Swing Historian's Methodology

Swinging History buffs,
It took me 17 years for me to get into the Masters History Program at
UCLA in 1962, and one of the shocking revelations was that all the history I had
been taught in Elementary School up to my Under Graduate work at UCLA was
all secondary and tertiary information that was diluted and convoluted by
authors who may or may not have read the original authors' text or
interviewed the individuals directly involved in a given historical event;
and on top of these deficiencies, some of these historians have too often
interpreted the events to support their own predilections. It was only in post
graduate courses were the original historical source texts revealed, like they
were big secrets that only the elite academicians were privileged to study and
It is very evident to me, having been avidly active in the dance field of the
1950's decade, of the parallels to our own Swing History that does exist; that
distortions and fantasies about who did what, where and when in the Golden
Decade of Dance of the 1950's, have been perpetrated by self aggrandizing
individuals who have little or no knowledge of the techniques employed by
trained historians.
The best way to explain the proper techniques used by serious historians
is to tell this story of the method used by one of our leading Swing
Historians, Terry Monaghan out of London England who happens to be the
Impresario of the, 'Jiving Lindy Hoppers' a troop of extraordinary Swing
dancers that perform world wide on some 30 performances a year with Mr.
Monaghan chaperoning his group of dancers on every performance of these
world wide tours. Why do I mention this fact about Terry?
One day about two years ago, I received a phone call from a stranger who
introduced himself as a friend of the legendary, Jean Phelps Veloz who was
the featured star of the 1943 musical films, 'Swing Fever' and 'Groovie Movie'
fame. Jean happened to be an old friend of mine from 1949 when we both
worked for the Veloz & Yolanda Dance Studios in Hollywood. The stranger and I met
for coffee at 'the Coffee Bean' in Old Pasadena where he explained to me
that he had been trying to track me down for eight years, ever since he saw
me perform my 'Back Summersault and Jumping Jack' aerials in the Columbia
film with Bill Haley in 1957, 'Don't Knock the Rock'.
Mr. Monaghan had the opportunity that year to travel all over the USA, having given 28 performances with his Dance Troop in this country, and he always took the time to personally
interview on audio tape and photograph anybody and everybody he could track
down who was involved in Swing dancing from those past years, including Frankie
Manning, Jean Phelps Veloz, the surviving Nicholas brother, Leonard Reed and
anyone else still alive from that Golden era of Dance, even if it took him
eight years to find him!
That's the kind of intensive dedicated research that qualifies a
serious, legitimate, authentic, man who gets his historical information
directly from the people who lived and danced in that past era which in
academia is called, 'First Source Documentation', and not someone who pulls
a news article out of an old newspaper or book and embellishes one statement
or one photo taken out of context and builds a premise to fit whatever cockamamie
jigsaw puzzle he wants to portray as 'Authentic Swing History'.
Terry Monaghan got and is still getting the authentic Swing History, not
out of heresy, not out of old newspapers or copycat books; Terry gets his
history from the mouths of those who were outstanding in the field of Swing
dancing in the 1940's and 1950's...And he's got the audio tapes and the
photos he took personally, to prove the authenticity of his 'Swing History'!
Black Sheep
I absolutely agree... This is the way I have done it, as have Peter Loggins, Lennart Westerlund, Mickie Davis, Christian Bachelor, Ernie Smith etc, etc. Personal interviews with the people directly involved are hard to beat. However... as everyone knows those who came before us, will not be around forever. Sometimes they die, leaving only their chronicled words behind. A number unfortunately have already passed on.

Sometimes the events are far enough in the past that the only way to recreate something is to pull together numerous first hand accounts that had been chronicled and archived and spend countless hours checking and cross checking one source against another. Also as everyone knows people will often times exaggerate their role in an event to gather more attention to themselves, gain a degree of posterity or fame that was denied to them during the time of events. People also may remember the same event differently. And lastly as we age our memories play tricks on us. Stories change, dates get confused, stories blend together etc.

