We’re still in shock over the passing of the great Norma Miller, the last of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, dancer, comedian, choreographer and ambassador for lindy hop. We wanted to share some of what you alls have been posting about Norma and your memories of her.
We’ll keep updating this post as people share more. Feel free to add your own recollections and anecdotes in the comments.
Cyle Dixon, Jr. : Norma Norma Norma you have blessed me with so many stories.I mean I took so much pride in getting you ice cream every year at Beantown. I loved having talks with you about how much you have done in your life time. I especially loved learning that you knew some of my favorite comedians. I felt so close to you and that feeling will never leave my heart. I'm gonna share two stories that hit my mind today.
Last year at Beantown Norma had someone come grab me after I stopped dancing. When I got over to her I was so nervous because you really never know what she's gonna say😂. I remembered she looked at me and said "I knew that was you! D*mn youngblood you were swinging out" and then she went on to say "That's what it's all about". As soon as we finished talking I immediately looked for Peter Strom I mean I had to share this moment. This by far was my highlight moment.
A few years ago at Uptown Swing Out I took a solo jazz routine class taught by Norma and Peter. Up until that day I never thought Norma knew my name because I was so use to being "Youngblood". I knew I was messing up but as long as it was in the back I was ok. As you know my time in the front was coming. Out of nowhere I hear "Cyle! You gotta dance the moves!". I had no clue what that meant because I was sure that I had been dancing my heart out. Later I learned that she wanted me to stop marking it and just feel it. I loved that no matter what she knew just how to push us.
Alexis Davila: The first time I met Norma was in 2012 at ILHC when all of the old timers came to be inducted into the Hall Of Fame. The first time I actually got to sit down and talk with Norma was in 2013 at Beantown. We all shared meals, laughs, and learned so much from her. I remember showing her pictures on google of her dancing with Frankie that she had never seen before.
Although these were my first physical interactions with Norma, it wasn’t the first time that she had touched my heart. I remember watching Hellzapoppin’ for the first time and feeling so inspired by all of the dancers and hoping one day I could dance that good. Or trying to imitate her "Spank The Baby's" from the Big Apple because they were so different and unique (I'm sure we all have at some point).
Being able to meet Norma was especially special to me because I never got the chance to meet Frankie. I started dancing 2 years after he passed away. Having her around, I felt like I was really connected to not only the dance, but the history of OUR dance. Everytime she was talking or sharing a memory my body was present but my mind wasn't. My mind was always imagining and picturing the story to the point where it almost felt like I was living in her memories. It’s a little hard to explain.
I've overheard people say that they're not going to Norma's talk because they've been to one before. No matter how many times I've heard her talks, I never missed one because I knew that she always had someting new to say! I will miss these so so much.
Norma, I'm beyond grateful to have met and learned from you. Your vibrant personality, your knowledge, and your squeals when we take selfies will be missed. In the words of Norma, "Keep swingin young blood!".
Judy Pritchett: I've never known anyone like Norma Miller, but then there never was anyone else like Norma on this planet. Funny and fierce and beautiful; a crazy mix and she made it work. She was determined to be a dancer from the time she was old enough to walk and by God she was already a professional in her early teens. In her last few years she toured Italy in a show honoring her. She said to me, "How many other broads do you know still making their living as a dancer at age 99? I'm the only one!"
Kelly Porter: I will remember her the most for having the courage to speak of racism and gentrification, of the cultural whitening of the dances that she invented, even when her mostly-white audiences were not receptive (which was frequently). She spoke of the challenges and truth of black life with love and seriousness. Norma did not shuck and jive for anyone in her later life, and she spoke her mind 100% of the time-- these were powerful gifts to the future of the artistic community she helped to originate.
Remembering the oral history interviews I did with her nearly a decade ago, one image stands out in my mind just now, of a defiant 15-year-old Norma, skirting New York school truancy officers and boarding a ship to her first dance tour of Europe-- a trip that she knew would change her life and her opportunities for the next 85 years; a trip that would have been unimaginable for so many young black women in the US at the time. Norma had the audacity to always reach for something better, grander and more beautiful than what a racist society and a hostile economy was inclined to allocate her-- she was bold, she was loved and she will be missed.
Lori Taniguchi: She was dedicated to her craft and to being a performer in a way that was hard not to be in awe of. She pushed and she worked hard for everything she had and had very little patience for upstarts who weren't willing to put in the time and effort. RIP Norma Miller, Queen of Swing.
