Well, maybe not secret, but few people are around that remember very much.
The first DCLX-DC Lindy Exchange-was hatched in the back of a van coming back from ALHC 2001 somewhere on I-95. Mike Miloszewski was on a dance high and wanted an excuse to relive it again. And soon.
Holding a national dance competition seemed out of the question at the time, but Lindy exchanges were just becoming popular. Mike decided that it was time for DC to have its own.
I was a little skeptical. We had no resources, and the people who did don’t exactly sit around and sing Kumbaya when they get together. That didn’t bother Mike who moved pretty quickly to get a bunch of people on board this train.
Mike was a good motivator, he had the Eye of the Tiger going for him, which is probably why we elected him chairman of the committee. It helped that he was an outsider to our scene. He had learned to dance up in Boston, and had not been living in DC long enough for many people to know who he was. He wasn’t discouraged by a lot of baggage that the DC scene carried (and still carries), and was able to get people to trust him when they wouldn’t normally trust each other.
Mike was on a mission, and nothing could stop him or the the rest of our committee. Although quite a bit tried to.
Tops on our wish list of bands was Corner Pocket, Solomon Douglas’s first musical foray in Lindy Hop. They were probably one of the most sought after bands at the time.
Problem #1: they weren’t available.
Problem #2: It was because they were playing the Albany Exchange.
You have to understand that there still weren’t that many events out there at this time, so having two exchanges on the same weekend was a huge deal. Add to that the fact that Albany already had one exchange with positive word of mouth, and that they were in the heart of an area where we had hoped to draw a lot of people caused a near panic in the committee.
We couldn’t change the dates because they were dependent on the Saturday dance at Glen Echo with The Washington Swing Dance Committee. We definitely couldn’t do it earlier because it was already November, and we were set for the beginning of April. Later in April wasn’t an option because of the North Atlantic Dance Championships, and everyone went to NADC back then. Much later than that and we were running into other established events.
It was either that date or not at all in 2002. Seems odd since it isn’t unusual to have three or more big events on any given weekend these days, but back then no one was quite sure how much the Lindy market could bear. We decided to find out the hard way.
At one point we discussed what we would do if the exchange lost money. It wasn’t so much of a discussion as it was long, awkward silence followed by an unspoken agreement that we’d deal with it if it happened. Fortunately, it didn’t, although when I was reminiscing with Donna Barker years later, she revealed that she would have covered any debts if it came to that.
Right before we opened up registration we made the tactical error of revealing that we were going to give priority to out of towners. Our reasoning was that it would suck for people to travel all that way only to be shut out. This did not go over very well on the old SwingoutDC on delphi.com. It triggered such a sudden and overwhelmingly negative response, that we were forced to conduct an emergency committee meeting over AIM.
Despite the urgency, I think we were too pre-occupied with the shininess of having an online meeting. We had our own chat room, but everyone was also IM’ing each other privately. It was like we had reverted to being five years old and left to play in a virtual sandbox.
Somehow we actually formulated a plan to address everyone’s concerns, but we were at a loss as to how to deal with the loudest online critic. Mike assured us that he would take care of it. Long after the event was in the books, I found out that Mike’s negotiation strategy involved dating said critic.
About a month before the exchange we got a notification from Glen Echo that they were going to close the ballroom to begin renovations. We had been hearing about these proposed renovations for years, but had stopped heeding the warnings because they had always been pushed back. Not so this time; they had finally got their act together and were going to close the ballroom to events the week before DCLX.
Fortunately, Janice Saylor, a member of both the DCLX committee and the Washington Swing Dance Committee was on it. She and other concerned people immediately contacted the the park, and convinced them to hold off the start of work for another week. By the time the first panicked posting appeared on SODC, about twelve hours after we found out the news, the crisis had already been averted.
We still had plenty to worry about, the competing Albany exchange chief among them. We had set up a primitive map on the DCLX website to show how many people were coming and from where. States would change colors depending on how many people were coming from there. I watched that thing every day like it was election night.
Advertising on the forums had an election campaign feel to it. I think both sides took a few passive aggressive digs at each other along the way. Nothing terribly serious, but I could tell they were watching us as closely as we were watching them.
Peak Blossom Time
A week before the event we calculated that we were not going lose any money. That caused a lot of relief, but then members of the committee started getting laid out with all sorts of minor injuries and illnesses. I ended up getting food poisoning that week from eating at a place before our last meeting.
I wasn’t going to miss this show though. I dragged myself to the Thursday night welcome dance, but ended up sitting in corner all night. I think I just wanted to see if people were actually going to show up. In retrospect I probably should have just called, but it was great to see all those people packed into the old Vienna Grille Vienna Tap Room Potomac Swing Dance Club Jam Cellar.
I got better in time for Friday. The first dance was the J St. Jumpers playing at Zoots & Dolls, a venue run by Nancy Baird out of a fitness club waaaaaay down 66. Janice Saylor did a great job dressing up the place to give it a good atmosphere. She didn’t need to though because that place was packed. Literally. I’m surprised anyone could move at all. Attendance far exceeded all of our expectations.
We kept all of our estimates low because no one wanted to be left holding the bag if we came up short financially. In the end, we didn’t need to be that concerned, but it did make for packed venues. The Friday late night wasn’t really supposed to be a dance actually. Someone convinced a small restaurant in a nearby mall to stay open late for us. There really shouldn’t have been any dancing, but you get that many Lindy Hoppers together, and they’ll find a way.
