A little inspiration from the 1943 short “Maharaja”.
Dancers: Hal & Betty Takier
A little inspiration from the 1943 short “Maharaja”.
Dancers: Hal & Betty Takier
Who knew that being a dance instructor could be so dangerous? Just look at what this Wisconsin dance teacher went through.
A Baraboo man was accused of repeatedly shocking a male dance instructor with a stun gun, claiming the instructor was a “sinner” who “defiles married women.” A Dane County prosecutor said the suspect, 59, hastily arranged a dance lesson at the instructor’s Madison home and showed up with a stun gun and sledgehammer last Friday. The criminal complaint said the man told a detective that his church does not condone touching while dancing and that he was going to scare the instructor “and tell him to leave the women alone.”
Wow… and ouch!
Partner dancing can be a touchy subject in some religions. In fact, there are many in my own faith that disapprove of dancing. However, over the years, I have seen attitudes change and norms relax as more people see there is a difference between social dancing and… um… things that should be left behind closed doors.
Thanks George for sending this link along!
Swing dancers come to find their passion through many means. For Dawn and I, we started by learning ballroom dancing for our wedding and though this discovered a love for swing. While pursuing our passion, we found that there is a lot of misinformation about swing (in particular, the history of swing dancing) amongst the ballroom community. Over the years, this has motivated us to educate people in the history of swing as well as the dance as we teach classes and workshops. Why care about some misinformation floating around? Because swing is a rich part of our cultural history. Until the swing scene boomed, ballroom studios were most people’s source for information about the dance. Given those stats, the history of swing dancing was almost rewritten with misinformation. In fact, when Dawn and I first started to pursue our love of swing, it was actually difficult to find good information about the dance’s history.
Now before I go any further, let me say that this is by no means a slam on the ballroom community. Nowadays, this “one off” history is being passed along through no malice. It’s simply people relaying the information they were told from what they felt was a reliable source. Fortunately, as the swing scene boomed and many others found a love for the history and culture of the dance, this misinformation has become more the exception. It’s now easy to find good information about the roots of swing dancing and many ballroom dancers have embraced it’s rich history. However, there are still pockets who have not been enlightened.
So what is this misinformation that I am talking about? We’ve heard all kinds of stuff over the years. When we first started dancing, our instructor told us several interesting factoids including “Arthur Murray invented swing” and “the name ‘swing’ comes from the swinging of the hips”. Both statements are clearly false. Other statements include swing being a “modified Foxtrot” and/or a “modified box step”. Knowing the true history of swing (more specifically, Lindy Hop) proves that both are again false.
So what’s the big cover up? What’s the source of this inaccurate information? Well, just recently a good friend shared a website with us that sheds light on this. On this ballroom dance site was a “misleading” (at best) history of swing dancing. Having a hunch that this information was probably copied from a studio syllabus or publication, I did some searching and found that this description appeared almost word-for-word on multiple ballroom sites. This says that it was clearly a copy/paste job. It’s not my goal to single anyone out, so I will simply link to Google results so you can view the source. Since one site references the swing era as “about 35 years ago”, we can assume that this is from a studio publication that has been passed down over the years. The wording has either been changed by some when put online, or the document evolved over time. In fact, I’ve seen some of this wording that has been mixed in with more factual swing histories.
What’s particularly interesting about this is that you can see some of the roots of the years of misinformation. Look past the facts and look at the writing. Certain phrases stick out:
“For many years now the better establishments have frowned upon the wilder forms of the Swing”
“It is possible, however, to do a fine Swing… providing the dancers are better than average…”
“There is no question that the dance is here to stay”
“…originally called the Lindy Hop, was born in the South of the U.S.A.”
To really understand the meaning behind these phrases, you have to put them in context. Swing is a street dance. During the swing era, the ballroom community and studios rejected it as an improper dance. It was viewed as a passing fad that would soon go away. In their eyes, no respectable person would do the Lindy Hop. What was the motivation behind this? Some say that it was because during the time the dance was popular amongst the youth of America and was viewed as wild and rebellious. Others say that race came into play. At the time, ballroom catered to upper class white clientele while swing was created by blacks in Harlem. Personally, I think it was a heaping helping of both.
