this (found here) caught my interest.
It’s dance, captain, but not as we know it.
My first response: oooh, man-dancing. That was just my initial response – how masculine the dance was. The performance was. Shouting, synchronised, ‘fighty’ style. I don’t know anything about Yosakoi(I’ll go read more in a tick).
But then I was interested in the synchronised-ness of it (that always fascinates me, obsessed as I am with the Af-Am lindy where you were ‘synchronised’ in that you all did the same steps, but it was almost mandatory that you add your own, distinct styling).
And then with the music (ooo, contemporary music. Interesting).
And then with the shouting.
I was thinking, last Thursday night as I ran around on the dance floor, mid-way through the Big Apple, completely lost in the steps (ie, I had no clue what I was doing), but really enjoying all the running around – we were doing the spank the baby bit where you run around in a circle… that was the best bit. Crinks had apparently decided that Brian was running too slowly, so she decided to run faster and overtake him. The rest of us, competitive instincts obviously stimulated, responded by running faster as well, and adding a few pushes and shoves. Jazz dance = contact sport. That bit with the spank the baby got kind of washingmachine-like. There was also a lot of shouting during that bit, and also during the “Charleston!” bit, and then, just random shouting bits. Not all of us knew the damn thing. That didn’t seem to bother anyone, though I was (once again), the last one to grab a partner so I ended up on my onw for the partner bit. Again. It’s because I’m a lead-follow and I’m not fast enough to grab someone. There were about… 10? of us doing it on the social dance floor – Sally had stood up, saying “I’m going to do the Big Apple” and then gone straight onto the floor and done it. It was like a siren call – people descended on her from all over the room. I still don’t know any more than the first few phrases, but that didn’t stop me.
Ok, so I was thinking, as I was running around on the dance floor, shouting, about how the shouting is quite important. Some of my favourite songs are the ones where the musicians shout out – to each other, with excitement, just because. If I hear a musician shouting ‘yeah!’ at the end of a solo, or at the excitingest bit of a solo, I’m usually with them. Frida is a big shouter – you can hear her yelling all through that Todd and Naomi clip just before. And when she shouts when she’s performing, people respond.
But not everyone feels comfortable with the shouting. Usually the people who don’t feel comfortable with the not-perfectly-synchronised-routines.
So, watching that yosakoi clip, I was struck by the shouting, and how ordered it was. Nothing like “Charleston!” and the “yaaaah!!” shouting getting around last Thursday night at CBD.

As dangerous as a midnight coffee

Glen’s started a meme over here, and it’s one that actually caught my eye.
I meme when I’m trying to be cool, but I think this one is actually quite me.

I am starting up a meme. It is called the “As dangerous as a midnight coffee” meme.
Blurb: Five songs for going nuts when IT HAS TO BE DONE. This isn’t the Nike Just Do It song list of inspiration. It is a savage beast that attacks your weaknesses, and gives you the perspective of sickness, thus forcing you to be stronger. The songs have to currently be on a portable music playing device that you listen to at midnight brewing a coffee and getting ready to attack IT (or comparable scenario).

I do own an ipod (well, The Squeeze owns an ipod, and I see it as my Sistahly duty to appropriate it and use it for previewing old skewl jass for DJing on the bus… well I did, when I was catching the bus. I also used to use it for ‘read-a-long’ sessions with Gunther Schuller (I’ve just been humming and ahing over his books on abebooks, btw: I need them. I do. I really do)), but I think this meme really lends itself to the ‘hypothetical set list’.
Midnight Coffee – hm. I’m thinking of late night after parties, when the crowd are warmed up from the first gig, but you’ve just changed venues, so you have to get them really cooking again.
So, to rework the meme-theme, here are five songs that (I’d hope) would work together to GET IT DONE. In other words, five songs that would hopefully drive a crowd of dancers into a frenzy.
Now, five songs really isn’t very much for crowd frenzying, so let’s assume I’ve spent about five songs getting them warmed up.
…actually, I’m going to do two lists. One will be a chronological list of five songs, in the order I’d play to get the crowd nuts. The other list will be five seriously hardcore-kick your muthafucking arse hardcore YAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!! dancing songs that I would never play all in a row. Not if I wanted to have the floor even partly full.
1. ‘Blues In Hoss’ Flat’ Count Basie 142bpm 195? Big Band Renaissance Disc 1 3:13
Because Basie is the only way to kick a bunch of dancers into a frenzy… well, not really, but it’s a nice place to start.
I’m imagining I’m working with the Melbourne crowd at CBD rather than at MLX or another big exchange. Because exchanges are a different kettle of fish.
This song rocks because it’s hi-fi, it’s late Basie, it has some pretty major brass and people know it and love it. It’s also a very manageable 142bpm – a nice warm-up tempo.

