I learned partnered Charleston and six count East Coast basic as a fourteen year old at the end of swing’s late nineties Y2K revival. A boyfriend and I attended a dance sparking a hunger to learn more. Six weeks of classes, and I was bouncing Charleston rhythms as I readied for school in the mornings in front the mirror or in front of the fridge, down school halls; I worked hard at mastering the basics. Later in the Spring, I joined a group of garage teens who enjoyed Aggie swing. I carried what little I knew into new relationships and we danced around my mom’s living room. Then dancing disappeared from my life for about three years until I joined a summer course in Ballroom dance. The Waltz was graceful and full of beauty, but remained in the classroom. Two years later, in a personal life crisis of identity and adulthood, I found myself at University hungry for a hobby. A class mate told me about social swing dancing in Sacramento and handed over the phone number of a gal I could call for more information. That phone call felt more to her as an interrogation and at one point she actually asked me if the purpose of my call was for a school report. I was anxious to try something new, by myself no less, but an event called a “Lindy Exchange” was happening that weekend, and while dancing was normally only Friday nights, this weekend would be Friday, Saturday and Sunday day and night. Perfect opportunity to check it out, I phoned a ballerina acquaintance and we hit the town that night. Wow! To give you an idea of where I was coming from, I am the girl who went to blows with her boyfriend months earlier because I was too frightened to drive to Old Sacramento alone to attend an evening wedding. Hitting the town for a new experience and navigating parking were by themselves major feats of pushing myself to grow. Growth is worth its efforts. We walked into the Temple of the Eastern Star ballroom, my heart leaping as high as the thirty foot ceilings as I felt myself to be at “one of those dancing clubs” in the film Swing Kids. Did anyone else ever dream of that? Smiles could not help but plaster my face as we graced the double staircase to the third story ballroom. I nearly fainted at the sight of a full hopping crowd, some dressed in vintage, as Barbara Morrison and her band played their hearts. The room pulsed together in rhythm and the energy was incredible. We wanted to dance, but had never heard of Lindy Hop. I had enough follow skills to hack it out on the floor, each partner generous with me that it was my first time out social dancing. I wanted to learn more like a baby wants his milk. My friend had had her fill so the next night I ventured out to the lesson without her. Saturday night the Masonic Temple equally impressed: a hall danced by the decades, live band hammering out tunes, dancers in sync with their play, sweat seeping vintage inspired clothing, and bodies in a whole other world. Where had this space been all my life?! I pulsed with the room, singularly jumping high as I could to see into the jam circle eagerly watching and clapping the best dancers swing out. I wanted to be here, and nowhere else. This was my dream, I was living it!
Weeks unfolded into hours of pacing my three foot dorm room carpet between writing papers and studying. I had a hobby. My body had a purpose which aligned with sound and people. I was in community, and still me and not many words needed to be spoken save, “Yes” to the question, “Would you like to dance?” I had untold conversations and people connections that need not use an audible voice. I learned to use another part of my brain to move in motion with another to the point where my body took over and I no longer needed to count it out. The rhythm took hold as an unspoken mantra: this is how we groove.
I had a culture, only dreamed about and flirted with as a young girl, now in living colors. Until the day I broke my knee. The dance brought me up, the dance brought me down right onto the hardwood and cracked my knee cap as an egg. Game over. Or not, I kept my spirits up during the weeks turned months of healing by attending dances and watching others. I married and flirted with a dance scene in another city as I rebuilt atrophied muscles. We found ourselves pregnant which led to four years of not social dancing on account of illness, sleep deprivation, and tiny human care. Second child six months old, we began social dancing again. Moving closer to family made having an adult social life possible. Oh the joys of rediscovering social partner dancing, and yet my older body did not take kindly to the jumping and high energy of Swing. Upon urging of friends, we finally ventured to the Blues Fusion scene one late July night.
Blues Fusion, the mix of any and all dance you could possibly experience. Music varies yet similar slow tempos allow a sleep deprived parent to go out and dance every single song. Occasionally dances turn into long hugs and in our afraid-to-touch-each-other society, that’s okay. Human touch heals. This scene has emotionally held me countless nights. Lyrical dance tells stories, exploring emotions that may or may not be our own. At times emotions crop up through the music and movement the fore-brain otherwise hides or denies. Dance is different for everyone and to each his own, but next post I will share my experience and what it means to me. If social swing dancing indulged my inner Swing Kids film dream, then Blues Fusion embraces hours of another: Dirty Dancing.
Images in this post by Samuel Nesbitt Photography
Models/Dancers in order of appearance:
Set location: Firehouse 5
MUAH and Wardrobe: Self