Thursday, December 14, 2023

Visit our new Harlem in Havana website!

Check out all the fabulousness happening at the Harlem in  Havana Project website. Visit our new film page.

Watch the extended version of this film free online!

Step right up for a thrilling ride through American entertainment history with “JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton’s Harlem in Havana”! Join director Leslie Cunningham as she unveils the untold stories of the legendary Harlem in Havana Revue, a groundbreaking traveling girl show that defied the odds and left an indelible mark on Black and Latin entertainment during the era of Jim Crow.

This three-part film takes you on a magical journey into the complexities of American entertainment, race history, and family. Meet the colorful cast, including Leslie’s grandmother Shirley Bates, the former lead exotic dancer, and her father John Cunningham, a San Diego musician raised on the show. Through exclusive on-camera interviews, they add layers to this epic story of triumphs, connections, and cultural bridges.

Academics and historians provide critical perspectives, from burlesque artist Bebe Bardeaux to carnival historians Doc Rivera and Laura Sedlmayr. Musical performances by artists like John Myers from the Five Pennies and a sizzling burlesque act by Aquarius Moon add flair to the narrative.

Take a ride on train car #66 with Claxton’s troupe, facing racial discrimination and social challenges. Witness the rise and fall of Harlem in Havana against the backdrop of political and social changes in the U.S. and Cuba. The film concludes with Claxton’s final iteration of the show, The Harlem Revue, and explores his business dealings and philanthropy work in Tampa.

Featuring never-before-digitized show photographs, historical clips, and captivating cityscape b-roll of Tampa, “JIG SHOW” is a timely and educational experience. Latin beats, Hip Hop tunes, and classic melodies accompany the breathtaking visuals, honoring the brave entertainers who challenged racial polarization. The film celebrates the legacy of Harlem in Havana, urging descendants of African and Latino-Americans to embrace their past and liberate their own stories from historical amnesia.
Don’t miss this celebration of a multifaceted past—a path for reflection and liberation that resonates with wonder today! Learn more.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

The Art of Tease, Aug 28!

Our final community screening goes down Sunday, August 28, 2022 at 7:00pm. Part of The Art of Tease, Richmond, VA, Gallery 5. 

Saturday, May 28, 2022

About the Filmmaker

A raconteur with a journalistic background, Leslie Cunningham is an artist, writer, documentary filmmaker creator and owner of TRIBES Entertainment, a boutique digital media company based in Durham, North Carolina known creating daring and entertaining narratives through a variety of digital platforms. 

Leslie created TRIBES Magazine in 2004 as artists across the Triangle area of North Carolina were calling out for a voice. Her popular show TRIBES TV covered North Carolina arts and community events and aired on public television stations, including Durham Community Media and The People’s Channel in Chapel Hill, NC. A public broadcasting hit, TRIBES TV spread Leslie’s reputation as a local media institution to citizens around the Triangle. 

A graduate of the documentary arts program at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University in Durham, NC, Leslie’s collection of engaging documentary film, including two feature films, have screened on public television, online and at film festivals in the U.S. and internationally. Her first feature film, M.I., A Different Kind of Girl, in 2012. M.I. was selected for The North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Atlanta’s Out On Film, Gender Reel Film Festival in 2012, and ended its festival tour in 2016 at Massimadi, the LGBT Film Festival of Africa and its Diasporas. Learn more.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Duke dance professor Thomas F. DeFrantz talks about JIG SHOW

Thomas F. DeFrantz, 
Dance Professor at Duke University

Leslie Cunningham’s project sheds light on an under-explored aspect of black popular culture in the United States, the traveling “jig show” or performing variety show/ human circus of the twentieth century. These traveling shows brought forward crucial possibilities of social engagement in their presentation of specialized music, dance, and burlesque-style performance. Bridging the shift from live performance and vaudeville to the ubiquity of television in the first half of the 1900s, these midway shows stand as demonstration of American popular culture shaped by a pressing need to share music and dance from other geographic locations, standards of musicality prevalent in other places, and, of course, definitions of femininity and female beauty demonstrated by the showgirls always featured in the revue. 

(Photos: In the Spring of 2022 Defrantz invited Leslie to screen her film 
to students at the annual Slippage@Duke event.) 

