Category Archives: Historical Korner

The Histories Of Dances And Fashions From The Swing Era

Swing In Australia – Historical

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So With A Little Bit Of Digging Through The Pages Of Time And The Help Of A Family Member, We Have Found Some Interesting Information On The History Of Swing Dancing And Its Origins In Australia ( The People The Venues The Bands ) That You All May Not Know About icon smile

Some History Of Swing Dancing In Oz 

newspaper In 1938 Bill Mawson started Sydney’s strangest night school in Newtown where he taught his step the ‘Mawson Jive’ danced to a six count, it was unique, difficult to master, but well worth the effort. In 1941 with the help of Nellie Murphy teaching at his school many ballroom dancers saw the light and came over to Bill’s school to learn the three R’s reelin, rithin and rhythm, such as Brian Marsh, Ron Futuros Daphne Lloyd and Fay Barnett were just some of Bill’s star pupils.

In 1947 Jitterbug was it! The dance of the era and pure energy. Capital cities around Australia played host to frantic dance marathons and competitions. The Gaiety milk bar 220076PDin Oxford Street, Sydney, jumped with hundreds packed into the auditorium to jitterbug the night away to the sounds of The Billy Western Dance Band. When the dancers tired they would relax and Jive to the compositions of Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Count Basie and other masters of the swing dance era played by Bob Gibson and his Big Swing Band.

Kids of the day loved dancing and were ready to swing. It seems as though just after the war that Australians were gripped by a common desire to enjoy life to the full. One of Australia’s greatest dancers was Lee Neilson, who with her partner Milton Mitchell, won the Australian National Dance Championships in 1947 and remained undefeated for the next 10 years. Later Lee was to partner Barry Frawley they continued to dance and tour Australia as champions well into the 60′s, in all Lee Nielson was National champion for an incredible 17 consecutive years! Six O’Clock Rock went to air on February 28 1959 and yes, Lee and her partner Milton did the original opening graphics with two dancers superimposed over a clock with the hands of the clock set to six.

Some More On Lee Nielson

lee and mitltonLee said her first big opportunity came when she danced on Bill McColl’s Jazz Concerts at the Sydney Town Hall. Lee then went on to dance at the Sydney Stadium, Festival Hall in Melbourne and Cloudlands in Brisbane. At these venues she supported such great acts as Johnny Mathis, Della Rees, Sammy Davis Jnr, Guy Mitchell, and world renowned bands of the time. Lee also supported performers such as, Stan Kenton, Lionel Hampton and Trini Lopez at the Leichhardt Stadium. At the Trocadero Lee performed with Ted Heath’s Band and did a great specially number with Gene Krupa and Artie Shaw called Sing, Sing, Sing. Lee also performed this number for thousands of Amercian Servicemen on board the largest aircraft carrier in the world at that time, the USS Saratoga. Lee then went on to club work, such as, Andre’s, with the Shirley Bassey Show at Chequer’s. Lee also performed at the Roosevelt, Celebrity and at Sammy Lee’s Diamond Horseshoe, supporting exciting acts such as Billy Ekstine, and Billy Daniels. At the Rushcutters Bay Stadium, on the Lee Gordon Shows, Lee was a support act with Stan Freberg, Earl Grant and The Platters. Lee danced at the Rex Hotel, the Cross with Buddy Rich. Lee performed on the first edition of Six O’Clock Rock show at Channel Two for Peter Page and the opening show for Channel Nine Brian Henderson’s Bandstand, the Keith Walshe Show, Sydney Tonight with Bobby Limb and Dawn Lake.

Barry Frawley 

lee and barry Was a jitterbug dancer who made many stage and television appearances in the 1950s and early 1960s. Born in 1934, Frawley learnt ballroom dancing to overcome shyness as a teenager. Inspired by his elder brother, he took up dancing in the jitterbug style and took part in many dance competitions. He became the Australasian professional dance champion and the Australian jitterbug champion. At one competition the female judge Lee Nielson was so impressed that she parted ways with her dance partner and teamed up with Frawley.

