Swing Analogies: Lindy Hoppers are 22-to-25-year-olds

(Cough, cough…wheeze…wheeze…Still Thursday.)

Obviously it’s a ballpark figure. But after countless hours researching — taking wind measurements, trying to remember how to use our TI-82, training a lemur to swing out, and then trying to steal its styling when it looked cooler than us — scientists over here in the Swungover Laboratory Cavern have recently concluded that Lindy Hoppers are often at their best when they dance like 22 to 25-year-olds.

I could show you the figures, but then we start questioning those figures, and then we start questioning science itself, and thus the very nature of the universe. You see, these are murky waters. Best to just agree with our Highly-Trained Astronominal-Physicists(tm) on this one.

Now, this doesn’t mean that if you’re over 25, your dancing years are behind you.* Far from it. (Unless, of course, you actually do quit because you think you’re dancing years are over, in which case, you are very wise for having such forethought.) What the figures mean is this: When you Lindy Hop, you’ll get fantastic results if you take yourself back to where you were in your mid-twenites, mentally and spiritually.

Start by imagining your state of mind when you were a teenager. Teenagers as a group could think of nothing more fun, if it has to be a legal activity, than spending a ton of energy moving to music. Teenagers fearlessly throw themselves into possibly deadly situations, are invulnerable to the idea of making a fool of themselves, and get excitement from touching members of the opposite sex on several different levels more than grown adults.

However, all of that raw, wild energy teenagers are full of doesn’t always allow for subtlety, grace, efficiency, sophistication. But you can’t go too far in the grown-up direction, either, cause then you get the opposite problem: Subtle, efficient, graceful, yes — but lacking in the energy, passion, and expression of joy that makes up a part of the character of Lindy Hop and swing songs.

So, that’s where your mid-twenties mindset comes in. Those in their mid-twenties are still close enough to that teenage spirit that they can act, when the situation calls for it, with a certain abandon, craziness, energy; However, their maturity also makes them seek for the more sophisticated side of things. The subtlety. The grace. Just as their bodies have gone from the awkward teenage explosions of limbs, pimples and hair to the comfortable, well-proportioned, lived-in bodies of young twenty-somethings, so has their mental state matured.

The good news is, just because your body gets older doesn’t mean your mind or heart has to. At least, not when you’re dancing. Swing dancers have been proving that for 80 years.


* — I believe all the great original swing dancers kind of knew this, whether they thought about it or not. Watch Frankie Manning in his old age, or any of the original So Cal jitterbugs in their sixties and seventies, like Dean Collins, Willie Desatoff, Hal Takier, Irene Thomas. They dance like half teenagers/half sophisticated, mature adults, but it’s all intertwined. (See also: John Mills’s “grinder” step.) The idea that they revert mentally back to their youth when they dance also accounts for why most of the original jitterbugs are dirty old men. The way they see it, they’re in their prime.

You could possibly make a case for Jewel McGowan not necessarily expressing swing music in a teenager-like wonderment, but I think she was just probably just the serious type of teenager, who works in the library but would surprise everyone by stepping up to “cut a bitch” in a dance-floor throw-down. Girl had attitude. If we want to take this post’s playful analogy to a serious level — which I’m always willing to try but do not always agree with the results — then I’d say the attitude Jewel has chosen to express in her dancing with could easily be straight from the heart of a teenager, and how good she danced it was the product of a mature and sophisticated mind.

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