…look, this isn’t going to work. Five songs isn’t long enough for me to guarantee mass insanity. I ain’t that good, and I need to see the floor to judge my choices.
Instead, I’m just going to go list five arse kicker songs. The sorts of songs that make me crazy. That I’ve made dancers crazy with (with which I’ve made… whatever). And they’ll probably be my current favourites.
1. ‘Back Room Romp’ Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 155 2000 Ken Burns Jazz: Duke Ellington 2:49
Man, I can’t believe I only have one version of this song! It’s the best. This is a great warm-up track.

… wait, I’m doing it again! I just can’t list five big songs without working up to them!
Ok, now I’m just going to do hardcore, arse kicky songs that I might play at an afterparty. Maybe not all in a row, because the dancers would die. But definitely within one set. Between about 2 and 3 perhaps – when people have all arrived, had a slurpy or their second (or third) Red Bull and something to eat and have the energy to burn. Let’s also say that the room is pretty warm (but not hot – just not chilly), and it’s pretty crowded. But not so crowded you can’t really swing out like a fool.
I’ll try again.
1. ‘Jumpin’ At The Woodside’ Count Basie 237bpm 1938 Ken Burns Jazz Series: Count Basie
The 1930s versions are best. This is one kick your arse song. You can tell Basie got his start with a bit of stride piano with that stomping intro. The tempo is hot (but doable), there are lots of nice layers building up the energy.
Actually, I’m into this now. Now I’m just going to list hardcore songs that I love that would kick your arse if you danced to them all in a row.
2. ‘Lafayette’ Benny Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra with Count Basie 285bpm 1932 Kansas City Powerhouse 2:48
My comments for this one read “difficult but good fast dancing; ok quality”. It comes in shouting and then pounds away at 285bpm. I’ve never danced to it, I’m not sure you could, but it’s a cracking song. I like the stompy base. Basie of course began with Moten’s band – this is hot Kansas city action (those Kansas doods were wilder and rougher).
3. ‘Hotter Than Hell’ Fletcher Henderson 275bpm 1934 Tidal Wave 2:58
This is one frickin’ fast song. But it really rocks. Henderson is the king of hot, arse-kicking music for lindy hopping.
…I’m getting really excited listening to this stuff. It’s going to be impossible to settle down and work after this.
4.’Blues In The Groove’ Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra 205bpm 1939 Lunceford Special 1939-40 2:35
Not everyone’s pick of the Lunceford action (I know I was torn between this and ‘Lunceford Special’ or ‘Blue Blazes’), but this one, while it doesn’t have that pounding, driving structure is one of those songs that you can’t help but dance to – it makes you jump up and jiggle around. So it’s a ‘get it done song’ because it’ll get you dancing, despite yourself. And that’s a DJ’s job – getting people dancing despite themselves.
5. ‘Rigamarole’ Willie Bryant And His Orchestra 240bpm Willie Bryant 1935-1936 2:35
This one doesn’t actually sound all that fast, but it really builds you up and makes you crazy. It says DANCE MUTHAHFUCKAH! So people generally do. Mostly like crazy fools. It has shouting in it as well, which always helps. I often play the Mora’s Modern Rhythmists version for dancers because the quality is better, but the MMR version doesn’t have the same punch as Bryant’s.
That’s it, then.
There are about a million other songs I could have listed – we’re all about hard fast, getting-you-moving music here in the swinguverse – but these are five of my favourites.
I know some people’d be suprised to see no ‘Ride Red Ride’ in there, or ‘Man from Mars’ (or Chick Webb at all) or ‘Sugar Foot Stomp’ in some incarnation. I’m also a bit sorry not to have any really hot Ellington action there something like ‘Jubilee Stomp’, a 1928 Ellington track that clocks in at 265bpm (I have it on The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 01)) would have been a sensible addition. But I could have gone on forever. I could have done a top 5 Basie arse kicking songs. Or a top 5 old skewl. And I didn’t even touch the dixie or ‘charleston’ music.
Anyone got 5 other good, arse kicking, ‘get it done’, ‘dangerous as midnight coffee’ music?