Lee and Barry danced together at venues such as the Sydney Stadium, Romano’s, the Colony Club, Andre’s and the Gaiety. Frawley could jump off the stage and land on the floor in the splits. He could spin on one foot 7 or 8 times. Lee and Barry appeared on television TV shows from 1956 and claim to be the first people to dance live professionally on Australian TV (on ‘Sydney Tonight’ with Keith Walshe). They appeared on ’6 O’clock Rock’, ‘Sing Sing Sing’, ‘Bandstand’ and other television shows and advertisements. Footage exists of Frawley wearing this jacket on ’6 O’Clock Rock’during a slow dance sequence. Also Rare Footage From Rockdale Barry & Lee

Six O’Clock Rock

SixOClockRock OpeningTitle 2Was an Australian Rock and Roll television show which showed on ABC Television from 28 February 1959 to 1962 and was broadcast at 6PM on Saturday evenings.
Inspired by the BBC program 6.5 Special, it had a similar format to its rival on the TCN9 network, Bandstand compered by Brian Henderson. This was ABC-TV’s very first youth oriented music program, long before the start of Countdown.
The show initially opened with American girl Ricki Merriman as compère and Johnny O’Keefe and his band the The Dee Jays as guests. After six shows O’Keefe had taken over the hosting role. The show always opened with O’Keefe singing “Weeeeeell, come on everybody its 6 o’clock huh huh huh”.
The first episode also featured Reg Lindsay, The Australian All-Stars, The Graduates, Terry King and Johnny Ball. The dancers in the opening title sequence were Lee Nielson & Mitlon Mitchell


Further Reading / References’Clock_Rock


Hope You Enjoyed The Read Keep On Swingin’


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The Savoy Ballroom, Harlem NY

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The Short Story About The Swing Era’s & Swing Dancer’s Mecca …..

SavoyfacadeThe Savoy Ballroom opened its doors on December 14th, 1926 and closed them in 1958. It Was Owned by “Gangster” Moe Paddon (who some say was just a front for Chicago’s Al Capone) and managed by Charles Buchanan. The vision of these two young men was to create one of the first racially integrated public places in the country, which proved to be a wise business decision as well, attracting a wide range of clientele. (The allowing of inter-racial dancing of Blacks and Whites, was really frowned upon by both races at the time at other night spots, but not at the Savoy. The Savoy hardly had any problems with fights or trouble makers due to racial issues. People learnt to overlook there differences and respect the true meaning of the Savoy, it’s music and dance and if not its strict bouncers would fix any problems fast.)

The Savoy was a two story ballroom which spanned the whole block of 140th. street to 141st. street on Lenox Avenue in Harlem, New York.

The Ballroom itself was huge, and something that we could only dream about today. It had two bandstands, coloured spotlights, and a dance floor that was rectangular in shape (nicknamed the track) and was over 10,000 square ft. of spring loaded, wooden dance floor. The floor had to be maintained extremely well due to its mass use. There was
 no smoking allowed on the floor and offenders were abruptly ejected after one warning. Each night cleaners scraped off offending pieces of gum, scrubbed and swept the whole floor, then it was polished ready for Charlie Buchanan’s meticulous morning inspection. This was not just for cleanliness but also for its own sake. Some Iconic Pictures show the intensity of the dust, especially on the men’s clothes that resulted from the polish being ground down each night. The floor had to be kept in excellent condition. Being one storey up periodical checks ensured it didn’t collapse and send the dancers crashing through to the floor below.

“The Savoy ‘s dance floor was sacred”

The Savoy could have anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000 people walk through in a night with about 15% of the people being white. Depending on who the band was, the ballroom would more than double its capacity. When Benny Goodman brought his big band to play at the Savoy (it was chickwebbreported that there was approximately 25,000 people waiting to get into the ballroom when Goodman came to town). The ground floor of the building housed the entrance to the ballroom at the center of the block signified by the marquee-extending out over the sidewalk and various stores. The spacious basement checkrooms could serve up to 5,000 patrons with swift and efficient ease. Billed as the “World’s finest ballroom,” the Savoy was complete with large luxurious carpeted lounges and mirrored walls.

The club was only open to the public five nights a week, with two days being reserved for private Parties/Functions. The normal Cover Charge was between $0.30 cents to $0.85 cents in the early 1930′s (you could also become a member for cheaper prices).During the depression the cover was lower and the Savoy would setup free Holiday dinners for the homeless or poor folks in the area for free.

