AIR Pt. 7: Connection Junkies

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”

Another interesting trend during this period was the growing number of people, regardless of style, who worked intensely on partnering mechanics.   Again, this is where crossover events had a major effect.  Even if a Lindy Hopper would not appreciate the music or the general aesthetic of West Coast Swing, there could be no denying that WCS during this time period had a much more superior grasp of connection than was generally known in Lindy Hop at the time.  Since WCS dancers were seen as superior dancers because of that grasp of technique, it led many people to focus on that.  As with many other things dancers were doing at this time, it was eventually worked on to an extreme.

In a poll posted on SwingoutDC.com in the middle of 2002, a majority of respondents answered that they favored “connection” primarily in prospective dance partners.[1]

I actually commented on this trend at the time in a thread on SwingoutDC.com bemoaning the decline of risk taking in the dance community:

“I’ve been thinking lately that the swing scene has become very introverted. It used to be all about the aerials and the big crazy charlestons. The pendulum has now swung in the opposite direction where everyone is so focused on connection, musicality, and technique. It’s gotten to the point where being even remotely flashy is frowned upon by hardcore dancers.[2]

This movement capitalized on the lack of faster music to maximize the understanding of connection.   However, combined with the laid back sounds prevalent in the “groove” music played at the time, this focus on connection produced what a fellow dancer called “sleepy robots;” very withdrawn and reserved dancing.

I think the refinement of technique contributed somewhat to what was going on at the competition level (discussed in the next section), which then filtered back into the social dance.

Ironically, probably the prototypical connection focused, “groove” dance was performed by two of the genre’s most ardent detractors, Justin Zillman and Jenn Salvadori at the 2000 American Lindy Hop Championships.

They were primarily known for their work in reviving the Southern California vintage stylings in the 1990’s and would go on to be one of the prime movers in the “Old School” revival.  Like many others they never invested anytime in seriously teaching “groove” styling although they did work intensely on Lindy Hop lead and follow dynamics which they chose to showcase at that year’s ALHC.

Performing to Oscar Peterson’s “Moten Swing” they contrast their previous vintage inspired performances with what I can only describe as an extremely laid back intensity.  It reflects the approach to later jazz by modern musicians in that most of the energy is drawn inward, but instead of falling into the trap of shutting out the audience, they are able to bring viewers into their intimate world.  At times Justin does accelerate ahead of the beat and to produce explosive movements punctuating the end of phrases which Jenn counterpoints with a patient, yet very emphatic sass that she lets loose when Justin “quiets down.”

For an interesting comparison, people can look at Justin Zillman’s performance with Caitlin George (Now Caitlin Wellman) in the ALHC 2002 “Strictly Lindy” division.

Here the DJ, Reuben Brown, lays down Count Basie’s “Topsy” which starts off very mellow for the first eight 8’s before the band screams into the “b” section, and then finishing off mellow again.  Keeping with the music, Justin and Caitlin dance fairly small echoing Justin’s approach in 2000.  Then the whole band kicks in, and suddenly they are taking up three times as much room as they were before while still doing the same basic moves.  The simple act of looking up instead of down makes a huge impact in presentation.  Rather than drawing the crowd in, they reach out and pull them by their collective collars without resorting to the competition clichés of pointing or otherwise directly acknowledging the audience.  Their enthusiasm causes everyone around them go crazy from the burst of energy before Justin and Caitlin take it back down to close their shine.

Despite the tempo differences, there is not very much difference in Justin’s approach to either dance.  However, it was common for arguments to erupt on discussion boards at this time over what was kind of music was better for Lindy Hop or to let people truly express themselves.


