February 26, 2009
Hello to Rusty and the Rhythm Club Dancers,
I was born in 1923 in Manhattan to Italian parents. My name then was Angela Cipolla. We lived on the fifth floor of a tenement on First Street in Manhattan. It was so warm in the summertime that I used to scare my mother by sleeping out on the fire escape. In these “railroad” style tenements there was only a window at each end. My mother thought I would roll off the fire escape in my sleep and fall through the stair opening.
I learned to dance at local neighborhood dances, family events and high school dances. My father used to take me to the dances at a local bricklayers’ union hall in place of my mother. She really didn’t dance and had to stay home to care for my five siblings. At these union dances they did mostly Foxtrot and Italian dances. It was probably at the dances of the Church of All Nations on 2nd Avenue in Manhattan that I really learned Jitterbug. They usually didn’t have a live band. They played records of all the big bands. At age fifteen, I met my future husband, John Geraci, at one of these dances while playing a girls-against-guys ping-pong tournament. John and I did Jitterbug and all the ballroom dances. He was a good dancer. All the girls used to come up and ask him to dance. We also did Peabody, which was quite a novelty at the dances we attended. It got a lot of attention from onlookers.
My family moved to Brooklyn shortly after I graduated high school in 1941. One of the best neighborhood Jitterbug dances in Brooklyn was only a few blocks from my house on East 9th Street at a rented store. The dance went on every single night from about eight o’clock to midnight. And no one wanted to leave at the end. They played records and we did the Jitterbug nonstop all night. I used to get soaking wet with perspiration and no change of clothes. There were great New York Jitterbuggers there.
Some of my fondest Jitterbug memories are of attending the Friday night dances in 1942 on the Coast Guard base near Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn very near my home. My neighbor’s daughter invited me when she learned that I danced. She had to first get clearance and a badge for me. To get to the Coast Guard base we only had to go one stop on the elevated train from Avenue U to Sheepshead Bay. When we got off the train, there was a Coast Guard bus waiting to pick up all the girls and take us to the base. It was quite a scene. There were hundreds of dancers. Dick Stabile was the house band.
There were some great Jitterbug dancers at these Coast Guard dances. I was shocked at how many out-of-state servicemen could Jitterbug. I had thought it was mainly a New Yorker’s dance. This really surprised me. I mean, they were really good. Some of them threw girls up in the air. The most I did like this was the move where you slide on the floor through the guy’s legs. When the dance was over they made all the girls go directly home. The bus took us back to the train and made sure we boarded.
By 1943, my future husband, John, was in the Army stationed in Africa. For a time he was on the Anzio beachhead. I was working for an insurance company in Manhattan commuting on the subway from Brooklyn. Every day riding to work I would see the same poster in the subway car with a picture of a WAVE in uniform with finger pointing saying “We Want YOU.” I decided to join. If you were under age twenty-one you needed a parent’s signature – which my father absolutely refused. I was able to get around this requirement – but that’s another story. I enlisted as a WAVE and had basic training at Hunter College in the Bronx. I was ultimately assigned for duty at the Navy Annex in Arlington, Virginia. The photo I sent was taken in 1944 in front of the women’s dormitory at Arlington Farms.
Hopefully, I’ve provided what you requested without rambling on too long.