Norma Miller, known as the Queen of Swing, passed on to the next world the morning of May 5th at her home in Florida. She was 99. Miller is a much celebrated figure in the Lindy Hop and Jazz Roots community across the globe. One of the true O.G'.'s of lindy hop and jazz dancing, Norma famously won the 1935 Harvest Moon Ball Dance contest. She was then invited to join Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, a crew of young black jazz dancers from NYC who trained and showed off socially at the world famous Savoy in Harlem, NY. Whitey's Lindy Hoppers went on to travel the globe, 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 had her own company of dancers with whom she choreographed and performed. 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. I was motivated to attend when I saw an internet video of her 2018 performance.
Florence Mills was the Beyonce of her day. She sang, acted, and choreographed. She had her own show, 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.
I LOVE MOVEMENT! I would be miserable without it.
I relish knowing that my body is a tool to express myself in whatever way I choose. We all have the physical activities that we love to do, but what are you doing to make sure you will always be capable of performing at your top level? What do you do to make sure your body can handle the rigors of your personal practice?
Kinstretch is a movement enhancement system that develops maximal body control, flexibility, and usable ranges of motion. It is a system that puts your joints into the most difficult positions possible and forces you to make them stronger in those positions. It is a system that bulletproofs your wrist from injury when you thrust all your weight onto it during an inversion. It is a system that connects your brain to those hard to reach ranges of motion so that you can control every vertebrae during a backbend.
You jump, you stomp, you flip.
Are you confident your joints can handle the pressure?
We are athletes, artists, and performers; our body is all we have. It is imperative that we treat it as our greatest asset and spend the time necessary to keep it a well oiled machine. Kinstretch upgrades each moving joint of the body in isolation so that when they work together they run with no issues. Using the laws of exercise physiology and strength training, come see what it means to find your movement limitations, target them, and make them your greatest strength. Give your body the best chance to stay healthy, pain free, and mobile so that you can move well for the rest of your life!
I vividly remember my mother with a tobacco in hand blowing smoke to the muerto’s face and spitting alcohol onto the preinda (cauldron where el muerto sits) filled with gunpowder. A large fire would loom overhead - el muerto was listening and we can ask for guidance. We sang to Orishas as a form of prayer. In the car, we would sing a lot to Eleggua - the orisha in charge of showing you paths in life, “el que abre los caminos.” We would drive around in the car, pull the windows down and sing “Eshu o, Elegguara é, Eshu o Mofuribale, o Mofuribale mi padre, Elegguara é” while offering him candy, pennies, and corn in return for his help.
In Cuba, it is not uncommon to participate in both Santeria and Palo religions or even also Catholicism. Living in Miami, though, where most of the Cuban immigrants were light-skinned and Catholic, I was not allowed to share with others that we practiced Afro-Cuban religions. We masked our practice with going to church on Sundays after Saturday’s Tambor.
During my dance studies as a college student at Florida International University, I had the opportunity to train in Afro-Brazilian and Afro-Cuban modern dance (Tecnica Cubana). Things felt better, more normal -as if the two sides of my upbringing - classical dance at school and religious dancing at home- weren’t necessarily separate.
After graduating college, I moved to the northeast United States, where I felt very out of place. Desperate to bring home to me, I began teaching and performing Cuban social dances (Son, Casino, Rueda de Casino) with my partner Michael Huang, took classes with Gilset Mora (Headlong studios), danced for Philly’s Afro-Caribbean percussion group Timbalona (Andres Cisneros, Christian Noguera), and continued to train with other instructors (Kati Hernandez (L.A.), Royland Lobato (Oakland), Chini Perez Domenech (Minneapolis)) while teaching and performing at Cuban dance congresses across the country. It wasn’t until Michael began taking percussion classes with Christian Noguera and playing at home and at Rumbas at Imperfect Art Gallery in Germantown, where I began to feel comfortable in Philly. I finally felt at home.
Rumba is a secular Afro-Cuban music and dance that has been passed down through the generations, a community celebration ("Rumba" also means "Party" in Spanish). The music is primarily percussive, carried by three tumbadoras, or conga drums, and led by a lead singer who improvises a call and response with the rest of the singers. When the music gets to its peak, dancers join in as well.
