Lindy Hop in 2011 Review

I was distinctly unproductive on this blog this year, so I’m going to make up for it by commenting on (almost) everything in one shot.

In looking up all the videos and blog links on this blog’s Facebook Page for other posts I noticed some things and was reminded of a few more. Obviously, this can’t be a comprehensive recap of the entire Lindy Hop scene, but I think it’s still pretty amazing that all this information is in relatively easy reach.

Show Me What You Got

I’m always impressed by the sheer the number of videos that keep coming out. I used to be able to watch anything recently posted in one sitting. It wasn’t that long ago that I would wait days for anything to be posted. Now it’s just a flood, and I have to pick and choose just what to click on. The downside to this embarrassment of riches is that I’ve become very picky in what to post to this blog or the FB page. Contest footage that would have been automatic a year ago now gets a pass because the standard for “interestingness to me” is much higher now.

One of the reasons for that is because of the amount of effort people are now starting to put into fully producing their videos. Not just recording high definition video, but also investing a lot of effort into creating music videos and short films. I actually wondered a few years ago on Yehoodi.com, how long it would take for dancers to take advantage of video as a performance venue (as opposed to recording a live performance), and now we have our answer.

The most high profile of these efforts was the Careless Lovers video for their version of “Black Coffee.” It was actually an entry for the Seattle Vintage Jazz Dance annual Swing/Jazz Dance Music Video Contest, which it won. It went on to become the most popular video not produced by some sort of major marketing or recording company.

That contest has been around for a few years, but more and more people are experimenting with different ways to use video, and not just to film dances. I mentioned Mikey Pedroza’s efforts to video blog in my last post on blogging highlights. Here are some more examples of inventive videos for promotion or just because.

The Hawkeye Swing Dance Festival has taken it to another level with an internet based choreography contest where entries of original choreography are being voted on online. The winner will have an opportunity to teach at next year’s event.

Let Us Entertain You

I think one of the reasons we’re seeing an increase in these sorts of performance videos is because more and more people are getting better at performing and presenting themselves. It used to be that you had to wait for one of a few dance troupes like The Rhythm Hot Shots (the precursors to the Harlem Hot Shots) to come your way to see a professional looking vernacular jazz dance performance. Now people are getting together into small troupes either for one song performances at their local dance, or for more elaborate shows.

This video of Evita Arce & Jo Hoffberg’s Can Can performance at Followlogie 2011 does an impressive job of combining behind the scenes rehearsals, classes, and actual performance footage. It’s just one of many examples from around the world.

Getting The Band Together

You’ll notice in a few of those videos is the live participation of musicians rather than just dancing to recorded music. Dancers and musicians have been developing better connections over the past few years, but one significant trend I’ve noticed is in the realm of how musicians play for contests. In the Jack & Jill contest at Lindy Bout in Vancouver this past Spring, you’ll hear the band change tempos each after each round of couple spotlights without stopping. What I thought was fun and unique actually happened a couple more times this year.

It used to be a matter of luck if the band knew enough to keep playing until the contest was over. There were a couple of contests at the Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown in 2006 where the band finished the song in the middle of a couple’s spotlight. The more common problem is for bands to keep playing long after they need to, which turns dance contests into endurance contests. I think that it has gotten much better over the years because of the fact that dancers are getting better at communicating their needs and musicians are more receptive to them.

Dancers learning to play music and musicians learning to dance has also been a factor. It allows them to find some common ground and to “speak the same language.” There are bands led by dancers like Jonathan Stout, Glenn Crytzer, and Solomon Douglas. On the other side, I’ve seen clarinetist Paul Cosentino of the Boilermaker Jazz Band often grabs some one for a dance during band breaks. There’s even video of Meschiya Lake actually asking someone to dance mid-song.

However, Russ Reinberg, a clarinetist from Southern California, mentioned a few times on his blog about the way musicians are treated by audiences and dancers in particular. He got some negative push back by some dancers on my Facebook page, but when I showed the blog to other musicians, their main response was, “Amen.” So we’ve come some way, but there’s still room for progress.

Nor the Battle to the Strong

Also in the realm of Lindy Hop competitions is the expanded use of the battle format. Most Lindy contests are done in spotlight or jam format. In spotlights, one couple dances for part or an entire song. In a jam, couples take turns dancing for a set period of time during one song. In a battle, two or more couples dance at the same time, thus encouraging more interaction between them. Ever the innovator in competition formats, The Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown started employing this format when it first moved to New Orleans from Minneapolis in 2009. This year a few other events tried it out including Savoy Swing Jam and Camp Jitterbug. In the aftermath of Camp Jitterbug, Mary Freitag wrote a reaction to participating in that contest, and drew a lot of responses.

The two main points of discussion revolved around the time allotted for battles and the comfort level that most Lindy Hoppers have with the more confrontational aspects of head to head competition.

