Savoy Style

So what is Savoy Style Lindy Hop?

First we have to ask what is Savoy?

The Savoy was a ballroom in Harlem on Lenox Avenue between 140th and 141st Streets. By this I mean it literally stretched the entire block. Known as "the home of happy feet" the Savoy Ballroom opened its doors March 12, 1926 operating almost continually until 1958. The Savoy was so popular that there coatcheck served 5,000 patrons and the dance floor, known as "the Track" had to be replaced regularly every three years.

While dozens of dances came and went from the first day the Savoy was in business to the day it closed, the Savoy was always dominated by one dance, and one dance alone... the Lindy Hop.

Herbert White A.K.A. "Whitey" an ex-boxer, purported gangster, and head bouncer at the Savoy, formed and developed a troupe of young lindy hoppers, dividing them into three main teams, and booked them into tours across America and around the world. Whitey's assistant, head choreographer, and captain of the troupe Frankie "Musclehead" Manning, still travels around the world teaching this dance and spreading what is known as "Lindy Love".

Frankie's style of the Lindy Hop was visibly different than nearly everyone else on the dance floor. Frankie performed the foundation/basic move of the swing out/whip at an extreme angle which made his body look as if he was stretched horizontal. What we call the Swing-out (also known as the lindy turn during this time period) was an eight count pattern where the follower is brought forward they revolve around each other and the follower is sent back out. IT was related to the break-away step in the Texas Tommy Swing, a popular dance from the teens.

When Frankie started teaching this dance professionally (brought out of retirement by Steven Mitchell and Erin Stevens) in the mid-eighties, his style was dubbed "Savoy Style" Lindy Hop, to differeniate this vintage style of dance, rooted in the music and culture of the Savoy Ballroom, from the various styles of swing dance that had evolved out of it in the last thirty plus years. Frankie will be the first to tell you there was no one style at the Savoy. "You had as many different styles as there were dancers, man," says Frankie.

There are numerous branches of style in the Lindy Hop tree, Smooth, Hollywood, Groove, L.A., Hip Hop, New School, Classic Savoy (also refered to as Harlem or Old Skool), etc. The one thing that links them all together visually is the same base pattern... that original breakaway dating from the turn of the century, and it's two standard variations, the swing-out/whip/lindy turn, breakaway/swing out from closed, and the lindy circle. The dynamic and aesthetic will differ from one style to another, but these three moveshave served as the foundation of lindy hop since the twenties,and can be lead and followed by any lindy hopper regardless of their prefered style by using the exact same techinques they use day in and day out.

The most confusing thing about Lindy Hop as a name is that as the dance spread and decades passed the dance changed. It was simplified to match the the more simplistic rhythms of Rock and Roll music and Jump Blues. The dancer's from New York continued to refer to this new and simpler dance as Lindy while the rest of the country had switched to the term Jitterbug, Rock and Roll and/or East Coast Swing (which became the codified ballroom name).

An excellent example is to check out the dancing by Whitey's Lindy Hoppers in Hellzapoppin' and Day At The Races and those done in Don't Knock the Rock and Rock Around The Clock. It isn't just a different style, the actual moves have changed, utilizing a different basic step and different base rhythm.
BTW -- Frankie Manning has an instructional series available with Erin Stevens. While I don't think this is the best series to learn from, across th eboard, the style, and mechanics Frankie uses are certainly worth the price for those who are interested in such things.

This and more information can be found at the Archives of Early Lindy Hop.
When reference is made to Savoy style and authenticity, you can see how we are left to wonder about the verasity of such statements. Do they refer to the style of dancing that Frankie teaches, or the myriad styles of the hundreds of thousands of people who attended the Savoy ballroom during its thirty-two year period. If they use the phrase in reference to some other geographic location it begs th equestion... where is the authenticity?
Do they refer to the style of dancing that Frankie teaches, or the myriad styles of the hundreds of thousands of people...?
Very good point that I've never considered before. Savoy style in so often thought of being the way Frankie Manning dances, but there are so many other styles that developed over a relatively long period of time. I would be interested to know who some of some of the other dancers who were not part of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers that danced at the Savoy. I know of Shorty George.

I have a picture at home that I got from a collector that may prove interesting. I'll try to post it this weekend.
The "first generation" of lindy hoppers is of course huge... however only a few people immediately come to mind as the giants of that age.

Shorty George Snowden, Frankie Manning's idol and sometimes competitor is probably the most well known. Only two film clips I am aware of exist with examples of Shorty's dancing, "After Seben" (1929) a relatively easy clip to come across and the much more rare "Ask Uncle Sol" (1937). Shorty was given his nickname due to his incredibly short stature... barely five feet tall.

If you look at this picture Shorty George Snowden is in the middle. Compare his height to the two male dancers in the background, also bent over.

Shorty's Partner, Big Bea, is one of the only followers from this time period whose fame has spread. She and Shorty were long time partners and performed a comic dance routine. Little is really known about her other than the general consensus that she was the perfect partner for Shorty, able to match his blazing speed, fancy footwork, and the perfect straight woman to his antics, creating a dance team that went years undefeated in weekly competitions.

Leroy "Stretch" Jones was known for his grace and ease at dancing the Lindy Hop. No matter the tempo he seemed to flow from one move to another, improvising on breakaways and tossing off difficult syncopations without any break of form... Frankie considered him the "Fred Astaire" of Lindy Hop. He danced from the begining of the Savoy until the mid thirties when he got a permanent gig dancing at the Paradise Ballroom. This stint ssuppossedly damaged his dancing. Constant repetition of choreography to the "symphonic jazz" of Paul Whiteman. The music itself didn't swing and his dancing suffered because of it.

Little Bea was Stretch's partner, she was five feet tall to his six feet, almost the exact opposite as their friends, Shorty George and Big Bea. Little Bea was known for her quickness and ability to embody the music without letting it interfere with her being lead through the extremely tricky patterns that Stretch liked to lead.

Twistmouth George Ganaway was credited with having created the swivel, the twisting variation that follows use on the one two of the swing out, in the early thirties. He had ataught it to his partner. Whitey was so impressed he told Frankie Manning to "go get that step!" That step became part of the teams basic swingout and through their performances on stage and screen, and exhibitions in the Kats' Korner popularized it making it a common step pretty much replacing the rock-step for the one-two of the twenties style swing out. Twistmouth claimed he was such a good dancer he could win a contest with any partner. He proved this one evening by leaving the ballroom and grabbing a little girl outside who had been dancing on the street corner, to the music that came out the windows. Back up to the ballroom they went. Sure enough, when the dust settled Twistmouth, and his young partner, Norma Miller had indeed won. Norma, was quickly depsotited back on the street corner where she had been found (she was underage), launching her dance career at fourteen.

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