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From Oven Fitter to Dance Bug-Jitter!

Terrence Malcolm is one of Northampton’s most celebrated dancers but many aren’t aware of his humble origins…

Like many of his predecessors in the realm of dance, Terry discovered his calling late in life.

“Dancing wasn’t really the done thing for lads in Northampton when I was growing up.

I was born in 1956 into a large family with four older brothers. Our parents worked hard so that they could feed and clothe us; we knew that, so we all worked hard at school in return. Both my parents worked in the Crockett and Jones factory, in fact that’s where they met. They had both lost family in the Wars and, as such, were endlessly grateful of their job security and safety. Before we tucked into dinner, our grace would always mention the men and women who had sacrificed themselves so that we could be safe.

My Dad was a traditional kind of bloke, but he also had an entrepreneurial streak. Although he was committed to his life in the factory, in his spare time he would often dream up ideas for new businesses and inventions that could change the world. He wasn’t interested in ever leaving his job, but this never stopped him for planning how he’d start up a cleaning business (much like the USA’s BBQ Cleaner). He saw opportunities where others saw nothing but lowly, hard-paid work and I’ve always wondered how that BBQ cleaning business of his would have fared if he had been in the position to start it up.

The debt that he felt he owed his older brothers and his own Father was huge; with no direction or guidance he set about repaying it by raising a family with the kind of morals and work ethic that he hoped his parents would have been proud of. He wanted all of his sons to not just ‘do well’ in life but to have the kind of success that he was never granted, as a result of his stilted wartime education. All of us were loyally studious from a young age and remained so into adult life. Although he was strict, our Father was a happy man who understood the importance of leisure time – our study breaks would consist of kicking a ball around in the street, sometimes he would even join us for a bit!

Needless to say, there wasn’t much time for dancing. At the age of 18 I had picked up all the skills that I had needed to start my career as an appliance engineer, a job that I have continued to this day. As much as I’m grateful to my Father for teaching me the importance of a decent work ethic, our upbringing did not leave a lot of room for learning anything else about life. At the age of 21 I was completely self-sufficient, could replace a Belling oven element in a heartbeat and was close to securing a deposit on my first home – but I had no clue how to talk to the opposite sex.

My Mother was left a widow at the age of 62. We expected her to retreat into herself and to devote her time to the Church, but she surprised all of us. Within a year of our Father passing, my Mother started dancing at the Northampton Swing Dance. At first she was a little nervous, she would ask each of us in turn to chaperone her and before we knew it, we were all dancing.

I’d spent to so many years attempting emulate the hard working man that my Mother had been that I had forgotten to have fun and I’m forever grateful to my Mother for showing me how to.”

Swing Dance Legends

The History of Swing is a long and illustrious one…

Although ‘swing’ dancing is now considered to be just one style of many types of modern dance that are related to ‘ballroom dancing’, its origins could not be further from this current reality.

At the peak of its popularity Swing dancing was performed in hundreds of styles. Only a handful of these styles are still practised today but it’s where these styles originated that is most interesting. The Lindy Hop, Collegiate Shag, Charleston and all the other styles of Swing have their roots in African American culture. The originators of swing dance were recent descendants of slaves and former slaves; so, much in the same way that blues music had its roots in the tribal music of Africa, you can draw a straight line between the ritualistic vernacular dances of Africa and swing as it appears today.

As with all movements, Swing’s existence today is thanks to a number of innovators who exemplified the very best of the style:

“Shorty George” Snowden

One of two famous Georges associated with Swing dance, George Snowden was bequeathed his nickname due to his diminutive stature, he stood at just over 5 feet tall. ‘Shorty’ danced with Big Bear, a similarly talented dancer who was much taller than him, their act would often end comically with Bea lifting Shorty over her shoulder with ease. Snowden was considered to be the top dancer at the Savoy from its opening in 1927 until his ‘dethroning’ in 1935 by a man who would revive Swing for a new generation altogether.

Frankie Manning

Alongside ‘Shorty George’, Frankie Manning is often considered to be one of the founders of the Lindy Hop and although it would be impossible to credit him completely with its beginning we can certainly thank him for contributing to its revival and continued popularity. Frankie wrested the title of top dancer from ‘Shorty George’ in 1935 when he debuted the ‘air-step’ to a packed crowd at the Savoy. After spending three decades working for the Postal Service he was coaxed out of retirement in the 80s and helped revive the movement.

Jack Carey

An unsung hero of Swing, Jack Carey was born in 1927 in South Carolina. He learned to dance swing at a very young age which allowed him to purse a career in show business. Amongst a slew of successful competition runs with his wife Lorraine, the pair also performed in movies, most famously appearing in the Jerry Lewis picture Living It Up. Jack would later go on to promote Swing by organising his own competition and coining his very own style: West Coast Swing.

Leroy “Stretch” Jones

Often considered to the flipside of ‘Shorty George’ Snowden, Leroy Jones stood at over 6 feet tall and danced with a much shorter partner, Little Bea.

Despite being a huge influence on the likes of Frankie Manning and other Lindy Hoppers, Leroy Jones’ career was blighted by repetition. His fellow dancers noted his lack of enthusiasm as the years went by and he grew tired of dancing the same routine for the enjoyment of others.