Stompin' at the Savoy: The Story of Norma Miller

Overview

Through extensive interviews with jazz dancer Norma Miller, acclaimed author and filmmaker Alan Govenar captures the vitality, wry humor, and indomitable spirit of an American treasure.

When she was just five years old, in 1924, Norma Miller knew just what she wanted to do for the rest of her life: she wanted to dance. It was the Jazz Age, the Harlem Renaissance, and Norma lived behind New York's Savoy Ballroom, the only dance hall in a still-segregated America where blacks and ...

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Overview

Through extensive interviews with jazz dancer Norma Miller, acclaimed author and filmmaker Alan Govenar captures the vitality, wry humor, and indomitable spirit of an American treasure.

When she was just five years old, in 1924, Norma Miller knew just what she wanted to do for the rest of her life: she wanted to dance. It was the Jazz Age, the Harlem Renaissance, and Norma lived behind New York's Savoy Ballroom, the only dance hall in a still-segregated America where blacks and whites could mingle on the same mahogany floor. It was in this majestic "home of happy feet" that twelve-year-old Norma first brought the house down, swing-stepping with Twist Mouth George, one of the premier dancers of the day. Before long, the feisty Norma would rise to fame as one of the first performers of the Lindy Hop, an acrobatic dance style named for Charles Lindbergh's first solo flight (or "hop") across the Atlantic. With the celebrated dance troupe Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, a teenage Norma would cross the Atlantic herself on a tour of Europe and even strut her stuff on the silver screen.

In this invigorating, humorous, and thought-provoking oral autobiography, Alan Govenar captures the sound and spirit of Norma Miller's voice as she recalls her early years and coming of age as a determined young dancer during the heyday of swing. Augmenting her lively narrative are Martin French's jazzy, singlecolor illustrations, evoking the vibrant style of vintage poster art.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
Acclaimed author and filmmaker Alan Govenar did extensive interviewing with Norma Miller to write this memoir, meeting and recording her passionate views of dance and the past. Vibrant writing brings across the early dancing of one of the most noted performers of the acrobatic Lindy Hop. Miller's viewpoint gives a picturesque view of the Jazz Age and the Harlem Renaissance. French's illustrations give a strong sense of mood and period, but especially the wild movements of the dramatic dancing. 2006, Candlewick, Ages 9 to 12.
—Susie Wilde
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-This autobiography of a Lindy Hopper from the Harlem Renaissance era sizzles with spirit and swings with vitality. Miller was only five when she knew she wanted to be a dancer, and for a time she lived in an apartment behind the famous Savoy Ballroom. Dancing on the street with friends when she was 12, she caught the attention of the ballroom's top dancer, Twist Mouth George, and soon found herself in contests and shows, eventually traveling throughout the U.S. and South America and appearing in movies. Miller tells her story with humor and candor, describing her mother's disapproval and the tensions of life in show business under a manager, as well as the sheer joy she found in swing dancing. She worked with stars such as Ethel Waters and the Marx Brothers, but also experienced the indignities of Jim Crow segregation. Her feisty, independent spirit shapes her narration, making this an entertaining, compelling read. Stylized black-and-white illustrations, produced digitally and in mixed media, nearly swing right off the pages in their exuberant depiction of dancers and scenes from the Harlem Renaissance, many set over an Art Deco motif. Richard Michelson's Happy Feet: The Savoy Ballroom Lindy Hoppers and Me (Harcourt, 2005) depicts the vibrant scene for a younger audience.-Joyce Adams Burner, Hillcrest Library, Prairie Village, KS Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In this compact, vivid hybrid, Govenar transforms his taped and transcribed interviews with dancer Norma Miller into her account of life as a globe-traveling Lindy Hopper in the 1930s and '40s. Young Norma danced the Charleston at her widowed mother's 1920s rent parties, peeked into Harlem's hopping theatres and clubs and entered every possible amateur night. Her determined apprenticeship and eight decade (and counting) career spanned the jazz and swing eras, took her to Europe and Rio and led to comedy, choreography, TV and film. Govenar captures both Miller's remarkable experiences (including incidents of racism on the road) and her sparkling evocation of American music and dance when swing was king. French's pictures pull out all the stops: bold, gestural strokes, chiaroscuro, canted perspective and art deco elements rekindle the era's excitement. Lacking documentation beyond Govenar's brief introduction, this begs to be paired with recorded music and film footage of the period. (Nonfiction. 9-13)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763622442
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 1/24/2006
  • Pages: 64
  • Sales rank: 1,378,871
  • Age range: 9 - 13 Years
  • Lexile: 820L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.75 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 0.37 (d)

Meet the Author

NORMA MILLER got her start as a professional dancer as a teenager, when she was invited to join the swing dance troupe, Whitey's Lindy Hoppers. By the late 1930s, the Lindy Hoppers were internationally renowned. In 2003, the National Endowment for the Arts honored Norma Miller with a National Heritage Fellowship, the highest form of federal recognition for folk and traditional artists in America. Norma Miller lives in Florida, where she continues to teach, choreograph, dance, and "swing, baby, swing!"

ALAN GOVENAR is a filmmaker, photographer, folklorist, and writer. In 1985, he founded Documentary Arts, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to presenting new perspectives on different cultures. He has authored numerous books, including OSCEOLA: MEMORIES OF A SHARECROPPER'S DAUGHTER, winner of a BOSTON GLOBE - HORN BOOK Award in Nonfiction. Alan's friendship and conversations with Norma Miller began in 2001. Those conversations formed the foundation of this oral autobiography. Alan Govenar lives in Texas.

MARTIN FRENCH earned his B.F.A. in illustration and design in 1983. His work has earned him numerous awards, including honors from AMERICAN ILLUSTRATION, COMMUNICATION ARTS, and PRINT, and Gold and Bronze Medals from The Society of Illustrators. His energized imagery can also be found in THE SONG SHOOTS OUT OF MY MOUTH: A CELEBRATION OF MUSIC by Jamie Adoff. Martin French lives in Oregon.

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