Walter Barnes orchestra Savoy Ballroom Red Tops collection UMOver 250 name and semi-name bands were featured at the Savoy. The two bandstands allowed continuous live music all night, and provided the stage for the famous battles of bands. The most famous, and one of the most highly publicized, was the battle of Chick Webb vs. Benny Goodman, when both bands were at the crest of their popularity.There were approx. 90 permanent employees at the Savoy, which included musicians, waiters, cashiers, floor attendants, porters and administrative assistants. There were also hostesses with whom a visitor, mostly from downtown, could dance for a dime or be tutored on the latest steps, as well as a team of bouncers clad in black tuxedos and bow ties. The bouncers were ex-boxers, basketball players etc., who would rush in on a moment’s notice and put out any person. A long succession of dance fads were launched from the Savoy that swept the nation and overseas in response to ever changing music trends from dixieland, ragtime, jazz, blues, swing, stomp, boogie-woogie, bop to countless peabody, waltz, one-step, two-step and rhumba variations. Among the countless dance styles originated and developed at the Savoy were: The Flying Charleston, The Lindy Hop, The Stomp, The Big Apple, Jitterbug Jive, Peckin’, Snakehips, Rhumboogie and intricate variations of the Peabody, the Shimmy, Mambo, etc.

2223541791 157b03e0cfWith Lindy Hop being said to originate at the Savoy, the ballroom was known as the “Home Of Happy Feet” and had the best Lindy Hop dancers in the Nation. The best of these dancers would hang out together in the North/East corner of the Savoy, this became known as “Cats Corner”. The leader of the pride was Hubert White (a.k.a. Whitey, an ex-boxer and bouncer at the Savoy) and the group was commonly known as “Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers.” Whitey’s right hand man was none other than Frankie Manning who later took over as their leader. harlem new york harlem new york lindy hop lindy hop  swing katz sydney swing katz

Dance Contest’s were also popular at the Savoy Ballroom and the contests were generally held on Wednesdays with prizes going to third place. First place was around $40.00 in the early days and a chance to perform a solo dance exhibition at the Savoy. The Harvest Moon Ball held it’s prelims for the Swing division at the 50442985 300x235Savoy Ballroom, then later at the Savoy Manor. By the 1950′s there were many Mambo contests held at the Savoy as well as Jitterbug on Monday nights.

As the 1940′s approached, prohibition came and went and now Drugs were becoming a real problem throughout the country and Harlem and the Savoy, although the Savoy out resisted all the others, it to would not be immune. By the 1950′s the scene in Harlem had totally changed and the Savoy (and all the other nearby ballrooms) were losing there luster, large numbers of clientele and money to the much smaller and seedier drinking clubs. They were either closing or would be shut down left and right. The Savoy tried many different things to try to get things back to where they were, but the people were not coming to the club’s in Harlem like they used too in 1958 the building eventually had to give way to a much needed housing complex (Unfortunately today there is no trace of the ballroom ever being in that location). The Savoy tradition of the Lindy Hop continues to thrive to this date thanks to films and other documented accounts as well as legends such as Norma Miller, Frankie Manning & Al Minns. On the 26th May 2002, a commemorative plaque for the Savoy Ballroom was revealed at 140th. street to 141st. street on Lenox Avenue by Frankie Manning and Norma Miller, it is a standing legacy to this great ballroom and what it had achieved socially, musically and in dance.

plaqueTrivia: Why call it Savoy?

Apparently they were looking for a classy name, and decided that the Savoy Hotel, in The Strand, London was the one to imitate. There’s no copyright on the name as the London Hotel’s (that featured jazz even before it’s Harlem namesake opened) name refers back to the Savoy Theatre that it was built next to, which in turns referred to the former Savoy Palace that stood on the same site until rebellious peasants burnt it down in the 14th century. Even that name was brought over to England by royal relatives of Henry III who had some kind of claim on the province of Savoy in Italy that was then an independent state! In Italy Savoy became the name of the Italian royal family, who because of their collaboration with Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship in the 1930s now live in exile. The Harlem Savoy came to stand for a totally different set of values!

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The Zoot Suit !

Filed under Historical Korner, Swingin' Styles & Fashions

A Little Bit Of A Story About One Of The Most Iconic Male Fashions….

