Legendary Jazz Dancer Norma Miller Visits Wo’se Community Church

Dance instructor Traci Bartlow leads attendees at Wo’se Community Church in a group dance for their “Lindy Hoppin’ Jazzy Juke” reception in East Oakland.

Dance instructor Traci Bartlow leads attendees at Wo’se Community Church in a group dance for their “Lindy Hoppin’ Jazzy Juke” reception in East Oakland. Photo by Aziza Jackson.

Swing outs, Suzie Qs, and Shim Shams were all the rage Sunday afternoon at Wo’se Community Church’s “Lindy Hoppin’ Jazzy Juke” reception in East

Legendary jazz dancers Norma Miller, known as “The Queen of Swing,” as well as Chester Whitmore, and Chazz Young, son of legendary Lindy Hop master Frankie Manning, where all honored guests.

“Essentially, we often talk about how our culture is being stolen and complain about our separation from our culture,” said Tracy Brown, minister in training at Wo’se Community Church, and organizer of Sunday’s Jazzy Juke event.

“This was a direct opportunity to engage in the appreciation of our own culture.”

The Lindy Hop, born during the Harlem Renaissance, is one of the oldest forms of jazz dance, and is named after aviator Charles Lindbergh, nicknamed “Lucky Lindy,” who “hopped” the Atlantic Ocean in the first solo transatlantic flight in 1927.

It was made popular by African American dancers at the legendary Savoy Ballroom located on Lenox Avenue in Harlem, New York.

The Savoy Ballroom served as the only desegregated ballroom in the country where black dancers, musicians, and comedians could all perform under the same roof.

Norma Miller. Photo by Aziza Jackson

The Savoy is also the place where Norma Miller’s career began at just 12 years old.

“I worked with Duke Ellington, I worked with Count Basie, I worked with the great Louie Armstrong, and I’d been working with them since 1939, 1940, 1941, up until Pearl Harbor,” said Miller.

“They created what black people needed in this country; we broke the walls of segregation because of our music. You have to know us, before you know yourself.”

When asked what her favorite Lindy Hop dance move was, Miller smirked and said, “You learn how to do a good swing out.”

With most of these dances nearly a century old, Miller expressed extreme disappointment in seeing a lack of African American representation in ballrooms today.

“I can’t understand how could you be under 30 and not know this,” said Miller.

“You all came up with the telephones and the Internet. We never had any of that. We had no advantages.  We gave them all to you, well did you do anything with it? Don’t you feel I should feel a little disappointed?”

Miller also said that she wants to make sure that these dances and their rich history get passed down to black youth for generations to come.

“There’s nothing you can’t do,” said Miller.  “We can have a woman president one day, and we hope it’s this generation that could possibly do this. It has to start somewhere.”

In addition to hearing Miller, Young, and Whitmore share their experiences and reflections, attendees learned Lindy Hop dance moves from instructor Traci Bartlow.

“We saw children dancing with adults, we saw children dancing together, it was just a fun time for people to get together, and to just have a good time together, and to spend time with our elders who deserve to be honored,” said Brown.

“We have not only a right but a responsibility to pay homage to those like Ms. Norma, and Chester, and Chazz. It’s up to us to make sure our next generation has an understanding of their relationship to their own culture and traditions.”

For more information about the Lindy Hop, Traci Bartlow can be reached via Facebook at Starchild Enterprise.


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