Don't Knock the Rock

Don't Knock the Rock', Introduction
In February 2000, I received a Phone call from Terry Monaghan, Impresario of the, 'Jiving Lindy Hoppers', a London based dance troop that performs internationally with over 30 weekends performed in the USA. At lunch, a few days later, I learned for the first time, the effect that the film, 'Don't Knock the Rock' had on the Europeans. Terry, who happens to be the only Swing/Lindy Historian around, told me that this film came out in Europe for the first time some eight years before our meeting, and that it was the single impetus to a Lindy/Swing craze in the European Continent. The interest was so great that European dancers wanted to know the names of the dancers in that film. During lunch, Terry took a couple of photos of me that were good enough to use as Christmas cards. When we settled down for tea, actually it was coffee, Terry surprised me by saying, " Joe, I have been trying to hunt you down for three years to interview you. It was Jean Phelps Veloz (Swing Fever fame 1943) who gave me your phone."
The first time I viewed, 'Don't Knock the Rock' was in November 1999 at the Hollywood Palladium when I was a Guest speaker at Hilary Alexander's second annual Camp Hollywood event. When they previewed the film at the beginning of the evening, and I saw myself do the Back Summersault and the Double Jumping Jack, in the film for the first time, I was elated and surprised, because the aerials I performed in that film had been lost in a memory maze of some 40 Hollywood Major Film Studios that I had worked in during the 1950's, almost a half century ago. I soon realized there was a significant interest in the Swing dancing of the 1950's and within eighteen months, July 4, 2002, I published my 32nd book, "Lindy by Lanza" with dozens of vintage photos and many Inside Stories of the 'Rock and Roll' films I had worked on.
The following narrative is an excerpt from 'Lindy by Lanza', and it has to do with, among other intrigues, the events that almost prevented these unique aerials, 'The Jumping Jack' and the 'Back Summersault' from ever having been caught on film for posterity, aerials that have never been duplicated in the 20th Century.

Copyright 2003 by Joe Lanza. Do not duplicate in whole or in part without the consent of the author

The Auditions:
"Today's Tragedy is Often Tomorrow's Blessing in Disguise" Joe Lanza, 1957 a.d.
The procedure for working in a Hollywood film in 1957 was simple: Central Casting (CC) is a Bureau located in Hollywood that registers all Dancers and Extras available to work in Hollywood Major Film Studios. I was spotted by one of the talent scouts from CC while dancing at the popular bistro, The Penthouse on Western Avenue and invited to Register with Central Casting as a "Dancer'; An 8X10 glossy with an application listing vital physical statistics plus the various talents, e.g. sports, languages, education, wardrobe etc.was all the prerequisites needed to become registered with Central Casting. Extras were paid $17.00 per diem and dancers $23 per diem. Occasionally CC would phone me for special dance jobs, but the majority of time I would check in with them a couple of times a day for any auditions for dancers. Fortunately, I had sufficient ballet an modern Interpretive /Jazz training to qualify at some of the non Swing dance auditions, so when 'The King and I" staring Yule Brenner called for oriental dancers, I with over a hundred dancers auditioned for twenty dance jobs. I managed to fake my way through the exotic Vishnu body movements and qualified under Jerome Robinson's (of Westside Story fame) astute scrutinizing analyzes. However, when all but some fifty dancers were left, Mr. Robinson had to cut the group down to twenty dancers, and he made a statement that slightly traumatized the Black Sheep, "All the dancers 5'6" move over to the right side of the room!" We all knew that this dance job was scheduled to run some 14 weeks steady with possible 'Special appearance's $58.00 checks in addition to the $23.00 per diem, and since greed is the rational for lying, Lanza had to make a quick decision since he was only 5' 5 1/2" tall, or short. So the Black Sheep moved over with the herd of 5'6" dancers to the right side of the room, stretching his neck for that extra half inch, since it was only too common a practice for choreographers to hire only men 5'7" and above so they might be taller than their female partners. When the two groups were finely separated, Robinson made an unexpected announcement, " All you dancers, 5'6" and over are dismissed and please leave the room to your right". When Joe heard the shocking words, he quickly approached the choreographer blabbering, "Mr. Robinson, I lied, I'm only 5'5". Mr. Robinson summarily dismissed the Black Sheep by shaking his head impatiently and pointing to the door. This was the only time Joe lied about his height on a dance audition and it kicked him in the knat right out the door and out of a plumb dancing job. But was this Kismet at work?
This was at the time a tragedy of sorts, because this musical job was probably the most glamorous, well paying job of the decade. But two weeks later, this tragedy was to turn into an unforeseen future blessing; auditions for a Class C movie by Columbia, a Class D film company was held and Joe Lanza was one of twelve dancers who qualified. The film would end up being called, "Don't Knock the Rock".
"Today's Tragedy is Often Tomorrow's Blessing in Disguise" Joe Lanza, 1957 a.d.