The Zoot Suit -

cabcalloway1It was the “Hipster’s” suit, usually associated with Swing Dancing and Swing / Jazz music but was also popularized by African Americans, Latino Americans, Italian Americans, Entertainers and unfortunately Street Thugs during the late 1930s and 1940s. In England bright-colored zoot suits with velvet lapels that bore a slight resemblance to Edwardian clothing were worn by Teddy boys.

Zoot suits were for special occasions, such as a dance or a birthday party. The amount of material and tailoring required made them luxury items, so much so that the U.S. War Production Board said that they wasted materials that should be devoted to the World War II war effort. This extravagance during wartime was a factor in the Zoot Suit Riots. Wearing the oversized suit was a declaration of freedom and self-determination, even rebelliousness. In 1942 Zoot Suit production was halted due to the war effort (and also im sure the riots helped contribute to this in america).

zoot Mask 1 207x3001The Suit Itself -

  • The Jacket was knee length with wide lapels and wide padded shoulders.
  • The pants: High-waisted, wide-legged, tight-cuffed, pegged trousers.
  • The Chain was a long watch chain hanging down from belt to pocket. (while most used the pull chain off the toilet if they couldn’t afford a custom chain.)
  • The Hat – felt fedora and with a feather.

The Riot  -

The Zoot Suit Riots were a series of riots in 1943 during World War II that erupted in Los Angeles, California between European-American sailors and Marines stationed throughout the city and Latino youths, who were recognizable by the zoot suits they favored. While Mexican Americans were the primary targets of military servicemen, African American and Filipino/Filipino Americanyouth were also targeted.The Zoot Suit Riots were in part the effect of the infamous Sleepy Lagoon murder which involved the death of a young Latino man in a barrio near Los Angeles.

Zootsuit2 300x240The riots began in Los Angeles, amidst a period of rising tensions between American servicemen stationed in southern California and Los Angeles’ Mexican-American community. Although Mexican-American men were, for their numbers, disproportionately over represented in the military, many servicemen resented seeing so many Latinos socializing in clothing many considered unpatriotic and extravagant in wartime

The incident triggered similar attacks against Latinos in Beaumont, Chicago, San Diego, Detroit, Evansville, Philadelphia, and New York -j

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East Coast Swing – Historical

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Huh ? East Coast Swing … Whats That You Say ?

Well after a fair amount of research and reading it turns out east coast swing isn’t really defined as well as the other swing dances but is pretty much recognized in Australia as pressure step, tap step, & triple step rock n’ roll with influences from Lindy Hop and “traditional” West Coast Swing! (AKA Hollywood Style)

So What, How Where & When Did This East Coast Swing Story Start:

ArthurMurray copyBy the end of 1936, the Lindy was sweeping the United States. The first reaction of most formal dance instructors to the Lindy was a chilly negative. In 1936 Philip Nutl, president of the American Society of Teachers of Dancing, expressed the opinion that swing would not last beyond the winter. In 1938 Donald Grant, president of the Dance Teachers’ Business Association, said that swing music “is a degenerated form of jazz, whose devotees are the unfortunate victims of economic instability.” However, in 1942 members of the New York Society of Teachers of Dancing were told that the Lindy Hop could no longer be ignored. Its “cavortings” could be refined to suit a crowded dance floor. The result would be East Coast Swing, an invention of the formal ballroom instructors.

The dance evolved from the Lindy Hop with the work of the Arthur Murray dance studios in the 1940s. East Coast Swing can be referred to by many different names in different regions of the United States and the World. It has alternatively been called Eastern Swing, Jitterbug, American Swing, East Coast Lindy, Lindy (not to be confused with Lindy Hop), and Triple Swing. Other variants of East Coast Swing that use altered footwork forms are known as Single Swing or “Single-step Swing” (where the triple step is replaced by a single step forming a slow, slow, quick, quick rhythm common to Foxtrot), and Double Swing (using a tap-step footwork pattern).

WA595847 240x300The dance schools such as The New York Society of Teachers and Arthur Murray, did not formally begin documenting or teaching the Lindy Hop, and other forms of Swing until the early 1940′s. The ballroom dance community was more interested in teaching the foreign dances such as the Argentine Tango, Spanish Paso Doblé, Brazilian Samba, Puerto Rican Meringue, Cuban Mambo, Cha Cha, English Quickstep, Austrian Waltz, with an occasional American Foxtrot and Peabody.