[1] “Dance Qualities” discussion thread and poll on www.SwingoutDC.com started by “Tobias” aka Tobias Karlssen on 6/18/02 last accessed 8/13/07 http://www.swingoutdc.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=419 last accessed August, 2007

[2] “Swing Apathy” discussion thread on SwingoutDC.com posted by JSAlmonte aka Jerry Almonte aka the author of this paper on 8/8/02 last accessed on 8/13/07 3:26 pm.  http://www.swingoutdc.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=588 last accessed July, 2007

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Connection Junkies

Another interesting trend during this period was the growing number of people, regardless of style, who worked intensely on partnering mechanics. Again, this is where crossover events had a major effect because even if a Lindy Hopper would not appreciate the music or the general aesthetic of WCS, there could be no denying that WCS during this time period had a much more superior grasp of connection than was generally known in Lindy Hop. Since WCS dancers were seen as superior dancers because of that grasp of technique, it led many people to focus on that, but as with many other things dancers were doing at this time, it eventually worked on at an extreme. In a poll posted on SwingoutDC.com in the middle of 2002, a majority of respondents answered that they favored “connection” primarily in prospective dance partners.[1] I actually commented on this trend in a thread on SwingoutDC.com bemoaning the decline of risk taking in the dance community:

“I’ve been thinking lately that the swing scene has become very introverted. It used to be all about the aerials and the big crazy charlestons. The pendulum has now swung in the opposite direction where everyone is so focused on connection, musicality, and technique. It’s gotten to the point where being even remotely flashy is frowned upon by hardcore dancers.[2]

This movement capitalized on the lack of faster music to maximize the understanding of connection. However, combined with the laid back sounds prevalent in the “groove” music played at the time, this focus on connection produced what a fellow dancer called “sleepy robots;” very withdrawn and reserved dancing. I think the refinement of technique contributed somewhat to what was going on at the competition level discussed in the next section, and then filtered back into the social dance.

Ironically, probably the prototypical connection focused, “groove” dance was performed by two of the genre’s most ardent detractors, Justin Zillman and Jenn Salvadori at the 2000 ALHC.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHc0rB0S-40

They were primarily known for their work in reviving the Southern California vintage stylings in the 1990’s and would go on to be one of the prime movers in the “Old School” revival. Like many others they never invested anytime in seriously teaching “groove” styling although they did work intensely on Lindy Hop lead and follow dynamics which they chose to showcase at that year’s ALHC. Performing to Oscar Peterson’s “Moten Swing” they contrast their previous vintage inspired performances with what I can only describe as an extremely laid back intensity. It reflects the approach to later jazz by modern musicians in that most of the energy is drawn inward, but instead of falling into the trap of shutting out the audience, they are able to bring viewers into their intimate world. At times Justin does accelerate ahead of the beat and to produce explosive movements punctuating the end of phrases which Jenn counterpoints with a patient, yet very emphatic sass that she lets loose when Justin “quiets down.”

For an interesting comparison, people can look at Justin Zillman’s performance with Caitlin George in the ALHC 2002 “Strictly Lindy” division. Here the DJ, Reuben Brown, lays down Count Basie’s “Topsy” which starts off very mellow for the first eight 8’s before the band screams into the “b” section, and then finishing off mellow again. Keeping with the music, Justin and Caitlin dance fairly small echoing Justin’s approach in 2000. Then the whole band kicks in, and suddenly they are taking up three times as much room as they were before while still doing the same basic moves. The simple act of looking up instead of down makes a huge impact in presentation. Rather than drawing the crowd in, they reach out and pull them by their collective collars all without resorting to the competition clichés of pointing or otherwise directly acknowledging the audience. Their enthusiasm infected the competitors standing behind them causing them to jump up and down and go crazy from the burst of energy before Justin and Caitlin took it back down to close their shine.

Despite the tempo differences, there is not very much difference in Justin’s approach to either dance. However, it was common for arguments to erupt on discussion boards at this time over what was kind of music was better for Lindy Hop or to let people truly express themselves. It showed a high dependence on outside factors rather than looking at ones own ability as will be discussed later on in this paper.


[1] “Dance Qualities” discussion thread and poll on www.SwingoutDC.com started by “Tobias” aka Tobias Karlssen on 6/18/02 last accessed 8/13/07 http://www.swingoutdc.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=419 last accessed August, 2007

[2] “Swing Apathy” discussion thread on SwingoutDC.com posted by JSAlmonte aka Jerry Almonte aka the author of this paper on 8/8/02 last accessed on 8/13/07 3:26 pm. http://www.swingoutdc.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=588 last accessed July, 2007

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6 Comments

  1. dogpossum said,

    August 27, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    It’s funny, but one thing I’ve noticed about American lindy cultural change (looking in from overseas, of course), is that as the tempos have gotten higher and the lindy hop has gotten hotter and more ‘old school’, women have stopped wearing long, floppy trousers and started getting into shorter skirts. As a woman follow, I know I like a skirt simply because it allows me a freedom of movement demanded by faster, more energetic lindy hop that a pair of loose floppy trousers simply does not permit.

