If you loved music and you loved dancing, the Savoy was the place to go. At the Renaissance, going to the Savoy was our one ambition because they had the best bands and the best dancers. It had been on our minds for a year or two, but we were afraid to venture there because we put the Savoy on a pedestal. Nobody but the greatest dancers went, or at least those who thought they were.
The entrance of the Savoy was at street level. You went down one flight to check your coat, then you walked back up two flights to the ballroom, which was on the second floor. As I was climbing the steps that led to the ballroom, I could hear this swinging music coming down the stairwell, and it started seeping right into my body….
The Savoy was the ballroom because it had the best orchestras, and from that they got the best dancers. Even though a lot of people went to ballrooms just to listen to the music, back then bands played for dancers. After all, they were called dance bands.
These were the depression years (which didn’t make that much difference to my family since we were poor anyway) and dancing was an outlet for people because there wasn’t much else they could do. We all stayed in Harlem, but you could find someplace to step out every night of the week. Going to a ballroom became our social life.
Even though we were poor, we always dressed up. People in Harlem felt that they’d get more respect if they dressed well. Guys felt that the better they looked, the more likely a young lady would be to dance with them. I only owned two suits, but I always wore them with a shirt and tie and nice shoes, not two-tones, just black or brown ones. This was the fashion, and everybody dressed that way.
– Frankie Manning