If You Ain't Got That Swing ?

How this local couple turned a passion for dance into a new business

Posted: Tuesday, November 01, 2005
Once upon a time our life went like this: we worked, came home, cooked, ate, watched TV, slept and then did it all over again the next day. There was nothing to interrupt this pattern except an occasional movie, dinner out, visits to or from friends and family. We were only married a few years and already our lives had morphed into a giant yawn.

As I was driving home from work one night in that semi-comatose state of automatic pilot, the radio announcer's voice slowly reached my consciousness. He was talking about a big band coming to the Holiday Inn in Fishkill, about a swing dance and lesson. It was only $12. I thought, wouldn't that be fun?

Swing dancing, also known as jitterbug or lindy, originated in Harlem's Savoy Ballroom as a dance called the Lindy Hop in the late 1920s (named soon after Lindbergh "hopped" the Atlantic). It incorporated the Charleston steps of the previous era and became the dance of the '30s, '40s and even '50s and spread all over Europe as servicemen brought the love of the dance with them overseas during World War II.

When jazz music turned from swing to bebop and when the freestyle dancing of the '60s set in, the dance went underground. But since the early '80s there has been a revival that has spread swing dancing once again around the world.

But I didn't know all this then. All I knew was that I was bored silly at home and yearning for something to get me out of our rut.

In our late 30s at the time, we were clearly the youngest people there when we arrived bright and early for the lesson in the brightly lit room with the makeshift floor. Still, we laughed through the lesson and struck up a conversation with another couple sitting at our table. We were all bumbling through and having a good time.

Suddenly, at about 10pm, the door burst open and about 10 people came dancing in. They had a vibrancy I hadn't seen (or felt) in years. They were smiling and laughing and dancing with great energy and fluidity, and everyone quickly cleared a space for them on the floor. They were all ages and moving in big, looping rhythms that were perfectly timed to the pulse of the music. The women were wearing skirts and the men suspenders and, most peculiar of all, they all had on black and white shoes ? like saddle shoes from the '50s.

I said to my husband, "What is that? That's what I want to do."

That was 1999. And they were doing the Lindy Hop, the original style of swing dancing done in the Savoy Ballroom. It is an exciting and invigorating style of dance that spurred every style of swing dance since, including what is commonly known as east coast swing and west coast swing.

We immediately looked for lessons, and signed up locally for two a week. We were hooked. We went to weekend workshops and week-long dance camps. Wherever there was swing dancing ? particularly Lindy Hop ? we went to study, to dance, to improve.

At night we put masking tape on the floor of our entry way and practiced dancing within the confines of the tape, honing our technique. We studied with the best teachers in the country, and then in the world, including the most famous dancer of the Savoy Ballroom, Frankie Manning, the man who invented aerials and choreographed the most famous Lindy Hop routine ever put to film in a movie called "Hellzapoppin." Frankie is now 91 and still dancing and teaching around the world.

Swing dancing not only invigorated our lives, it opened up a whole new social network for us. We no longer had time for comatose evenings in front of the TV. We put the cable money toward dance lessons. We lost weight without trying and became more fit. We had an ever-expanding circle of friends of all ages all over the world. We met people who amazed us and humbled us, including a deaf dancer from Rochester who danced so well I had no idea he couldn't actually hear the music.

Unlike most dance forms, swing is entirely social and although it is a partner dance, no one needs a partner in order to attend dances or classes. This is especially true of dances sponsored by the Hudson Valley Community Dance (www.HudsonValleyDance.org) a non-profit organization that holds dances in Poughkeepsie on the fourth Friday of every month.

The social norm on the dance floor at these dances is to dance with as many people as possible. Everyone dances with everyone ? especially newcomers. And one of the greatest things about the dance is its ability to attract all ages. Most swing dances are cross-generational, from high school students to people in their 80s.

Swing dances usually include a free lesson designed to enable participants to be up and dancing that night. And if you get hooked, as we did, there are plenty of local teachers who will give you the more in-depth knowledge and skills you need to dance a lifetime. These classes are equally valuable for those who have been dancing their "whole life" as well as for those who are new to dancing, as the techniques taught in class are difficult to learn on the dance floor.

There are so many positive elements of swing dancing ? emotionally, socially, physically and mentally ? that I never considered when I started. And I certainly never considered that there would come a time when we could spread our passion for the dance by teaching it.

My husband and I started our dance company (www.got2lindy.com) about a year ago. Our mission is to spread the joy of swing dancing to the Hudson Valley. Every day our students amaze me. People who have lost spouses, left spouses, been left by spouses. People at the beginning, middle or end of a relationship. People who finally have the kids out of the house and are taking the time to do something for themselves. Over and over again they all tell me how dancing changed their lives. Perhaps it could change yours as well.

Linda Freeman and her husband, Chester, teach swing dance in the Hudson Valley through their company www.got2lindy.com . Chester is assistant director and member of the Big Apple Lindy Hoppers performance troupe and a silver medalist in the Canadian Lindy Hop Championships 2002.

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