This is why historians document the events of the past and present with writings, audio and video tape. I make no claims about anything in my interviews and seminars that I can't find three people to corraborate who were present or three seperate pieces of written statement. While this means I possess lots of knowledge that I will not ethically feel comfortable as stating as fact, I do pass on such info as quotes from the people involved. Luckily we had moving pictures to help document so much of our swing history. In the form of newsreels, documentries, movies, and soundies (think juke box style videos) anyone can become an eyewitness to what has happened, though finding someone who was present is important to understand the context of the footage.

If people are interested in getting a sense of what swing was like in its day, I suggest you speak to Ernie Smith in NYC, dancer from Savoy. He has the largest privately held collection of jazz on film, both dance and music. The collection is held in care by the Smithsonian Institute's American Heritage Museum in D.C. While you are there I'd recommend going to the library of congress and looking through the archives and stacks. Again some absolutely fascinating information.

One thing else to remember when you are talking to old timers... make sure to inquire into their sources, get dates, and cross check them with others who were present. On general statements be sure to check out what film footage is available. The dates are very important because many of those with us thesedays in fact were not part of the golden age of swing dancing, but started well after the majority of the big Swing bands had stopped touring, meaning their knowledge of what happened at the begging and the height of swing dancing is in fact second or third hand itself.

Great topic Joe. It really will help people figure out that double checking their sources is so very important, and that people who relate history without being able to back up their statements should be taken with a grain or two of salt.
Swing Historians

Where the East meets the West,
Peter Loggings is a good friend of mine with whom I've had discussions about his eight year research on the History of Swing. His eight years of research ends with the year 1939 where my published books, 'The Dancer' and 'Strictly Swing, the Dean Collins' Way' and 'Lindy by Lanza' all three which begin in 1939.
When Peter's book comes out it will be one of the definitive histories of that pre 1939 era. As for the rest of the afore mentioned historians, I can add a half dozen more like them; Rudy Linan, Jose Powell and Nick Grico, intimate friends of Dean's since the 1950's, all three of these Swing Historians have been in the research mode even longer than Peter's eight years, but unfortunately all are still unpublished!
Peter has in his collection every video of Dean Collins and Jean Phelps Veloz , two of my intimate friends since the 1950's, and probably has the best collection of videos of Swing Dancing, plus almost every book on the subject, except my three books which begin in 1939, and are outside of his expertise. Peter probably could open up a Library on the subject. Peter, I might add, that beside being an avid Student of Swing History, Peter whose idol is Dean Collins has the most unique style of WCS Swing with intricate movements that even Dean Collins never dreamed of.
Black Sheep
wannabe Historians

Wannabe Historians,
Two of our most celebrated American Autobiographies were written by Benjamin Franklin and Henry Adams. When they wrote their Biographies, they did not have to corroborate their statements with two or three different source personages; they were the Prime Authorities!
And their statements in their writings were never defined or considered as secondary or third handed sources. Benvenuto Cellini's autobiography during the Rennaisance in Italy has never been dubbed as being secondary or third handed information, and the Switzer, Jacque Rousseau tells his truth as an artist and is never criticized as being a secondary or third handed source of information when he tells about his own life as an old man because his memory may have dimmed with age; this syllogistic conclusion is pure sophistry, specious reasoning to support some false premise of a 'Wannabe' Historian.
What makes these classical autobiographies so valued and respected? Yes of course there is a world of information in their texts, but any hack historian can gather information from any book lying around or corroborate a rumor with three personages who may be as unreliable as the rumor itself.
Then how does an autobiographical documentary get its credible prestige? We have to look at the Author's credentials, and ask ourselves questions:
The first question one should ask is, "vas you der choley? "
The second question you should ask is, "Vhy bist du denke das du alle kennen?
The third question should be, " "Vas habe du tun das ist zo gut ven du bist der, Choley?
Now if the answers to these three terse key questions is self-evident by everyone who was living there at the time, then why should we give any credence to a johnny-come-lately who stuffs some old news clippings in his pocket spends his time looking at old videos of the good, the bad, and ugly dancers and then thinks he therefore is a qualified authority on Swing History, and has the arrogance to consider himself an historian?
We have bona fide Historians who spend years of study at prestigious universities as Post Graduate Students, who have all the above plus credentials that go beyond newspaper clippings and watching Videos, men who are invited by other historians to International Swing/Lind/Jive Conferences based on their erudite publications on Jive/ Swing /Lindy subjects; these are the men who are worthy of the title ' Historian', not some untrained Wannabe who clips news items from old news papers and watches Videos and then goes around telling everybody, "I'm a Swing Historian!"
I have a saying when a woman tells me she loves me: I say, " Take off your clothes and prove it!"
Black Sheep
Again I couldn't agree more with the vast majority of your post.