because trev is a little baby

Last night I DJed for the second time since… well. I’ve only DJed three times this year, since November 2006 really. The last time was actually very ordinary and I wasn’t very happy with it (see earlier comment). Thing is, when I’m not DJing a lot, I’m dancing a lot. So it’s a trade off.
Anyways, last night I DJed a set which made me very, very happy. Practicing yesteday afternoon for the first time in ages probably helped (practicing = going through my music and doing ‘test’ sets, re-familiarising myself with all my music… well, most of my music).
Partway through the first or second or third (can’t remember which) song I had that crazy pulse-thumping ‘this freakin’ RAWKS’ feeling. I said to Dan about ten times “God, this sounds so GREAT on a big sound system!” Which was kind of duh, because it was either the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, from an album that every swing dancer and DJ must own – fabulous live recording of a fabulous band doing fabulous Ellington music, or it was Basie. And Basie is the best.
The night started kind of strange when a girl I thought knew my music asked if I could play some ‘old school’ music. And I thought she might be joking because I said “That’s like asking me if I like to lindy hop”. But she thought… well, who knows what she thought. Anyways, the upshot is that she really wanted to hear some Cats and the Fiddle. I showed her a short list of stuff I’d put together that afternoon with plenty of CATF, Slim and Slam and the Mills Brothers – male vocal groups which feature lots of guitar. And are, incidentally, from the late 30s and 40s for the most part. ‘Old school’ to me means early 30s, late 20s – serious scratch. It’s not difficult to convince me to play that stuff – I loves that action (and I’d probably add some select Fats freakin-wonderful Waller and Cab Calloway to that particular subgroup – sillier vocals, smaller groups (though not necessarily with Cab… though his earlier stuff has the right sort of sound), chunking rhythm section.
Despite the impression I might have given here, it was actually quite nice to be asked to play stuff I adore. I had to stop myself suddenly go through my music and revising my plans for the set. I had to stay cool and just work with the plan.
As it turns out, I didn’t play any of that stuff (not even any Cab!), nor did I play any serious old school, though I did have Who Stole The Lock (On The Henhouse Door) by Jack Bland and his Rhythmakers with Henry ‘Red’ Allen (1932, 243bpm) on my short list. In fact, I think it’s time for a little gratuitous lindy hop pr0n.

