Social Dance in Kansas City – Fun Dance

A quick overview --- June 23, 2003

Designed as a backgrounder for the radio show "Under The Clock" and intended as a quick, if far from complete, look at social dance in KC as a way of providing some context. It is a hodge-poge of various pieces of information from my site and from memory thrown together rapidly when I realized that "Under The Clock" was about to do a show on social dance. I wound up as a guest on the show although I didn't know it at the time I put this together. I simply hoped to add some information for the host (Emannuel Cleaver).

The reason for this page was to try to alleviate the spotty and very limited way of covering dance in KC by the local media. These people, who are not dancers, tend to do a dance story as a one-shot curiousity piece. Sort of like covering a Martian who has just landed and being proud of saying they want to be taken to our leader. The previous time was Steve Kraske's program supposedly about Tango in KC. It was Korey and Beau. That was okay but it left out everyone else in the community who had spent years contributing and still contributing to Tango in KC. The producer of the show was a friend from UMKC Conservatory days of Korey and Beau and Steve Kraske started with the drama aspect. I thought the show basically covered too little ground, didn't manage to make its dramatic-dance aspect and short-changed too many persons.

The very rare times social dance does get covered the writers simply write out of the record the very large efforts and sacrifices by many people who keep this social dance scene together. They do so because they do not know the territory but sure think they do. Or at least they don't bother to go deeper because that really is not their interest. They just want a short feature to add to their scrapbook. It that sounds a little sour it is because I've watched the good efforts of dance organizers go for nothing too many times while waiting in vain, for far too long, for our community to be taken seriously by these alien-to-us people.

Linked on the site Sept 2003

by Mike Strong

Overall Dance --- Mostly Social

There are some real limits to the following text. This is not yet any kind of a complete listing of Kansas City dance. It is too brief and is mostly off the top of my head. However, I hope it is helpful as a backgrounder. Even though it may seem like a long paper it is not a full coverage. I am a former reporter When media in town does cover dance it tends to be from the outside and limited to one or two persons who have gotten some sort of attention. The result is that the coverage passes over the many persons who are year-after-year contributors to the foundations of the KC dance community. Actually, I think most media in town avoid social dance in particular. I suspect they are secretly afraid of it.

Which brings us to the idea of “fear of dancing” and the so-called “white men's disease.” Nonsense. Most of the world, not born in the usa, dance's. One of the early characteristics I noted with Latin dance spots was that the women would comment that the men would ask them to dance. German, Polish, Croat, etcetera communities certainly get up and dance. Any number of other communities dance. And there is nothing genetic about women dancing and men not dancing. Everybody needs some training to handle dance steps that other persons will recognize so that you can dance together.

But you don't need to be a Fred or a Ginger to have fun and enjoy yourself. Often the simple routines you learn in a nightclub from the club teacher in half an hour or more will serve to give you a great evening. I wrote an article shortly after I began dancing about going out to a club and getting high-fived and asked where I taught. Believe me – my dancing wasn't a high fiver. But the points are: 1 – I was having fun, 2 – the wish-they-were dancers in the room would have loved to do what I was doing, 3 – (I know now) any more experienced dancers share the fun and appreciate your just getting up there and dancing. You become part of a community. (see “I hope you dance” below)

It is superb physical activity and social activity at the same time. Why pedal the exercise bike when you can swing your night away and go home happily exhausted. Swing, in fact, if you want to get exercisy about it, is very aerobic. It never stops. A few years ago I was surprised to find that I was sweating less in a little hip-hop class with all those high-energy movements than I was doing swing. Swing is continuous. You go from one movement to the next. If you wish to keep dancing without quit the aerobic load you can move to West Coast Swing (still continuous) or to Salsa which has a “rest” every fourth beat. You can go all night on this energetic music and that forth beat “rest.”

Studios, Lessons and Dance Clubs

Often most persons will wind up doing some sort of combination of privates and groups.

By Category


There are numerous categories of swing dance steps.

