Who are Al and Leon?
Al and Leon are famous Lindy Hop and Jazz dancers who grew to fame in the 1930s and 1940s. While there are lots of videos of them dancing together, they performed with others, including partner dancing in the performance troupe – Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers.
In the video above you can see Al and Leon doing a short demo of the Charleston dance to the tune ‘Charleston’. It’s a great demo of some of the different styles of Jazz dancing from the 20s to 30s. And there is even a small amount of ‘partner dancing’ for good measure. If you ever get confused you can recognise Al Minns by his high-energy dancing and more athletic shapes. Leon James is a little more smooth and is known for his iconic hand gestures, often flashing his palms.
They would both keep dancing throughout their lives, acting as stewards of the dance form, keeping it alive throughout the years. They teamed up to help Jazz musicologist Marshall Stearns, who was writing a history of Jazz music in the 1960s. Stearns was instrumental in getting them multiple TV appearances as they went on tour together, allowing us to see so many clips of these phenomenal dancers in action! For that, we are forever indebted to Mr Stearns, for his allyship and his ability to open doors when they might have been closed to black dancers. In this clip from Playboy’s Penthouse -Hugh Hefner has his own TV show in the 60s, who knew!- you can see Stearns being interviewed by Hefner whilst Al and Leon dance.
In the early 1980s, Al Minns was instrumental in further spreading the dance around the world. Travelling to Sweden to teach a group of brand new dancers and helping out in New York with the renewed international interest in Swing Dancing.
Leon James passed in 1970 while Al Minns managed to see 1985 before also passing. Their life and contribution to Swing Dancing will forever be remembered.