"Remembering the Savoy" Dance at the 92nd Street Y

On September 13, 2003, Chad Fasca and Midori Asakura hosted a tribute to the Savoy Ballroom at the 92nd Street Y on Lexington Avenue. This dance probably was the largest re-union of those associated with the Savoy since the dedication ceremony at its site in May of 2002. An incomplete list of invited guests in attendance included: Norma Miller and Ruth Rheingold of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers; the famed Savoy bouncer Coley Wallace; Helen Douglas, who was Frankie Manning's last professional partner in his Congaroos; Sonny Allen, who was the last Harvest Moon Ball winner to represent the Savoy in 1958; the Harlem dance historian, Delilah Jackson; Estella Williams, the daughter of the popular bandleader of the Savoy, Fess Williams; the balladeer (and an Apollo contest winner), John Rainbow; and other Savoy regulars such as Samuel "Scotty" Scott, Leroy Griffen, Hazil Manley and Martha Hickson. Also present were Dawn Hampton, Charlie Meade, Margaret Batiuchok, Phoebe Jacobs, Norma Miller's dancers and Mama Lu Parks Dancers among many others.

Needless to say, the event was well attended in spite of the poor weather outside. The live music was provided by George Gee's Jump Jive & Wailers, whose members (David Gibson, Ken Gotschall, Peter Zak, Michael Hashim, Brad Leali, Pete Miranda, Shawn Edmonds, Mark McGowan, Charles Stephens) included alumni of such famous bands as Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, Illinois Jacquet, Tito Puente and Panama Francis. With the vocalist (and dancer) John Dokes, the band pumped out many of the popular standards from the days when the Savoy was open as well as some of their own originals.

Invited guests were introduced to the crowd and people watched as these old timers danced. Although Norma Miller commented that, today, we have some of the best young dancers since her time, these old timers could really swing. Also, during the course of the evening, John Rainbow sat in as a guest vocalist for "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good," and Estella Williams stole the show with her rendition of "I Can't Give You Anything but Love."

One of the highlights of the evening was the Big Apple contest. Earlier in the evening, Midori gave a basic dance lesson on jazz steps in preparation for this contest, in which participants learned how to do the Boogie Back, Fall off the Log, the Apple Jack, Suzie Q, Rockin', Stompin', Truckin', Peckin', Gaze afar, the Scarecrow and so on. After rounds of challenges, all but five contestants, four of whom were of the Mama Lu Parks Dancers, were eliminated. With a thunderous applause, the audience voted for Viola Hamilton as the winner, who incidentally was a winner of Mama Lu's Harvest Moon Ball in 1983 with her partner Tyrone Cooper.

Aside from the continuous social dancing, the trivia quizzes about the Savoy during band breaks and showing of vintage dance films were also part of the fun. This was indeed a great gathering.

Loretta Abbott, Phoebe Jacobs, Jun Maruta, Norma Miller, Beverly Moore, Tyrone Cooper and Viola Hamilton at the 92nd Street Y

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