Regardless, sometime in the 1940’s and into the 50’s, the ballroom community came to accept swing, however, not in its entirety. After years of the dance being wildly popular, it was clear to them that “the dance is here to stay”. At that point, studios looked to capitalize on the trend. However, due to their previous bias, they felt the dance must be repackaged to be more acceptable to their clientele. In marketing material and internal publications, the history of the dance was obscured. Instead of acknowledging the black roots of the dance in Harlem, it was instead claimed that the dance came from the south. While possibly true seeing Lindy Hop evolved from Charleston (a dance with some roots in the south), the statement is misleading at best. To further cover the roots, the steps were likened to basic ballroom steps like the box step. This gives the impression that swing came from a more “proper dance” and not an evolution of jazz steps. To add on, studios implied that with proper training it is possible for someone to dance a “fine swing” and not be frowned upon when visiting “better establishments”. This was an early form of what we would now call marketing spin.
Here we are many decades later and these old inaccurate, misleading publications are still making appearances on modern web sites. It’s a sad reminder that a part of our cultural heritage was almost obscured. This isn’t due to any conspiracy on the part of any modern ballroom studios or instructors. They are just relaying what they were taught and what they have always assumed as accurate information. However, this is a good warning that marketing spin can often rewrite history and obscure the real facts… often destroying culture in the process.
I ran across an interesting article about teaching swing dancing in the streets of Vail during this year’s film festival. A little over midway through the article, the author asks an interesting question…
“So why did swing dancing fizzle out following the late-’90s rage?”
The instructor being interviewed responds with…
â€œI really couldn’t tell you,â€ Yannacone said. â€œI think it’s the popular media what determines what’s hot and not. And its not that it disappeared entirely, but to most people not in the swing dance world, yeah, it kind of was around then left.â€
He is right, popular media has a lot to do with it. But why didn’t they latch on to it like they did with the current round of dance TV shows?Â Having danced through the boom and decline, I think I can add some to his response. It’s really quite simple. Swing doesn’t “sell”.
In the late ’90s swing was briefly snatched up by nightclubs all across the nation. It wasn’t long before they realized that swing isn’t profitable as a format. You can’t drink alcohol and spin all around the dance floor. Let’s face it, profit margins are in bar sales, not cover charges. Swing brought in the crowds, but everyone was on or around the dance floor and not building up a bar tab. Most clubs changed format while crowds were still high, leaving many to wonder “what happened?”. While Salsa can occasionally bend the rules, in general, partner dancing and nightclubs don’t mix. That’s why you haven’t seen any clubs pick up on the latest ballroom dance craze… they learned their lesson in the ’90s.
But in reality, it goes much beyond bar sales. In small pockets around the nation, swing was was an underground movement before the Gap commercial launched it into the mainstream. It was a rebellion against… well, pop fads and pop culture. In a time where people were recovering from grunge and “freak dancing” was sweeping the country, swing (and the vintage lifestyle that surrounds it) was the counterculture to counterculture. This didn’t mesh well with mainstream media. While swing certainly caught people’s attention, it wasn’t… well… sexy enough… and we all know, sex sells.
Let’s not forget about the music. There was certainly mass interest in swing music during the boom. The neo-swing “daddy bands” rocketed in the charts and people where buying up Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman CDs at music stores. Again, this didn’t fit into the mold of mainstream media. Bands are now manufactured by record and media companies (anyone watch American Idol?). The facts are that swing bands are not easy to artificially manufacture and there was no way that big media was going back to the old way of doing things.
In many ways, the swing fad of the late 90’s paved the way for the dance show craze of today. The mainstream media learned by trail and error to find what they were looking for. The latest dance shows have a sexy side and offer a variety of dances, that can be conveniently danced to whatever song that needs promotion time. Is this a slam on the current dance shows? No, not at all. In some ways, they are just reinventing a format that started way back with American Bandstand. In fact, it is probably a great win/win situation. It gives dances some spotlight time, while still allowing individual dances scenes to thrive “underground”.
However, learning from the 90’s fad, I am concerned about the “post boom”. How about you? Feel free to leave a comment.
“If you can walk, you can dance. If you can talk, you can sing.”
