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The Frankie Manning Foundation has a few questions.

May 16, 2018

Over a the Frankie Manning Foundation, they have posted a list of questions that people in the scene should think about, be they local scene leader, teacher, or simply a Lindy lover.

They are great questions to ask yourself, or discuss with others in your scene or peer groups. Check it out by following the link here.

Consider This: “Huh-huh-huh-HO!”

April 25, 2018
Jams

Whitey’s Lindy Hopper Anne Johnson, next to Herbert “Whitey” himself, at the edge of a jam circle.

Several years ago a trend arose in jam circles where dancers started shouting “huh-huh-huh-ho!” to usher in the next couple jamming. This trend probably arose from very good intentions — it is a sign of encouragement and support to dancers entering. It warns jam dancers in the circle that a new couple is coming out, possibly with an air-step that would land where they are currently dancing. It helps emphasize the structure of the swing phrase as it is coming to an end for those jam dancers who are unsure of when they should go in. It has a sense of community to it.

The last few years have also seen another trend in the swing scene — a strong appreciation for incredible, live musicianship. A great musician says quite a lot when they take a solo, and many dancers enjoy listening to that and reacting to it. And something we should all realize is that a loud “huh-huh-huh-ho” covers up what musicians are trying to say, especially at the end of a phrase, a rich time in the music of conclusion, rhythm, and transition. In fact, a “huh-huh-huh-ho” not only covers it up, it literally replaces it with a generic phrase ending.

Ironically, our basic understanding of jazz music and structure, which most dancers have in the modern scene, has arguably caused us to lose perspective of some of the looseness of jazz and self-expression. For instance, who says a dancer has to enter a jam circle on the start of a phrase or be done by the end of a phrase? Are these particularly good times to do so? Sure, but they aren’t the only times.

For instance, look no further than the scene’s greatest heroes, the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, who very rarely lined up their jams with the perfect length of phrases — instead, they seemed to dance til the end of ideas, movement or musical.

Now, just because the Whitey’s did it, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better. But I do think their example demonstrates some important things about how the inventors of our dances used to interact with the music. If we think of a musical phrase as a paragraph composed of sentences, original dancers would go out and dance to sentences, and didn’t necessarily care about beginning and ending with the paragraph.

The flow of such dancing is a part of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers’ flow — it’s part of how their dancing looks, and I think its unpredictability in that regard gives it an organic and exciting look that creates different energy than the modern jam, with its predictably phrased time-tables.

Speaking of energy, one of the biggest reasons people seem to argue for saying “huh-huh-huh-ho!” is that they like the enthusiastic energy it gives the jam circle. Energy comes in many flavors, some of them very subtle, and if we’re always pushing for ENERGY! then we’re missing the opportunity to enjoy the wide variety of energies that swing music has to offer.

A group of a hundred people standing close together experiencing something is already a lot of potential energy. When a jam circle is more organic — people entering and leaving when they feel inspired, and people setting the mood of how they want to dance, not to mention letting the musicians and how they’re ending the phrases help shape that — then we’ll have a richer experience.

(Also, if a jam is going to have great energy, all it needs are some great swing-outs.)

That is why I argue that we as a scene should move on from “huh-huh-huh-ho.” However, we should still keep the good of it. By all means, encourage people to get into jam circles, shout them on with joy, and yell when they do something that inspires you, on your own terms. Doing so will make you part of the experience, part of the community of that jam circle.

But let the music tell them when to begin.

flourish

By the way, the jam circle — the act of a community standing in a circle while people take turns dancing — has historical roots that are a lot more complex than most people realize. The jam circle goes back thousands and thousands of years of African history (often with the purpose of worship) and then hundreds of years of (often tragic) African-American history involving slavery and cultural destruction, before it became, not coincidentally, one of the foundations of jazz music and jazz dance.

This perhaps doesn’t have much bearing on the question of whether we should shout “huh-huh-huh-ho!” or not; Or perhaps it does — regardless, we think it’s important for modern dancers to reflect on that. A jam circle is a sacred thing.

 

Special thanks to Joey Shelley and Michael Quisao (and their FB game) for bringing up the conversation. And as always, editor Chelsea Lee.

Houston Jazz Dance Festival

April 12, 2018

jazz.png

*** Tickets have been awarded to some excited dancers. Thanks for everyone who helped spread the word! ***

Houston is holding an event called the Houston Jazz Dance Festival, celebrating the social dance traditions of African-Americans, Africans and people of color.

First off, if you haven’t heard about it, you should check it out. I am very excited such an event exists.

Second off, Swungover is donating *two free weekend passes* to the event. If you know someone —like a young dancer, perhaps— who would love to go but maybe can’t justify the cost, please email robertwhiteiii @ gmail.

We are very sad to be missing the event, but are excited to help someone else experience it. Thank you organizer Tena Morales-Armstrong for your amazing leadership.

