Resources: Influential Swing Dancers and Band Leaders

These resources were compiled to inspire and grow your interest in swing dancing. If you have additional suggestions, please contact us.  

Norma Miller - Queen Of Swing
Norma Miller – Queen of Swing Dancing!
December 2, 1919 – May 5, 2019

What makes a really good swing dancer: “A good beat, you have to know how to move on the beat.” - Norma Miller 2014

Norma was born and raised in Harlem, NYC.  Norma and her sister could hear and see the music and dancers at the Savoy Ballroom from their apartment nearby.  Norma would watch the dancers then practice their steps in her living room and in the gym at school.  At 12-years-old on Easter Sunday 1932, while watching the fashion parade go into the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, Norma was spotted dancing by Twistmouth George Ganaway (greatest dancer in the Savoy, according to Norma), and invited Norma to come inside to dance.  Norma recalls that being the greatest moment of her life!

Professional dancing was Norma’s ticket to financial security and success as a black woman coming of age in 1930-40s.  After winning the Savoy Lindy Hop Contest in 1934, she was hired as the youngest member of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers dance troupe.  Swing dancing became her lifelong profession and passion, and she toured all over the world. From 1952-1968, she directed and toured with her own dance troupe, the Norma Miller Dancers and Norma Miller and Her Jazzmen, which included her long-time dance partner Billy Ricker, and Frankie Manning’s son, Chazz Young.

You can see Norma in the well-known swing dance scene from the1937 Marx Bros. movie A Day At The Races (the first dance couple features her sister, Dorothy Miller, and Norma is in the second), and in the 1940 movie  Hellzapoppin in the cook’s outfit with Billy Ricker, along with many other influential swing dancers. (Note: Both of these films’ dance scenes were constructed so that they could be extracted from the movie for showing in the segregated South; the end of A Day At The Races scene shows the Marx Bros. in blackface to blend into the crowd, and Hellzapoppin’ portrays the dancers stereotypically as household servants.)

Despite Norma’s success as a performer and entertainer, and coming up through the integrated Savoy Ballroom, racism and prejudice still affected her life through rental discrimination and being forced to ride in the back of buses and dine in black-only establishments as she moved around the country.

Norma considered Count Basie to have the best rhythm of all the great big band leaders.  Count Basie wrote music that kept the dancers on the floor.  Later in life when Norma was unable to perform and dance, she began producing, writing and creating dance pieces.  She picked the best dancers by those who knew the rhythm. 

Norma played a pivotal role in the swing dance revival of the 1980s, teaching master classes in swing dance and participating in dance festivals in Europe and the U.S. through 2018, along with writing music and writing a book, Swing, Baby Swing!

Credits and More Info:

Norma Miller, Queen of Swing Dancing – My Generation Interview:

Masters of Traditional Arts (great images):