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My interview with George Sullivan in 2006

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

This interview was really special for me personally as I'd heard about George Sullivan as a bit of a legend and I'd taken one master class from him years before at the Basie Ball in 2004. He was renowned not just as a dancer, but also as a trainer of other great dancers and many subsequent Harvest Moon Ball champions. From the class I'd already taken, I knew that he did not play.

This interview almost didn't happen. Even after he arrived at the brownstone in Harlem where we would conduct the interview, upon seeing a young Skye and Peter welcome him at the door, he was really unsure of whether this was something he wanted to be a part of. As we would learn from interviewing many dance elders that weekend, we were not the first group of interested white people to come to hear about the Lindy Hop, the Savoy, and the culture and people surrounding it all. There was a long history of people sharing their stories and then seeing profit made elsewhere. Most were happy to share and contribute to this increase in knowledge but did not want others to profit where they did not.

While we were adamant that this was intended to be released as a sort of public good for the Lindy Hop community to learn about it's history, many, including George were (perhaps rightfully) suspicious that there was money to made that would not be shared. In fact it was not until Tena Morales-Armstrong (who runs ILHC now and was a big part of making the Savoy 80th event, and hence these interviews) came downstairs to check on us that George decided to come up. For the record, Tena is African-American and it was clear that George's guard came down a bit when he saw someone else he felt would be invested in not strip-mining his stories just for money.

As you'll see in this interview, George Sullivan is a fascinating person with an amazing personal story and some deep insights into the dance and teaching. And as he says, in the end, he decided to share his story because of his commitment to a friend who had passed away, who had asked that he try to help the (now late) dance historian Terry Monahan. Terry made personal connections and became a part of the lives of the people he interviewed and learned from, and his care for not just the dance but the people is why we got this interview.

I'm so glad that this has been shared by ILHC far and wide and for free, as intended, to provide some insight into the experiences of these great dancers. It's a great time for us to get in touch with some of the figures who have contributed to this culture that we are trying to be some small part of by dancing the Lindy Hop. While we aren't able to dance much in person, it's the perfect time to take some time to listen to these stories. As we have fewer and fewer dance elders to share these stories with us, the dance can become a bit detached from the culture and context from which it sprang. Through these interviews we can get some sense of that culture that we might not otherwise have access to and for me, to have some sense of that culture is to have a far richer experience of the dance itself.


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