I've run into tons of people who have watched a video and think they know all about lindy hop. Its hysterical... it is right up there with the dancers who try and lay claim to fame because they appeared in some dumb B movies. There dancing is questionable at best, almost always they have no credentials as real swing dancers, let alone lindy hoppers. They are Johnny come latelies who have jumped onto the swing band wagon from whatever ballet, contemporary "jazz", or ballroom studio. They see their chance to get infront of a camera and jump at it. The sad part of course is that most directors, including dance directors have little or no understanding about real lindy hop or swing dancing, so excellent dancers are passed over by some wannabe who can perform chaîné turns on demand, or some such thing.

This is evident by a number of the dancers from the Broadway show Swing! Not that they didn't have some great principle dancers, but the majjority of the cast was learning swing dancing and authentic jazz as they went.

I do have to disagree though when it comes to peoples autobiographies though. Benjamin Franklin is an excellent example. His autobiography tells only part of the story... and not all of it truthfull... but then again, you have a masters in history so you obviousely already know that. Historians of any credibility never trust a single source, especially when that source is reporting on itself. Everything must be verified, references checked and cross-checked. A historian has one thing and one thing alone that shows prestiege... respect of his peers. The only way to earn and keep that respect is exhaustive research, dedication for unearthing and chronocling the past, never stopping at the easy, obvious, or self-serving answer, but looking deeper.

A historian can't let his pet theories or pride get into the way of his discovering and archiving the truth.

It is amusing how you insist on writing these thinly veiled attacks on me. Everyone is capable of seeing them for what they are... why bother with the illusion of civility.

BTW: "...syllogistic conclusion is pure sophistry, specious to support some false premise..." I'd be more impressed with your vocabulary if that sentence wasn't a truly stunning bit of redundancy. Why use four phrases (that mean nearly the exact same thing) when one would do?

Peter and I have disagreed over the years, as have Tery and I... yet we were always able to keep it civil, listen to each other, never resorted to personal attacks (as fun as a witty bit of character assassination can be). In th eend we understood each other better, usually managed to meet in the middle, and both gained a greater sense of histoy and context of the subject of the discussion. The true sign of a professional if you ask me, always able to keep your mind open when someone presents information you did not have, incorporate it into your knowledge base, and adjust your "world view". Every living member of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, the premiere dancers of the Savoy will tell you that Lindy Hop is based on an eight count move called the swingout, whip, or lindy turn. The dance you learned tweny years after is not the same. It is no less valid, but does not use the same basic and is not danced to the same kind of music.
Swinging credentials