Fundraiser for Emily Stephenson

March 26, 2018

Emily in hospitalThere are many times a swing dancer might have an accident or get injured and the world works the way it should and they get healed and are back on their feet with only a small dent in the pocket book.

Occasionally, though, like just completely sucks and just keeps kicking even when you’re down. For instance, Huntsville, Alabama, dancer Emily Stephenson was standing by her car when she was hit by a truck that had lost control. Among the many injuries she suffered, the doctors had to amputate her leg due to injuries. Furthermore, the driver of the Truck’s insurance is not going to pay fully for her recovery.

To find out how you can help Emily, check out the donation campaign the Huntsville scene has set up for her recovery.

Emily, we wish you the best and hope to see you on the dance floor as soon as possible!

Made in Carolina: The Rich History of the Charleston

March 9, 2018

charelston.jpgWhile in Charleston recently on a mini-honeymoon, my wife Jessica and I ran into a history tour guide who asked us our story. When he heard we were swing dancers, he told us about a book a fellow historian, Mark R. Jones, wrote, called “Doin’ The Charleston.”

The book is engaging, respectfully written, and shines a fascinating light on the music and dances of ragtime and hot jazz. It especially highlights the Jenkins Orphanage Band, which played a large role in the creation of jazz and was home to many of its first pioneers.

Inspired to dig a little deeper, here is a quick history of the most iconic dance step in jazz history, the Charleston. If you want more, you know where to go.

A Country Runnin’ Wild

It was in the middle of the 1920s, when the jazz age was going strong, that America encountered one of its first and greatest nation-wide fads: The Charleston. In 1923 the Charleston was famously danced on the stage to a song in the popular all-Black Broadway show Runnin’ Wild. (The song is the one that comes into your head when you hear the word “Charleston.” It was composed by Black-American James P. Johnson, one of the early -20th -century’s greatest American masters of composition.)
Read more…

R.I.P. Anne Mills (1922-2018)

March 1, 2018

anne zorigian2R.I.P Anne Mills, Original Bal dancer.

Anne was one of the strongest follower voices and favorite dance partners of the original Balboa dancers. Anne was born Anna Zorigian in 1922 to an Armenian family in Massachusetts that had come from Turkey in 1913. By 1930 the family had moved to California where her father opened a shoe-repair shop.

As a teenager in the late 30s and early 40s, she was known as “one of the five bal gals,” a group of friends who were renowned for dancing (Pure) Balboa at any tempo. (Though she also did “Swing,” — roughly what we’d call Bal-Swing today — and Lindy Hop.)

For the modern generation, she was known for her knowledge of the dances and clear memory of the times, giving a great amount to our understanding of Southern California  swing dancing — She not only had much to say on the philosophies and mechanics of following and the importance of expressing oneself as a follower (see interviews below for a taste), she also had an unrivaled understanding of the leaders of the day (sometimes understanding them better than they did themselves).

International Balboa and Lindy Hop instructor Nick Williams says she could show him how all the different basics of the great leaders she danced with felt.

Read more…

“What’s it like being Black in the scene?” [Podcast]

January 30, 2018
What's it like being Black in the scene?

(From left to right) Radeena Stuckey, Darold Alexander, Javier Johnson (standing), Breonna Jordan, Latasha Barnes. Not pictured: Mikayla Pryor & James Agena Georges.

Swungover Podcast #02: What’s it like being Black in the scene? With Darold Alexander, Latasha Barnes, James Agena Georges, Javier Johnson, Breonna Jordan, Mikayla Pryor, and Radeena Stuckey. Recorded Dec 31, 2017.

Inspired by discussions at Lindy Focus 2017 held by Breai Mason-Campbell of Baltimore.

LINK TO PODCAST ON YOUTUBE (Will upload it to a podcast platform at some point in the future.)

Or, listen here:


 
 PLEASE CONSIDER SHARING THIS ON SOCIAL MEDIA IN ORDER TO SPREAD THESE VOICES.
 
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Regarding this podcast: It’s striking to me that this is one of the most important things I’ve done at Swungover, and all that it required me to do was listen, and share.

Huge thanks to Darold, Latasha, James, Javier, Breonna, Mikayla , and Radeena for being willing to share their very personal experiences with me (and you). Also a big thanks to Lindy Focus for hosting the discussion series and for so quickly working to help us find a place to record this podcast.

If you’re interested in a place that somehow manages to be the most fun you’ve had with some fantastic serious discussions on how to improve the scene, in addition to some of the greatest swing dance music you will ever hear live, check out Lindy Focus. It’s an honor to work for a camp that puts so much effort into having an ideal of what the scene can be and working to make it a reality.

And thanks to Nathan Bugh who helped create the podcast theme music (that’s him on harpsichord, myself on drums).