Copyright 2003 by Joe Lanza. Do not duplicate in whole or in part without the consent of the author
Rehearsals for all the dance sequences in 'Don't Knock the Rock' took seven days, and the filming of the movie only took another week. Joe Lanza had just lost a 14 week dance job on 'The King & I' and now he was working on a class B movie that would become a Classic for Swing Buffs. But at the time, no one could imagine that this Class B film would 30 years later start a Swing Craze throughout Europe and become a Classic A film for Swing Buffs.
The Dance Director for the film was Earl Barton, whose big break was in the musical film, "Seven Brothers For Seven Brides' as one of the non brothers. The Dance Director's job is much like a traffic cop feeding the dancers in front of or past the camera. During rehearsals Earl rarely was in the barn-like studio where the rehearsals were held. The twelve dance couples were a mixture of Swing Dancers and Ballet dancers who were fairly good swing dancers. These dancers are all seen in the Charleston number. Occasionally, extras would be used in dance sequences to fill space or for aesthetic effect. The only dance number that required training and rehearsing was the Charleston number which only one dancer in the group knew anything about. . Fortunately, Joe had worked out a Charleston Routine with his former girl friend, Beverly Mayo who had learned the dance while performing in USO Shows in the South Pacific and Japan. Of course Earl was tickled when he discovered Joe, who ran the Hollywood Dance Club, had all the Charleston moves down pat. It took all of one day and one morning to get twelve couples dancing the Charleston like professionals, which they were. Anybody who gets paid for dancing is a professional.
The rest of the rehearsal were more or less couples practicing their specialty dance moves, stretching, relaxing and looking busy whenever Earl came into the rehearsals room with some guests. Earl's favorite treat for his guests was to ask Joe Lanza to do his Back Summersault coming out of a Whip Rhythm step. This performance so fascinated Earl that he had Joe do this aerial a couple of times a day for the various guests that he brought into the rehearsal barn. Some 40 years later Terry Monaghan, Swing Historian and Warren Haze, Captain of the Jiving Lindy Hoppers out London were having lunch at the Bucca di Bebe, with Lanza and he suggested they interview Earl Barton as part of their research on the film, 'Don't Kock the Rock'. Terry smiled at Warren as he explained, "We visited Earl before we looked you up. He previewed the film for us and when you were doing the back flip he said excitedly, "Look at this!" like this was part of his Choreography". Earl's enthusiasm for Joe's aerials during rehearsal had some strange repercussions. One afternoon during a break in the rehearsal, Lenny Smith, (head shaker), Tommy's older brother from the Tailspin saga, approached Joe in a rather casual manner, "Hey Joe I want to talk with you. Let's go up in the stands for some privacy." Joe saw Lenny for the first time when Beverly first took Joe to the Tailspin in 1952. That night, Lenny, Lou Southern and Dean Collins performed the Shim Sham after the Swing Contest. Although Dean and Lou Southern became Joe's good friends, Lenny Smith always avoided any eye contact or communications with Joe until this moment, five years later. Of course Joe was pleased to see that Lenny, the old timer from the WW II movies finally had decided to become friendly. Was he wrong!
When Lenny finally got to the rear step of the miniature stands with Joe directly following him, Lenny turned suddenly facing Joe with his lips curled angrily and index finger inches away from Joe's chest and with a guff voice, stage whispered, "I'm giving you a warning; If I ever catch you on another Swing audition, I'm going to kick your knat. Don't you ever take another Swing job in the studios." Joe's eyebrows climbed into his forehead with amazement, as Lenny jauntily descended the few steps and melted in the group of dancers below. Obviously Lenny had heard from his younger brother,Tommy that he had bluffed Joe from entering any Swing Contest after Joe had won 1st & 2nd place at the Tailspin, so he was encouraged to trty the same bluff. Ironically, the next Swing job was, 'Untamed Youth' where Joe was the Choreographer at $123 per diem with Lenny as one of the dancers at $23 per diem.
But this was just a minor ruffling of feathers compared to the evolvement of a drama that was to follow on the very last day of rehearsal between the Black Sheep and Earl Barton
NEXT: DON'T KNOCK the ROCK, Part III, The Barton Bomb!