The mystery man above stated:
"Its hysterical... it is right up there with the dancers who try and lay claim to fame because they appeared in some dumb B movies."
That 'dumb class B movie' referred to happened to end up being the most famous Swing Movie of the 20'th Century, a movie that Terry Monaghan, the Graduate Student preparing for his University PhD in Swing History, who is world renown as one of the top Swing Historians on Swing/Jive, told me personally that the 'dumb class B movie' referred to above, started the Swing Craze in Europe in the late 1980's, Bill Haley's, 1957 Columbia B movie, 'DON'T KNOCK THE ROCK'.
As for my claim to swing fame, check my 'Back Summersault' and my 'Jumping Jack' during Bill Haley's 'Rip it Up' Swing instrumental where I throw the lady over my head twice without missing a beat, and then watch me dance on the train platform and look for two techniques: The execution of the authentic Savoy Whip with the overhead ending, and then on the train platform take a look at my feet and the platform floor; my feet never touch the ground, I'm the only man in history who learned how to dance on air.
Check my Web Site, <WWW.LINDYBYLANZA.COM> And then add the only three documentaries on Swing dancing in Hollywood of the 1950's, "The Dancer' and 'Strictly Swing, the Dean Collins' Way' and my last one, "Lindy by Lanza", a Trilogy starting with the Lindy in Brooklyn in 1939, into Palm Springs with the Hollywood greats from Elizabeth Taylor to Clark Cable, celebrities who hung out there in those Post WW II days, and I was there with them every day from 1947-1948, 'The Racquet Club' in Palm Springs, and then the Trilogy takes us right into the Swinging Hollywood years up until 1962 when I created the Bossa Nova Dance, the only person dead or alive to have created a Ballroom Dance. (A dumb class B movie fame?) And on top of that creating and operating the first successful Dance Club in the USA, 'The Hollywood Dance Club'.
And I still am making contributions to the World of Swing with hundreds of commentaries since April 12, 2003, and last but certainly not least, my training program specially designed after 50+ years in the professional teaching fields, a tried and successful method to unglue wallflowers and turn them into authentic Savoy Lindy dancers within 15 minutes with my 'MAGIC PILL'.
The Magic Pill is still available; just send a 'YES' to (d.lanza@netzero.net) .
Black Sheep
Just a little reminder
Let's stick the topic. It's OK to criticize evidence or offer a contrary view, but let's be careful that we don't criticize the person making the post. If you have a problem with a person, send them or me a private message. Also, make sure you read my signature, because I want everyone to be "part of the family". :D
Wow... defensive aren't we... a few points of clairifcation...

1. I wasn't refering to you about the crack on B movies... I have about a dozen people I know who have used various uncredited dance scenes in movies as a opening into teaching. They weren't good dancers or teachers, lost students as fast as they came in, and all do something else to make a living these days.

2. Tricks never have been an indication of good dancing. They are an indication of good tricks. PERIOD.

3. I can't imagine anyone who has actually studied history making claims about how one thing has only ever been accomplished by one person. Particularly by someone who admits they didn't start dancing until they were twenty-seven, and then dropped out of the swing dance scene for a few decades.

Now that you mention it though, DKTR was not and certainly is not now a Class A movie. Nothing wrong with that. Neither was Hellzapoppin', despite Al Jolson starring. Some of my all time favorite movies can only be called B if you are being generous.

I'll have to email Terry to check about his statement of DKTR as being some great catalyst for Europe's Swing Dance craze... I do know that Hellzapoppin' in the early eighties was the impetus for Ryan Francois and the founding members of The Rhtyhm Hot Shots for studying lindy hop. Ryan was one of the most influential dancer's in England, and TRHS one of the most influential influences in Continental Europe.

However I will tell you now that if you ask the average swing dancer, and more importantly, just the average American, one of two movies will come rolling off their tongues when asked to name the best Swing Movie of the 20th Century... Swing Kids and Swingers. Most people have not heard of Don't Knock The Rock, let alone seen it. Anyone one this board (it's liker a train wreck, you don't want to look but you can't turn away) choose DKTR over Swing Kids or Swingers as the most popular/best/catalyst for Swing Dancing or Swing Movies? I'm sure there are some who believe this... but everything I've heard said indicates otherwise.

I actually kinda of like the movie... the dancing is certainly over all at least a bit better in it than the other two, and I have a number of friends that were in Swingers. However the Zoot Suit Riot video both the originial and the second one equaled it in dancing ability and general showmanship.

Natilie and Yuval do aerials in lindy hop that no other lindy hopper has been able to reproduce, and this is including everything I know of the lindy hoppers of earlier generations (and specific quotes from surviving members of WLH)... however that has no true bearing on their ability to dance lindy hop better than those others... tricks are just a small part of Lindy Hop. Now Nat and Yuval are peers and close friends of mine. I'm big fans of theirs, so I'm not saying this as any part of an attack or to further some sort of agenda against them. Their Lindy Hop is good, their tricks often are what catches the judges attention. There are better dancers than them and they will be the first to tell you that. You gain credibility by backing up your statements by talking about what tricks you have done, especially since they are completely unrelated to the argument at hand. If I had said you couldn't do aerials or something... then I could understand it.