There are 3 types of Rumba. Rumba guaguanco is the most prevalent today, and the dance involves a hen and rooster like game of pursuit between the male and female dancers. Rumba Columbia traditionally is danced by only male dancers; it is an energetic and acrobatic style which involves dancers showing off their prowess and battling each other. Rumba Yambu is the slowest of the genres, and is considered the dance of the older folks. It is a sensual but restrained dance of courtship.
Today, I continue my training with master professor Marisol Blanco (Havana/Miami) where she directs the Afro-Cuban dance company Sikan, making Afro-Cuban dances and traditions better represented, even among the Cuban community. Thanks to her, I feel like coming home as an Afro-Cuban dancer and practitioner isn’t as isolating anymore. I continue learning and bringing information and more of home back to Philly. I’m happy to call UMA my second home now, where I can share my heritage and culture with students who are eager to learn and move to our infectious polyrhythms. "
Congratulations to Sanchel! She took us on an epic journey!
Missed it? Check out a review at thinkingDance.
Below are some photos Lily snapped on opening night.
-Our first house dance party last Saturday was a blast. Thanks to everyone that came out. You all made it an unforgettable experience. When I first started working on Movemakers/UMA, I didn't have in mind a venue for parties. But that door is open now! I was totally surprised by the feel of the party. It felt like my first encounters with loft parties in the mid 2000s (Sadly I am too young to have recollection of the OG loft happenings of NY.) UMA was full of good vibes last Saturday, inviting and uplifting. And all of you that were there were so free! It was a privilege to share with you. You all inspired me to practice and party more, hence my impromptu trip to NYC last night, a juicy all nighter that reminded me of my days first starting in the club scene. Many thanks to the Hood Lockers, Lauriane and Mai Le!
The exchange in the video below between Tyger and me is just a small representation of what went down. The overall party was so much more rich! But this moment is important to me, because Tyger was one of my top dance partners way back. i owe so much of my development to exchanging with him. He's the man (if you are curious about him, go see him at Koresh. He holds it down).
On another note, this event will be called IN DA UMA going forward. Our next event is April 27th. Mark your calendars! - Vince
If you're not on our email list, you're missing some of Vince Johnson's personal reverie's on dance. Sharing his latest below:
In operating a school that stems out of African Diaspora traditions, there is one thing that I hope that we all activate in our lives, which is the ability to emote in dance, or even better--Let's call it rejoice. Rejoice shows up in a variety of life circumstances. It can take many forms. In Hip Hop dance, I'll argue that it is as fundamental as bounce and groove. For some, the experience of rapture is tapped into easily. Let's take me, for example. When I first began dancing, "snappin," "getting open," going off," (all synonymous with the occurrence of rapture when dancing) were easier for me than "getting busy," which is knowing your vocabulary and being able to speak eloquently, laying it down righteously. Snapping without getting busy at the same time does't work in Hip Hop, which requires adherence to vernacular and thereby intelligibility. Subsequently, I'll argue that there is a fundamental order of progression in hip hop required to truly transpose into rejoice, which is expressed through this theorem: its first through a rigorous process of sensing one's environment while simultaneously self-examining, self-controlling and deliberating and applying unique concept that one is able to unlock the door for true rejoice within the ritual of hip hop dance. Keep in mind that this order is occurring in the moment of improvisation or dancing choreography. Might sound complicated and that you need to be an expert in order to tap such a state. But the truth is this formula can be applied early in ones practice. You simply must have some grasp of the basics and the ability to move to the beat. The key point is that many of us get our two step to the beat, but never unleash into full rapture. But this experience of ecstasy is there for all of us. We all will know when it happens for you, as it happens in testimony. UMA exists to promote this moment for all who step to the floor.
