Young at heart

  • Lifestyle
  • Wednesday, 03 Apr 2013

Rhythm veteran Chazz Young delights Malaysia’s small but close-knit tap community.

IT’S A small space, and the frenetic sound of tappers delivering a staggered torrent of syncopated beats, travels out into the humid evening air. If only people at the mamak joint downstairs knew who was leading the class.

Chazz Young is in Malaysia. He’s got a cold, but you wouldn’t know it.

The 80-year-old spent the weekend whizzing around, teaching Lindy Hop to Malaysia’s fresh and eager community of swing enthusiasts at South East Asia (SEA) Jam – the region’s biggest swing-event, hosted for the first time, in Kuala Lumpur.

Now, he’s gracing the city’s small but tight-knit community of rhythm tappers at a workshop in Havana Estudio in leafy Taman Tun Dr Ismail.

Young is a dying breed. Raised on the streets of Harlem in New York, his generation was among the last to have experienced the heyday of Lindy Hop – before its decline in the 1940s, and subsequent revival, over 40 years later.

His father was none other than Frankie Manning, a mover and shaker at the Savoy Ballroom – New York City’s hottest dance club back in the mid-1930s.

Young was about 10 when he saw his first-ever live performance – Manning, a core member of the Harlem Congaroos, was in town to perform at The Roxy.

Manning’s troupe was in high demand, so Young rarely saw his father, but watching him on stage that night left a huge impact – he’d never seen anything like it.

“It was lively music, colourful lights, and girls flying all over the place,” he recalled.

All Young knew was Harlem, and dance looked like a ticket out – getting to travel all over, going to exotic places. “That alone inspired me,” he said.

So when his mother asked if he’d like to dance on stage one day, he said “yes,” and she enrolled him in the famous Harlem Dance School. The rest, he said, just fell into place.

After years of training, Norma Miller, another Lindy Hop legend, showed up to see him.

“I have somebody I’d like you to meet,” Manning had said to his friend. “This is my son.”

Miller was at the time looking for dancers to join a new ensemble of hers, and noted that Young “danced just like his father.”

Trained in everything from tap, acrobatics, modern dance and ballet, the 17-year-old was ready for anything. A year later, on his 18th birthday, he found himself performing in Miller’s new troupe in Caracas, Venezuela.

Having grown up at the tail end of the Lindy Hop era, Young tended more towards tap dancing than the latter.

“Tap was big at the time,” explained Young.

Young travelled all over Australia with Miller’s troupe. However, his nomadic lifestyle was short-lived as the post-war years saw Bebop emerge as the new dance craze. Miller’s troupe eventually parted, and everyone went their separate ways.

Young joined the postal service, where he stayed for 26 years.

When he heard they were looking for tap teachers at the West Side YMCA, he started teaching classes after work. Eventually, he went all in.

Young has been an artistic director, tap instructor and performer with the Austin Dancers Academy for over 40 years.

Dance is the best thing that ever happened to him, he said.

“Dancing is healthy. If you have problems, you put on some music, and you dance,” he chuckled.

It has certainly kept him as fit as a fiddle: “I think dancing keeps the blood flowing; all that moving can do wonders for the body,” he said.

Young is thrilled to note the resurgence of Lindy Hop around the world, especially in South-East Asia.

“It (SEA Jam) started in Singapore, now it’s in Kuala Lumpur, and next year, it’s going to Bangkok.

“It’s so wonderful for the dancers, the musicians who love playing swing music. The bands get to play those old charts by Bennie Goodman, Glen Miller, Duke Ellington ... you look at the dance floor, and everyone is having fun. It’s just fabulous!” he smiled.

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