Black Sheep

Copyright 2003 by Joe Lanza. Do not duplicate in whole or in part without the consent of the author.
(so Lenny Smith the 'WW II, DRAFT DODGER was encouraged to try the same bluff his younger brother Tommy pulled at the Tailspin only eight months previous after Joe Lanza took 1st and 2nd prize in the memorable unprecedented 'Swing Contest to keep the Black Sheep out of future Swing Contests. Ironically, the next Swing Film audition was for, 'Untamed Youth' where Joe got the job as the Choreographer at $123 per diem with Lenny Smith was hired as one of the dancers at $23 per diem. )

The Barton Bomb!
When dancing in front of the camera, dancers are expected to perform at least one of their flashy moves which may be carrying the lady over their shoulder by one leg or spinning thge lady around the right shoulder or shaking your head or doing a split, etc., none of which are difficult moves but are impressive to a non dancer. So it was the Dance Director's job to feed the dancers in front of the camera, one at a time for their specialty moves. The non dancing Extras are placed in the background around the action, clapping and yelling to embellish the scene with added excitement or if the lady is attractive enough have the her strutting past the lens. Moving thge traffic for the cameraman was Earl Barton's job on DON'T KNOCK THE ROCK.
Although Joe Lanza and Earl Barton were on rather friendly terms from the first day of rehearsal, there was a slow souring of amenities between the two men; the cause was Joe's steady girl friend and dance partner who was on the same movie set. You will remember Ruby, one of the judges at the Tailspin who Lou Southern referred to as 'a Bimbo', well after that first meeting Ruby and Joe were inseparable, with Joe training her as one of his studio dance teachers. Ruby was a Lakota Indian with a German father from whom she inherited her blond hair, and was a good looker with a body that wouldn't quit. Ruby had been married three times and was only 24 years old.
As that week's rehearsal progressed, Ruby began to pay more than a casual interest in the Dance Director who assigned film vignettes at $58.00 per shot plus could promise future film jobs. Earle was handsome and an exciting tap dancer who often performed during rehearsals for the other dancers. So Joe understood Ruby's attraction, but his Jealousy was strictly ego damage, nothing more. So Joe was cool about his girl's flirtation with Earl, but Earl increasingly began to exhibit a rudeness toward Joe as the week progressed. Since Earl was by far the least experienced Swing dancer on the film set, it soon became obvious to Joe that Earl was doing his best to impress Ruby by criticizing Joe's timing, style or techniques during a half day's Charleston Rehearsal; ironically the one dance that Joe had taught the rest of the dancers the previous day. During that last Charleston rehearsal, Earl's criticisms were exclusively to Joe, "Lanza you are off phrasing" or "Your turns are sloppy" or "Get on the balls of your feet, you are dancing flat footed. You better work on your timing". Joe knew he was being intentionally provoked, but he kept his mouth shut; he was too thrilled just to be working in the movies, and so he shook off the rudeness with his silence. Some years later after Joe and Ruby broke up, she revealed to Joe that she was having a 'love affair' with Earl after rehearsals.
The big confrontation between Barton & Lanza came on the very last day of rehearsal, one day before filming was to take place. Barton came over towards Joe after the lunch break gritting his teeth and in a very unfriendly tone in front of Ruby and the other dancers spewed out, "Why did you complain to the Union about your 'Stunts?" This was different from rudeness, but Joe shook his head in exasperation, thinking, 'this guy is really pushing me to the edge'. "Look Earl, I don't know what you are talking about. I never complained to anyone. I don't even know..." Almost jumping up and down with hands clenched Earl cut Joe short, "You're a dammed liar. You told the Union Representative that you were doing back summersaults every day on rehearsals. Now I have to pay you an extra hundred dollars per day for stunts." "Honest, Earl; I never said a word. I didn't even know the back summersault
was considered a stunt." Earl just waved his hand at Joe in disgust and added, "Starting Monday when we start filming, you do not do any aerials, no stunts. Do you have that straight, Lanza? And no more back flips, period!"
With that ominous warning, Earl Barton did a 180 and hurriedly walked away and out of the rehearsal hall.
Joe looked at Ruby who had a strange smile of satisfaction. "What's so funny ?" Ruby shook her negatively. "Nothing! Nothing! You'd better not try any more aerials. Earl will throw you off the job." If you think I'm going to listen to his B.S, I'm going for that Back Flip the first time that camera points my way!" "You better not!" 'You've been dancing eight months, and already you are telling me what I can do? I don't think so!"


