History but nonetheless event organizers asked us for some “Harlem Swing”.  Within the tri-state area all ages and races got a peek – or re-introduction of Harlem’s dance.


There are quite a few standouts who help The Harlem Swing Dance Society do this, and honorable mention must go to Bernard Dove and Etta Dixon.  Our fountain of youth: between them is over 150 yrs plus!  They are jazz/swing dancers with a brand and style that stops folks in their tracks.  Here they are at The Ebony Society Awards Ceremony. One woman there said they brought tears to their eyes because she remembered “Her Mom and Dad… and how they danced like that…”

THSDS also made a special effort to see Seniors in the area during their lunch break to show them film clips and talk about the history.  They come alive and giddy at the mention of it… longing for it to return.  They are happy there is an organization preserving the culture, but we tell them “it takes a Village” – and that they are valued members to help make it happen. They absolutely loved seeing the recent Frankie Manning  and Norma Miller film clips of them reminiscing about the Savoy Ballroom.

A special treat in February was on a 6 degree night (with snow in the forecast)!  There was a Swing Dance Event at Jackie Robinson Recreation Center, and the few folks that came were almost without a mini swing dance lesson – till Margaret Batiuchok of the New York Swing Dance Society stopped by and graciously offered to step in and do a lesson!  This along with vintage film clips, treats and a great gym space furnished by the NY Parks and Recreation made the night one to remember. The youth who came and others tried it and really enjoyed it – and want more!  We will keep you posted as THSDS is still seeking funding and donations for a Youth program to begin in the Spring.


We also visited Harlem’s Duke Ellington school, where Adam Brozowski left his mark 2 years earlier – however this time Ray F. Davis (who went to Herrang by means of a FMF scholarship) showed the 4th to 5th grade students they could fuse hip hop, Lindy Hop and jazz!  With film clips, interviews and a little Q&A the children and staff were captivated!  A special note goes to the children of Mozambique: We showed their dance clip titled “Township Jive” and the audience was stunned… they let out an audible gasp that Harlem’s dance is being done in Africa.  Thank you to Maputo Afro Swing for posting it on You Tube — you are impacting and helping us in Harlem! 

Lastly we were invited to be a part of an Awards Celebration and Masquerade Ball given annually by Harlem Haberdashery, a community boutique and organization that gives back to the community in so many ways.  This was an honor to be with a variety of Harlem people mingling, meeting, enjoying fine food and of course dancing!  This extra special event topped off the Black History Month of activities for us…. and the guests were in awe as they got to see that you can hop and swing to so many musical things….;>)



We – as so many on the east coast – look forward to thawing out for the Spring.  Till next time, as Norma and Frankie would say “Keep Swinging”!

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   Contributed by Barbara Jones

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