That’s Todd Yanacone and Naomi Unami (blowing all my arguments about ethnicity to shit right there) kickin’ it old school at the Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown in 2005 (linkage). Dat is where it’s at.
But I didn’t end up playing that either. That’s the sort of music that I think of as old school, and I’d add people like Willie Bryant (oh Willie, how do I love thee?), Henry Red Allen, Mills Blue Rhythm Band, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, early Cab Calloway and early Ellington to that group). I really freakin’ love that action – it sounds crazy and fun and you can really hear the transition from ‘charleston’ music to ‘lindy hop’ music – ie this is where the swing is actually getting into jazz. It’s not quite right for hard core lindy hop, a la Frankie, but it has the crazy energy of the music that makes you dance de charleston and other ol’ timey dances. This is the sort of stuff that I associate with the breakaway – precursor to lindy hop (which you can see in the After Seben clip – Shorty George does the breakaway with an unknown partner right there at the end before the solo stuff (and that solo stuff, incidentally, was my obsession for a while – I love that crazy eccentric dance stuff)).
Though I adore this stuff, it’s not terribly general-audience-friendly. The tempos are generally very high (above 200 at least) for lindy hoppers… for Melbourne lindy hoppers – I’m sure Trev could offer some nice examples of lindy hoppers in other Australian cities and their tempo-comfort. And the lack of swinginess can actually make for quite tiring dancing when you’re doing lindy. It almost demands a more upright position and you don’t get that ‘flying’ lindy look. But, as Todd and Naomi demonstrate, it still makes for freakin’ amazing dancing.
Anyway, back to me and me and my stuff and me.
I think I’ll just cut and paste from my comment over on Swing Talk. Here’s my set list and commentary on how the set went:
[song title – artist – bpm – year – album title – song length]
Happy Go Lucky Local – Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis – 110 – 1999 – Live In Swing City: Swingin’ With Duke highenergy – 6:57
Moten Swing – Count Basie – 125 – 1959 – Breakfast Dance And Barbecue – 5:17
Blues In Hoss’ Flat – Count Basie – 142 – 1995 – Big Band Renaissance Disc 1 – 3:13
Shoutin’ Blues – Count Basie and His Orchestra – 148 – 1949 – Kansas City Powerhouse- 2:38
Four Or Five Times – Woody Herman Orchestra – 141 – The Great Swing Bands (Disc 2) – 3:09
Shout, Sister, Shout – Lucky Millinder – 140 – Apollo Jump – 2:44
Back Room Romp – Duke Ellington and his Orchestra – 155 – 2000 – Ken Burns Jazz: Duke Ellington – 9:07 PM
A Viper’s Moan – Mora’s Modern Rhythmists – 143 – 2000 – Call Of The Freaks – 3:30
Savoy Blues Kid Ory – 134 – 2002 – Golden Greats: Greatest Dixieland Jazz Disc 3 – 3:00
Perdido Street Blues – Louis Armstrong – 144 – 1997 – Priceless Jazz Collection #3 – 3:08
Joshua Fit De Battle Of Jericho – Kid Ory And His Creole Jazz Band – 160 – 1946 – Kid Ory and his Creole Jazz Band 1944-46 – 3:12
Lavender Coffin – Lionel Hampton, etc – 138 – 1949 – Lionel Hampton Story 4: Midnight Sun – 2:47
Cole Slaw – Jesse Stone and His Orchestra – 145 – Original Swingers: Hipsters, Zoots and Wingtips vol 2 – 2:57
Solid as a Rock – Count Basie and His Orchestra with The Deep River Boys – 140 – Count Basie and His Orchestra 1950-1951 – 3:03
Joog, Joog – Duke Ellington and His Orchestra – 146 – 1949 – Duke Ellington and his Orchestra: 1949-1950 – 3:00
B-Sharp Boston – Duke Ellington and His Orchestra – 126 – 1949 – Duke Ellington and his Orchestra: 1949-1950 – 2:54
Jive At Five – Count Basie and His Orchestra – 147 – 1960 – The Count Basie Story (Disc 1) – 3:02
Six Appeal – Jonathan Stout And His Campus Five – 141 – 2004 – Crazy Rhythm – 3:29
All The Cats Join In – Peggy Lee and Frank DeVol’s Orchestra – 150 – 1998 – Complete Peggy Lee & June Christy Capitol Transcription Sessions (Disc 2) – 2:18
Flying Home – Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra – 159 – 1940 – Tempo And Swing – 2:58
Blues In The Groove – Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra – 205 – 1939 – Lunceford Special 1939-40 – 2:35
Hop Skip and Jump – Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five, featuring Hilary Alexander – 192 – 2004 – Crazy Rhythm – 2:48
For Dancers Only – Jimmie Lunceford and His Harlem Express – 178 – 1944 – 1944-Uncollected – 2:22
Till Tom Special – Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra – 158 – 1940 – Tempo And Swing – 3:23
Jumpin’ At The Woodside – Count Basie – 235 – The Complete Decca Recordings (disc 02) – 3:10
I always begin with something ‘safe’ and hi-fi at CBD so I can fuss over the tech set up (because it always sucks). Happy Go Lucky Local went down really well (which surprised me). I’m not sure if I actually played Moten Swing or not – it was on my list but I think I was deciding between it or HGLL and didn’t actually play it. Whatever.
Keith tried to suggest the one-in-a-row rule to me at about Blues in Hoss’s Flat but I scoffed. I derided. Basie is such a great opener for a set – he really is the best lindy hopping music. Nice, high energy, kind of straight up and nothing too scary or difficult, you can get nice quality recordings and people know a lot of his stuff.
I consciously played a lot of favourites during the set – sort of speckled them in there between other ‘mini-sets’ (the mini-sets in order: the norleans set, the shouty-clapping set, the ‘chilling’ set, the ‘finally you’re warmed up, so let’s kick your arse’ set). Perdido Street Blues is one of my old faves which I actually DJ very rarely (it’s also actually a song I think of as ‘Sidney Bechet’ rather than Armstrong). I can’t play Blues My Naughty Sweety Gave To Me again – it make me want to hurl. Even though people love it, I’m over it. PSB was my BMNSGTM substitute.
The ‘mini set’ thing wasn’t deliberate – it just kind of worked out that way as I tried to play songs in a logical order (ie matching styles and then moving between styles using the clutch rather than just hacking them in there).
I did scew up at one point, doing a dreaded double click 3/4 of the way through Til Tom Special, which sucked, as I was building them into a frenzy for the last song. But no one seemed to mind and an jam circle formed instantly. It was the first spontaneous jam I’ve seen in Melbourne for ages. There were a couple of grumbles from people who wanted to dance to that song, but I say – get in there and DANCE to it.
I think I have to add for the non-dancers reading, that that last song Jumpin’ at the Woodsideis an iconic one. It’s hardcore Basie, doing the very best Basie action. It’s fast (though this wasn’t the version I thought I played, which is about 270 odd bpm), it’s fun and it’s crazy. It’s also been stamped as a ‘jam song’. I didn’t intend a jam, I just wanted to play an arse-kicking, fun, crazy fast song to close my set. As bigpants comments in that Swing Talk thread, though (and I really like this line):

