AIR pt. 16: Not Really The End

So the last part of this paper got posted about a year and a half ago. The whole thing has actually been done for almost four years now, but in posting it here on this blog, the plan was for me to revise it as I went along because I actually don’t agree with some of the original conclusions. However, as time goes on, it is becoming apparent that I’m just not going to have the time to do a full scale revision. I’m also not close to finishing any other posts anytime soon, so in the interest of completion and just to post something this is the thrilling finale of Artistry in Rhythm.

Astute readers will note that some elements from the previous parts are included here because I was taking the paper apart and reassembling it as part of the revisions. I kept some of those things in this post since it just makes the whole thing easier to read. And let’s face it, it’s been a year and a half, you probably don’t remember those parts anyway. However, I will admit that I have cannibalized quite a bit of this paper for other posts so the likelihood of deja vu is very high. 

Note that since this was originally written in 2007, all time references count back from that year.

Previous posts can be found by searching my blog for the category “Artistry In Rhythm”

Thank you for your patience.

Fred Astaire was known for his light and effortless looking dancing.  During his epic nine picture run with RKO Pictures with Ginger Rogers in the 1930’s, Astaire demanded a rigorous rehearsal period of several months just for the dance sequences before the filming of each movie.  His reasoning was that the better they knew the routine, the more relaxed and spontaneous they would appear when they filmed the definitive take for the movie.  He attributed his spontaneous look to those extensive rehearsals   “You know it sort of well that it just becomes part of you.”[1]  It’s by becoming a part of the routine by becoming intimately familiar with the choreography that Astaire and Rogers were able to be more relaxed when they performed and make their performances as lively as the last for each take a director needed to film.   There is a fine line to be tread though.  Bruce Lee provides a warning as to what happens when one mistakes constant repetition and perceived perfection as the end result.

“One cannot “express” fully-the important word here is fully-when one is imposed by a partial structure or style.  For how can one be truly aware when there is a screen of one’s set pattern as opposed to “what is.”  What is total (including what is and what is not), without boundaries, etc., etc.  From drilling on such organized “land swimming” pattern, the practitioner’s margin of freedom or expression grows narrower and narrower.  He becomes paralyzed with the framework of the pattern and accepts the pattern as the real thing. He no longer “listens” to circumstances; he “recites” his circumstances.  He is merely performing his methodic routine as [a] response rather than responding to what is.  He is an insensitized pattern: Zen robot, listening to his own screams and yells.  He is those classical blocks; he is those organized forms; in short he is the result of thousands of years of conditioning.”[2]

Branford Marsalis put it another way in commenting on what made basketball players like Erving “Magic” Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan so great in an NBA anniversary show when he said, “They say ‘practice makes perfect.’ Well, there’s no such thing as perfect. You practice not to be perfect, but to have the mental awareness to be able to recover when you do make a mistake.”  Artie Shaw elaborated: “Well, what you’re aiming at is to come across as a person in charge of what you’re doing.  And you only approximate it, you can never really hit it.  You try, you gotta, it’s like looking for perfection, there is no such thing.”[3] Read the rest of this entry »

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AIR pt. 15: Yin & Yang

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”

When asked, Fred Astaire liked to describe his dancing as an “outlaw style” because he didn’t want to be confined or limited.[1] However, competitions by their nature tend to do exactly that due to the narrow focus on winning rather than creative expression. That pressure tends to curb intellectual and creative honesty as Lucy Dunne talked about after NADC 2002.  Compounding this problem is the fact that the majority of performance opportunities available in the Lindy Hop community were mostly limited to the competition events.[2]

The irony is that many people generally fear being judged.[3] This causes them to fall back onto well worn tropes such as pointing at the audience, and generally avoid taking big artistic risks in their performances.  History illustrates that that aspect of being judged has always been part of American vernacular dances and is unlikely to go away.[4] Regardless, I think that this fear contributes to the previously noted pattern of one way communication that comes from the top to the rest of the community.

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AIR pt. 14: The Plot Twist

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”

Two years ago, I compiled a list of my favorite routines from The American Lindy Hop Championships in response to an open request by that event’s promoter. As I was making the list, I discovered that I found it harder and harder to come up with stand out moments as time went on.  It wasn’t because the dancing was bad—in fact it was much better technically as years pass—but very little stood out creatively in the way Minnies’ Moochers, Jenn Salvadori & Justin Zillman, or Mad Dog did during their times.

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AIR pt. 13: Give It Up, Turn It Loose

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.”

The most important creative decision concerning the Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown had nothing to do with the format of the competitions.  The event director, Amy Johnson, not only allowed people to film the contests with their own cameras, but also to let them distribute their footage freely.  It was probably the most significant marketing idea in modern Lindy Hop history. Read the rest of this entry »

AIR pt 12: The Movement Meets The Music

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.”

While it took some time, the combined effects of Janice Wilson’s Hellzapoppin’ contest at the Harlem Jazz Dance Festival, the Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown, and Mad Dog had a tremendous influence on the scene.

The most obvious was the re-emergence of faster classic swing era and hot jazz music at dance events. People were now encouraged to work on their improvisation skills at faster tempos like they previously did to slower, groovier music.

This led people to mine and more vintage film clips for more ideas to move to this music instead of trying to force hip hop or other modern movements into the music.  Since most of the Lindy Hop clips had already been found, the search expanded into tap and other jazz inspired black dancers of the past from the Nicholas Brothers to Josephine Baker.

Al Minns & Leon James circa 1961

Austin & Alex Dryer Great Southwest Lindyfest March, 2003

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AIR pt. 11: Back to School

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.”

Two important developments in competitions contributed to the return so called of “Old School” dancing.

One was the development of the phrase battle by Janice Wilson for the Hellzapoppin’ competitions at the Harlem Jazz Dance Festival in May of 2002.  A phrase battle consists of couples taking a certain number of “8’s” (Two bars, eight beats total) to shine jam style, alternating with other couples.

Until Janice came up with this idea, most social dance contests, usually called “Strictly Lindy” contests[1], consisted of couples taking turns dancing to separate songs.  This allowed for a clear boundary to be established between all the contestants, and also has the logistical value of allowing judges time to evaluate each performance.

I have not seen footage of HJDF 2002, but here’s the final from the second HJDF in 2003 where Andy Reid and Sarah Spence Adams faced off against Corina Acosta & Minn Vo on the stage of the legendary Apollo Theater.  The format is still unfamilar to the dancers so there’s some confusion and inconsistency in how long they dance for their shines.


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AIR pt. 10: The Tightey Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers Strike

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”

Naomi Uyama likes to use the phrase “Traveling was the internet” when talking about the ol’ days of Lindy at the turn of the millennium. I think that it could be reasonably be argued that the Lindy Hop community evolved at the rate it that it has in the past 10 years because the available technology greatly facilitated the communication of ideas, and more importantly, helped to foster friendships over great distances; linking small, isolated scenes into a global community.  But unlike a lot of online social networks these days, the whole point of ours is to meet in person and dance.  There’s no replacement for seeing and experiencing dance in person.

One particular network grew between a group of younger dancers from Ithaca, NY, Washington, DC, Southern California and a few points in between.  They would form the foundation for Mad Dog.  Many of the trends that I’ve discussed previously were not going unnoticed, and the members of Mad Dog moved to contribute an alternative to the ever solidifying conventional wisdom.  With the difficulties of articulating a point about dance over the internet becoming apparent, the logical alternative was to demonstrate it on the dance floor. Read the rest of this entry »

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.

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AIR pt. 8: Competition Concerns

I see a lot of people checking the blog in the wake of ILHC this past weekend.  I’m still in the process of recovering myself, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to post the next part of  my already completed paper entitled “Artistry In Rhythm: Dialogue Through Dance in the Lindy Hop community.”   I think it’s very apropos since it digs into the state of Lindy competitions earlier this decade.  Previous and future posts can be found by searching my blog for the category “Artistry In Rhythm” ILHC coverage will continue later this week.


“[I]t is obvious that artists reflect their times and backgrounds and their art works are oftentimes more eloquent than any politician’s speech or sociological study.”[1] Marco Pignataro

Also at the ALHC 2000, Ben Furnas and Lucy Dunne performed one of the competition’s most infamous routines where they lampooned the general state of competitions in both the Lindy Hop and West Coast Swing worlds.

They start out by dancing to Eva Cassidy’s version of “Wade In The Water,” which by 2000 was already hopelessly overplayed in both dance communities.  They move with dead pan expressions on their faces as they exaggeratedly accentuate the numerous musical breaks that make the song so popular.  Before long, they stop the music with one of the more cliché competition tropes: the abrupt costume change from flashy to more flashy.  Clad in sparkly sequined clothes and a change in facial expressions, the song shifts to “Play That Funky Music, White Boy” before their performance is interrupted by a disembodied voice admonishing them for their insufficient “Lindy Content.”  They cheerfully ignore it and continue their skewering of the WCS competition style until the voice stops them again, this time threatening them with disqualification.  Feigning concern, they break into a Lindy Hop routine to “Mildred, Why Don’t You Behave” by the Bill Elliot Swing Orchestra, and proceed to go through all the Lindy Hop competition clichés complete with endless spins, swivels all around, and a generous helping of rock steps.

Although they got a huge reaction from the crowd, future competitors missed the joke.  As it turned out, the routine was as much a parody as it was a harbinger of things to come.

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AIR Pt. 7: Connection Junkies

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”

Another interesting trend during this period was the growing number of people, regardless of style, who worked intensely on partnering mechanics.   Again, this is where crossover events had a major effect.  Even if a Lindy Hopper would not appreciate the music or the general aesthetic of West Coast Swing, there could be no denying that WCS during this time period had a much more superior grasp of connection than was generally known in Lindy Hop at the time.  Since WCS dancers were seen as superior dancers because of that grasp of technique, it led many people to focus on that.  As with many other things dancers were doing at this time, it was eventually worked on to an extreme. Read the rest of this entry »

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