The Lindy Hop began in the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem (Lenox from 120th to 121st). We generally think of most of the other swing steps as derived from Lindy. In Kansas City we have a Lindy Hop group called Cat's Corner (after the name of the section of the Savoy's dance floor in which the hottest dancers congregated). This is an eight-count dance (derived from Jazz / Swing when the terms we both interchangeable and not yet so firm as they are today). This is a smoothly horizontal dance which can be very sweet in its moves.

Jitterbug – more vertical version, up and down, six-count

East Coast – generally currently the fast, circular-patterned movement and a direct descendant of Lindy and Jitterbug.

West Coast – danced in a “slot” pattern to Rhythm and Blues music and similar tempos. In this area a specialty of the Kansas City Swing Dance Club and the Cowtown Swing Dance Club.

When swing was making its late-90's nightclub sweep in Kansas City Tex Houston and Kurt Wegner were the teachers of note, first at the Hurricane, then after a flip-glitch, at the Grand Emporium. That flip brought in Louis at the Hurricane and then later at Roadhouse Ruby's South. Tex and Kurt were responsible for teaching hundreds of people how to swing with basic steps. They were really interested in people just having fun and tons of folk did. There was a core of “Tex and Kurt” styled dancers many of whom are still active in the nightclub ballroom scene. In those days you could tell more easily who had been taught by whom just by looking. They were heady times. And Fun. Thanks Tex and Kurt.

Ballroom – large variety of dances usually under the category of “ballroom.” Includes such dances as the waltz, swing, jive, Foxtrot, quick step, and varieties of tango and samba.

Latin Dances

Tango – Origin in Argentina. The dance was so scandelous that other varieties were invented leading to the ballroom styles of American and International – very staccato styles. The heavy-beat “Hernando's Hide-a-way” is an example of the music. The original Argentine style has been making a popular comeback over the last several years. In Kansas City the first general Argentine Tango Classes were given in 1995 by Toi Shaw, the KC Swing Dance Club's teacher. That was followed by Louis Bar in 1998, then later by Elizabeth O'Keefe in 1999. That provided the overall three Argentine learned styles in the KC area. Today Toi has the largest and longest running Argentine Tango class in KC on Monday's in Mission. O'Keefe moved to Miami and the organization she founded eventually became the group meeting Sundays at Westport Presbyterian with Korey Ireland. The Wednesday night Fedora's Tango gig was started by O'Keefe and continued by Mitch Weiner where he gives a free 7pm lesson before the general open dance (milonga) at 8pm.

Salsa – Currently one of the hottest dances in the country. This is derived from Mambo (and Cha-Cha). The Oasis on Southwest Boulevard has been doing Salsas for years. Kashmir, the Oasis under previous ownership, started salsa early on. This is a South American flavored dance. Usually Merengue is combined in the music along with salsa music and maybe cumbia and more. Sue Williamson has been the salsa teacher at Oasis every Friday night for years now. Jose Garcia has been the main DJ and he plays a Washington DC flavored version of salsa – he is from that region.

Ranchero – not really major in the area but this is a regular part of dance in Mexican clubs (salsa is not Mexican) or in clubs on Mexican night such as Oasis or Millenium or the Rainbow Center. If you notice a polka-like beat in the music, you are right.

Country – Still “boot scootin'” in various clubs and in particular in Denim and Diamonds in North Kansas City, also the Beaumont Club in westport and Orlando's in Olathe. Some places have country nights. Old-fashioned country is less common. Usually there is a heavy combination of hip-hop as well. There is a lot of dancing at a country place to a considerable variety of rhythms and a balance between line dancing and couples' dancing.

A Few Topics

Bands for Dancers

In the Jazz Museum in the 18th and Vine district I was fascinated in the Duke Ellington section to notice that, in the midst of all the music information there was a tiny tiny (one picture or so) section devoted to dance. At the same time I spotted a small card which stated that Ellington picked his musicians not only on the basis of their ability to play their instruments but also on their ability as dancers.

