Stompin’ at the Savoy: The Story of Norma Miller by Alan Govenar

Stompin’ at the Savoy: The Story of Norma Miller by Alan Govenar
Publisher: Candlewick
Genre: YA (Ages 10+), Historical, Non-Fiction, Biography
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

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, single-color illustrations, evoking the vibrant style of vintage poster art.

A pioneer in the dance world and a fascinating person all-around.

I loved the Ken Burns documentary Jazz and was thrilled to find a biography of one of the dancers featured in the program. Norma Miller. First, she’s a fascinating person. Second, it’s impressive how she managed to pull herself up. Third, she’s a survivor. I can’t imagine how she managed to live her life and not get bogged down in some of the low points.

This story is a YA book, but really, anyone can read it. This is the story of Norma Miller. She was a Lindy Hop dancer who started out by watching the shadows from the Savoy Ballroom and listening to the music. She had some lessons, but most of her training is self-taught. I liked that she wasn’t just an overnight success. She had to work for it. The author spoke directly to her for this book and that shows. Her voice, just like in the documentary, really shines. She didn’t have an easy life, either, as she went on dance tours and often spent many months away from home, despite the tours only supposed to have been a few weeks.

I liked that she taught dance and works with young dancers to develop their love of dance and jazz in particular.

If you’re looking for a dance biography and want something fascinating, then this is the book for you. Check it out.

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