A Look To The Past (Part 2): Broadway Melody

A Look To The Past” is a series in which I write about individuals in the swing dance community that take performances/routines from the past and attempt to recreate or put their own spin on it.

For this second installment I am writing on a performance done at Lindy Focus IX by Laura Glaess and Mike Roberts in which they performed homage to the modern musical number called “Broadway Melody” from what is frequently described as one of the best movie musicals ever made…

Singing In The Rain (1952)

Singing In The Rain is my favorite musical of all time, it features a comedic plot that pokes fun at Hollywood and portrays the transition from silent films to sound films. In case you haven’t seen it (If you haven’t, seriously stop reading right now, rent a copy, and then watch it.) there is a breath-taking performance titled “Broadway Melody”, featuring legendary dancers Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse.


Singing In The Rain
Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly from Singing In The Rain

Laura and Mike when recreating this piece appeared to take everything into consideration; the mobsters at the beginning and end of the scene, costumes, props, and movement. It seemed not one little detail left unconsidered and it really gave the performance a polished feel. What really sold it for me though was both of them were in character, matching every step with the emotion or message they were trying to portray.

When I was watching Laura teach a class on how to dance like Cyd Charisse at Northeast Girl Jam 2010 in Rochester last Spring, I was already impressed on how well she could portray Cyd. However when I saw this pop on on vimeo, this performance just blew me away.

Original Clip:

Lindy Focus IX Performance:


A Look To The Past (Part 1):Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers

Something that I have always appreciated is when people in the swing dance community take performances/routines from the past and attempt to recreate it.  This new series I am starting is focused on online clips of those who have chosen to take the route of bringing the past to the present and posting their performance next to the original performance. Personally I see their endeavors as a great service to the community because it reminds us of our roots as swing dancers.

For this first installment I am going to focus on the recreation of two classic clips by the troupe admired by many Lindy Hoppers, Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers.

Hellzapoppin (1941)

For the plot of the movie you can check this wikipedia link. However the significance for us is the performance by Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers in probably one of, if not the most iconic Lindy Hop scene of all time. At Frankie 95 a recreation of the original Hellzapoppin clip was performed to pay homage to Frankie Manning the Ambassador of Swing in celebration of his 95th birthday. Tragically he passed away before the celebration, but I think he would have been proud. The level of detail the dancers put into the recreation of this original choreography is amazing, this can be especially seen in the mash-up clip below which shows both the original clip and the Frankie 95 performance side by side.

Original Clip:

Frankie 95 Performance:

Mashup-Clip Showing Both Performances Side By Side:

Original Dancers: (Provided by hellzapoppin.net) + Counterparts in Frankie 95

William Downes (overalls) – Dax Hock
& Frances “Mickey” Jones (maid) – Alice Mei

Billy Ricker (chef’s hat) – Davis Thurber
& Norma Miller – Claudia Joyal-Laplante

Al Minns (white coat, black pants) – Max Pitruzzella
& Willa Mae Ricker – Annie Trudeau

Frankie Manning (overalls) – Ryan Francois
& Ann Johnson (maid) – Lana Williams

Keep Punching (1938)

A movie about a boxer nicknamed Kid Dynamite which the plot can be found at this IMBD link. However again for us swing dancers, it is the nightclub scene which features a performance which is known as “The Big Apple” by Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers which is significant.  This same performance was later recreated by the Houston Hep Cats at ALHC 2002. More detailed information about this can be found in Jerry Almonte’s “Artistry in Rhythm” series on his blog Wandering and Pondering, found at this link.

The Big Apple today is taught all over the world as a swing dance routine, shoot you can even learn it online from Patrick and Natasha if you want. However the comment by a user named sbbbjm from the ALHC youtube clip shows the original work the Houston Hep Cat folks had to do when breaking down this routine,

yeah, the cool thing is we didn’t just take a class to learn it all bc the jazzline wasn’t being taught by anyone at the time.

fritz broke down every part and taught it to us after watching the scratchy video clip (no youtube at the time) – even with the original audio not lining up with the video.

thats why this was so awesome at the time . . . we practiced this just as much as you would practice any other team routine to make sure our spacing and styling was authentic to the clip.

Original Clip:

Houston Hep Cats (ALHC 2002):