– Zimbabwean proverb
“Nobody comes out of their mother’s womb doing cucarachas.”
– Donnie Burns
“Music begins to atrophy when it parts too far from dance.”
– Ezra Pound
“I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself.”
– Mikhail Baryshnikov
“Beginning dancer: knows nothing.
Intermediate dancer: knows everything; too good to dance with beginners.
Hotshot dancer: too good to dance with anyone.
Advanced dancer: Dances everything. Especially with beginners”
– Attributed to Richard Crum (folk dance instructor)
“The one unbreakable rule of couples dancing is that the partners must move interdependently, as a unit.”
“Master technique and then forget about it and be natural.”
– Anna Pavlova
“We’re fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.”
– Japanese proverb
“You haven’t got anything to dance about until you’re over thirty-five anyway.”
– Bert Balladine
“Basic dance–and I should qualify the word basic–is primarily concerned with motion. So immediately you will say but the basketball player is concerned with motion. That is so–but he is not concerned with it primarily. His action is a means towards an end beyond motion. In basic dance the motion is its own end–that is, it is concerned with nothing beyond itself.”
– Alwin Nikolais
“Dancing should look easy; like an optical illusion. It should seem effortless. When you do a difficult variation, the audience is aware that it is demanding and that you have the power and strength to do it. But in the end, when you take your bow, you should look as if you were saying, ‘Oh, it was nothing. I could do it again.'”
– Bruce Marks
“There is nothing so necessary for men as dancing…Without dancing a man can do nothing…All the disasters of mankind, all the fatal misfortunes that histories are so full of, the blunders of politicians, the miscarriages of great commanders, all this comes from want of skill in dancing…”
– Moliere’s Dancing Master
“I have no desire to prove anything by dancing. I have never used it as an outlet or a means of expressing myself. I just dance. I just put my feet in the air and move them around.”
– Fred Astaire
Rob and I love all things vintage (older than 1950’s) and have had the chance to go to Fantasy of Flight a few times. I receive their emailed newsletters and as I was reading one I received recently, I saw a great paragraph written about one of the airplane mechanics who also swing dances. What a great marriage of passions for Paul….the ability to restore and work on vintage aircraft while also enjoying music and dancing from the same era. The paragraph is located about halfway down in the newsletter.
In fact, Paul feels more at home in the ’30s and ’40s than in the present-and his enthusiasm for the period fills every corner of his life, from his huge collection of vintage neckties and American Flyer trains to the hours he and his wife Loraine spend swing-dancing.
Lindy Hop legend Frankie Manning passed away today. He was an inspiration to many and memorials are in the planning.
As a tribute, here is Frankie (in overalls) dancing in 1941’s Hellzapoppin’.
In memory of Frankie Manning: May 26, 1914 – April 27, 2009
This guy gives Rob a major run for his “dancing with two follows” money. He really is an amazing lead to do all those moves with 2 follows. This is a good example of good West Coast dancing also. You can really see how West Coast came right out of Lindy Hop. Enjoy 🙂
DJ Mark recently posted something that got me thinking. He wondered why almost all swing dancers in America end a song with a dip. He cited that you never see dips in vintage footage of swing dancing. He also claimed that ending songs with a dip seemed to be a uniquely American thing.
Initially, I tend to agree. Dips are used a ton nowadays and there are all different sorts of them. Some more fitting of swing and some styles that are borrowed from other dances that don’t seem to fit so well. However, my gut reaction was to say that dips were done back in the day. So it got me thinking about all the old swing dance footage I have seen in my years. While I don’t have time to sit and watch it all again, I tend to have a good memory… but no dips (at least memorable ones) were popping up on radar screen. So I started doing a quick scan of some old dance photos. Ah ha! I found a few dips… however, they were exceedingly rare to find but they were there. On closer inspection, many of these “dips” seemed to be part of some kind of trick move (such as a power dip or throw) and not as your usual song ending dip. While dip photos were rare, your standard run-of-the-mill dip photo was even more rare. Photographically, dips make nice pictures and they appear in lots of photos nowadays. One would assume that the same would have been true back in the swing era had dips been done as frequently as today. So with the lack of photo and video evidence, I can draw a very unscientific conclusion that dips were not done nearly as much back in the swing era as they are done today.
