The Congaroo Dancers of the Late 30’s

After Frankie Manning served in World War II he came back to the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem and started the Lindy Hop performance group known as the Congaroo Dancers in 1947. The group originally began in 1939 as the best dance group from Whitley’s Lindy Hoppers known as the Harlem Congaroos. The group performed at the Cotton Club as well as in the movies Hot Chocolates and Hellzapoppin’.

The music scene changed drastically after World War II which of course, also changed the dance moves as well. The big band swing era was slowly disappearing to more modern music, however, jazz was beginning to evolve into the bebop era which was often difficult to make great dance moves. The Stutter was created to try to put dance moves to the new bebop sound which was a 6 count form of the Lindy Hop.

Rhythm and Blues was also evolving into rock and Roll. Rhythm and blues was a music that could easily have awesome dance moves created, while rock and roll did not have the rhythms or melody of swing jazz. In most cases, those that did enjoy dancing to the new sounds were using a simple form of the Lindy Hop with a 6 count pattern.

Since there was a huge decrease for authentic Lindy Hop dancers, the Congaroo Dancers found their niche by traveling with big bands and artists of the time including Stan Kenton, Dizzy Gillespie, Nat King Cole, and Sarah Vaughan. The problem was the the live stage acts were also decreasing. By 1954 due to the decrease in audiences and the cost of traveling and performing the group disbanded in 1954.

The Congaroo Dancers in the beginning were Frankie Manning with partner Ann Johnson and Russel Williams and his partner Willa Mae Ricker. Later Helen Daniels became Frankie Manning’s partner.

included Frankie Manning who had two partners during the reign of the group which were Ann Johnson and Helen Douglas, along with Russell Williams and his partner Willa Mae Ricker. The dances performed by the group include Latin dances, tap dance, jazz dance, Conga, and the Lindy Hop. The performance also include comedy skits along with vocalists and musicians including Cab Calloway, Andy Kirk, Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie, Erskine Hawkins, Illinois Jacquet, Alvino Rey, Lucky Millinder, and Ella Fitzgerald.