Friday, August 17, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Young and old cutting a rug at City Hall

Seattle Times arts critic

More Lindy Hop & Tap this weekend

The Masters of Lindy Hop & Tap continues through Sunday. The schedule includes workshops, public dances, films, panel discussions and a show with esteemed Seattle jazz singer Ernestine Anderson.

Most events take place at Century Ballroom, 915 E. Pine St., Seattle. Highlights include:

• Masters' Exhibition, featuring such sprightly elder dance stars as Frankie Manning, Norma Miller and others (8 p.m. tonight)

• "Keeping the Dancing & Music Alive in the 21st Century," a free panel with Seattle Times jazz critic Paul DeBarros and others (12:15 p.m. Saturday, at HaLo, 500 E. Pike St., Seattle)

• Swing Dance with Ernestine Anderson and Opus One Big Band (10 p.m. Saturday)

• "Living in a Great Big Way," documentary film about Jeni LeGon, a swing dancer who worked with Cab Calloway, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and other greats. LeGon, who turned 81 this month, will attend the screening. (6:30 p.m. Sunday)

Schedule, ticket prices and reservations at or 206-324-7263.

Ninety-three-year-old Frankie Manning had some official business at City Hall on Thursday. It was showing people young enough to be his great-grandkids how to do the Shim Sham.

Known as "The Ambassador of the Lindy Hop," Manning was not the only one laying down moves at City Hall's outdoor plaza in a noontime concert.

An estimated 300 people turned out for the 90-minute event. They came to learn swing-dance basics, get up and boogie to the brassy jazz of the Solomon Douglas Swingtet, or just bop along from the sidelines while eating their lunch.

The dance was part of the Masters of Lindy Hop & Tap festival, sponsored by Capitol Hill's Century Ballroom. The festival runs through Sunday and features 10 surviving star dancers from the Big Band era, some of whom appeared alongside such vintage superstars as Judy Garland, Lena Horne and Cab Calloway. Though now in their 70s, 80s and 90s, these elder hoofers are still cuttin' a rug.

While here, Manning and contemporaries Jeni LeGon, Norma Miller, Sugar Sullivan and others will reflect on their escapades as star African-American hoofers, at nightspots like Harlem's Savoy Ballroom, from the 1920s into the '40s. They also will teach their fancy footwork for such crazes as the Lindy Hop (the jazzy partner dance that led to the Jitterbug), in classes and dance-'til-you-drop shindigs open to the public.

The festival debuted here in 2006, to great success. This year its producer Hallie Kuperman (owner of the Century Ballroom and Restaurant) added a free outdoor dance to the schedule.

Co-sponsored by the city's Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs, it was part of the ongoing Seattle Presents program of noontime concerts at City Hall.

"The chance to host a show where people can really participate and learn some moves is great," said Lori Patrick, spokeswoman for Seattle Presents. "And it's great also that we're honoring these masters of swing dance."

Dozens of tourists and passers-by dropped in on the event, drawn by the up-tempo music spilling down to Fourth Avenue. But a large contingent of local swingsters had looked forward to it for weeks.

"I've seen only film and video footage of Frankie Manning and the others," said amateur Seattle dancer Yuriko Miyamoto. "It's so great to see them live."

Christine and Bruce Pinto, of Shoreline, made a special trip into town for the event. Their 3-year-old daughter Kathryn was one of many small children grooving to the infectious music.

"Kathryn loves to dance, and she's already really good at it," said her proud mom.

On the other end of the age spectrum, the sage "masters" mostly held court from chairs set up near the packed 24-by-24-foot portable wooden dance floor.

"Anyone can do this dance," declared LeGon, 81, a Vancouver, B.C., resident who decades ago appeared in the Count Basie Orchestra Chorus Line and hoofed her way through such films as "Easter Parade" and "Stormy Weather."

"You just need to have rhythm. If you can keep a beat, you can swing dance."

Norma "Queen of Swing" Miller, 87, ex-member of the famed Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, nodded in assent. "People all over the world are doing it now. I was just talking to a man who swing dances in Shanghai, China."

The Lindy Hop, jazz tap and other related dance styles nearly died out after the 1950s, when Big Band music gave way to rock 'n' roll.

But since the swing revival emerged in the early 1990s, those survivors who helped create and popularize the form have become heroes to new generations of dancers.

Who wouldn't be impressed, seeing Manning and his septuagenarian son Chazz Young spryly step, jump and shimmy, as they led the Shim Sham — a swingin' line dance?

"I love being in Seattle," Manning said during a break.

"You have so many enthusiastic dancers here."

Misha Berson:

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company


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