Black Sheep
Don't forget to vote on the Magic Pill, Simplified Swing;
Joe looked at Ruby who had a strange smile of satisfaction. "What's so funny ?" Ruby shook her head negatively. "Nothing! Nothing! You'd better not try any more aerials. Earl will throw you off the job." "If you think I'm going to listen to his B.S... I'm going for that Back Flip the first time that camera points my way!" "You better not!" Joe placed his hand on Ruby's shoulder patronizingly. " Ruby, I started training you as a dancer for only these past eight months, and already you are telling me what I can do? I don't think so!"

When the first day of filming arrived that next Monday, sure enough, whenever Earl placed the dancers around the film shooting set, Joe was always stuck in the rear of the crowd with the non dancer Extras, out of the cameras' range. Fortunately for Joe and posterity, Earl was not always on the set when group dance scenes were being filmed, but occasionally he was busy shooting his own personal scenes dancing West Coast Swing with Gale Ganley in a family cottage scene or overseeing his masterpiece choreographic production with four chorus girls in 1950's one piece bathing suits going through a typical audition type routine doing a 90 second tap routine that was as exciting as a dog scratching.
Joe Lanza's big opportunity to dance on camera came during the most exciting musical number of the film. At the time, no one could have guessed the universal fame this scene would bring this Swing dancer who started dancing at the age of 27. And he never even hung out with the Swing crowd with the excerption of Dean Collins who was teaching at Joe Lanza's Hollywood Dance Club.
Rip it Up
The first segment of the dance scene., 'Rip it Up' was shot in the morning when Earl was off the set, and it starts almost immediately with Joe doing his prohibited back summersault followed by his original Jumping Jack, two aerials that have since 1957 never been duplicated by any other Swing dancer (2003) despite Joe's attempt to train World Champion and National Champion Swing dancers.
The back summersault almost turned into a tragedy in that 'Rip it Up' scene. Joe had performed that stunt as back flip gainers hundreds of times since high school days and never faulted. But that stunt on camera was the worse one he ever did; he sensed something went wrong, but it took 44 years before he ever saw the movie for the first time. And it was a Hilary Alexander's 'Camp Hollywood Extravaganza' where Joe was a Guest Speaker at which time he was able to see for the first time and analyze why his Back Summersault almost went awry. In the stunt as Joe was in mid-air turning, suddenly, his partner, Ruby did something she never did or was not supposed to do; she placed her hand on Joe's back and turned her own body toward him, thereby throwing him out of line and pushing him downward. Why Ruby suddenly decided to push Joe while he was airborne, I can only leave to the conjecture of the reader.
If that Back Summersault ended with Joe on his knat or head, the following Jumping Jack would never have followed and these two unique aerials, never again duplicated would have been lost to posterity. How kind
Lady Kismet has been for Joe Lanza, the Black Sheep!
Joe never knew why Earl was so upset with Joe making $123.00 a day until a year later when Universal Studios tried to hire Joe for $250 a week; which was only half of any respectful, qualified choreographer's fee. After the third call from Universal trying to induce Joe to take the Job for $250, with wonderful promises of future jobs, Eve Wassermann, the secretary trying to hire Joe used her ace persuader; so she thought as she explained, " Well Joe, we can get Earl Barton for $250.00 a week, why are you charging twice as much he charges." Joe explained to Eve, " I do not take any job for less than $500 a week plus dancer's pay of $23 per diem..." Eve never called Lanza back a fourth time.
Today Earl is a cabinet maker, and Joe is still teaching and choreographing and writing books and commentaries on dancing.

Black Sheep
MOVED (I combined all the Knock the Rock Posts into one thread)

Originally Posted by Vince A:

Now I'm kind of curious about the next episode . . . with Rock Hudson.

Keep them coming . . . there are some of us who do appreciate your time and enjoy reading what you have written.

In the train station scene, I believe he is the one on the right. I believe I see at least on Lindy Circle (8 count). Right?
In the second clip, I'm guessing he is the one on the piano, but it's hard to tell.
On the piano?

1) Joe Lanza is not dancing on the piano; he is the one jumping in a circle all around on top of the furniture;
2) In Bill Haley's, 'Rip it Up' musical number, Joe does the Back Summersault and the Double Jumping Jack using the 'Six Cioount Lindy style, and never misses a beat or breasks the Lindy rhythm;
3) In the train platform scene, Joe is dancing in the foreground, doing a Savoy Style Lindy Whip with a turn under at the end.
If you look at Joe's feet in that scene you will notice that his feet never touch the ground. He is the only dancer in the history of dance who accomplished dancing on air.
Black Sheep, your friendly instructor.

Vince A

Active Member
. . . He is the only dancer in the history of dance who accomplished dancing on air . . .

We all know Joe . . . "that's Hollywood!"

I'm funnin' ya' Joe . . . besides my wife does that to me everytime we dance together . . .