“We interrupt the regular broadcast for this important jam announcement”
Maybe you shocked the jam into us. It worked.

If only I could say that I planned this. But I’m afraid it was sheer fluke.
One of my favourite parts of the night was playing Blues in the Groove (I’m on a(nother) Lunceford kick atm) and seeing people run to the floor. I blame that version of Flying Home – it’s slower but gets people all worked up. And you have to love balboans – they get in there and work it at all tempos.
Another highlight was playing that version of For Dancers Only – it’s off a new album I saw pimped on SwingDJs recently and which I absolutely LOVE. I think Gracenote has the wrong name for the album, but it looks like that to the right there.
As you can see from the Amazon link, it’s crazy cheap. And worth it for that version of FDO alone (incidentally, Dan played a version of Wham last night – I am currently loving that song atm. Lunceford and Hamp are my men).
Then Dan played his first Melbourne gig and did a neat job. We had a bit of a scuffle over who’d play what. The best bit of DJing first is that you get to play what you like, while the second DJ can’t repeat anything. Tough luck if you dig the same stuff (though that rocks because you get to dance to the stuff that way). But then, the first DJ has to suffer through thinking ‘why didn’t I play that?!’ in the second set. Actually, I enjoyed DJed with Trev at the Speegs at MLX – we have similar tastes, but different collections, and of course, different ways of putting a set together. I played the first set, he the second, me the third, and it was really nice rubbing in/bewailing our choices.
And just in case you thought I was the nerdiest DJ in the whole world, go look at this link and see I’m not. WHY didn’t I find that clip before I wrote that stuff about youtube?
Rightio. Enough postage for you there, Trev?
I have a job application to write, so I’m outy.
LCJO image stolen from here.

i like this dancing – she is mighty fine. but she also demands a fairly steep tithe.

Ok, so I’ve decided to get back into the dancing hardcore in the last month.

  • I have time and can stay up late a few nights a week because I’m not teaching
  • I need to get a bit fitter and healthier, and there is no exercise as physically demanding as lindy hop except perhaps basketball. 20s charleston, however, kicks both their arses for arse kicking
  • I missed it – I missed the creativity and the physical challenge and the sheer wonderfulness of jiggling about to music I love with a partner

Things I have noticed:

