Thoughts on swing dancing and Lindy Hop, one word at a time…

Who is Ernie Smith?

A few months ago I was attending Steven and Virginie in Rochester and they had a panel with Dawn Hampton and Norma Miller which I attended. During the talk Norma mentioned a man by the name of Ernie Smith and said something to the effect that without him we may have never seen the film Hellzapoppin. I can only imagine that the world of modern day swing dancing would look much different if that film were unknown to our community.

A famous air step known as "The Snatch"

A famous air step known as “The Snatch”

In matter of fact Terry Monaghan writes in his obituary on Yehoodi,

Over the years he made every effort to find the artists who appeared on them, and enabled them to see themselves for the first time, in most cases! Frankie recently remarked, “If it wasn’t for Ernie I wouldn’t have known who the hell I was.”

Ernie brought together influential members of community. Terry also writes,

When the new groups taking an interest in the Lindy emerged in the early 1980’s most of them found their way to Ernie’s place. The “Swedish Swing Society” did in 1984 and the “Jiving Lindy Hoppers” followed in 1985. Ernie put us in touch with each other and the newly organised group of former Al Minns students who became the “New York Swing Dance Society.” Moreover Ernie gave us the telephone numbers of surviving Lindy maestros like Norma Miller and Pepsi Bethel, and in fact it is difficult to know where we would have been without him.

The National Museum of American History out in Washington D.C. notes,

The ERNIE SMITH JAZZ FILM COLLECTION, 1894-1979 consists of 352 reels of 16mm motion picture film.

To put that in persecutive that is one of the largest film collections based on jazz dancing in existence. Due to what started out as a curiosity, over time and through hard work Ernie managed to network some of the most influential members of our community together, educate countless people about the history of the jazz dancing, and provided resources to dancers in the past and present that shaped our entire community.

The Importance of Historians in Our Community

The reason why I mention Ernie’s work is I believe we are at an important point in the development of our dances. Unfortunately we are slowly losing our original dancers and there will be a time in the near future where there will not be new dancers who can say they have learned the stops routine from an original Savoy Ballroom dancer or “finesse” from an original L.A. balboa dancer.

Ernie Smith, jazz film collector and historian

Ernie Smith, jazz film collector and historian

I believe it is important to support individuals and organizations who educate and preserve the history of our dances. It’s why I have been excited about a new group started by our friends from Cat’s Corner out in Montreal, the Jazz Rhythm Inspirations.  They have been offering a wealth of information about jazz dancing in an easily digestible platform.

In addition Mike Thibault out in Rochester, with the help of Groove Juice Swing over the last two years, had some very good talks two years ago featuring Kevin Minns, the son of Al Minns. This year, they repeated their success through a talk with Norma Miller and Dawn Hampton at their event “Steven and Virginie” in Rochester.

Bobby White also has been doing a great job at his blog Swungover thanks to an interview with Norma Miller at Beantown out in Massachusetts, an informative article about the real “swing kids” of Germany. The article has great references, such as the Stephen Wuthe a Berlin-based DJ who has gathered extremely vast knowledge about Swing music, and Swing 101, which is the best primer I know to date for new dancers to learn about the history of our dance.

Last but certainly not least is my favorite blog Jassdancer. Every post on this blog is solid and contains occasionally humorous, but always informative history about “jass” dancing. My only complaint is I wish it would be updated more often.

Moving Forward

While innovation and moving our dance forward is important, I believe the preservation and education of the history of our dances for the swing dance community is essential. This is why I challenge each reader to, at the minimum (if you have a spare moment), to support individuals who provide the services above.

If you are feeling more ambitious and you have the time then I challenge you to to do it yourself. Who knows, you might be the next Mura Dehn or Ernie Smith.

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3 responses

  1. There’s a misunderstanding according Stephan Wuthe. He’s not an original Swing Kid (lucky for him, he’s much younger!), but a Berlin-based DJ. He’s gathered extremely vast knowledge about Swing music, in particular German and European, and wrote a book about it. I know him personally. I guess he’d be very happy to be invited to the US to spin his discs and lecture about European Swing & Jazz of the 30s and 40s … 😉

    May 16, 2014 at 5:49 pm

    • Hey Dirk, sorry for the late reply. Thanks for catching this, it is now fixed!

      September 25, 2014 at 6:43 pm

  2. Stay with this guys, you’re hepinlg a lot of people.

    May 9, 2017 at 2:17 am

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