In regards to time, this year ULHS had couples battle for entire songs (played by live musicians) as it did in previous years, but this time they danced through a double elimination round robin tournament. That way everyone got more than a chorus to prove themselves. Every couple who made it into the quarter finals got to dance at least two whole songs against two different couples. The result was four couples in the finals. Because of the way the scoring worked out, Giselle Anguizola & Chance Bushman had to dance three times. It was a brutal gauntlet going through dancers from four other countries, but they helped produce another epic Showdown for the event’s 10th anniversary.

While not necessarily head to head, I also noticed that more and more people are getting comfortable interacting with each other in solo competitions.

Although on the blues side, Mike Legett seems to think that blues dancers have a way to go in this area.

Hold Me Closer Tiny Dancer

I don’t do “Dancer of the Year” type of awards here on this site, but if I did, Frida Segerdahl would be my hands down favorite because I noticed that she won damn near every competition she was in this year. That’s impressive to me considering the mercurial nature of dance competitions.

Think of who you consider is the best follow. If it isn’t Frida, I guarantee that person’s answer would be Frida. Even Jo Hoffberg, arguable one of the top 5 women in the scene, noted with disappointment that she had to miss Frida dance because they were in the same contest.

One could say that Frida was lucky to dance with the three best leads out there, but I like to think that those guys were lucky enough to draw the best dancer in Lindy Hop.

Let me put it this way. On a scale of 1-10, most top level dancers will dance around an 8 on average, turn it up to 9 when it counts, and in those very preciously few moments of serendipity will hit 10.  Frida can crank it up to 11 at will.

Decades from now, if we’re still around doing this thing, people will sit around and talk about Frida in the same way we talk about dancers like Frankie & Dean do now. But we don’t need to debate that today. Just sit back and watch.

And the best thing about Frida is that she is a super positive human being who just wants everyone to have as much fun dancing as she does. Dancers trying to look like Skye & Frida have been a sort of running gag in the scene for many years now, but it’s hard to argue a better role model out there than her.

Woman on The Verge

On the musician side, Meschiya Lake is breaking out not just as a crowd favorite at dance events, but also into the mainstream. She’s been getting a lot of coverage in the dance community and amongst her peers as she won “Best Female Performer of the Year” at the 2011 Big Easy Music Awards.  One of my favorite moments this year with her came at DCLX 2011. Sharing the stage with 30 musicians in two big bands, she stole the show with her rendition of “When I get Low, I get High” with Cryzter’s Blue Rhthm Band.

Read more about her in this lengthy feature from Offbeat.com and this entry on NPR.

You can also hear and read her in her own words with this article she wrote describing her influences and this lengthy video interview done by a dancer.

Barbara Morrison

On a sadder note, singer Barbara Morrison had a hard year losing her foot to complications with diabetes. Barbara is one of the most entertaining jazz vocalists around, and incredibly resilient as she was back to singing on tour not long after that. She’s a treasure to us especially because she’s one of the few mainstream jazz artists that loves playing for dancers

We Remember

Unfortunately, we did lose a number of people who meant a lot to our scene.

In drummer George Reed we lost another connection to a person who played and danced at the Savoy Ballroom. Check out Mr. Jesse’s tribute show to hear what the man was about.

One of the most significant alumnis of the Count Basie orchestra, Frank Foster also passed away. He was last seen by many Lindy Hoppers as an integral part of Frankie95. Frank wrote Shiny Stockings, which was one of Frankie Manning’s favorite songs.

Then there were elder dance statesmen John Mills and David Resnik who were inspirations to us even in their later years.

Especially tragic was the loss of Albany dancer Nick Birchak who many dancers in the northeast would recognize even if they did not know him personally.

Finally there was Terry Monaghan. After his death I wrote: “Terry was a true historian in the sense that he did the nitty grittty and unglamorous work of doing the research and interviewing anyone and everyone that had some sort of connection to the development of Lindy Hop in Harlem. But he wasn’t one of those guys who just amassed knowledge just to have it. He was instrumental in spreading the gospel of our dance. He also gave a sense of dignity and accomplishment to those older dance generations by tracking them down and bringing them out to witness their impact on newer swing dancers at events like the Harlem Jazz Dance Festival, The Basie Ball, the Savoy Ballroom’s 80th Anniversary, and the numerous birthday celebrations for Frankie Manning.”

You may not know it, but you’re probably dancing now because of him. To him we all owe a huge thank you. Follow these links to read more of his work and remembrances by others.

Lindy Hop, Won’t You Please Come Home

2011 was also a year of renewal as a number of Lindy Hop centric venues opened as discussed by Rachel Green on her blog.

