Photo Essay: Dig In, Swing Out

Here are some pictures I took this weekend at the Bally’s Swing Dance Off co-sponsored by  Another one of those times where I wish I was a better photographer.  Or at least a decent one. But there are a few things I captured that I want to talk about more generally in future posts, so I thought I’d put them up especially since this particular series tells a nice story.

I took advantage of the fact that casinos like Bally’s got bank and they spent a good amount of it on this event, particularly on the lighting.  It wasn’t atmospheric, but that was for the benefit of the video cameras they had set up to record the event.  I imagine that they saw the whole thing as a marketing opportunity.  They got a lot of film and pictures of dancers all prettied up and rocking out in their hotel.

But the obnoxious lighting gave me a rare opportunity to take some decent pictures of dancing since that’s pretty much a no go in most darkened ballrooms.  Honestly, I like a lot of these pics more for the little moments they catch than for the quality of the photos themselves.

I wasn’t expecting very much from this one night event other than a free dance in Atlantic City, but it was a lot of fun.  The bands sounded great.  I saw some old friends.  Got some good dances in.  The other contest, which was a regular “who can do it the best” sort of thing, was fun to watch.  But the stamina contest turned into an epic affair in its own right

The rules were simple.  Last couple standing at the end of the night won $2500.00.  They started dancing at about 6:00 pm that evening, and the event was supposed to end at midnight. They got a number of breaks (mostly for the other dance contest that was happening), and then after the Boilermaker Jazz Band wrapped up their last set, some time after 11:30 pm, the DJ went about the process of thinning out the field by cranking up the tempos.

Couples were eliminated by the three judges who tapped people who looked too tired to continue.  The criteria for staying in it was to “bring It.”

Thanks to modern technology I can tell my first photo was taken at 11:39 pm.   This last portion started a few minutes before that.  Music started with a version of “Flying Home” clocking in at 197 beats per minute.  And this is after the band had slowly upped the tempos in the last set.  Here you can see the rest of the crowd has given up on social dancing and begin to gather around the survivors.

By 11:42 pm, there were three couples left.  Left side: Heidi Rosenau & Joe McGlynn.  Right: Emily Vanston and Richard Kurtzer

At the rate dancers were eliminated at the start of this section, we thought this contest would end soon.  We were wrong.

Left side: The third final couple, Nina Galicheva Tomasz Przytycki

My placement is relatively static throughout.  I don’t have wherewithal to move around to get that perfect angle.  Plus I had staked out some prime real estate up front before everyone else started crowding in, and moving would not have guaranteed me a better spot.

I talked with the MC/DJ, Ryan Swift, afterwards and he said managing that part of the evening was easy because now we, as a community, have done this enough times that he didn’t have to tell people what to do like gather around, clap & encourage the dancers, and tighten the circle as the field of competitors got smaller and smaller.

11:46 pm: Emily and Richard show signs of weariness.

They rally the only way they can; by digging in and swinging out.

Although juggling two roles at once was a challenge Ryan said he sort of enjoyed the rush of power being both MC and DJ.  Remarking about the way Ryan would play a fast song, fade it out after a minute and then immediately replace it with a faster song, Peter Strom told Ryan, “You’re a cruel god.”

Heidi and Joe up the ante.

I’m sure everyone who knows them probably guessed, but these guys had several changes of some fine clothing throughout the evening.

The crowd did more than cheer to support the contestants.  A few offered water and Gatorade to the contestants to down quickly during the precious few seconds of confusion as each new song started.  This particular offer goes unnoticed as the dancers focus on the task at hand.

After awhile, I just took pictures like crazy since there was so much happening.  I have to work on developing some discipline in taking better pics in the future, but at this stage I was  pointing and clicking like a mad man. If you think this is a lot of pictures, you should see all the ones I excluded.

I like this shot if only because the lady in blue is already calling the winners to someone behind me.  There’s still six minutes left, and at this point the music is getting closer to 300 BPM’s than it is to 200.

Home stretch.  It’s 11:56 and Ryan busts out the legendary Hellzapoppin’ song.

This is right before Nina & Tomasz are tapped out.

Then it’s Heidi and Joe.   The winners are the ones still swinging out and the crowd knows it.

Who is really the last couple standing?  Ryan announced that he would play one more song to give everyone time to get organized for the awards ceremony.  Heidi and Joe stayed on the floor to make their case.

But in the end, it only matters who has the giant checks.

(Pictured right: Naomi Uyama & Peter Strom won the other dance contest that evening. We ran into them cashing them in at the casino’s “Cage.”)

Before the night ended, some of the Bally’s staff were already talking about doing it again . . .


  1. Mike Marcotte said,

    January 31, 2011 at 12:29 am

    Great post Jerry,

    You’re right, you do need to take better pictures. They only half capture the room boiling over with energy for those dancers as they pushed themselves beyond what any of us thought possible or reasonable. Perhaps you just had to be there for that other half. Either way, you do so well to put them into a blog post and tell a story.

    Thank you so much for inviting me along.


  2. Heidi Rosenau said,

    January 31, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    Thank you for letting me relive the drama!…I love your post and photos. I think Richard and Emily were doing a TV sound-byte on the side when Joe and I stayed on the floor for that last, post-competition dance…yes, we were called crazy for doing it, but it was more a matter of adrenaline and relief than anything else. And judging by how loud our limo was on the drive home, I think there was a lot of it in the room (Bally’s sent a bunch of us back to NYC in stretch Escalades..bwah!)…in fact,I think I’m still a little jacked. Fantastic event, great job on the part of the hotel, Roddy, Ryan, bands…and most importantly…all of the participating and screaming dancers!

  3. Karen said,

    January 31, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    Awesome! Sounds like a blast. Viejas near San Diego puts on a big fancy “swing dance” contest every year, first place is like $5000 (2nd=$3000 and 3rd= $2000). We should get casinos to sponsor more lindy hop events 😉 And hell yeah, I would BRING IT if an endurance contest paid out that much! Otherwise, I’m kinda lazy these days.

  4. January 31, 2011 at 4:27 pm


    Great pictures and photo essay! Emily and I had an exhausting blast doing the contest.

  5. January 31, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    […] a great photo essay of the whole event, check out Jerry Almonte’s wonderful blog here: also my inspiration for the title for this post! […]

  6. February 3, 2011 at 1:36 am

    […] have a lot of time to do a longer blog, but I thought I’d share a few videos in addition to the pictures I took in Atlantic City this past […]

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