Congaroo Dancers 

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 Chocolates.

The Congaroo Dancers/ The Four Congaroos

Frankie Manning and Ann Johnson (from 1948-1952) or Helen Douglas (from 1952- 1958)
Russell Williams (aka Rashul Ali) and Willa Mae Ricker

Films

Killer Diller (1948)

Television

Milton Berle Show
Ed Sullivan Show

After the Second World War, the popular music scene underwent great changes which affected popular dance styles. Big Band swing music was declining in popularity as newer musical forms emerged. On the one hand, jazz was evolving into Bebop, which was not very danceable, although a 6-count form of Lindy done with a “stutter” did develop in attempt to dance to the new music. On the other hand, Rhythm’n’Blues, a very danceable music, was gaining popularity and evolving into Rock’n’Roll, a music which lacked the syncopated rhythms and melodic sophistication of swing jazz. To this changing music, young people were dancing a simplified form of the Lindy, in which 6-count patterns predominated.

Despite a declining audience for jazz-based authentic Lindy Hop, the Congaroo Dancers found a comfortable niche performing in large traveling shows with big name artists and bands, such as the Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Kenton, Sarah Vaughan and Nat King Cole. But the popularity of live stage shows was declining, as well, and they were getting more and more expensive to mount. By 1954 the Congeroos disbanded.

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