As a child, Norma Miller danced the popular lindy hop for mesmerized crowds in her Harlem neighborhood - moves that involved “women going over men’s backs, down through their legs and up over their body,” as famous choreographer Debbie Allen describes it.
When international swing musicians needed performers for Hollywood films, Broadway shows, and tours, a teenage Norma signed up. Little did she know the impact she would have on civil rights a long way from home.
She and her dance groups (the Herbert White troupe, Norma Miller and Her Jazz Men, and the Norma Miller Dancers) fought segregated policies along the nightclub circuit from hot Miami to glitzy Las Vegas.
For Miller, it was unacceptable for club owners to call on Black performers to entertain the large crowds of white patrons they attracted, yet insist Black artists weren’t good enough to enjoy the freedom to come and go as they wished nor the same quality accommodations as white performers.
Beyond dancing, the “Queen of Swing” found success as a “choreographer, comedian, television actor, and author,” according to her New York Times obituary.
Even months prior to her passing in May 2019, she remained light on her feet, busting out her old moves in swing group classes for the beginner and experienced attendees at the age of 99.