In the early 1940′s the Arthur Murray Studios looked at what was being done on the dance floors in each city and directed their teachers to teach what was being danced in their respective cities. As a result, the Arthur Murray Studios taught different styles of undocumented Swing in each city. From then the Lindy Hop was stripped down and distilled by the ballroom dance studio teachers in order to adapt what they were teaching to the less nimble-footed and the older general public who paid for dance lessons.

In the 1950′s, American Bandstand hosted by “Dick Clark” was considered the television show to go to if one wanted to learn the latest “Hip” dances. Because the music played on the show was too quick for the Ballroom Swing’s triple-steps and latin hip work, and because of censorship issues with “wiggling hips,” the street version of Ballroom Swing (popularly known as “Jitterbug”) was what teens saw, and emulated. Because American Bandstand was a nationally broadcast show, this “Single Time” East Coast Swing (the street version of Ballroom Swing – also known as Jive in Australia or triple step), became popular among teens nationally, and the name “Jitterbug” was applied to it by most of the nation.

Elvis 1956 226x300Note: (Not Much Is Mentioned About The Musical Influence On This Dance (More Is Mentioned About Arthur Murray). But Like All Swing Dancing The Music Spawned The Style And The Late 40′s & 50′s Had Some Of The Best Rock n’ Roll Music & Artists From Elvis to Carl Perkins, Little Richard, Bill Haley, Chuck Berry ETC ETC. The Paragraph Above Highlights That The Dance Had To Change To Suit The Music And Get Back To Its “Origins” That Being Of A Swing Dance Style Not A Ballroom One.)

What Wiki Added :

This form of swing dance is was strictly based in six-count patterns that are simplified forms of the original patterns copied from Lindy Hop. The name East Coast Swing was coined initially to distinguish the dance from the street form and the new variant used in the competitive ballroom arena (as well as separating the dance from West Coast Swing, which was developed in California). While based on Lindy Hop, it does have clear distinctions. East Coast Swing is a standardized form of dance developed first for instructional purposes in the Arthur Murray studios, and then later codified to allow for a medium of comparison for competitive ballroom dancers. It can be said that there is no right or wrong way to dance it; however, certain styles of the dance are considered correct “form” within the technical elements documented and governed by the National Dance Council of America. The N.D.C.A. oversees all the standards of American Style Ballroom and Latin dances. Lindy Hop was never standardized and later became the inspiration for several other dance forms such as: (European) Boogie Woogie, Jive, East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing and Rock and Roll.

In practice on the social dance floor, the six count steps of the East Coast Swing are often mixed with the eight count steps of Lindy Hop, Charleston, and less frequently, Balboa.

Side Points

rock and roll dance 255x300- Technically, we did not have a term “East Coast Swing” until there was a “West Coast Swing” and vice-a-versa. However neither dance are similar in style or technique due to the use of 6 count TIMING and patterns done in reverse order in ECS. However all styles can be danced with each other with a little forgiveness. Subsequent to the Lindy in the 1920s, all forms of swing were called “Jitterbug” (an umbrella term). Laurie Haile is credited in determining the different swing styles for Arthur Murray in the early 1950s by documenting the distinct styles we use today, outside of Lindy, Jitterbug, and Rock and Roll. (Yet another east vs west american naming system)

- During the 1950′s, Swing dancing (Lindy and Jitterbug) was unsuccessfully to be renamed ‘Rock and Roll’. This renaming of the dance shows that even the early dancers were aware that the dance could hold its own to other styles of music and was not music dependent, it could, would and was, done to other styles of music, not just “Big Band”, but the name of the dance didn’t need to change except thru marketing.

- Dance Education Books were written describing this “New Dance” which was nothing more than Swing, However, the explaining of the dance steps were many times described as what we would call today as West Coast Swing. While in other writings it was East Coast or Lindy. Dance studios as well including Arthur Murray were calling it ‘Rock n’ Roll’ dancing, in an attempt to create revenue from a dance already existing.

- Elvis didn’t just add his music to this dance style he also added footwork

So for all you rock n roll dancers out there (same place i began my swing dancing trade) there is the story of the rock n’ roll dancing that came to Australia … Lindy Hop  ripped off by ballroom dance teachers which eventually found a way to get back to the music and the streets the way it was founded (as all swing dances) icon smile – j

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