The Savoy Ballroom

Exuberant dancing at the Savoy Ballroom.

AIRED: January 06, 2012 | 0:03:53

- [Narrator] The Savoy covered a whole city block

on Lenox Avenue between 140th and 141st Streets,

employed two bands at once so that the music

need never stop and was so popular with dancers

that it's maple and mahogany floor

had to be replaced every three years.

Just 50 cents on weeknights, 75 cents on Sundays,

the Savoy was called The Home of Happy Feet

and offered depression ravished Harlem

a respite from it's troubles.

- The windows was wide open and so the music

can come out, blast right into our living room.

Every night we heard this marvelous music

and in those days in the summer

the fire escape was where you sat to be cool.

There was no air conditioning nowhere.

So by sitting on the fire escape and our fire escape

faced the back windows of the Savoy Ballroom

and you ever see shadows when people dance past the windows?

You could see figures dancing to that music

and my sister and I would respond to what we saw

in the windows of the Savoy and we would get into

the living room and dance to some of

the best bands in the world.

- [Narrator] For years Norma listened to the music

and dreamed of going inside.

In the spring of 1931 she got her chance.

- Precisely it was Easter Sunday, 12 years old

and you know in those days you always had

a little new outfit to go out to church.

Four o'clock there's a matinee gonna be

at the Savoy Ballroom and after church I dashed up

to Lenox Avenue and the people that went into the Savoy

were sharp and we used to just stand outside to watch them

and that's what I was doing.

We started dancing outside the Savoy Ballroom

and I heard somebody say to me, "Hey kid."

And I turned around and he said, "you, you"

and I turned and I recognized immediately who it was.

It was the great Twistmouth George in a white hat,

white suite, white everything asking me

to come to the ballroom to dance with him

and he said, "Would you come and dance?"

I said, "would I?"

He grabbed me, we dashed up the stairs

and I don't know whether I hit each step

cause he had such long legs

and I remember just flying up those stairs with him

and we go through these doors

and I think it was the most beautiful

place I'd ever seen in my life.

The reds and the greens and the blues

and that was the first time

I ever saw a band on a bandstand.

I mean I'd been seeing the shadows and he,

I'm so excited he took me over there in the corner

and sat me down and brought me a Coke and said,

"You sit here and I'll come get ya"

and finally it was his turn for Twistmouth George

to come and he came and got me and he said, "Let's go."

When they hit that music...

All I know is everything he just, he just threw me.

My feet never touched the ground.

People were screaming and he put me on top of his shoulders,

walked me around the ballroom and the people is clapping

and talking about Twistmouth and he took me right around

to the front right outside and put me back outside.

Greatest moment in my life and I'm excited, excited.

I'm gonna go home and tell my mother and my sister

and then I said, no I better not say nothing.