LEON JAMES | 2020

Leon James (April 1913 – November 1970), one of the main Swing dancers with the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, had one of the greatest on-stage personalities in Lindy Hopping. With his constantly moving legs and hands and his flashing eyes, everyone would always notice him first. His styling was a favorite of the ladies at the Savoy, who  liked to remember the way he moved his hips.

Public Recognition:

Dance Biography:

Leon James (April 1913 – November 1970), one of the main Swing dancers with the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, had one of the greatest on-stage personalities in Lindy Hopping. With his constantly moving legs and hands and his flashing eyes, everyone would always notice him first. His styling was a favorite of the ladies at the Savoy, who  liked to remember the way he moved his hips.

He won the first Harvest Moon Ball, in 1935, with Edith Matthews.

He and partner Willa Mae Ricker were featured in the 1943 Life Magazine spread on Lindy Hop.

Because of poor eyesight, Leon was one of the few of the original Lindy Hoppers who was not drafted into the service in World War II. He remained active as a dancer and stage personality until his death.

 He and fellow Lindy Hopper  Al Minns developed a novelty act in which they danced together and charmed audiences with their playfulness and ingenuity. They named themselves “The Jazz Dancers”, specialists in the history of authentic jazz dances. They were both filmed extensively as part of Mura Dehn’s “The Spirit Moves” documentary in the early ‘50’s, which was a series of video clips that were the primary resource for many revival era dancers interested in learning lindy hop and vernacular jazz before U-tube. They also worked together with dance historian Marshall Stearns in the 1960s, and appeared in a number of television specials with Dr. Stearns, including on Dupont Show of the Week (1961) and on Playboy Penthouse (1961). These appearances are part dance history lecture by Marshall Stearns, part demonstration by Al and Leon.

Al and Leon were significant in keeping jazz dance alive, by performing it into the 1950s and 1960s on stage and television, and continuing to teach classes in New York City, when most of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers had retired.

He also danced with the Shorty Snowden Trio and toured with the “Ink Spots” in the mid 1940s as Moke and “Poke”. Al and Leon were approached by Johnny Carson to be part of the daily pre-show entertainment for his TV show. Very soon after, Leon had his first heart attack and plans were scrapped.

Al and Leon also went on to play an important role in keeping lindy hop alive and sharing it with later generations. In later years, they often performed together both solo routines (including their own version of the Shim Sham) and partnering with each other.

Along with “The Spirit Moves”, Al performed in “Day at the Races”, “The Big Apple”, Cootie Williams and His Orchestra”, “Boy What a Girl”, “Chicago and All That Jazz”.

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