In March, Sharon Davis is teaching the Al & Leon Shim Sham for JazzMAD. This is a must-know vintage jazz routine for all swing dancers. It’s also a lot of fun, with sweet rhythms and plenty of opportunity to inject your own character into the choreography.

Here you can see the legendary dancers who created this routine, Al Minns and Leon James, demonstrating classic jazz steps for the August 1961 edition of Ebony Magazine…

Al Minns and Leon James in Ebony Magazine August 1961

Al Minns and Leon James in Ebony Magazine August 1961

Albert “Al” Minns and Leon James were both Savoy Ballroom dancers in Harlem, New York. They were members of the most famous Lindy Hop team in history, Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers.

Throughout the 1930s and 40s they performed on stage and film. They were both Harvest Moon Ball champions in the 1930s – Leon James in 1935 with partner Willa Mae Ricker, and Al Minns in 1938 with partner Sandra “Boogie” Gibson. You can see Al Minns dancing in Hellzapoppin (1941) and the Duke Ellington Cottontail soundie Hot Chocolates (1941). You can see Leon James dancing in A Day At The Races (1937), the Cootie Williams & His Orchestra soundie (1943), and Boy What a Girl (1947).

Leon James and Willa Mae Ricker are featured in the famous 1943 LIFE Magazine photo essay on the Lindy Hop, photographed by Gjon Mili.

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.

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 50s.

Al Minns & Leon James attended the legendary Newport Jazz Festival of 1960, and can be seen in some of the footage, dancing by the stage and on occasion, invited onstage to dance with the musicians.

They 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.

Leon James sadly passed away in 1970, but Al Minns continued dancing and teaching into his sixties, and was an important part of the swing revival in the 1980s. In 1984 the Rhythm Hot Shots brought him to Stockholm to teach. He sadly passed away the following year, in 1985.




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