New Steppes For Russia

The Story of The Rhythm Hot Shots first trip to the heart of the former Soviet Union.

The world’s premier Lindy Hop performance troupe, Sweden’s Rhythm Hot Shots swung into St. Petersburg on 5 April 2000 for a week of classes and performances. It was their first ever visit to the country, and was a huge success. Russian Lindy Hop lovers might be few at the moment, but after this week the numbers are growing and there’s no doubting their enthusiasm.

Elina Demenkova at Herrang 1999
Elina Demenkova, who organised The Rhythm Hot Shots trip to St Petersburg.

The trip was organised by Elina Demenkova to introduce Russians to Lindy Hop. Elina’s love for Lindy started when her friend Cheryce Kramer suggested going to Herrang in 1999. After only a week there, Elina determined that she would bring The Rhythm Hot Shots to her home town of St. Petersburg. After an early attempt last November was postponed because of administrative difficulties, she succeeded in bringing over five members of the troupe to teach and display some of their fabulous routines. Elina explains: "The idea was to expose Russians to swing dance and let it spread from there".

Jazz dance in general is a recent phenomenon in Russia. Private dance schools have only started placing it on the syllabus in the last four or five years. However, up until now, Lindy Hop had escaped the notice of Russian teachers. That particular dance drought was about to end with the arrival of Lennart Westerlund, Catrine Llungren, Mattias Lunmark, Asa Palm, and Hanna Zetterman.

The Rhythm Hot Shots - Lindy Hop ambassadors
The Rhythm Hot Shots, Lindy Hop ambassadors to Russia.

The six days of classes were held at the Kannon Dance School in St. Petersburg. Each couple taught one day of classes for about three or four hours, and then had a day off. "We had originally planned to have two levels of classes" said Lennart, "but everyone was so keen to do as much as they could that we ended up having one large class. The students were even practising the steps during the breaks!" The class size was usually between 15 and 20 people, from teenagers upwards. They were all dancers, but of different styles. Said Lennart: "A few from Moscow had encountered boogie woogie, but all of them were very open to learning the Lindy".

So what did you teach them, Lennart? "It was basic six-beat Lindy, with Charleston variations as well. Of course, we also showed them The Shim Sham. Most of the steps were taught at a medium tempo, but they did manage to get up to 240 beats per minute!"

As well as the classes, The Hot Shots put on a performance at a club in a suburb of St. Petersburg. The music was provided by a band made up of local Russian musicians, and also recordings that TRHS had brought with them. All the students from the classes were there, and guests from the hotel swelled the audience to around 150 people. The troupe went down a storm, and there was no mistaking the gratitude of their hosts, who showered them with a torrent of flowers at the end of the evening. The feeling was mutual, and best expressed by Mattias, who said, "It’s damn cool to be here!"

The whole enterprise was made possible through the sponsorship of The Swedish Institute. In a reciprocal arrangement, all of the students have been awarded scholarship places at Herrang 2000, and Lennart hopes that as many as ten will be able to make the trip. Elina Demenkova and The Rhythm Hot Shots are to be congratulated on their efforts to spread the common language of Lindy Hop. The success of their venture brings the world that little bit closer together.

© 2000 Elina Demenkova, Lennart Westerlund, Andrew Winton.

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