The Big Apple /Keep Punching (1939)

1939 excerpt from the film KEEP PUNCHING
(also a short known as Jittering Jitterbugs)

A film clip featuring Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. It was originally part of the black-cast film Keep Punching and was also released as the short “Jittering Jitterbugs” in1943. Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers perform a Big Apple routine which was choreographed by Frankie Manning. They also do the Lindy Hop in a fictional jitterbug contest.

The Big Apple, a circle dance of traditional jazz steps done to swing music in response to a caller was very popular in the late 1930s, sweeping dance halls across the United States. In practice, in social dance settings, The Big Apple was never done the same way twice because the steps were called spontaneously by the caller in response to the music and the local community. Listen carefully to the filmclip and you can hear Frankie Manning calling out the steps.

Unlike the popularly danced  version of The Big Apple, however, the routine in this film clip was originally choreographed by Manning in 1937, during the height of the Big Apple dance craze. The documentary Dancing the Big Apple 1937 tells the story of the dance craze and of Manning’s choreography, which was based on an air-mail description of the called dance.

The Big Apple routine was performed by Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers on a 1938-39 tour of Australia and New Zealand as part of a traveling Broadway show called “Hollywood Hotel Review.” The “Big Apple Dancers”, as they were called in the playbill, were an enormous success in Australia and New Zealand, receiving great acclaim in the press and apparently winning the hearts of the Australian people.


Thomas “Tops” Lee and Wilda Crawford
William Downes and Francis “Mickey” Jones
Joyce Daniels and Al Daniels
Norma Miller and George Grenidge
Frankie Manning and Lucille Middleton

Also on this film clip, the Lindy Hoppers appear in a staged dance contest and do incredible acrobatic routines on a crowded dance floor. Like many dance filmclips,(see Malcolm X for a recent example) this is pure fiction — acrobatic steps were never done in a thick crowd like that! However, it is loads of fun to see the contrast between the precise and energetic Lindy Hoppers and the ordinary social dancers on the floor.
Since this aspect of the film was completely unrehearsed, you have a good idea of the kind of dancing that was going on in the jams in the Cats Corner at the Savoy Ballroom that night!


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