So that we know more about what this looks like, let's take a look at the clip of Meech and Tasha that I've shared. It's worth taking a closer look from 2:49min to 2:53min. Notice the shift in Tasha's attention. At 2:49 she is smiling from enjoying Meech's round. But when she looks back at 2:53min, it is clear that she is somewhere else. It is important to immediately note that this is beyond her being engaged in performance. She is sensing the environment and transfixing on a variable of sensations. She is locked in by 2:55, all with just simple bounces to the tempo, the basics. Then by 3:00min, she raises more complex technique. Now it is a mix of feeling the external and feeling herself. Lift off into Ecstasy (sans the pill). By 3:27, she is hopping on one leg, flapping her arms like wings. The MC is going "aww shit." Meech is drawing his hands to his chest at the same tempo. Tasha is providing access for the entire room to witness and grasp what she is feeling. At 3:33min there is a magnificent sychronisity of Meech touching his chest as Tasha gives space for herself to stand glorified and in perception of what she is generating. Furthermore, the qualities of this being beyond a plotted theatrical performance exists in the expressiveness of her face. Her facial expression at 3:47min shows where she has landed and what this place is doing to her. She grasps onto the moment, for the expression of the face is both a reaction to what she is feeling and a device for her to sustain and feed her present moment. Meech wants some and successfully takes his own trip on the bridge that Tasha has drawn. The room is pumped not by how cool and sophisticated Tasha's moves were, but by the contagion of jubilee yielded from her public rapture.
UMA is the space for this. Let's recognize so that we can snap and show out more!
VALENTINES VIBES: Bring your Valentine (or just a friend) to select classes 2/11 - 2/17 FOR FREE
For general participants: two for the price of one per class (class card holders can apply one class. this will also work for anyone purchasing a drop in. This special doesn't apply to $40 intro month pass holders)
UMA Members: bring one friend free / per class (keep in mind that the class cards and the $40 intro month are not considered a monthly membership)
See list of eligible classes.Eligible classes:
Urban Movement Arts (UMA) is seeking dancers, choreographers, movement and/or performance artists as Artist in Residence for the summer of 2019. Our summer residency season will take place May - July 2019 at the UMA studios in downtown Philadelphia. We are looking for artists eager to directly engage with our community and challenge the technical, aesthetic, and conceptual assumptions of their genre. This residency offers free studio space, dance classes of the African diaspora/American vernacular, artistic support, and professional videography. There will be a public showing of the residents work, flexible in nature, at the end of the residency.
Who this residency is for:
Dancers, choreographers, performance and movement artists in any/multiple genres. We want to partner with artists prepared to approach this residency as a laboratory space and research process. We are looking for artists willing to get their hands dirty learning production skills of DIY lighting, sound, and scenic design. We will consider artists in graduate school (but not undergraduates.) Womxn, POC, immigrants, and all artists working in intersecting or under-represented disciplines are encouraged to apply. We have capacity for two resident solo artists in summer of 2019. However, we are open to collaborative duos or trios applying as together for one of the two residency slots.
Who we are:
Located in downtown Philadelphia, Urban Movement Arts (UMA) welcomes adults of all ages and experience levels. We guide movers and dancers to develop connection to community and style growing out of Hip Hop, American vernacular, and African Diaspora genres. We are dedicated to supporting strength, flexibility and overall physicality to promote creativity and adaptability in dance and life. Our classes include House, Breaking, Waacking, Hip Hop, Swing Dance, and Yoga. At UMA there is a strong social component of each-one-teach-one. Urban Movement Arts is directed by Vince Johnson. Johnson has toured internationally with Rennie Harris Pure Movement and is an accomplished martial arts coach and competitor. This residency is co-directed by Lily Kind, a producer and promoter of experimental dance making.
The residency includes:
Duos and trios may apply as unit to one of the two available residency slots. Every individual within a duo or trio will receive free membership.
To apply, please submit via email to Lily Kind at email@example.com.
Emails with Subject: 2019 Residency Application: [First Name Last Name].
All attachments as PDFs and named [2019 First Name Last Name].
What is your current movement community/ who are your people?
What is your heritage as an artist?
How do you want to challenge your genre?
What are you trying to shift in your own practice, process, or performance?
What can you contribute to the UMA community?