Indeed, Leon Claxton’s successful show built upon a well-established arrangement of specialized dance, including tap dance and Latin dance; specialized music, including big band Latin sounds; and burlesque performance, including “showgirls” and strip-tease artists. Cunningham narrates an expansive social impact of these formations of a popular black and Latino cultures in the context of the segregated United States. Indeed, Cunningham’s project holds enormous potential to ignite discourse surrounding instances of Black American and Cuban collaboration, a woefully under-resourced area of inquiry. 

Leon Claxton’s show confirmed a willingness of Cuban and Black American alignment, a formation easily denied or forgotten as many twenty-first century Cubans claim proximity to ‘whiteness’ rather than ‘blackness.’ Popular cultures always reveal fault lines and tensions of race, gender, sexuality, class, and their circulations among people; this film Jig Show will bring these tensions into sharp relief while providing an invaluable document of myriad routes of circulation for black music and dance.  

From Thomas F. DeFrantz, Chair, Duke University African & African American Studies
Professor, Duke Dance|Theater Studies, Director, SLIPPAGE: Performance, Culture, Technology, President, Society of Dance History Scholars

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Slippage @ Duke University Fall Series presents a special student screening JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana

Sunday, August 29 at 3pm the SLIPPAGE @ Duke University 2021 Fall Series presents a final "work in progress" of Durham-based creator, Leslie Cunningham’s new documentary film series (part 1 and 2) “JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton’s Harlem in Havana”. This is a special screening for students. Slippage@Duke is directed by Thomas F. DeFrantz at the Rubenstein Arts Center. All events will be in the SLIPPAGE lab, Room 202, Rubenstein Arts Center. All events are free and open to the public. There will be capacity limits and masking protocols. For more information or visit

Thursday, February 25, 2021

View the HARLEM IN HAVANA Collectors edition online!

(IPad, PDF or Web Viewer)

The Harlem in Havana Collector's Edition features 28 original pages taken directly from the show's annual program booklets in 1955, 1958 and 1959. Showcasing outstanding cast members, including Micki Lynn, The Five Pennies and the Cuban Dancing Dolls, some of the pages in this special edition include autographs from the entertainers themselves!  View now. 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

New York School of Burlesque Book Club Show presents "Brown Skin Showgirls"

August 5, 6 pm-730 pm EST on Zoom/Facebook Live. 

Join the New York School of Burlesque Book club show for an hour of books and burlesque! Burlesque Historian Bebe Bardot will guest host, interviewing author/filmmaker Leslie Cunningham about her book Brown Skin Showgirls
Learn more now.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

2019 Grant Recipient of "Filmed in NC"

Just announced! JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana is a 2019 Grant Recipient of Filmed in NCDurham-based documentary filmmaker Leslie Cunningham will join ten other filmmakers from North Carolina who will receive project funding in this year. 
Read more.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Don't wait for the film! See the BROWN SKIN Showgirls!

BROWN SKIN SHOWGIRLS is a black and white photographic collection of the Black and Cuban women who innovated dance on Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana Revue in the 1930s through the 1960s. This book is guaranteed to expand your knowledge of Black and Cuban performers that shaped American popular culture. Learn more

Monday, November 6, 2017

2017 SDF Grant Recipient

Just announced! JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana has been selected as an official 2017 Southern Documentary Fund Filmmaking Grant recipient. SDF supports documentary films made in and about the South. The grants are made possible thanks to the generous support from the Mark Duke Biddle Foundation. Visit

Thursday, September 7, 2017

JIG SHOW hits FRESH DOCS, Friday, September 22, Durham, NC!

The Center for Documentary Studies and the Southern Documentary Fund are pleased to present a free screening of JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton’s Harlem in Havana, a feature documentary film in progress by Leslie Cunningham who takes viewers on a tour of her grandfather’s Black and Cuban traveling show that endures racism, segregation and immigration laws to become popular in the 1940s through the 1960s. The film is presented as part of the Fresh Docs series featuring documentary works-in-progress. Following the screenings, a moderated conversation with the filmmaker will be held, during which the audience provides valuable feedback. Note: This screening is a Fresh Docs screenings are free, but attendees must RESERVE A TICKET via Eventbrite. Friday, September 22nd @ 7pm, Full Frame Theater, American Tobacco Campus, Blackwell St. Durham, North Carolina 27701

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Work-in-Progress Screening in DC, Saturday, July 29th!