How much simple sense that made, I thought. He played for dancers and realized that musicians who were “inside the game” of dance, so to speak, would play dance music for dancers because they “got it.” The same way, I think, that Dizzy Dean could relay a sense of the play from having been inside the pro game of baseball. The same way a writer who has been in a profession or activity can write about politics, military, government, industry, anything with a “gut” direction in a way that a writer outside the subject will never be able to really understand or convey.

It is not uncommon for some otherwise very well known and well rated bands to leave dancers somewhere in the mists because they don't understand through their feet how their music feels to the dancer. Dancers rate musicians differently based on how easy they are to dance for. The partnership between a pair of dancers is really three-sided: lead, follow and music. Jazz may be a democratic sharing for the musicians playing but it can be an oligarchy for everyone else.

In a 1945 book on dance the then New York Times Critic noted with angst the separation between dance and music in the United States, something he said other countries had not lost. He found it unfortunate, un-necessary and un-healthy. He wondered why music had lost the dance part of its roots. I no longer remember whether he noted a distance in the separated music but I think music which makes you want to move your feet, indeed which seems almost to make your feet move by themselves, is “root” music. Music which is almost always more vital in a gut sense. Music which brings a ready smile before you even realize it. Music which makes an inner connection. Music which is dance music.

Communities and Crossing Lines

Dance is an activity that anyone, very, very young and ever so much older can enjoy within the same group context. Within that overall group are usually various smaller groupings, often based on age. All the groups overlap and overall they dance across the lines.

Middle Eastern parties, for instance, are really marvelous example of the full age range, no alcohol, a great time, everyone dances (from infants to long retireds, both male and female though not touching). The atmosphere is embracing and wholesome. Talk about family values.

The same can be said for other “roots” (or ethnic, if you will, and everybody has their own ethnic) groupings. Head for a Mexican fiesta or other ceremony and you will find the same warm and friendly atmosphere. Cajun or Croate. These are places were the full gamut of ages and visitors belong.

I remember growing up where families went to the bar. It was the restaurant for families. The adults had their alcohol (usually not much), the children had their Shirley Temples or Coca-Cola and no one had a panic.

Alcohol vs Dancers

or “Why choose drunks over dancers, they both start with “d” “

Dancers are almost disgustingly clean cut. One of the little problems dancers have with nightclubs in this area (not everywhere, I should note) is that dancers drink little if any booze. They usually drink soft drinks or bottle water. They are just not drunks. Clubs which see them coming in in number think dollar signs and get dissapointed. They then throw out the dancers.

Here is an article I wrote when RG's tossed out Cowtown.

So Who Wants 40-50 Nice People?

by Mike Strong

(Release: March 11, 2003)

It was an abrupt message on monday, Mar 10. RG's was canceling the monday night swing dance with the Cowtown Swing Dance Club. Score one for falling-down drunks. Zero for sober dancers having a good time.

Not as if this is the first time dancers have not lived up to the sodden dreams of bars who can only see drink sales in the head count. It is an old story around here (and around a few other places as well). Bars and nightclubs are eager to see the numbers of persons who show up for dancing but when they learn that dancers are not much in the way of being heavy drinkers they throw out the dancers.

I remember writing a shorter piece some time back after Joe's Bait Shack cut short Louis Bar's Argentine Tango lessons. Louis had started a regular set of Tango lessons in the upstairs ballroom at the Bait Shack followed by an open dance. Sometimes Duo Lorca (Just Beau Bledsoe and Christine Brebs at the time) played.

The Bait Shack also ran either one or two cash bars but they didn't get much alcohol business even though the attendance was easily 30 or 40 persons each time. Even though the upstairs space didnt take any floor space from the downstairs sports bar, when the Bait Shack realized they werent going to convert the attendance numbers into booze sales, they pulled the plug.

