It Donít Mean A Thing If It Ainít Got That Swing

Dawn Hampton's visit to the UK clearly struck a chord with one social dancer!

Lessons, moves, steps, lessons, more moves, more steps, more lessonsÖ..Phew, how many steps and moves are there in the Lindy almanac, how did those groovy gals and guys manage in those fabled days of yore? What, you mean they justÖmade them up??? What about teachers and those lines of eager students triple-stepping their way to dance heaven? Youíre not going to tell me they didnít have classes are you? Oh man.

Why are so many dancers on the Lindy scene focused on steps and moves and not on creative movement? Isnít Lindy about improvisation and wasnít it a reaction to the formalities of formal ballroom dance in those heady, jazzy days of long ago? In his autobiography Malcolm X wrote of the joy and liberation he found in the Lindy-hop "I had always believed and feared that dancing contained a certain order or pattern of specific stepsÖ among my own less inhibited people I discovered it was simply letting your feet, hands and body spontaneously act out whatever impulses where stirred by the music".

So why are we now so obsessed with lessons and learning every move invented instead of listening to the music and "inventing" our own? Of course itís damn near impossible to do a move that hasnít already been done somewhere and probably in Harlem in the thirties, but that doesnít mean we canít "invent" it again for ourselves. 

All we seem to want to do is spend our hard-earned cash on more lessons, thus lining the coffers of our teachers and often feeding their already over-blown egos. Of course we need to learn the basic language of dance, but does this mean we do so at the expense of self-expression?

When any fresh-faced woman/man of any age/culture arrives in the wonderful world of Lindy Hop, they enter a world seemingly full of wild dancing performed by youngsters of all ages. I was awestruck by some of the dancing when I first entered this world after a brief flirtation with rock Ďní roll. It seemed so free and exciting, and everyone seemed to be doing it regardless of age, culture, race, class; all there and just loving it, it seemed so all-inclusive and democratic - and it didnít matter how good you were.

I couldnít wait and didnít. I was flying before I could draw breath, or it felt like it, and my partners didnít scowl and walk so I felt like Mr Bojangles. I did lessons - it felt like too many at the time - and I found some of them difficult and frustrating, but I persevered and mastered the basic language of Swing. I have to say the classes didnít come easy for me, and I did sometimes have to deal with rude women in slinky dresses.

Some of these fresh-faced newcomers begin as beautiful natural dancers - until the class-culture gets hold of them and spits them out as born again Lindy-anoraks - and any swing they had is lost cos theyíre too busy fitting in all their new steps, usually at the expense of the poor fellow trying to lead them. I mean, itís all very well to learn all these steps and moves if you want to perform, and you learn them with a regular partner, but social dancing is something else, ainít it? It works the other way too, men who know all the moves and grooves dancing with beginners and bamboozling them with their latest steps and moves, and we know who we are donít we guys?

Also weíre in losing in danger of losing the inclusiveness if we persist in just dancing with our fellow Lindy-anoraks. We ignore the beginners at our peril, they are lifeblood on which we all draw, without them - goodbye Lindy Hop. Iím not saying donít do classes, we all learn at different speeds but let Dawn Hampton be your guide, a recent visitor and wondrous spirit from dance's golden age. Watching her dance was an inspiration and a lesson: in funny, joyful, artistic liberation. So letís get out there and free ourselves.

June 2001 'Snoop Doggie Doug'...

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