Re: On the piano?

Black Sheep said:
3) In the train platform scene, Joe is dancing in the foreground, doing a Savoy Style Lindy Whip with a turn under at the end.
How do you count your Savoy Style Lindy Whip? I'm counting and it certainly fits in the eight count I'm familiar with.

Black Sheep said:
If you look at Joe's feet in that scene you will notice that his feet never touch the ground. He is the only dancer in the history of dance who accomplished dancing on air.
Joe only 6'5 260 lb. professional wrestlers should refer to themselves in the third person. :) With the shadows it is difficult tell what is going on with your feet but Kevin and Carla have done a move like this... they were dancing to a much faster song, and with shadows I can't be sure it is the same move or a more athletic version of that same idea. I think I've got a tape somewhere of Tip and Holly doing something like this at the American Lindy Hop Championships as well.
counting the Savoy Whip!

Excellent Question. I'm surprised no one asked that Question before. If they did it got obfuscated in trhe maze of commentaries.
In the 1950's we always counted on the lady entering from the open position, (triple steps=2 quarter beats) and the throughout, (2 steps) = 2 quarter beats total = 4 Quarter beats. We always counted it, "1,2,3, and 1,2." for the complete whip. It is not an eight counts move UNLESS you want to count the preparatory Rock Step (1,2 =2 Quarter beats) and the lady's triple after she ends up in the open position (2 Quarter beats equals your Eight Counts. So both counts are right depending on where you start counting and where you end your count. However the complete Whip is only 4 quarter beats, into the man and away from the man. Simplicity is always the best way to demonstrate, and I believe it was a very simple move to teach just by counting 1,2,3, in and 1,2 throw out. But it does not change the move by adding two Quarter beats before and after as the Lady the move around the man with your eight counting.
Thanks for the input, I'm sure that same Question was troubling others.
Black Sheep, your friendly instructor.


I'm trying to follow this, can you let me know if I understood it right?

The "Whip" is a 4-count move.
The rockstop is a 2-count move.
The ending open position is a 2-count move.

Ah... and here in lies all the confusion... dancers in the 20-40's in Harlem counted the preperation and ending steps. Since todays lindy hop revival stems from those Harlem dancers modern lindy hoppers use the same counting method.

I have to ask why you would not count the steps necessary to prepare the follower and send her back out?
Whip Math

Read my lips:
The Savoy Whip is 4 Quarter beats long; but you use 5 steps. You pull the Lady in on the first Triple, which in my Magic Pill method is, '1 &2';
And this should bring her half way around circling the man;
On her throw out she takes only 2 Sreps (2 Quarter beats) comleting a full circle ariouind her partner in 5 steps on 4 Quarter beats. These last 2 steps are counted in my MP Method, 5-6; (omiting the 3 &4).
If you want to count the preparatory Rock Step which is always taken backward for the lady in Savoy Lindy, you can add 2 mor steps (2 Quarter beatss). And if you want to tack on a first Triple after she completes the Whip, then that would add 3 more steps taken on 2 Quarter beats.
But the is not what is being taught out here in the WCS! What some or most, there is no way of staticizing this, but they are useing a basic rhythm step for the complete Whip, i.e. 'Triple, Triple, Rock Step'. And that makes Eight steps to Six Quarter beats. But again the is not the Savoy Whip and lacks the fast snappy tempo of the 4 Quarter , 5 step Whip.
Black Sheep, your friendly instructor


Re: counting the Savoy Whip!

Black Sheep said:
we always counted on the lady entering from the open position, (triple steps=2 quarter beats) and the throughout, (2 steps) = 2 quarter beats total = 4 Quarter beats...

... the preparatory Rock Step (1,2 =2 Quarter beats)...

...and the lady's triple after she ends up in the open position (2 Quarter beats equals your Eight Counts.
No "trick questions", I was trying to understand the above post by breaking it into it's simplest form. :)



Re: Whip Math

Black Sheep said:
what is being taught out here in the WCS ...for the complete Whip, i.e. 'Triple, Triple, Rock Step'.
I'm not on the West Coast, so maybe you could provide some dance halls or teacher names you've seen teach "triple, triple, rockstep" as a swing-out/whip?

On the East Coast, we never see anyone using "triple, triple, rockstep" as a swing-out, but only for other moves. So I'm interested to find out who's teaching this on the West Coast so I can check it out, it sounds very interesting to see!

Here in Atlanta (from my limited experience ) the ECS swing basic and throwout are usually "triple, triple, rock step", but the whip, lindy circle and swingout are "rock step, triple, walk walk, triple". Am I missing something?

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