Our least packed venue was the afternoon outdoor dances for obvious reasons. It was at the Saturday afternoon dance at Dupont Circle when we figured out that we actually had money to spend for the potluck picnic before the Saturday night dance. We made it potluck because we couldn’t provide any food. However, with our new found windfall, I made the decision to squander it all to alleviate the pressure on those bringing food.
That main dance was insanity. With the ballroom closing for a couple of years, everyone and their mother turned out probably because they had a sneaking suspicion that it may never reopen. I remember hearing that over 1200 people showed up that evening. At that time, the fire code only allowed a little over 600 in at any one time.
Fortunately someone thought fast, and cleared out the Bumper Car Pavilion to be used as a free dance space while people waited to get into the main dance. We were lucky because a month before park volunteers had already begun the process of fixing up the place to use it as a temporary dance venue while the ballroom was being renovated. They didn’t foresee needing to use it by DCLX weekend, but it was in good enough shape that all we needed to do was clear out all the tools and construction materials.
The WSDC people worked out an impromptu system where they signed people up to a waiting list. Until their names were called out to get into the main dance those dancersgot to be the first people to dance in the Bumper Car Pavilion ever.
Lots of people will be surprised to discover that we had the late night at Glen Echo as well. Janice Saylor came through for us again and personally sponsored that dance with the short lived jazz band Three Martini Lunch playing. She even worked it out so we could serve food in the ballroom. I have no idea how she pulled that off considering the strict rules they have to help preserve that historic building.
I didn’t do much dancing that weekend, especially at that late night because we spent most of it counting money. Not that there was a lot, its just that between the fatigue and the cold —there’s no heat or A/C in the ballroom—it took us forever to reconcile everything.
I had it good though because Mike spent the late night outside cleaning up the bumper car pavilion. Apparently that was part of the deal in opening it up for the main dance. He promised to have DCLX people clean up if the WSDC people could vouch for us. Not wanting to impose on anyone else, Mike cleaned up all by himself, and he did it in the freezing cold. I remember seeing people whipping out their sleeping bags and huddle underneath them for warmth in the ballroom. With no heat in the building and far fewer people in such a big space, it felt like dancing in a refrigerator. I can’t imagine what it was like being outside that whole time.
After a relaxing day dancing in Russell Senate Park in the shadow of the US Capitol, the Sunday evening dance took place at Clarendon Ballroom with The Tom Cunningham Orchestra.
My favorite story from that weekend happened that night. All the evening dances were sponsored by the local promoters. Tom & Debra got Sunday night. Our only stipulation was that there would be no planned jams, something that they like to do at all their dances. It’s not that we were against jams in general, it’s just that Tom & Deb’s jams are mood killers for hard core dancers, and they were going to make up the majority of these dances. I think we had something like a dozen jams all weekend.
Tom & Deb agreed to our request with the understanding that spontaneous jams were fair game. Our negotiations at the old Lulu’s was kind of a joke because with that loophole, Tom pretty much made it clear that they were going to plan a “spontaneous jam” for that night. We didn’t really care since the real objective was to keep Tom from hogging the microphone for the evening.
The night of the dance I saw Tom gathering some people laying out their planned spontaneous jam. It wasn’t a secret. They were doing it in the hallway in front of everyone. Tom then made the curious choice of drafting Kevin St. Laurent into their not so secret plan. Kevin and Carla were still living and teaching in the area at that time and were pretty familiar with Tom &Deb’s jams.
So they all went up, coordinated what song they were going to jam to with TCO, and proceeded to have some people start clapping and forming a circle around Tom & Deb. Kevin had other plans.
At the same time Tom & Deb’s circle got going up front, Kevin got a bunch of people to start clapping around Matt Smiley and Nina Gilkenson dancing in the back of the room. This is still pre-Mad Dog, but the majority of the people at the dance were from out of town and they could still figure out where the real action was happening.
I wish there was video footage of this jam because it was just amusing to see the dueling jams happening on either side of the room, until finally they combined into one jam. But rather than forming one big circle, everyone ended up forming this long jam alley that people danced down like it was a Soul Train line. I think the whole thing went on for 15 minutes. Just wall to wall weirdness.
Lindy Rockstars-Yes We Went There
You would think that people would start heading home that night, but they didn’t. The place was still packed even through the end of the evening around 2 am with Chicago’s Drew Fansler DJ’ing. Once Mike got off the microphone to announce the end of the dance, I shook his hand and apologized for ever doubting him or in our ability to pull this off.
I was able to catch up with Mike the last time he came through town a few weeks before the last DCLX. Mike ended up marrying that vociferous online critic; then got divorced. He has since joined the US Air Force, and is currently stationed in Okinawa, Japan. He doesn’t dance very much these days, but he does make it a point to come out dancing on the rare occasion that he’s in town.
Actually, the last event of that first DCLX was a late night meal at the Hard Times Café just down the street. Someone convinced the owner to stay open late on a Sunday to accommodate over a hundred or so starving dancers. There was no dancing. Just a little celebratory chili to end the weekend.
I caught a ride back into town with a group of crazy Canadians that drove down from Toronto. they actually attended the Friday night dance at the Albany Exchange, then drove down to DC on Saturday to catch the rest of DCLX. Hardcore.
And that’s the story of the first DCLX. I know I’m forgetting some stuff. Maybe someone else reading this will remind me.
I have no idea where I got all these pictures. I downloaded as many as I could whenever they popped up after the event, but I don’t remember where I got each one. If you recognize them or happen to be one of the photographers, feel free to chime in so I can give you credit. I can also take them down if you want, which I hope you don’t.
The next DCLX is happening April 9-11, 2010. Check out http://www.dclx.org/ for more info.