AIR Pt. 3: Birth of The Groove

This is part of a paper I wrote entitled “Artistry In Rhythm: Dialogue Through Dance in the Lindy Hop community.”  Previous and future posts can be found by searching my blog for the category “Artistry In Rhythm”

The “Love Me Or Leave Me Routine” by Minnie’s’ Moochers was probably the first significant routine of the modern era for a few reasons.  First was the venue: the 1999 American Lindy Hop Championships.  This was a time when there were still very few exclusively Lindy Hop events, and ALHC (only the second year of the event) attracted the attention of the bulk of the dancers in the community whether or not they attended.

This was also the time before the proliferation of online videos, and so ALHC videos (tapes!) were at a premium because new material was very hard to come by in contrast to the wealth of videos that can be found online today.

Lastly, the Lindy Hop community was just starting to come together on a national level which provided an open field for people to experiment.  Reminiscing on her blog, Naomi Uyama remembers what it was like starting out as a young dancer in the late 1990’s.

“When I started dancing there [were] “old timers”- original dancers from the swing era, the teaching/cool dancer set- about 15 years my seniors who had apprenticed the old timers, and the rest of us- fumbling around and having a great time of it. So there [were] dancers to watch and marvel at, but they were in such a different place altogether. There wasn’t one set example among the younger group of what was “cool” and “right” for us to do.”[i]

Thus the stage was set for Minnie’s’ Moochers.  The Moochers were a group of dancers, mostly in their teens from Ithaca, NY.  A number of them had extensive dance backgrounds in addition to Lindy Hop, and brought that experience to their performances.  The team included a number of notable dancers that still teach, perform, and compete today including Skye Humphries, Ramona Staffeld, and Caitlin Wellman (formerly George).

The song for the routine was a significant departure from other routines of the time; many of which were usually done to big band swing standards such as “Sing, Sing, Sing”, “American Patrol”, etc.  In “Love Me or Leave Me” Nina Simone plays piano leading a typical small jazz combo, reflecting all the changes that had occurred in jazz up until the time of the song’s recording; from the laid back cool rhythm, the extended piano solo, and the use of a small number of instruments (Piano, drums, and bass).   This is in contrast to the “hotter” rhythmic sounding, riff laden music of the big band era.

The Moochers’ performance has been characterized as being a mix of “modern dance movement, traditional ballet/jazz, and various other partner dances.”[ii] Principal choreography for the routine was done by Kate Engel.  It includes a number of formation changes that are not limited to couples.

For example, at one point (2:29 in the video )the couples separate with the girls gathering in the middle of a loose circle formed by the boys.  The girls raise their arms high and move back and forth while the boys stand around them giving the impression of a blooming flower.  What makes this particular sequence extra ordinary is the fact that it cannot be completely appreciated unless the viewer is watching the routine from above.[iii] Given the venue of this performance, there was no way that anyone in that room was ever going to see it from that position.  It suggests something more than just trying to win a Lindy competition.

It is innovative visual flares like that that separate the choreography from most other Lindy Hop routines which are usually aerial laden stunt-fests.  In fact the “Love Me or Leave Me” routine has no aerials.  With no acrobatic tricks, the audience focused on the collective dancing of the group.

“Love Me or Leave Me” was the first major successful attempt to create something “new” using Lindy Hop as a medium in the modern era. By combining diverse dance backgrounds with their youthful enthusiasm for the dance, Minnie’s’ Moochers brought Lindy Hop into the (almost) 21st century, and had a profound affect on the Lindy Hop Community.  Even though Minnies’ Moochers only came in third that year, they would have the biggest impact coming out of the event.  Long time dancer and instructor Nicole Frydman reminiscing on noted:

“I still remember the first time I saw their “Love Me or Leave Me” performance and it single handedly changed my whole idea of what lindy hop could be. I had no idea you could dance to music like that with styling like that. It opened my eyes and gave me an entirely new concept of where I might take my dancing.

And while not everyone saw this team in the early years, it changed those of us who did and then we spread what we were doing to others.

I truly believe that without the Moochers there would be no such thing as “modern groove” or whatever you want to call it. Or at least it would look a whole lot different.”[iv]

[i] “As Long As We Got Each Other” blog by Naomi Uyama, 6/2/07 last accessed July, 2007

[ii] “Marking Time in The Lindy Scene”, discussion thread started on 2/22/05 last accessed July, 2007

[iii] Ibid

[iv] “Marking Time in The Lindy Scene”, discussion thread started on 2/22/05 last accessed July, 2007

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