Rachel co-owns the newly opened Rhythm in Albuquerque, NM.  Joe & Nelle Demers opened up The Overstreet Dance Gallery in Littleton, CO, and Baltimore now has The Mobtown Ballroom. in Baltimore

Then there are the organizations that found new homes this year like The Living History Dance School in Cincinnati, OH and The Jump Session in Nashville, TN which opened in spectacular fashion this year.

Here in DC we did lose the Washington Swing Dance Committee which had been hosting dances from the past 25 years, but other places continue to thrive like The Lindy Project in Austin, TX which just celebrated its 4th anniversary.

On an international level Herrang Dance Camp continues to pack them in for now five weeks of instruction and the International Lindy Hop Championships* continues to grow, selling out with 700 dancers from 14 countries. Some people like to talk about how the Lindy Hop scene is dying. While some places go through cycles, the overall health of the scene seems to be thriving.

Mob Rule

Probably no other local scene received as much attention as Baltimore did this year. Admittedly, I contributed heavily to this because I have some close friends up there, but they definitely have this energy about them that most everyone can feel when they go visit or encounter at other events.

What is it about the place? They don’t have much a notable music scene like New Orleans, Austin or Chicago. They don’t have much of a history with the dance like New York or Southern California. Let’s be honest, the overall level of dancing in Baltimore isn’t that high like it is in a place like Seattle, but what makes the impression more than anything else is the attitude.

“Still debating if I am afraid how much I love them, or love how much I am afraid of them”

Andrew was just one of many people trying to describe their encounter with the Lindy Hop population of the Charm City.

No Really. Check out these posts on Dancing Past The Godzilla Threshold, Rockin’ in Rhythm, The GMU Swing Club and Jo Hoffeberg who wrote them up three times.

As per usual they made themselves known at ILHC, but in a rare quieter moment, Dorry Segev, one of the forces behind the madness, talked about what makes Baltimore hum.

In the brand new Mobtown Ballroom, they now have a permanent place to call home. But don’t take my word for it. Go visit. Sounds like everyone else is. They don’t bite. Hard.

Balti-Seoul?

The other scene to make international waves this year did so through more conventional means. A couple of years ago I did a survey of major events around the world. In my unfinished follow up analysis of those numbers, I was going to hypothesize that up and coming instructors should brush up on their Korean to get more international teaching opportunities. That window closed in 2011 as Korean Lindy Hoppers demonstrated that their advanced dancers are on par with their counterparts in the US andEurope.

They did that by taking every major competition in the world by storm. Check out this list of accomplishments.

Korean Lindy Hop Championships, Lindy Hop Showcase, Soochan Lee& Hyun Jung Choi 1st  place

Show Me The Money

Lindy Hop continues to grow around the world, re-integrate itself into our cultural consciousness, and even play an important role in accomplishing other goals. The folks at Atomic Ballroom held a 24 hour dance marathon, and raised almost $125,000 for cancer research. Over in Seattle and Josh Welter and Mark Kihara participated in a local Dancing With The Stars type event that raised $425,000 for the Plymouth Housing Group.

Contemporary History

Going hand in hand with my initial observations about videos is the fact that our growing facility with that medium will allow us to tell our own stories our way. Much of the historical knowledge we have about Lindy Hop is by way of movie clips, news articles, and books written by outsiders who only saw the dance as a curiosity. With websites and videos, we now get to show people our dance the way we see it; the way we experience it. That may not seem like an important distinction now, but it will be one day—even if it’s just to us.

Some of us have been doing this for awhile, and we’re creating out own very rich experiences out of it. I think it’s a good thing that we have this opportunity to better communicate our story through others or just tell it the we want to ourselves.

Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown’s 10th Anniversary

Why We Dance by Cheryl Crow from this year’s Seattle Vintage Jazz Dance Swing/Jazz Dance Music Video Contest.

It’s been quite a year. Stay tuned for my video picks and my final reflections on this year.

*Disclaimer. I work for ILHC. It’s pretty fun.

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3 Comments

  1. Michael Lee said,

    December 27, 2011 at 11:03 am

    For balti-seoul, As a fan of Crystal Lee, She also won the All Balboa Weekend 2011 ACBC Open Jack & Jill. Also she made finals of Solo Charelston, Balboa Strictly, Balboa J&J, Lindyhop Adv J&J in ESDC.

    Check it out : http://www.rhythmresults.com/index.php?searchText=Crystal+lee&page=search

    Thanks for nice post!

  2. December 29, 2011 at 12:13 am

    […] a lot of ways, this video embodies a lot of the things I mentioned in my 2011 year in review. It’s a fun dance with someone that he’s known for over 10 years. In fact, I think it’s the […]

  3. December 11, 2012 at 12:48 am

    […] year I noted the increase in production values for videos and this year saw an exponential growth in that area. The spread of the I Charleston idea in […]


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