Voices of the Jazz Era Ballroom

Voices of the Jazz Era Ballroom is a grassroots, web-based oral history project devoted to preserving and passing on the memory of dance in the Jazz era through the lives and words of everyday people. This is your story—please contribute by talking with a parent or grandparent, neighbor, or friend and explore the archive to see how others have shared their stories.

Norma Miller Chats with Voices of the Jazz Era Ballroom

We caught up with celebrated dancer, performer and comedienne Norma Miller on her recent book tour to chat about dance in the Swing Era, VJEB which she was kind enough to promote, and about all of the many things that still keep her swinging at 90-years-young. Norma was an original Savoy Ballroom dancer and one of the early innovators of Lindy Hop. Her film credits include some of the most iconic sequences in swing, such as A Day at the Races (1937), Hellzapoppin' (1941), and Hot Chocolates (1941).

Norma, simply put, is a force of nature. At 90 she does more, and has more to say than most people a quarter her age. She told us about her mother's rent parties in the 1920's, bringing lindy hop (the dance of the Savoy Ballroom) to Europe as a 15-year-old in 1935, smuggling American jazzmen through European customs checkpoints, and what dance music sounded like in Europe before big band swing had made the full leap across the pond. She also talks about the hard times, like moving around when rent couldn't be paid, WWII, segregation.

Nowadays Norma is sharing the dances she loves with a new generation. Inspired by Michelle Obama's efforts to curb childhood obesity and promote youth fitness, Norma is pushing for dance in the curriculum of our young people as the kind of joyful exercise that stays with you for life. She also recently authored a book about the history of swing dancing, called Swing Baby Swing, and is the subject of the documentary The Queen of Swing. It was a joy speaking with her, and all of us at VJEB wish her well with her many projects.