    This of course signifies all sorts of things: a greater emphasis on performing for audiences (or at least considering the spectator with steps that are more extroverted and less introspective), shifts in gender performance and the sexualised/gendered female body (from the concealing trousers to the revealing skirt), etc etc etc. In terms of gender, at least, I’ve noticed a shift in the body types of female dancers: hard core, faster lindy hop requires (and creates) hardcore, faster bodies – lean, muscled like a runner, younger…
    And of course, men’s fashion and body shapes have changed as well, and I can’t help but think about the interest in ‘extreme’ or at least hardcore fitness and exercise regimes among some of the more hardcore lindy hoppers…

  2. kait said,

    September 1, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    (hullo, i just showed up kinda late in the game, looks like, but i can’t wait to go back and read all the previous entries! as one who started dancing in 2005, this is totally fascinating.)

    dogpossum, in addition to freedom of movement, i think of the skirts vs. flowy pants as having to do partially with creating different lines, too. with music that’s been dubbed “janky” on swingdjs — the charleston-y, faster stuff especially — the music makes me want sharper lines than i can get wearing the wide-leg trousers or fuller skirts i tend to go for in office life. i’m moving more sharply, and it should show. whereas with the groovier stuff, it seems like sometimes people liked looking like they were floating on air cushions, no real display of feet at all, just rhythmic indents on the pants legs… i imagine that these impressions are somewhat influenced by the more elite dancers and what they wear, but i DO still find myself choosing clothes based on expected bands or DJs!

    • Jerry said,

      September 9, 2009 at 1:00 am

      Just checking in here to thank you guys for posting. I couldn’t chime before in because it was ILHC. I’ll have to dwell on this some more before adding anything else, but it’s good to see people responding to the blog. Don’t be shy. Any kind of feedback or general response is appreciated here.

  3. Stephen said,

    September 23, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    so glad you posted that clip. back in the day, that clip of jenn and justin was my holy grail. i think my alhc tape is worn out in that section.

    what i think people need to take from this clip is their dancing is this beautiful interpretation of old school technique. those dean collins whips give me chills bc they were just that hot and smooth.

    i’ve shown this clip to people that have started dancing around ’03 and after and they don’t understand how this differs technically from that lazy BS i associate with ‘groove dancing.’

    i get the same exact response whenever i show people matt and naomi’s frenesi routine. most people don’t realize where a lot of that technique in being so smooth comes from, and its all old school stuff just slightly reinterpreted.

    i think the comeback of faster tempos and the prevailing of things like charleston patterns/mini routines and cheese/theatrics have made it easier for a lot of people to be considered ‘good’ now – i won’t spit out names though haha

  4. June 12, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    […] motivated?  Consider the following posts detailing.  Jenn Salvadori wrote the following after her disqualified routine from the Classic division of the 2000 ALHC. “Nobody will ever be able to take away the feeling of SHEER joy and accomplishment that I had […]

    • Jason baggett said,

      June 23, 2011 at 5:55 am

      Something to note on that Justin/Caitlin clip. One of my first thoughts afterward was that they got a really good song. But when I watched the DVD months later, I realized something I hadn’t noticed at the time. At least five couples got exactly the same song! They were towards the end of the last heat, and there were I think four heats with about 10 couples each.

      They took a song which at at least 5 other couples had danced to (some of them “rockstars”) and made it look like you were hearing it for the first time, not with “cool moves”, but by really listening to the music and pulling all their inspiration and joy from the song.

      To me, that’s what sets J&J apart. Their dancing is fulled by two things; connection to each other and connection to the music. The result is something others might touch on at times, but matched by very few. (Steven Mitchell, Dawn, and Frankie off the top of my head)

      I’ll climb of my “praise J&J” soapbox now. I just couldn’t watch those two clips back to back and not say something.


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