  • I am not 25 any more. My recovery time is kind of long. Today, after dancing like a fool for a few hours (including my first public showing of the Cranky Poo and the bits of the Big Schnapple that I know) last night and then riding home I feel quite rough. I have aches and pains. I have ringing ears (argh, noob DJs: walk the room, doods, walk the room. Decibals won’t replace base). I am tired and look quite awful.
  • It’s frickin’ fun. When you’ve got a bit of fitness back and your body awareness and general coordination get back up above the sloth level, dancing is easier, you can do more things and the endorphines… oh, those lovely lovely endorphines.
    For the first song you’re kind of clunky. The second, your heart rate gets up a bit, your muscles are warming up nicely and you’re remembering how to dance. Midway through the third it’s like someone’s thrown a bucket of ecstacy over you. Ecstasy made of chocolate. Ecstasy making really fabulous jokes. You start grinning like an idiot, then laughing like a fool. You’re a dancing queen – nothing goes wrong, you rock. You know every single note of the song, your partner is beautiful (and possibly made of chocolate as well). You physically feel frickin’ good – it’s like… I was going to compare it to sex or something sex-like, but it’s not – it’s better. It’s kind of like you get a drumming in your ears. You suddenly want to touch your friends more and squeeze your partner. It’s really nice.
  • I really don’t give a fuck who I’m dancing with – I’m just happy to be dancing. Because dancing – she is good. She is also the bringer of nice chemical action.
  • Music – she is even better. Suddenly all the songs you like listening to have added purpose and meaning. Dancing to them makes them better
  • This stuff is addictive. I can see, as someone with no real demands on their time or actual focus, how people do let dancing consume them utterly. How they end up living, breathing dancing in a pretty scary way. Think I’m into dance in a big way? Imagine if I was teaching it. And in a performance troupe. And training for a competition. That’s at least 3 or 4 nights a week on top of social dancing twice a week and the sort of practice you do on your own. That’s insane. When would I have time to watch telly? My conversational skills would deteriorate, my attention span would drop to about 3 minutes max (ie, the time between dances) and I’d suddenly find it difficult to retain basic information about new friends. And those endorphines – did I mention their goodness?

Last night I went to sleep still hearing jazz and with my brain running through dance steps. And this after a couple of hours coming down – riding home for 20 minutes, hassling The Squeeze, reading, eating something, showering.
I like this dancing – she is mighty fine. But she also demands a fairly steep tithe.
Tonight I DJ the second set. And I’m kind of looking forward to sitting down and getting some physical and emotional distance from the dance floor.