This is really short sighted. Clubs on the coasts have dancers and drinkers. The dancers don't buy alcohol themselves and the revenue per square foot is less than for drinkers but they do pay something and they do act as a sort of entertainment for the bar people. The Hurricane and Ruby's Rodehouse South all had swing but said it didnt pay. Same with the Grand Emporium. In the case of RG's, there was nothing, and I mean nothing, going on on mondays anyway. That is how Cowtown was able to get the space on mondays.

What's more RG's didn't have to pay Cowtown for the music. But, I think, maybe somebody got irritated and threw around their weight. That is also part of the regular story. New managers show up like a new cat in the neighborhood. They just have to spray their territory.

To go back a few years, the Kansas City Swing Dance Club used to have a regular weekly night out where the whole club could show up at a nightclub to dance. That usually only meant 40-50 dancers although the membership list has remained at about 750 plus for the last six or seven years. And it is not as if the KC Swing Dance Club doesn't have one of the sweetest dance floors in the area.

When they moved into their current location at 6101 Martway in Mission the club members put sweat equity into remodeling the basement of that building. They put in an oak wood floor suspended over the concrete on flexible bumpers and with air blown underneath to control moisture. Then they oiled the wood to create a superb dance surface. The basement limits the roof height and there are pillars down the center but it is a great floor.

Still the members wanted another location, a real nightspot, for nights out. For some time the hotel (which has changed ownership and names many times) at I-35 and 87th street in Overland Park provided that location. Manhattans was the nightclub on the top with a great evening view and a super dance floor just right for the group.

When Manhattan's began in the early 80's it was one of the areas true hot spots. That didnt last forever but it left a nice dance floor and club area. When the Kansas City Swing Dance Club went looking for a location Manhattan''s had no business worth speaking of on Tuesday nights. The club moved in and played their own music on the DJ system. Then management changed. The club was booted out.

For a while the KC Swing Dance Club had a night out at the 12th Street Lounge downtown. The floor is a good floor and it is a pretty nice spot. But after a while another new manager. Out with the dancers again. The search was on again for a location. RG's was one of the places considered although it was pretty smokey.

Sue Williamson, Bill Hatton and I were on the search committee and we went around to a lot of places. On the off chance that the name-changing hotel at I-35 and 87th street might be amenable again we took a trip over to the (now-named) Ramada (the name has changed again and the ownership again).

In any case the club was now called Radcliff's and it looked the same. Turned out the manager was amenable especially when Bill schmoozed her a bit. The next week the KC Swing Dance Club had a tuesday night again, on the top of the hotel building. I think this time we had the place for at least a year and a half. Then the ownership changed, the name flipped again and we were informed that the place was to be remodeled, we had a few weeks more and that would be that. When the remodeling was done the club on the top of the building would no longer be there. After two decades, it would be eliminated.

So the effort was on again. RG's was recommended because the manager, Johnny, liked dancers and dancing. Sure it was smoky but they had also just changed the floor at the north of the building. Before the dance floor had been a little 8-foot wide strip around a smallish stage areal. Now, the entire 30 foot at the north of the building had been wood-tiled to produce a full-wide dance area.

Just the same. The vote was to go to El Caribe. El Caribe had previously been a Latin night spot with regular dancing. It was located a few hundred yards west of Arthur Murray's on 87th street and once a week one of the Arthur Murray teachers would give the dance lessons for the night. Now, as El Caribe and with Caribbean decor, dining and dancing was one of the aims of the new owner, Anna Molina. She was glad to have the club members. But one major problem. The floor was hard tile.

Non-dancers don''t know how important the floor is. It cant be sticky, or grabby, or otherwise hard to turn and spin on. That is hard on the whole leg and darn tiring as well. Concrete drains energy like a 3-mile-per-gallon SUV. At the same time a dance floor cant be so slick that you might fall. A wood surface is normally best for dance.

