If you read our blog it’s probably because you have been bitten the lindy bug (or the Charleston critter or the Balboa beetle). Maybe you love the music, the community, the way dance feels in your body, maybe you don’t even remember anymore because its become such an integral part of your life. If this is you, then I want to invite you to go a bit deeper beyond learning the basic steps especially if you are a teacher or a scene leader
All of these interrelated swing era dances that we see on the social dance floor (lindy hop, balboa, Charleston, shag, blues, etc..) have a long and rich history. Like a lot of other dancers we’ve watched a few old clips and have been excited to meet some of the “old timers” who danced at the Savoy all those years ago. Mostly though we just enjoy the dancing!
We’ve recently realised that we wanted to do more to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the history and cultural context of the music and dance styles of the swing era (and to share that learning with our fans and students). Here are a few reasons why we think this is so important:
- Music, history and the social roots of these dances are what makes them awesome. It would be a real tragedy if the lindy hop that we teach and learn in the UK became disconnected from the Black American dance of the 1930s that we claim to be doing. We love the creativity and improvisation of social dancing. We love that there isn’t a rule book to follow and that winning competitions isn’t the only goal. We love these dances as they are—we don’t want them to become watered down or codified. Keeping the history and the connection with swing and blues music helps maintain the awesomeness of the dances we love.
- More context creates a richer experience for everyone. Lots of folks who get into vintage dancing find that they also develop a love of the music of the time, or of vintage fashion. It’s so much more than just dancing and all these extra bits of learning about history and culture are one of the reasons that these dances are so captivating and addictive. Lots of dancers get to learn about all of this great extra stuff when they attend big dance festivals but why wait until then? Even brand new dancers should get the chance to fully experience the dances we teach.
- It will help you become a better dancer. If you’re just starting to get your head around the first few moves, you will benefit tremendously from practicing to good swing jazz or even just listening to it. This will be even more true when you start to think beyond just keeping the dance going and start to work on musicality. For those that are really striving to be awesome dancers, you’ve got to delve into the roots. Learn how to use your whole body. Learn about the music so that you can really connect with it. Work on improvisation, creativity, and developing your own style
- It’s the least we can do. For a lot of us vintage dance ends up feeling like almost an essential part of life. I sometimes say that it’s more of a lifestyle than a hobby. I am so grateful to the folks that created these amazing dance styles and kept that knowledge alive so that many decades later I would have the opportunity to have the experiences I’ve had—to fall in love with lindy hop and blues and swing jazz. Doing my part to keep the memory of the original lindy hoppers alive is absolutely the least I can do for the amazing people who have brought so much joy into my life.
Along with keeping alive the history of swing era dances and dancers we also need to be working towards becoming more aware of the racism that unfortunately still exists today. The dances we love are rooted in Black American culture. Black dances were hugely popular in the 20s, 30s and 40s (and beyond) but the dancers themselves were treated as subhuman. They didn’t have the opportunity to keep the momentum going and continue their work by starting companies or dance schools. The deck was stacked against them in so many ways. Now lindy hop and blues scenes around the world are mostly white. It’s worth thinking about how that happened and why it’s stayed that way.
I’m not telling you that you need to take to the streets right now. Actually the best first step is just to learn a bit more about racism and how it’s affecting folks today and what it means to have “white privilege”. A book that I’ve found really helpful is Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad or for something a bit shorter this is another good place to start: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh