Can’t Stop The Signal: Notes on Swing Dance Video Developments in 2012

ILHC 3656

This was originally going to be part of my wrap up of 2012 noteworthy news, but there are so many video related developments that I decided to break this section out into its own post.

A columnist for at the Washington Post recently made the case for forgetfulness in an age where technology doesn’t allow us to forget. The gist of his thesis is that we naturally forget things so we only remember enough to distill important lessons from life experiences. That way you don’t stab your cousin during the holidays every time you flashback to that wedgie they gave you at the prom. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, theoretically you’ll be able to remember every tiny detail of your life that you commit to the ether. He argues that this isn’t necessarily a good thing because it could hinder our ability to not dwell on the past and move on with our lives. We would be better off if sites created some sort of algorithm that automatically deleted status updates and tweets and such over time.

I was with him until he brought up that last suggestion. As someone loves reading about history, the idea of purposefully throwing away visceral reactions to events great and small sounds criminal. Maybe the vast majority of these posts are too self absorbed, tedious, or ironic to be of any academic use, but they are all valuable in their own way.

I just found out about Darlene Gist earlier this year when she posted a video of herself performing a Lindy Hop routine on Dance Fever in 1986. Dance Fever was the “So You Think You Can Dance?” of the 80’s.  This was before the internet and cable TV was still in its early stages. Millions upon millions of people probably saw this performance. Yet hardly anyone in the current Lindy Hop scene knows about Darlene. Compare that to now when you only need a few thousand views on a YouTube video to be considered “Lindy Famous.”

Think about this: Right now, you can find tens of thousands of videos tagged “Lindy Hop” online. Due to odd YouTube search patterns and the alignment of the Moon, this number mysteriously fluctuates from day to day. However it doesn’t matter because you can only pull up the first 50 pages of results with about 20 videos each, a good chunk of which don’t have anything to do with Lindy Hop because some over eager user is trying to cover too many bases.

This year alone I “favorited” over 1100 videos. I didn’t even watch them all, there were so many. And that doesn’t include the thousands more I straight up skipped over. As I was reviewing these lists for my year end wrap up, I almost conceded that Washington Post columnist’s point. There’s just so much now that it’s a minor miracle that I stumbled over Darlene Gist’s video all.

All things considered, I’m rather thankful to have this “problem” of having too much to sort through if only for the chance of finding the occasional nugget of inspiration.

We might as well get used to it because this torrent of virtual dance isn’t going to subside any time soon. Much of that is due to advances in technology which are quickly changing the way we can experience the dance. Take for example, what is probably the most popular Lindy Hop video of 2012.

With over 400,000 plays on Vimeo, it outstrips any Lindy Hop video on YouTube this year.* Many Lindy Hoppers may cringe at the quality of the dance, but it’s hard to deny their enthusiasm. Ultimately, both the video and the dance illustrate the growing accessibility of the dance as well as the technology and ability to make it look good and to share it.

Here’s my favorite example of how technology and some extra effort can lift a simple performance into something more. Most of this is the result of some HD filming, good lighting, and some creative editing between two locations. The result brings the viewer much closer to the dancer than you could be even if you were there in person.

I bought a new camera earlier this year. Not cheap, but not terribly expensive either. The deciding factor was the rave reviews it got for taking video. Not long after that, a modified version of it was named the preferred camera in a head to head comparison against other cinematic cameras by a panel that included film luminaries such as Francis Ford Coppola. Although many other factors such as lighting, directing, and editing affected the final outcome, it’s hard to escape the notion that a consumer DSLR camera held its own against industry standard cameras costing tens of thousands of dollars more.

With the tools for professional looking film making now within the reach of the average consumer, online services like Youtube have also made adjustments to accommodate high quality video projects by removing restrictions on length and size of files that can be uploaded. In the mean time, high speed internet access is becoming more and more common. You no longer have to win a major competition for your dance to be seen by the proletariat.

Last 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 particular is the best evidence for this.

The first I Charleston video was created in 2009 by a French dancer traveling in Japan. The concept is simple: Record footage of doing Charleston in interesting locations around the city and edit them together into a short music video. The idea took off in 2010 with the I Charleston Herrang video. By the end of 2011, there were 13 I Charleston videos. As of the writing of this post, there were 19 in 2012 alone, and still counting.

In hindsight, it’s a brilliantly simple concept. The Charleston basic is probably the simplest dance move anyone can learn: Kick with one leg, kick with the other, rinse, repeat. Anyone  can make it look fun. The available technology allows for the production of professional looking videos. The concept of doing it all over an entire city broadens the appeal so people who aren’t interested in the dance initially can at least dig into its juxtaposition onto familiar or exotic locales.

Creative video ideas aren’t being limited to I Charleston. In fact there are so many that I can’t list them all, but you can check them out on these video playlist.

And those are just the ones for fun. More enterprising dancers are using creating inventive ways to promote their events.

With all of these creative videos, we are fortunate that some folks in Seattle have created a destination for people interested in combining film making and dance and music. They started The Seattle Jazz Dance Film Fest several years ago, but have since dropped “Seattle” from the name. The name change was timely as this year’s winner originated from Ghent, Belgium.

You should read the back story on the making of this video on the video’s YouTube description where they talk about how this was a communal effort from a very small scene.

Another entry from this year’s Jazz Dance Film Fest illustrates that these videos don’t necessarily have to be just about the dance or the music, but rather as a way to communicate something else. Alex Yan and Madeline Hopkins cleverly announced their engagement with a short film, and even recorded the audience reaction to it.

In retrospect, we should have realized that 2012 was going to be a big year for this evolution of dance and video in Lindy Hop. The two big year-end events, The Snowball in Stockholm, Sweden and Lindy Focus in Asheville, North Carolina  went through the evolution of communication in one week. It started with Andrew Thigpen organizing a card writing campaign from the attendees of Lindy Focus to those at Snowball. He then mailed them overnight to Sweden. The Snowball responded with a video Happy New Year’s wish and Lindy Focus responded in kind enabling a virtual group hug between almost 2000 Lindy Hoppers on opposite sides of the world.

Lindy Focus had multiple cameras covering the action all week, and was able to post other edited videos as he event happened. However, this also illustrated the tension that dancers feel towards this process.

After this edited video of a performance of the Tranky Do was posted, a number of people voiced their preference to see the unedited videos. They unknowingly reflected the sentiment that Fred Astaire voiced about the filming of his dances, “Either the camera will dance, or I will.” The implication is that some slick camera work and editing can be too distracting or turn a dance into something else.

It’s a valid concern that people should take into consideration, but not so great that we should lament the death of dance as a social experience. In fact, these innovations combined with the added layers of blogs, emails,and Facebook can add another level of interaction if done well and with some thought.

Just last week Christina Austin posted the second of two performances of the same routine, which was done in different clothes at separate events. Along with her blog post about it, she’s kicked off a worldwide discussion about gender in dance.

Earlier in the year, Krister Shalm used his TEDx Talk to start a science project which included having dancers from all over the world perform choreography to illustrate a scientific concepts.

Of course not every message is as high minded. In talking about his second place performance at the Korean Lindy Hop Championships, Hong Wee from Singapore explained that “I wanted to role-model (for my kids) the habit of setting a target and working towards it.” It’s another example of things we can get about performances we wouldn’t normally get by just viewing the performances by themselves.

Nothing lives in a vacuum, especially a social dance like Lindy Hop. That’s one of the reasons for the existence of this blog, and also why I also started “A Word on Swing” with Bobby White. It’s still a work in progress as we alternate between interviews with dancers and musicians as well as be talking heads about topics and events. It allows us to explore our dance community in a way that can’t be done in writing. As much as I write about dance here, I’m a firm believer in the fact that it’s best understood seen as opposed to discussed. The best way to do both is in the video format.

There’s also Yehoodi’s “Swing Nation,” which adds the twist of broadcasting live every other week. This adds a whole other level of interactive experience to the dance. They started off their run very ambitiously by broadcasting The International Lindy Hop Championships as it happened this year. With the help of Patrick and Natasha of Building the Swing Dance Community they also provided live commentary through the event’s proceedings. I truly believe that experience was a landmark in our development as a global community. 10 years ago, ULHS allowing people to record and freely distribute videos of the event was freakishly out of the norm. Now we’re able to have people from all over the world share in a common experience at the same time as it happens.

We are progressing at such a rate that it’s a wonder why some events still insist on confining there event videos to DVD.

Moving forward, making the dance easier to see and interesting to present is going to be one of the main factors in perpetuating the dance. One thing I forgot to talk about in my news and noteworthy of 2012 post was the dance’s appearance in multiple mainstream music videos. (Or at least, more mainstream compared to Lindy Hop.) In many of these cases, Lindy Hop or Charleston is employed in scenarios that are not set in or are flashbacks to the 1930’s-40’s.

Those videos could have used any dance style, but they chose Lindy Hop/Charleston. I like to think that’s this is the result of continued efforts to present the dance as something happening today.

It’s easy to think that technology can be detrimental to our dance and community if we use it to focus on more shallow aspects, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

As a contrast to the most viewed Lindy Hop video I noted previously, here is a much more subtle wedding dance between Augie Freeman and Delphine Laurens. It turns into a pleasant steal dance among friends with music by Jonathan Stout & His Campus Five. Augie also has a blog. Like many others, it’s not limited to dance. In it, we learn that he has a lot in common with the generation that gave us Lindy Hop. He’s one of many men and women who have come back from war, wondering if it was worth it? One of the things that I’m realizing about the World War II generation and Lindy Hop is that, as much as many other factors, they simply out grew such a youthful activity. They stared at the possibility of the end of their lives as they knew it and moved on. That Augie came back and still looks to the dance as a way to bond with his friends and loved ones says something. I think his ability to share that perspective is a valuable contribution to our community and society in general. Why would we purposefully try to forget that?

I covered a lot of ground here, but a lot has happened in the past year. The dance and the community are evolving in ways I’m not sure we can completely see yet. Part of our process in figuring that out sometime in the indeterminate future is what we say and do today. At it’s heart, the dance is a way to connect people and experiences. I still have hopes that technology can help more than hinder in this regard.

*I was going to do another year end round up of the most viewed videos but Youtube changed the way views were measured about halfway through the year, so it doesn’t make sense to me to try again this year. Also YouTube made the effort moot by eliminating the sort by view count option on its searches.

**Below are complete lists of the playlists above.

Creative Videos featuring Swing Dance

Promotional Videos

Music Videos featuring Swing Dance

I Charleston series (2012)

I Charleston  Before 2012

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4 Comments

  1. Jaume said,

    December 11, 2012 at 9:38 am

    I could not see the point of view swing dancing (not accessible by mobile, and youtube blocked at work) but I think you’ll like this one. Also point of view, with several cameras around, and some post production to join it all.

    The lead is also part of the film crew, that’s the reason he wore the head camera.

    • superheidi said,

      December 13, 2012 at 4:28 am

      Probably you’ve seen it already. The simplicity of it is just bril!

  2. December 18, 2012 at 12:53 am

    […] spotlights, and five jam style contests at this year’s International Lindy Hop Championships, and I already mentioned how I favorited about 1000 Lindy Hop related videos on YouTube this year alone. Not making matters easier is how […]

  3. December 20, 2012 at 2:54 am

    […] so many favorites this year that I had to spread them out over several posts, (music, news, blogs, video notes, videos, videos and one more) but this last one is reserved my personal favorites and some random […]


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