The morning of May 5th, the Queen of Swing joined the ancestors. She passed away at her home in Florida at the age of 99. Miller is a much celebrated figure in the Lindy Hop and vernacular jazz dance communities across the globe. A true OG's of Lindy Hop and jazz dancing, Miller was invited to join Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, a crew of young black jazz dancers from NYC who trained and showed off at the world famous Savoy in Harlem, NY. With Whitey's crew, Miller famously won the 1935 Harvest Moon Ball Dance contest. Whitey's Lindy Hoppers went on to gig internationally, spreading the joyful and rebellious spirit of swing across the globe. She is one the featured dancers in the infamous, high-speed dance scene from Hellzapoppin'. In the thirties and forties, Norma directed her own company of dancers with whom she choreographed and performed multi-genre dance works. She continued to hustle even in her nineties, teaching all around the globe, keeping vernacular jazz dancing alive at home and abroad. Rest in Power Norma!
Check out these article to learn more about Norma Miller's life and work.
2018 NY Times Article about Miller's work teaching around the world
NY Times Obituary
today's jazz roots bad asses
In celebration of Norma's life and legacy, I want to celebrate some of my other favorite jazz dancers. In this blog, we've already shouted out Latasha Barnes on as a powerhouse working in both jazz roots and house dance styles. Last month, I was in Paris attending the Jazz Roots festival and got to take class with young jazz star Helena Kanini Kiiru. Here is the video of her 2018 performance at Jazz Roots that inspired me to book my ticket.
Florence Mills was the Beyonce of her day. She sang, acted, and choreographed. She had her own show, The Blackbirds Revue, that toured the globe. Mills voice is often described as "birdlike" though no recordings of it remain. She was outspoken in her advocacy for civil rights and racial justice.
Katherine Dunham forever stands as the goddess and scholar who elegantly bridged vernacular jazz and concert dance theater. She was a choreographer, dancer, ground breaking anthropologist, and an activist speaking her mind until her last days. Dunham's legacy is apparent in several classes at UMA, not just Solo Jazz and Lindy Hop. Her influence is felt in Leilani Chirino's Afro-Cuban class, in Sanchel's B-more Afro House Class, and also Majestique's class.
The clip below is an iconic party scene from Cabin in the Sky, choreographed by Katherine Dunham.