So given all this, are dips overdone nowadays? Are we as modern 21st century swing dancers preoccupied with the dip? If so, why?
Thanks to Mark for sparking some good thought! And if you have some photos or video of dips back in the day to combat my unscientific findings, please send them my way, I’d love to see them!
It was only a few weeks ago that we posted a request for couples who met on the dance floor to send us their stories. We expected a few stories to trickle in. We were surprised to receive quite a number of them! It seems dancing really does bring people together! While we hope to announce some of these couples at this Saturdays Valentine dance and present a few of the outstanding stories with prizes, I thought it would be nice to share a few quotes and highlights with you.
The first story we received was from Megan and Adam. They first met at a UCF swing dance back in 2002 when Adam was president of the swing club. However they weren’t formally introduced until 2003 at City Jazz. Megan writes “He taught me to be a semi-decent dancer and incorporated swing as a major part of our dating life. In November of 2006 we were married, and we are expecting our first child in June of 2008. Although married life and pregnancy have pulled us away from swing dancing as frequently as we would like, its still a part of who we are and we would not be together without swing.”
But not everyone met at a local dance. Jim writes to tell us how he met Helga at a disco when stationed in Germany in 1971. “It was off limits for GIs but we never got stopped”. One popular song that night was “Just My Imagination”… the two just danced together to the same song 36 years later.
Some people even met in dance classes! Jessica writes to tell us how she met Joshua at one of our Sunday afternoon series classes and got to know him at the local dances. “The more we danced, the more I was smitten!” she writes. Amy and Ed met during a class at the Dance Club of Central Florida. “He was leading a complicated turn during class and we accidentally bumped heads”. Now that is the way to meet!
Thomas sent us a fascinating story of how he met a very special lady in the 50’s while appearing on American Bandstand. “Bob Horn had just been suddenly relieved as host of American Bandstand. A young guy named Dick Clark, working in the control booth, was put in at the last minute to take over in desperation. As a regular dancer on the program I was pleasantly surprised by Dick Clark…he was really good!” he writes. “During the winter months in Philadelphia, we would trudge over to the studio in the snow, slush and ice, many of us traveling a long way by bus to get a chance to dance on TV. There was a dressing room for the kid’s with coat racks for our heavy outer clothes but no where to put our wet soggy boots. There were puddles every where. The counter top in front of the mirror was loaded with pancake make-up to cover up our poor teenage complexion. Pretty prevalent in at that age. In those years the cameras were pre-aimed and pre-focused and stationary. The floors in the dance studio had white lines painted on the floor and we were warned not to dance too close to the cameras or to go over the white line.” There he met a young girl from Huntington Pike named Mickey. “Of course I asked her to dance and it was like magic…we fit like a glove. At that age with no car and no money a real date was out of the question so Bandstand was it for this romance. Dancing was what brought us together and is what kept us together and we were in love.” Seeing each other become quite a chore. “As Bandstand became a national program and very popular it became increasingly difficult to obtain ticket’s. Mickey and I saw less and less of each other because of it. I hitch-hiked several times out to where she lived but in those days her parents did not allow her to date or go out alone with a boy. We struggled to see each other but Bandstand and dancing was what really held us together. Without it, the relationship through the next several years grew thin.” But Thomas continues to dance. “Eventually I graduated high school, joined the Navy and found myself stationed in Virginia Beach with dance halls up and down the boardwalk. I was in heaven. Guess where I went every opportunity? Mickey was still in high school, a year younger than me, and her parents finally started letting her date boys her own age. She wrote me about it but I was hundreds of miles away. When I found out she went to the junior prom with another guy, it broke my heart.” It is sad that there was not a story book ending for Thomas and Mickey, but as he writes “I look back at that wonderful time with fond memories and a little sadness that Mickey and I didn’t quite make it but without dancing being part of my life I never would have had that tender young love and life experience. I’ll never forget her and Bandstand. Dancing has really enriched my life throughout.”
Wow! What a way to sum things up!
Thank you to everyone for the stories and we hope to see you all at the next dance. Happy Valentines Day to all!