Faces of the Harlem Renaissance

Herbert "Whitey" White

Dancer

A former bouncer (and ex-prize fighter) at the Savoy Ballroom exported the Lindy Hop from Harlem to dance halls around the world. After years of watching talented amateur dancers pack the Savoy night after night, Herbert "Whitey" White set out to recruit the best of them for a professional dance troupe.

The Lindy Hop—the reigning dance of the day—ignited cutthroat competition among its practitioners.

At the Savoy Ballroom dance hall, for example, you wouldn't dare venture out onto the small patch of floor known as "Cat's Corner" unless you believed your skills to be among the best. Creativity and personal expression ruled this spot where elite dancers congregated.

Skimming the cream from this crop, White formed Whitey's Lindy Hoppers in 1935. He began booking his dancers at public and private venues all over town. Parties thrown by rich white socialites were prized gigs.

Whitey's troupe hit the big time when several members won the Lindy Hop division at the Harvest Moon Ball, New York City's premier dance competition. The troupe translated this success into an international tour that took the dancers to Broadway and the Cotton Club in New York and the Moulin Rouge in Paris. This in turn led to film appearances, notably the Marx Brothers' A Day at the Races. The troupe's appearance in the movie Helzapoppin' introduced the Lindy Hop to the masses—and touched off a global dance sensation.