Exandrus: I met her at a swing convention in Vegas in 2000. She walked into the middle of the dance floor and everyone just kinda naturally circled around her to see what she was going to do. Someone handed her a microphone and she started talking Flyin' Lindy Hoppers, birth of swing, all kinds of cool swing stories. But then she just kinda stopped and said, "you know what though? Imma tell you the only thing you need to know - if ya don't dig swing, ya don't dig fried chicken." Then she tossed the microphone aside and said "now dammit, someone dance with me."
The DJ rushed to put something on, and while I was looking at him, I felt a tiny hand on mine and looked down to see her right in front of me. She said "you'll do" and all 90 pounds of her dragged me onto the dance floor. I remember thinking "oh my God, I'm dancing with Norma" and "oh my God what if I hurt her" in equal parts for about two minutes while we danced. Then she went for a drink as if she hadn't just given me a story I'd be telling 20 years later.
Traci Bartlow (Oakland, California): “I'm grateful to Elliott Donnelley for helping to arrange for Norma and Chazz to come to East Side Arts Alliance and connect with the black community there. We did several events with Norma and she loved connecting with us.”
Morgan Day (San Diego, CA): “All of my favorite stories involve Norma giving her opinion about something in the most honest and blunt fashion that only Norma could do. My favorite was Norma saw a Balboa class where the instructors were teaching the class to pick up their feet... Norma couldn't help but interject and stated ‘In my day, we called it the Balboa Shuffle... And that meant you kept your God damn feet on the God damn dance floor!’"
George Gee (New York City) quoting Norma: “Give me a bucket of fried chicken and a Count Basie record and I will solve all the world’s problems.”
San Francisco Bay Area Dancer: “She was the most blunt, honest lady (which happens when you're in your 90s, I guess!). I remember sitting with her and Chazz at Swingin at the Savoy one year when we had a ‘best of the bay’ type of dance off comp. I turned to her and asked ‘what do you think of our local dancers, Norma?" She responded "they're ok, I guess, but people just don't throw down like they used to.’”
Chisomo: Last summer, at Beantown, as I stepped off of the dance floor, Ms. Norma caught my attention. I was a little nervous because I‘m a novice Lindy hopper and have felt pretty insecure about my Lindy Hop for a hot sec.
She had been watching me dance that night and as I walked off of the floor she called me over and said, “You look like you’re really enjoying yourself out there.”
Being an African, I’m accustomed to brutal honesty from elders. Love and truth often come intermingled at moments you are least expecting it. Lol. As such, I awaited a follow-up comment, something that would frame the sentiment as “you’ve got a lot of work to do; but at least you’re having fun out there.” But it didn’t come. I replied humbly saying, “Thank you I WAS having fun out there; but I have so much work to do. I want to do you proud. Thank you for giving us this dance. I’ll keep practicing. I plan on working hard. I know how hard you practiced. You worked really hard. I want to work hard too, to try to make you proud.”
She interrupted my apologetic rambling and said emphatically, “I had to work that hard because I was a professional dancer. I wouldn’t wish how hard I worked on anybody. I want you to ENJOY the dance. You look like you love this dance. Keep enjoying it.” In that moment, I was blessed by the queen.
All she wanted to do was encourage me and love on me. I felt privileged and invited into this beautiful legacy. She took pleasure in seeing people love what she created. Since then, my goal has been to remember that I do this dance because I love it. I want to embody the joy of movement and honor Ms. Norma’s memory by doing what she told me to do.
Dawn Spangler Spears: I was at a weekend workshop in Charlottesville, VA, my second time swing dancing. I didn’t even know who they were at the time, but there teaching the workshop was Frankie Manning and Norma Miller, together. Frankie and Norma would teach class until her knees hurt too much and a lucky dancer would be called to fill in. And then Norma would teach another class until her knees hurt again and another lucky dancer would step in with Frankie to finish class. I remember her enthusiasm for the dance was over the top and she wasn’t gonna let those knees slow her down but so much. She made lots of jokes about dancer's knees. Unforgettable weekend organized by Cricket Jaber and a group of friends.
Charles Turner (Brooklyn, NY): I had the humbled honor of meeting her and talked twice with her at Beantown with everyone else! She was full of love, life and so wise and funny! After singing one night I walked up to her and she said “You sound like Joe Williams , but your with “Your Own Thing “ ! I was humbled and ecstatic. She had listened to, danced to and known the great singers that I admire so, like Joe Williams and Ella.
I was glad that she was able to hear my influences and that she made a point to tell me I had a voice and style of my own . I knew I was heading in the direction and felt encouraged. Although I didn’t have many moments with Miss Norma. I am grateful for these brief encounters and will always be filled with gratitude for it!