Just as important, the floor has to have some give to it. Not so much that you see it flex. That is probably why non-dancers dont think about it. But that largely unseen little bit of flex is badly needed. After a couple of hours of dancing on a hard floor it is the knees that suffer, especially the day after. Thats is when you really find out. A floor which gives will let you keep dancing and will let you feel fine the next day. Anyway, the hard floor at El Caribe was just not wanted by the dancers. Dancers really do vote with their feet.

A number of the dancers decided to head to RG's where Bill Bateman had made an arrangement for dancing. Bill spun discs. The gathering grew organically. Within a few months RG''s was a regular spot. It started on tuesday nights until the owners wanted to use tuesdays for darts. So they moved the day to mondays. Sometime later the RG's attendees decided to form a separate swing club, and so the Cowtown Swing Dance Club became an entity.

And now, on a night when RG's wasnt doing anything else at all RG's decided to close down the monday swing dance. 40 or 50 people will have to find a new home and members of the club are out looking. It just seems dumb. RG''s didnt have to pay for the disc spinner. They did get some extra business. Oh, not the heavy-buying kind but then there were no fights or falling-down drunks to deal with. And no, dancers arent the biggest spenders. They actually do come to dance.

Then again maybe RG's wants to try something else. Good luck. Mondays are slow days. Maybe the bar people resented the dance people. That happens too. The ones who are afraid to get out on the floor without being drunk or the ones who just sit and drink sometimes think the dance people are showoffs. Wouldn''t be the first time for that reason either.

It might also be noted, in finishing, that in the 40's, when we were pre-occupied with WW-II, laws were passed which restricted dancing. Laws were also passed which required special licenses and extra taxes for a dance floor. Most are still on the books around here. They were passed by religious interests. I first ran into it when I began calling places about dancing. Did they have dancing. The Bait Shack was one of those places and they didnt want to answer. I might have been an inspector.

If you know a spot which would like to host 40-50 folks who know how to have fun and remain sober (only in terms of alcohol) give a holler to the Cowtown Swing Dance Club. They are looking.

The Dance Tax (Floors and more)

Many of the communities around here have restrictive laws on dancing. It is harder, or at least extra, to get a dance permit than a permit to manufacture drunks daily.

Some of these laws date back to World War II, when the men were gone the religions got in there and passed anti-dance ordinances. An extra tax on dance floors was one of the measures. The Nazarene College in Olathe has caused trouble for dance clubs (such as Orlando's) by getting their people on the city council and running through church regulations for the city. Recently they were pretty blatant about it.

When Anna Molina opened El Caribe Restaurant in Lenexa she had to prove that she wasn't a problem before finally being allowed to have dancing in her place.

When I first enquired about dancing at Joe's Bait Shack in Stanley I was really given a strange look. It so happened I had a notepad with me, so I could take notes on hours and more. They said no, of course not. Later, after they understood that I was there to get information for my web site on dancing the woman I had asked let me know that Overland Park had regulations and she thought that I might be an inspector. You gotta wonder why such a wholesome activity is viewed so restrictively. I should note that the Bait Shack had an entire ballroom / meeting room on the second floor which could be rented out for meetings or dances. Indeed, when Louis Bar first started his Argentine classes outside of American Ballroom Dance Studio he rented this second floor.

Dance as a metaphor for living and as life extension

In 1996 my next door neighbor burgled my apartment making off with my large television and my VCR. It cause two things: 1, I had to move immediately and 2, without television I realized how much time I had been losing. So I went dancing. It was years before I bothered to get another television and then only so I would have a

Frankie Manning after leading a dance as he addresses the audience and points to the dancers: “Now, Don't You Wish You Were Out There?”

Mario Robau, one of the US's top swing teachers, competitors and workshop leaders makes a point of finishing dance contests by saying “The only difference between you,” and he pauses to point at the audience, “and them,” he says pointing at all the contestants, including the winners, “is that they danced and you didn't.”

I Hope You Dance

The 2000 song “I Hope You Dance” was written by Mark Sanders and Tia Sillers, sung by Lee Ann Womack. They wrote the refrain, “When you get the choice to sit it out or dance I hope you dance ... I hope you dance.”