Now instead of making these things personal... why don't you actually address the questions asked, and provide some verifiable evidence for the statements you make. I'm certainly willing to adjust my understanding of the history of Lindy Hop, as any swing historian should be, but only if you can provide evidence that carries a greater weight than the info already gathered by Historians like Ernie Smith, Peter Loggins, Lennart Westerland, Marshall Stearns, as well as what I have gathered from dancers and musicians who were present (way to numerous to list). When the only proof you provide is "I was there" I'm goping to have to go with People like Frankie, Dawn, Norma, Dot, Sugar, George, Mary Ruthie, etc. all of whom actually danced at the Savoy Ballroom.

Can you understand why I would go with those who learned and danced regularly at the Savoy Ballroom, about what was and is Lindy Hop, especially when we start throwing around terms like "Authentic Savoy Stlye Lindy Hop"? I'm not asking you to agree with me right now, I'm asking you to understand why I have the stance I do, and why I ask for some sort of verifiable proof to bake up your version.


Staff member
While I make no claims of being a historian or knowledgeable regarding swing I have to say that, as an academic, I can certainly understand where d nice is coming from—an inquiry regarding substantiation is not, in and of itself, a challenge regarding veracity.
SDsalsaguy said:
an inquiry regarding substantiation is not, in and of itself, a challenge regarding veracity.
Too true, though constant refusal to do so, or avoiding/ignoring the question does tend to cause doubt.
letter to Salsaguy

If you read my past Commentaries, I have more than answered His questions. If you notice anything I say He turns it around to fit into his predetermined jig saw puzzle.
To go into the minutiae of answering questions that he comes up with would be an exercise in futility. And I have no desire to communicate with anyone who has used hearsay statements to question the credibility of my Commentaries.
Everything I say is corroborated by living persons, news articles, films I have danced in, UCLA records, photos taken at various events, you name it. He has come up with one single piece of very questionable evidence to cast doubt on my commentary about the 'Origin of the name Swing'; which is a news headline titled, 'Texas Tommy Swing' 1907 as proof that my version of how the Lindy got its name Swing is false.
My version of the orign of Swing's name is a fact which happens to be well documented and well known by all the old time Swing dancers, many of who hang out at the Golden Sails in Long Beach every other Sunday. That 'Texas Tommy Swing' news headline is the only proof he has come up with to question my credibility. And you be the judge of the worth of that news headline?
Everything else the man says or lady which is a possibility, is what comes out of his mouth spasmodically, without any stream of consciousness which makes him suspect of tom foolery if nothing more serious. When he accused me of an error stating that I said Swing dancing did mot exist at the Savoy Ballroom in the 1950's, and than I quoted an April Commentary where I specifically started that the Lindy was still being danced in the Savoy Ballroom during the 1950's, instead of apologizing like a gentlewoman, for mis quoting me, she came up with, "Ok, but how about Springfield, Illinois and Brownville Texas and Leghorn Arizona". The man or lady is trying to discredit me, but he or/and she is wasting their time.
My stories and facts are iron clad documentaries that I never even have to stretch the truth let alone to lie about. My life is blessed by being at the right places, at the right time, talking to the right people about Swing dancing in the Hollywood of the 1950's, and it has been my commitment, long before She came along, to share my fabulous experiences with posterity.
There are a few Wannabe Swing dancers who Wannabe Joe Lanza, but they are fifty years too late, and they lack the talent or knowledge to do what I have done, am doing and will continue to do, and that is "Tell it like it was, like it is, and even tell it like it's going to be tomorrow, when tomorrow comes."
Now my lady friend, Denise, will accuse me of, "Oh, How Defensive Joe is!" or "Blowing your own horn again!" or Wow, aren't you the modest one!"
And Let's see how many distortions Ms. D'nice can convolute from this dissertation?
Black Sheep
Trying to discredit you? Don't be so paranoid. I was one of several people who actually attempted to engage you in civil discussion about the things you have said on this and other forums, trying to reconcile why your history of dancing in L.A. in the 50's apparently ignores every piece of verifiable information about what happened at the Savoy Ballroom from 1926-1958, including the numerous personal interviews I have done with not just the living members of Whitey's Lindy hoppers, but those of the bouncers, some of the members of the 400 Club, and some of the regular lindy hoppers at the Savoy.

