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Hello

I'm Denise Steele, dancer, author and artist, glad to have you here! 

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My Story

As a dance instructor, I specialize in the authentic early Jazz and Swing Era dances of the 1920 - 50s, specifically Lindy Hop, 20’s Charleston, and vernacular jazz - which has been foundational to the last 100 years of theatre arts, cinema, performance and social dancing. 

 

I have nearly 30 years teaching experience through my dance studios, universities, and dance events throughout the US, UK and Europe.

 

My mentor, the legendary Frankie Manning, was one of the most significant innovators and choreographers of vernacular jazz in the Swing era, as well as my teacher, friend and dance partner for over 15 years until his passing in 2009.

 

Frankie’s influence on dance history has been immense, through his choreography and performances in movies, on Broadway, and on stages throughout the US and internationally - catapulting Lindy Hop and vernacular Jazz dance onto the world stage from 1930 through the 1950s.  And when new generations enthusiastically embraced Swing afresh in the 1980s, with Frankie at its epicenter, a second Swing era burst onto the world scene impacting social and contemporary dance genres yet again in movies, music, and theatre.   

 

In case you are not familiar with Frankie’s reputation, throughout his career, he performed for dignitaries such as the King George VI of England in 1939, and with many Jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Sara Vaughan, Billie Holiday, and Cab Calloway to name a few.  Frankie received many awards for his influence and historic contribution to the world of dance including two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, one for his choreography and the other for his contribution to the National Heritage.  He also won the prestigious Tony Award in 1989 for ‘best choreography’ for the Broadway show Black and Blue.  Frankie has been featured in movies, TV documentaries, and news shows including 20/20, 60 minutes, the Ken Burns series on Jazz, and the special Swinging with the Duke featuring the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis.  Over the years Frankie danced in and choreographed for seven films such as Hellzapoppin, Malcolm X by Spike Lee, and Stomping at the Savoy by Debbie Allen.  In addition to film, Frankie has been the subject of hundreds of articles in newspapers and magazines including GQ, National Geographic, and Peoples Magazine.  Frankie’s autobiography was published in 2007.

 

Through Frankie I learned the authentic steps, styling, musicality, and spoken history of these uniquely American vernacular dances.  I began diligently documenting my workshops with Frankie, and his stories which includes references to performing with his fellow artists, his rise to stardom at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, managing the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers troupe and the Congaroos which traveled worldwide. 

 

I have a zeal and passion for passing on the authentic heritage of these exciting vernacular dances, that have been so influential to the theatre arts for the last 100 years. This historical foundation is inspirational to young dancers, as they seek to find expression of their own creative voice - to speak into current generations.  

 

Beginning in 1994, I pioneered the revival of the Lindy Hop throughout the state of Oregon in the USA.  Through out my career, I have established dance studios in multiple cities, taught as a guest teacher internationally, judged top competitions, organized workshops, wrote for Dancing USA magazine, directed and choreographed for my performance troupes, ages 11 - adult.  I performed regularly with my dance troupes at many events, and taught weekly classes at the renowned Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Oregon, to 300-800 dancers every Swing Sunday before the dance which featured the hottest new bands of the 1990s and 2000s.

 

During my studio days, I taught 6 days a week, and organized 2-6 events a year bringing in top teachers to teach and perform with my students.  My studio classes ranged from beginning to performance levels, including solo and partner choreography.  My expertise is in the social dances of the Lindy Hop, Charleston, Vernacular Jazz, 6 count Swing, 1930s Collegiate Shag, Swing Era Line Dances, Big & Little Apple, Swing Blues, Rock n Roll, and other specialty dances from the 1920-50s.  I also teach social ballroom dancing.

 

Fortunately I realized that it was extremely important to help resurrect the original dancers from the 1930s, who were still alive, such as Chazz Young and Betty Wood, to bring them to my studios to teach their individual style, and share their personal stories which illuminate the significance of the dance history they helped create. 

 

As a result, I have created one of the most unique and irreplaceable personal video libraries documenting these remarkable performers and dances.  I teach with a constant eye on the dance history I have been handed down through the years of knowing these jazz greats.  In class I regularly share stories of the dancers I have known and worked with, and include clips from my personal video library sharing their inspirational styling and stories in their own words.

 

I became one of the top dancers in my field, due to the remarkable training and mentorship I have had from these dance greats, most of whom are now no longer with us.  Durning the 1970s - 1990s there was no university ethnic dance curriculum available in the US, from which I could study and earn a degree in the vintage dances I was interested in.  My education in these dances was gained through the numerous workshops, classes and privates which I pursued with the original dancers of the time, and hours of practice.  I danced with Frankie in the classroom, on the street, in New York City Jazz clubs and bars, on stages and in universities.  I have trained and performed with the most significant representatives of these uniquely American dance forms.  As a result I have learned from the best, and it is my joy to pass on this first hand knowledge to others, so that it will not be lost.

 

My students come from all sorts of backgrounds from students to the actively retired.  I have been hired by Portland State University to teach Lindy Hop, and I have enjoyed being a guest instructor at the following universities: Oregon State University, University of Oregon, George Fox University, Linfield University, University of South Carolina and Washington State University in Pullman.  

Contact

I'm always looking for new and exciting opportunities, contact me to discuss