Here are the full words:

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder

you get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger

May you never take one single breath for granted

God forbid love ever leave you empty-handed

I hope you still fee small when you stand beside the ocean

Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens

Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance ... I hope you dance

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance

Never settle for the path of least resistance

Livin' might mean takin' chances but they're worth makin'

Don't let some hell-bent heart leave you bitter

When you come close to sellin' out reconsider

Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance ... I hope you dance

Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along.

Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder

where those years have gove.

I hope you dance ... I hope you dance

I hope you dance

See their publisher's website at:

You don't have to be Astaire, you just have to be there.

A bumper sticker: "What if the Hokey-Pokey IS what it is all about?"

Lead And Follow – politics for living

Lead and follow are still used as terms but don't take it to mean that the lead somehow makes the follow do something. How it really works is that the lead is really the “suggest” and the follow is really the “doer, interpreter and improviser” which in turn requires that the lead follow the improvised actions.

This truly places both partners in a work-play relationship in which they continually trade places in a cooperative activity.

Very much like leadership in any other walk of life. The leader proposes an idea then needs to follow closely in order to support the “follower's” implementation. Trying to force a populace into a course of action may lead to losing the next election.

The same about the concept of the lead as male is more subtle than it would seem because lead does not mean “the one in charge,” it is simply a role in a partnership. Nor does the lead have to be the same person in a pair. The lead can switch (which also keeps you more alert to the direction of play). Over just the last few years it is increasingly more common to hear the steps for a dancer described not as men's steps and women's steps but as leads and follows, although the groups usually break down along gender lines. Still, learning the follower's role makes a better lead and learning the lead's role makes a better follow. As dancers become a little better you will see them, in class, shifting sides in order to learn both roles.

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they dance. Their eagerness to be a part of an active, intuitive team. You can also tell about confidence and generosity. What from the outside may look like the lead pulling down the follow's arm, is really the lead following the follow's arm at the same time. A sudden sense of loss of control may mean a less confident partner or a surprised partner may grab the other person rather than form a delicately strong, ever moving connection. Happens outside dance as well.

Often someone new to partner dance and the role of lead thinks they need to create the dance for the other person, to push and pull the follower through routines. The experienced dancer realizes this is a fallacy, and in the end, an impossibility.

The basic physical action has direct emotional, spiritual and political resonance.


Origin in Argentina in the late 1800's. The exact origins are obscure in terms of both the dance style and the name for the dance. It was originally a scandelous dance and not until it was exported to Paris where it became the rage did it gain respect in its homeland. In the teens a tamer, though dramatic, variety was invented leading to the ballroom styles of American and International.

The Argentine style put tops of bodies together in a sort of “A-frame” hug while the “more respectable” version moved the shoulders back away from the partners and features very staccato movements to a heavy-beat. The Argentine style emphasizes interpretation of the music over a regular pattern.

In Kansas City the first general Argentine Tango Classes were given in 1995 by Toi Shaw, the KC Swing Dance Club's teacher as swing club special lessons. That was followed by Louis Bar in 1998 with a different style, then later by Elizabeth O'Keefe in 1999 with yet another style. Liz formed MAS (Midwest Argentine Society) now defunct as an organization. It was a dance club with officers and elections. That gave three Argentine “styles” in the KC area.

Today Toi has the largest and longest running Argentine Tango class in KC every monday in Mission where she rents the swing club space for her class. O'Keefe moved to Miami and the organization she founded eventually became the group which meets Sundays at Westport Presbyterian with Korey Ireland. The Wednesday night Fedora's Tango gig was started by O'Keefe and continued by Mitch Weiner where he gives a free 7pm lesson before the general open dance (milonga) at 8pm. Usually Tango Lorca plays for the milonga there.

