AIR pt. 9: NADC Fallout

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”

I’d also like to thank Paul Roth for his help this week in getting up the ALHC clip below.

2001 was a pivotal year.  Sensing the various trends I have outlined, many instructors and dancers were beginning to make serious efforts to actively influence the overall dance style of the community.

Ryan Francois and Jenny Thomas returned to active teaching after their long hiatus from the community for their run on the Broadway musical “Swing!”  In the aftermath of the 1999 WLHC debate Ryan talked of forming a “united front” to address the issues that came up in that original debate[1].  Nothing formal ever happened after that, but he was clearly dismayed at the state of dancing when he returned in 2001 and was not shy about making his thoughts known.[2]

He and Jenny along with Steven Mitchell and Swedish dance teachers such as Kenneth and Helena Norbelie, actively began re-emphasizing Charleston movements and faster dancing.

Southern California dancers such as Peter Loggins, Jenn Salvadori, Justin Zillman, Rueben Brown, and their supporters made more pointed and sometimes antagonistic arguments about what was and was not Lindy Hop through their posts in various online discussions.

On the dance floor, in late 2001, Skye Humphreys & Ramona Staffeld performed a routine to Glen Miller’s “Jeep Jockey Jump” at that year’s ALHC in an early attempt to dispel their growing reputations as slow groove dancers.

Even though they brought the crowd to its feet with the weekend’s most energetic Lindy Hop routine, their impact was probably mitigated by the fact that they were disqualified on a time technicality. The routine was short by a few seconds of the minimum time required.  The song was long enough, but the actual routine was not since it started a few seconds in to the song.[3] Despite that, they did inspire a number of dancers to begin re-examining their approach to the dance.

However, the perception that there was a specific formula for winning competitions gained currency at the 2002 North Atlantic Dance Championships the following spring.  Some competitors were tailoring routines to specific judges’ tastes based on previous input or they choreographed movements to garner specified reactions from the audience.

Sometimes they did it just for sheer shock value. One couple even went so far as dress up as a priest and nun and jokingly simulated oral sex during their routine.

The top routine from the Lindy Hop division at NADC that year, by Carla Heiney & Kevin St. Laurent, typified some of those concerns.  (not the oral sex ones)

Kevin & Carla’s piece was performed to two songs cut together:  “Making Whoopie” by Dinah Washington in the first half followed by and the “Jumpin’ At The Woodside/Life Goes To a Party” melody from the Swing Kids Soundtrack to finish.  The choice of songs don’t suggest any common theme other than a vehicle for them to display different skills; a resume in dance form. In fact, their routine reads like their biography on their old website.

“Kevin and Carla are known for their ability to adapt their swing dancing to complement the style and tempo of the music. Their primary focus is musical interpretation and partner connection. Fast driving tempos inspire them to “fly” at high altitudes while slower, groovier songs bring out their fancy footwork. Regardless of tempo or style, Kevin and Carla’s versatility, musicality, and creativity have shown to create a powerful and energetic dance.” [4]

Their routine incorporates a number of other west coast competition clichés including the use of micro-choreography as well as mini set pieces that stop the flow of the routine to execute.  The choreography is also marked by breaking the forth wall repeatedly by acknowledging the audience through winks, shrugs and points.  Despite these issues, their routine is very well executed and presented with an incredible amount of athleticism.

However, the online backlash was more concerned with the creative choices made in several of the routines at that event.  Immediately after NADC 2002, a number of people tried to address these issues online on Yehoodi.com.  A year and a half from being disqualified for her competition parody routine at ALHC 2000, Lucy Dunne summed up the dissatisfaction:

“it seems that cheese is easy. (no pun intended.) but too much value is placed on technicality and sterile perfection, even in this lindy world that claims to be so “cheeky” and “rebellious”. and i hate for people to see that kind of dancing and think it’s the end-all-be-all, the best there is. because they’re totally missing out on the coolest part of performing, the part that isn’t about cause-and-effect reactions (i did a cute move and made a shocked face, now you laugh.) that kind of shtick is so contrived, and what it lacks is truth. it’s cute yes, funny yes, amuses us yes, but it’s faked and we all know it. that’s why it’s *so* much funnier and more memorable when things just happen–that way they are *real*. in dancing, it’s fun on one level to be someone else, and to i guess play a role or something, but those “champion” dancers that constantly play their roles–i would love so much more to see who *they* are and have them dance as *themselves*.”[5]

The reaction to the NADC feedback thread was mixed because many of the criticisms of the routines were interpreted as self serving or elitist.  Some of that could be contributed to the inherent difficulties in contexting comments on internet forums.  In the end, most of the exchanges only proved that the discussion participants were better dancers than writers.

Still, the NADC discussions spawned a second thread about the aforementioned “cheese” quality in Lindy comps, and then finally inspired another thread started by Janice Wilson.  This last thread started as collection of thoughts that she was putting together while she was organizing that year’s first Harlem Jazz Dance Festival.

She acknowledged the African (spontaneity and risk taking) and European (technical precision) influences on the dance, not only its early development, but also on the modern community.  It was one of the first serious attempts to recognize and reconcile these two influences in the context of Lindy Hop in a serious and public forum.  It is notable not only because it introduced the word “vernacular” to the community’s lexicon, but also because it thoughtfully articulated the vision of her new event.  She also voiced what many veteran dancers were feeling in terms of using lindy hop as a form of expression.[6]

In many ways, Wilson put into writing what many top teachers and dancers were already beginning to address in 2001.

All of these factors set the stage for the tipping point at the American Lindy Hop Championships in October, 2002.


[1] “Ryan’s Statement from September 20, 1999.” TC Swingin Hepcats web site World Lindy Hop Championship Debate 2000 archive http://www.swinginhepcats.com/debate.html last accessed July, 2007

[2] Many veteran dancers have stories of being taken to task by Ryan around this time period.  One of the more notable public instances was at the dance camp Lindy U in Chicago, Illinois in August of 2001 where he turned a Q & A with an advanced class into an admonishing lecture.

[3] Ironically they performed this same routine when they won the World Lindy Hop Championship in 2002.

[4] Kevin St. Laurent & Carla Heiney’s web site www.KevinAndCarla.com under “About Us” http://www.kevinandcarla.com/bio.htm last accessed July, 2007

[5] “What I learned at NADC” discussion thread posted by “lucylane” aka Lucy Dunne on 4/29/02 http://www.yehoodi.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=53290&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=60 last accessed July, 2007

[6] Unfortunately Janice’s thread is currently inaccessible in the Yehoodi.com archives at the time of this writing.  You’re just going to have to trust me that it was there.  It was good too.  I swear.

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2 Comments

  1. Sandy said,

    September 10, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    “The choice of songs don’t suggest any common theme other than a vehicle for them to display different skills; a resume in dance form.” I agree, and I hate it when people hack songs together (80% of them poorly) do achieve this. Dissonance all around, and not artistic/politically-charged dissonance either. Blech.

  2. June 12, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    […] say on bestowing legitimacy.  That pressure tends to curb intellectual and creative honesty as Lucy Dunne talked about after NADC 2002.  I recently tried compiling a list of my favorite ALHC routines in response to an open request by […]


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