As to providing the newspaper title... if you are interested why not come up to San Francisco... I'll happily show you the actual article and you can read it yourself. The Texas Tommy Swing was, by all known information, the first swing dance. Not only does the article clearly place the term Swing being refered to a dance well more than a decade before the Lindy Hop, but there are other sources that substantiate this claim. The worth of that news headline? Well since you asked I'll tell you, as it is the only physical evidence offered, one that is available to the general public, I'd say it is worth quiet a lot. If you like though I could provide more.

Since this dance existed on the West Coast prior to Lindy Hop (let alone being imported to the West Coast), and as it evovled it was refered to as Swing, still years before Duke Ellington recorded his first Album... it is rather difficult to maintain the claim that his song played any part in refering to the various dances being done to "Hot Jazz" as Swing.

These are all verifiable facts. When I ask for clarification or proof, you refuse to provide it at all or give vague references. I want names, dates, places, and people present who will verify your story, and not some random statement of "read my articles" but in the thread where you are asked. I don't need private numbers and such. I have associates in the L.A. area who know a significant number of the old timers, who will be more than happy to verify your statements for me, if you provide me with the necessary information.

And for the last time Joe, I quoted your exact post when I challenged your statement about L.A. being the last bastion of Lindy hop in the 50's. As I said then... if you misquote yourself, no one is going to side with you against my refutation. Again... I have plenty of evidence that not only did Harlem continue to dance the Lindy Hop (which you say you acknowledge in a post months old, but not in the one where you make the recent claim), but so did several other city's across the nation. In all honesty it sounds as if you have made the same mistake so many have recently made in assuming that just because it was no longer the popular fad that it died out. It didn't.

If you are really interested in vintage swing dance history, I suggest you contact Richard Powers, internationally recognized historian, choreographer, and dance instructor. He would probably be more than happy to help place all of this in context for you. I mean his been researching this stuff since '76 and is considered one of the world's foremost experts in American social dance. If you want you can PM me and I'll happily give you his office number at Stanford University. Admittedly he isn't a primary source, but he could direct you to such easily enough to prove his point.
Texas Tommy's fish!

Your problem is that you Wannabe me, but you were born too late, and if you were there with me in Hollywood in the 1950's...

[edit - sorry, it's fine to criticize the information, but not the person. We don't want to scare away others from participation (and I don't just mean d nice and Black Sheep). You are welcome to request credentials, but a person is never obligated to provide them. Let's try to agree to disagree here. :)]
Wow. I guess you told me. Isn't it wonderful that we can all act like intelligent and mature individuals, have a interesting exchange of ideas, and debate things in an academic and non-threatening manner.

I don't wish to be anyone but myself. I rather enjoy being me, I have had an exciting and interestingly full life.

Joe, if you really want a list of ways I've contributed to the world of Lindy Hop, why not ask Peter and Hillary they both know me. They can give you some background info.

As I said in another post, I'm not into posting bio's or self-promotion. My statements are based on well researched information, a surprising amount, not from books or even from film but from discussions with the dancers from Harlem back in the day. You remember Harlem right? The place that popularized the Lindy Hop. The home of the Savoy Ballroom. If anyone has an idea of what would make up "authentic Savoy Style Lindy Hop", it should be those who danced at the Savoy. Unless of course that was a name attributed to the way dancing was done in the 50's in Hollywood, and had no relation to the dance done at the Savoy.

No, Joe, I confined my info about the Texas Tommy Swing, to the places where it was brought up... you'll notice you brought it up in this thread.

Now perhaps we can continue this like two gentlemen?

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