A Little More on Lindy Hop

This is an article from my site, after meeting Frankie Manning when he was here for a Lindy Hop workshop with Louis & Company April 26, 2003. Frankie Manning was one of the original Lindy Hoppers and was instrumental in forming the look and moves of the Lindy Hop. He took it closer to the street. It felt good down instead of up and putting out the foot flat rather than on the balls and with that still unmatched smoothly horizontal motion. In two days of workshop he took a large group of dancers, some of whom had never danced Lindy before, from basic Lindy into lifts (men lifting women, women lifting men). He didn't just teach steps, he taught the music so that the steps and the music stayed together.

Meeting the Nicest Man in the World

by Mike Strong

We hadn''t really intended to monopolize his time, just to say hello, introduce ourselves and make arrangements for an interview and pictures later. After all he had just flown in from New York, he is 88 and about to turn 89 and there were others in the ballroom.

Besides, the man is an icon, a legend, history on the hoof (so to speak). Do you really just talk to him, like a mortal? Yes. Or as he might say, Yessss!

Frankie Manning is the nicest man in the world. Years before I had seen him on video tape. Total charm. I had read about him in Norma Miller''s book Swingin' at the Savoy, Memoirs of a Jazz Dancer. Norma Miller wrote about the famed Savoy Ballroom and the Lindy Hop. She wrote about dancing from a dancer's perspective. She wrote about the people. And she described the way Frankie took care of the other Lindy Hoppers on exhibition trips and about his sheer decency.

Frankie Manning has the kind of nice that stops raging bulls in their tracks.

He takes the time to speak with everyone, even though he was tired. He is so very well spoken you listen to every word. When we talked about shooting the lesson he didn''t say no, he just pulled back a little and said, "I don''t want you to get in the way of the dancers." No command "no," just a concern that the people who came for the lessons wouldn''t get their money''s worth. He is always concerned for people.

This is one sweet guy.

I had just gotten a "A Century of Dance," a book by British author Ian Driver. A terrific book covering a huge swatch of information from the 1900''s. In talking about the Savoy and the Lindy, the author stated that the first "air step" (aerial) was introduced by Al Minns.

Now I had never seen that claim anywhere before. Frankie Manning is always credited with the first aerial. Manning and dance partner Freida Washington developed it for a dance contest in 1935. It was called the "over the back." It is a move in which the partners get into a back-to-back position, then intertwine their arms. Once the arms are situated one partner, usually the man, bends forward which carries the other partner up and over in a somersault landing in front of the first person. In any other account I had ever seen Manning and Washington get the credit.

So I wanted to ask Frankie about what the book said. He is a nice man. He screwed up his face a little, shook his head, no. "Al wasn't even doing it then. I'm the one who auditioned him and that wasn't until 1937. If Al Minns were here he would be the first person to tell you that." See, no denial. No retort. No screaming. Just the facts. Gently, firmly and right between the eyes. He doesn''t boast but he wants the facts right.

I wanted to confirm how long it had taken to develop the over-the-back. A couple of weeks, he said. Did you get bruised? Not really.

I said that every time I read about the Savoy Ballroom I loved it. It must have been wonderful I said. I was thinking that if I could pick a day to go back in time it would be March 12, 1926, the day the Savoy opened. He wasn't dancing in the Savoy that early. Manning wouldn't start there until the start of the 30's. But he loved it too.

Frankie''s face changed a little as he remembered. A deep sweetness, and, I thought, a well cherished secret pain at what was gone. The ballroom is where the kids (remember, he was a kid, okay, young man) went all day. They left when the place closed to get ready for the evening and then they were back to the ballroom in the evening. They weren't on the street. They were in the ballroom. They were dancing.

The Savoy is no more. Torn down in 1958 and nothing to remember it by. Not even so much as a plaque, until last year at Frankie's 88th birthday. The still running Roseland Ballroom gave Frankie a birthday party and put up a plaque to mark the wonderful Savoy. The Roseland has come so far.

