SUGAR SULLIVAN | 2020

Born as Ruth Guillory, in 1930, in Harlem, New York, Sugar started her dancing career in a Harlem dance school when she was four years old; studying ballet for six months, singing for some time, but particularly tap dancing for three years.

Public Recognition:

Dance Biography:

Born as Ruth Guillory, in 1930, in Harlem, New York, Sugar started her dancing career in a Harlem dance school when she was four years old; studying ballet for six months, singing for some time, but particularly tap dancing for three years. After professional tap dancers taught Sugar a professional tap routine that she performed in the dance school recital (instead of the routine her dance instructor taught for the occasion), she left the dance school, and her mother asked the tap dancers to teach Sugar at home.

Sugar began to frequent the Pepsi Cola Club in Harlem and gravitated towards the Lindy Hop. By 1946. Sugar and her partner Eugene ‘Ray’ Daniels earned two paintings, which were signed by Walt Disney, when they won a Jitterbug contest that the Miss America Magazine organized in 1946. In the club, Sugar and Ray usually did Lindy Hop performances and Sugar sang, but she was also an avid Be Bop dancer. They first learned to lindy hop by watching movies like “A Day at the Races” and “Hellzapoppin’ “. Sugar recalls that she and her partner spent the whole day in a theater watching the movie, and then they went to the Central Park to practice the moves they saw on the screen. 

In 1948, she and her new partner Norton ‘Stoney’ Marteeni, who later was part of the Norma Miller Dancers, heeded advice to enter the famous New York Daily News-sponsored Harvest Moon Ball dance contest. Unfortunately, they had missed the Savoy Ballroom preliminary for the finals, but they found out that the Roseland Ballroom in Midtown Manhattan still had a Jitterbug Jive preliminary available for Lindy Hoppers, so they went and entered. Although they did not succeed in the finals, the experience was mind blowing to Sugar. In the finals, she saw for the first time live the Savoy Lindy Hoppers whose existence she knew only via movies. She was amazed by the speed of dancing the Savoy Lindy Hoppers showed in the contest. She met them after the contest was over. After explaining that she wanted to learn from them, they told her how to find the Savoy. There she saw the ‘good dancers’ from the Harvest Moon Ball, who were shocked that she and her partner had fared so well against the white Lindy Hoppers from the Roseland Ballroom, considering the racism of the times.

The original Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers (the Lindy ‘second generation’) were changing.  Sugar was part of ‘Blue’ Outlaw’s Jivadeers that White managed, and was part of the start of the ‘third generation’.

As Sugar excelled at the Lindy Hop, and entered the Harvest Moon Ball contest, again, in 1950, partnering with another Savoy Lindy Hopper, Willie Posey, but they did not succeed in the finals. Trying with a new partner in 1951 looked promising until Sugar hurt herself in an air step in the Savoy rehearsals. Her husband, George Sullivan asked if she accepted him as the partner for the contest, even though he seldom did the Lindy.  After three weeks practicing with the help of Sugar and others, they entered the preliminary and, against all odds, were selected to the finals, although they did not place in the finals.

Sugar danced in Mura Dehn’s “Spirit Moves” with other famous Savoy Lindy Hoppers like Al Minns, ‘Big Nick’ Nicholson, and Teddy Brown.  In 1953, Sugar and George were back in the Harvest Moon Ball and this time they placed third in the Jitterbug Jive division while other Savoy Ballroom couples secured the first and the second place.  Sugar and George belonged also to the Savoy Ballroom’s famous 400 club that still was in action on Tuesdays in the 1950s. It was established in 1927 and became a club for elite Lindy Hoppers in fall 1929.

Finally, in 1955, Sugar and George were crowned the Jitterbug Jive Champions. Their lightning speed dancing is captured in a Harvest Moon Ball footage in which the presenter says justifiably, “[o]h, yes, it is a real treat to watch these to keep the right beat”, when Sugar and George are in the spotlight. Sugar feels that the step, “the drop down the back”, they were doing at the moment, played an important part in bringing the Championship to them.

After working as a dancing couple in various shows, and teaching the Lindy to the dance teachers in the Arthur Murray dance school and to the June Taylor dancers, George moved away from the show business, but Sugar wanted to continue in it.   In the beginning of the 1960s, Sugar joined in the Sonny Allen & The Rockets dance company. Sonny Allen & The Rockets toured in the US and in Canada, especially in Montreal, until the first half of the 1970s. However, Sugar did not forget the Harlem scene and kept touch with other Savoy Lindy Hoppers after the Savoy closed in 1958. She connected with them, particularly, through the Harvest Moon Ball where she trained these new entrants. She had also kept touch with Mura Dehn and participated in Mura’s performances, as did the Rockets.

When the original Harvest Moon Ball ceased in 1975, Sugar did the Hustle dance, but she did not feel about the new disco scene similarly as she felt about the old Swing scene. She took a few years break from dancing and came back at the end of the 1970s. In 1980, just before the mainly white dancers rediscovered the Lindy Hop and started the revival in it, Sugar was reported to be lindy hopping in various events. Al Minns, whom the new Lindy enthusiasts rediscovered in 1981, became soon, in 1982, Sugar’s dancing partner. According to her, Al still “danced the same” as he did at the Savoy when they first met. Their co-operation lasted until 1983.  She was intrinsically part of the 1980s Lindy Hop Revival from the beginning.  Sugar and George have been recognized as the leading figures of the Third Generation. She has taught the Lindy Hop and other jazz dances, and has explained the Savoy scene in numerous events around the world. Her professional dancing career spans over eight decades, a record that is hard to beat.

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