The Savoy Ballroom
Dance halls were the nightclubs of the day and many had more than 1000 people swing dancing most nights of the week! The Savoy Ballroom in New York was one of the biggest legendary dance halls where Swing reigned supreme. The Savoy Ballroom opened its doors on 12 March 1926 and was originally owned by gangster Moe Paddon (who some say was just a front for Chicago’s Al Capone) and managed by Charles Buchanan. The vision of these two young men was to create one of the first racially integrated public places in the country, which proved to be a wise business decision, attracting a wide range of clientele. The allowing of inter-racial dancing was really frowned upon by both races at the time at other night spots, but not at the Savoy.
The Savoy was a two-story ballroom which spanned the whole block of 140th Street to 141st Street on Lenox Avenue in Harlem, New York, and was known its in day as the ‘heartbeat of Harlem’. The Ballroom itself was huge with two bandstands, coloured spotlights, and the dance floor (nicknamed the track) was over 10,000 square ft. of spring loaded, wooden dance floor. The interior was painted pink and the walls were mirrored. Coloured lights danced on the spring layered wood floor. The Savoy Ballroom was for ‘anybody who wanted to go and dance and have a good wholesome time’.
The floor had to be maintained extremely well and each night cleaners scraped off pieces of gum, scrubbed and swept the whole floor, then it was polished ready for Charlie Buchanan’s meticulous morning inspection. This was not just for cleanliness but also for its own sake, and being one storey up the regular maintenance and periodical checks ensured it didn’t collapse and send the dancers crashing through to the floor below.
After 32 years of Swing, the Savoy sadly closed its doors on 10 July, 1958. In it’s place, a plaque now sits in honour of the great ballroom and the incredible memories it created for many.
The spirit of the Savoy and swing dancing is that of bringing people together, which is the underling value of Savoy Dance.
Want to know what’s so special about the Savoy? Let original dancers Frankie Manning and Norma Miller tell you about it!