When the Savoy started the Roseland was segregated. The Savoy was open to all, fully integrated. The Savoy ran about 85% black patrons and about 15% white. The Roseland's own hostesses ("taxi dancers"), on their nights off, paid admission to the Savoy so they could dance there. Later the Roseland had "mixed" nights. Blacks and whites on the same floor with a rope down the middle dividing the two crowds. Much later the Roseland just admitted everyone.

Finally, in 2002, the Roseland, still standing and still running marked the place where the Savoy had stood, in Harlem, on Lenox and taking up the full block from 120th to 121st. Entrances on both ends. Two bandstands with two bands and a crowd of 3,000 plus. Every three years the Savoy''s dance floor had to be replaced because of heavy usage from dancing. The northeast section was Cat''s Corner where the elite dancers congregated, practiced, invented and hung out. The coolest cats on the floor.

They invented the best moves. They shaped the dance. The Lindy was street. Frankie introduced the bent over, smooth, horizontal line. When he started dancing he learned to dance upright. "It was just the way all ballroom dancing was then," he said. So he danced upright until he felt the music move his posture, until he "got the groove." When you see Lindy danced the way they did it you see truly sweet moves. Delicate and swift. Powerful and languid. Free, fun and joyous. In "Swingin'' at the Savoy" Norma Miller writes that "their dance" was horizontal and smooth. She says the white kids didn''t get it right. They jumped up and down too much.

I asked whether he knew Leonard Reed. He smiled. Oh yes, he knew Leonard. A producer of shows. Leonard and his partner Willie Bryant, Frankie remembered, had created the Shim Sham Shimmy at the Shim Sham Club in New York City. He hadn''t realized that Leonard came originally from Kansas City. Reed left here in 1925 for a career in dance, mainly in the black entertainment industry. "He''s the only person older than me," said Frankie, smiling brightly and laughing. Leonard is 94.

Leonard Reed is the last living producer of the Cotton Club. As MC at the Apollo during the 50's he was the first person to put the Apollo on national television. Dinah Washinton was in that first show. For years he worked with world heavy weight champion Joe Louis in a song and dance act that went around the world. They appeared on the Ed Sullivan show various times. He was one of the golfers who was instrumental in allowing blacks to play in the PGA. Because Leonard is a mixture of black, white and Choctaw but looks white he has straddled an in-between world all these years. He was literally saved by H.O. Cook, principal of Lincoln High School in 1917 when Cook kept a very young Reed from the Boonville reformatory by taking him in to his house and getting him through school. It is something Leonard still remembers with emotion.

Frankie Manning started this latest phase of his life about 1986. Did he dance during his post office years? He worked in the Post Office from 1955. Yes, he said, socially. He didn't dance professionally. How much does he work? Oh, not full time anymore, about 43 weeks a year, usually on weekends for workshops.

In 1941 Whitey's Lindy Hoppers toured in South America. When they hit Brazil they also ran into Brazilian music, including the Samba. Music with such close roots to Africa. Norma Miller writes that they fell in love with the music. Frankie says, yeah, he danced to it. Did it influence his swing? Oh yes, he mixed some of it into his dance. Did he think bandleader Chick Webb, had he lived, would have played Samba? Frankie's face shows amusement. Well, Chick Webb played some Latin music but no Samba.

Webb was a five-foot dynamite drummer who said he was the best and could back it up. There is a famous short dispute in which he said the heck with the Lindy Hoppers after Kansas City's Count Basie played at the Savoy in one of the battle of the bands. Some of the Lindy Hoppers said that Basie's sound was a new wind blowing in the world of music. When it got to Webb it sounded as if they had said Webb was washed up. When Whitey (manager Herbert White) pulled the Lindy Hoppers from the dance floor during Webb's playing Charles Buchanan got them together again. Not only was Webb a brilliant drummer, he introduced Ella Fitzgerald who, after Webb died of a tuberculosis of the spine in 1938, kept the band going for a while.

Did Frankie dance any Samba now? Not really. He shrugged. Some Latin dance, a little Salsa, but mostly, he said, he was occupied spreading the joy of swing dance.

From one of the inventors.