Norma Miller, who died Sunday, May 5th at age 99, grew up in an apartment overlooking the Savoy Ballroom. She could watch the dancers from her fire escape and was fascinated. Her interest and natural talent were nurtured by her mother, who though struggling financially enrolled her in dance lessons at age five. She attended the Manhattan School of the Arts on the Upper West Side, and as a teen began winning Lindy Hop contests.
At 15, in 1934, she became the youngest member of the famous professional dance troupe Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. In 1935 she was with them on a seven-month European tour which helped to spread the dance worldwide.
She began to appear as a dancer and actress in a number of period films and had a standout role in the famous Hellzapoppin’ dance film. Pearl Harbor stranded Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers in Rio De Janeiro for 10 months. She left the group not long after their return, and the group itself disbanded in 1942 when many of the male members were called up for the war.
From 1952 to 1968, she ran dance companies under her name that toured and provided dancers for productions by Count Basie, Cab Calloway, and other legends. At the advice of Redd Foxx, she developed a comedy routine and performed from a base in Las Vegas throughout the 60s and 70s, including USO tours to Vietnam.
In the 1980s she became involved in the earliest stages of the swing dance revival. She remained a leading light in the movement and was heading workshops at Herräng Dance Camp in Sweden as recently as last June.