Norma Miller, nicknamed the “Queen of Swing,” is one of the few remaining original Lindy Hoppers who danced in the Savoy Ballroom and NYC in the 1930s and 40s. Vivacious and spunky as ever, she currently tours the world, spreading the joy and history of Lindy Hop to new generations of swing dancers and interested audiences. Bay Area swing dancers will have a special opportunity to meet this legendary dancer and hear her stories at the end of February 2012 at the Swingin’ at the Savoy Workshop, conveniently coinciding with Black History month. This month’s Lindy 101 article provides a brief biography of Ms. Miller’s extraordinary life and experience in show business.
Born in 1919, Norma Miller’s first exposure to dancing was at her mother’s rent parties and weekend dance lessons in the Harlem district of New York. At the young age of 12, she was discovered dancing on the sidewalks outside the Savoy Ballroom by Twistmouth George. Too young to actually enter the ballroom, she had been soaking up dance steps from dancers who were coming and going, and she became expert in the Black Bottom, the Shimmy, Picking Cherries & the Shim Sham. Three years later, Herbert White invited her to join his one his elite dance group Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers as its youngest member.
Whitey had several teams of dancers, and Norma was a part of the group fortunate to travel and perform in the movies in Los Angeles. She appeared in two of the most famous recorded works by Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, the Marx Brother’s films, A Day at the Races (1937) and Hellzapoppin’ (1941). A contemporary and lifelong friend of Frankie Manning, she danced with him in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X as well as in Debbie Allen’s TV Film Stompin at the Savoy.
After Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers disbanded in the early 1940s, Norma Miller continued to make her mark on stage and screen. During the rest of the 1940s she ran Norma Miller’s Dance Company which performed at Club Alabam in L.A. During the 1950s, she performed with Billy Ricker & Michael Silver as the del Rio Trio. In the late 1950s she formed and performed with the group Norma Miller & Her Jazz Men, whose ranks included Frankie Manning’s son Chazz Young.
Norma eventually made the leap into other forms of entertainment. She performed at Red Foxx’s comedy club in the 1960s, and joined him on his 70s television show Sanford and Son. She also performed on film and television with the likes of Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby and Ella Fitzgerald.
After the passing of Al Minns in 1985 and Frankie Manning in 2009, Miller is the last member of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers remaining alive to teach, lecture and share her link to the history of swing dancing. Contrasting Frankie’s often soft spoken nature, Ms. Miller is an extremely outspoken individual and most often the life of the party. You can get a taste of her humor and spirit in this video clip of a talk she gave in 2010 at the Cat’s Corner Swing Dance Party in San Francisco:
She has written and co-authored several books, including Swing Baby Swing which chronicles the evolution of swing dancing into the 21st century, as well as “Swingin’ at the Savoy: A Memoir of a Jazz Dancer.” Her life is featured in the documentary “Queen of Swing.”