Capitol Dance & Cinema Festival's feature film series continues Saturday, July 29 @ Dance Exchange with a work-in-progress screening of the coming documentary film JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana by filmmaker Leslie Cunningham.
  • 7:00pm - 7:30pm Harlem in Havana Photo Exhibition and Event Seating 
  • 7:30pm - 8:30pm Film Screening Q &A with filmmaker

The event is hosted by Jen Ray of Dancinema
Brown Skin Showgirls Books Available for Purchase! 

Free Admission! .
Dance Exchange
7117 Maple Avenue
Takoma Park, Maryland

Friday, March 17, 2017

JIG SHOW work-in-progress screening, April 4, Beyu Caffe, Durham, NC

Step Right Up, Fam, Friends and Supporters- You are invited to a work-in-progress screening of my coming doc film- JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana - Durham, NC - Tuesday, April 4th @ 7:00pm at Beyu Caffe.

The Southern Documentary Fund presents Docs For Us / By Us: a new 3-part series in partnership with Beyu Caffe, Black documentary filmmakers from Durham present works-in-progress, reaching out for community support, resources and ideas as their stories take shape. This series takes place monthly on Tuesday evenings, 7:00 PM at Beyu Caffe, 341 W. Main St, Durham. Part of Beyu Caffe’s #BeConnected program. Learn more now.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Tampa Production Underway!

Doc Rivera Interview at the Showmen's Museum in Tampa, Florida - With Gazio Productions

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Don't wait for the film...See the BROWN SKIN SHOWGIRLS now!

Support the film project and be one of the first to receive Brown Skin Showgirls: A black and white photographic collection of burlesque, exotic, shake, salsa, rumba and chorus line dancers, strippers and cross-dressers from Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana Revue, 1936 to 1967. This book is guaranteed to expand your knowledge of Black and Cuban performers that shaped American popular culture. Get ready to be titillated! A portion of the proceeds will help to complete this film project. 


Saturday, August 8, 2015

HARLEM IN HAVANA heads to Cucalorus Film Festival

JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana, a compelling new documentary film by Leslie Cunningham, has recently been accepted into the Cucalorus Film Festival. Cucalorus is a non-competitive festival focused on supporting innovative artists and encouraging creative exchange. 

The festival is held each November in historic downtown Wilmington, North Carolina with screenings of 150 films from around the world. The Works-in-Progress program plays on the double meaning of the word “progress” by supporting films in-production by progressive filmmakers exploring social justice. 

The program showcases up to ten projects and provides direct financial support to at least 15 filmmakers through honorariums, travel stipends, lodging, airfare and rental fees with a special focus on supporting North Carolina filmmakers. The program includes community engagement events, public and private screenings, impact strategy sessions, and one-on-one consultations. Films in the 2014 program focused on the environment, sociopolitical action, race, and the South. 

The Works-in-Progress program is a partnership between Alternate ROOTS, Working Films, the Southern Documentary Fund and is funded in part by the North Carolina Arts Council and Alternate ROOTS. 

Visit Cucalorus Film Festival to learn more.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

SDF, Official Sponsors!

JIG SHOW Selected for Fiscal Sponsorship by the Southern Documentary Fund

We are excited to have the Southern Documentary Fund (SDF) as our fiscal sponsor which will allow us to solicit funds from government, foundation, individual and other philanthropic sources that require IRS nonprofit status to provide donations to the project. These donations are then also tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. Visit to learn more.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

JIG SHOW Selected for Development Funding

2013 Diversity Development Fund Recipient- 

The long awaited documentary film, JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana has been selected as part of the ITVS 2013 Diversity Development Fund, a funding initiative that provides research and development funding to producers of color to develop single documentary programs for public television. Read more.

The Independent Television Service (ITVS) funds, presents, and promotes award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television and cable, innovative new media projects on the Web, and the Emmy Award-winning weekly series Independent Lens Monday nights at 10:00 PM on PBS. 
Read more