holy smokes

I’m kind of in shock.
My guest post has been published over here and frankly, I’m having trouble breathing.
I’ve cross-posted the post here. This is the title Henry gave it (as I forgot that part when I sent him the copy. Doh).
Are You Hep to That Jive?: The Fan Culture Surrounding Swing Music
This is a clip of the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers dancing a Big Apple routine (choreographed by Frankie Manning) in the 1939 film Keep Punchin’. In the last section of this clip they dance lindy hop on a ‘social dance floor’.
And here‘s footage of dancers in the US dancing the same routine in 2006.
If you follow this link you can listen to the Solomon Douglas Swinged playing the same song on their recent album.
Both dancers and musicians have painstakingly transcribed what they see and hear in that original 1939 clip.
Lindy hop – the partner dance most popular today in swing dance communities – developed in Harlem in the late 1920s and early 30s by African American dancers. Over the following years it moved to mainstream American youth culture, carried by dance teachers and performers in films like Keep Punchin’ and in stage shows, and then moved out into the international community, again in film and stage plays, but also with American soldiers stationed overseas. Though it was massively popular in its day, by the 1950s changes in popular music, where jazz was replaced by rock n roll or became increasingly difficult to dance to with the rise of bebop, saw lindy slipping from the public eye.
In the 1980s, dancers in Europe and the US began researching lindy, using archival footage like Keep Punchin’ but also including films like Hellzapoppin’ and Day at the Races – popular musical films of the 1930s and 40s. The aim of these dancers was to revive lindy hop, to recreate the steps they saw on screen. Learning to dance by watching films, particularly films that were only available at cinemas or in archival collections, was unsurprisingly, quite difficult, and these revivalists began seeking out surviving dancers from the period. Among these original lindy hoppers were Frankie Manning, Norma Miller, Al Minns, Sugar Sullivan and Dean Collins.
Twenty years after these revivalists began learning lindy, there are thriving swing dance communities throughout Europe, the United States, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Japan and Korea. They come together in their local communities for classes and social dancing, and also travel extensively for camps and lindy exchanges. My research has focussed on the ways these contemporary swing dancers utilise a range of digital media in their embodied practices. This has involved discussing the way DJs in the swing community use digital music technology; the way swing dancers use discussion boards (Swing Talk, Dance History), instant messaging and email to keep in contact with dancers in their own community and overseas and to plan their own trips to other local scenes; and the ways in which swing dancers have use a range of audio visual technology. These uses of audio visual technology include the sorts of revivalist activities first practiced in the 1980s, but continuing now in lounge rooms and church halls in every local scene, but also to record their own dancing and local communities and also performances (on the social or competitive floor) by ‘celebrity’ lindy hoppers.
The Big Apple contest from Keep Punchin’ is a useful example of the ways swing dancers make use of digital media in their embodied practices. But it’s also the focus of my own dancing obsessions at the moment. I’ve been dancing lindy for at least eight years, and dance a few times a week in my local, Melbourne scene. I’ve travelled extensively within Australia to attend dance events, I’ve run events in my own city and I’ve travelled overseas for large dance events (such as the Herräng dance camp). This year, having just finished my Phd, I’ve decided I finally have time to work on my own dancing, in the sweaty, embodied sense, rather than the academic or abstract.
Writers in fan studies like Henry Jenkins and Matt Hills and Camille Bacon-Smith have discussed being a scholar-fan (to use Matt Hill’s term), where you’re a member of the community of fans you’re researching. This approach is fairly standard in much of the dance studies literature – it is notoriously difficult to write about dance and dancing with any degree of convincingness if you don’t dance – it’s a little like dancing about architecture. I’ve also found that combining my academic work with my everyday, making my everyday experiences my work, has been a satisfying way to extend my fanatical obsession with dance into every corner of my life (a little like Henry’s writing about Supernatural, a program I also love, here on this blog).
So when I decided I needed to get back to some level of dance fitness, to end the thesis-imposed hiatus from hardcore dance training, I chose this Big Apple and a number of other ‘vintage’ or ‘authentic’ jazz dance routines as my focus. I’ve learnt the Big Apple and Tranky Doo (another venerable jazz dance routine choreographed by Frankie Manning) before, but this was to be my first solo mission, using clips garnered almost entirely from the internet, though also making use of sections of an instructional DVD produced by a famous teaching couple.
Dancing alone is an essential part of lindy hop. The dance itself revolutionised the European partner dancing structure with its use of the ‘break away’, (which you can see danced by the last couple in the film After Seben), where partners literally broke away from each other to dance in ‘open’ position. In open, partners are free to improvise, and the most common improvisation in that historical moment and today, is to include jazz steps from the vast repertoire of steps developed by African American vernacular dance culture over centuries in America. Learning to dance alone not only offers dancers the opportunity to work on body awareness, fitness, coordination, individual styling and expanding their own repertoire (a point upon which I was relying), but also encourages a creative, improvised approach to music which they can then bring to their lindy hop for those 5 or 6 beats of the 8 count swing out – the foundational step of lindy hop.
I’ve written a great deal about the gender dynamics at work in lindy hop, a dance which prioritise the heterocentric pairing of a man and a woman, beginning with my own discomfort with a dance where the man leads, the woman follows, and traditional gender roles prevail. But I’ve also written a great deal about the liberatory potential of lindy. The open position and the emphasis on improvisation are an important part of this – in those moments both partners are expected to ‘bring it’ – to contribute to the creative exchange within the partnership. Lindy, as it was danced by African American dancers in that original creative moment, also embodies a history of resistance and transgression, as a dance with its roots in slavery and created during a period of institutionalised racism and oppression. One of my own research interests has been the extent to which the resistant themes of lindy hop, of African American vernacular dance, have been realised by contemporary swing dancers. The fact that most of these contemporary dancers are white, middle class urban heterosexual youth goes some way to discouraging my reading of contemporary swing dance culture as a hot bed of radical politics and revisions of dominant ideology and culture. Yet I have also found that lindy hop and African American vernacular jazz dances like the Big Apple structure and the Tranky Doo offer opportunities for the expression of self and resistance of dominant gender roles.
As a woman, and as a feminist, I’ve found that archival footage such as that Keep Punchin’ clip offer opportunities for reworking the way I dance and participate in the public dance discourse. When we watch that Big Apple clip, while we can clearly see that each dancer is performing synchronised, choreographed steps, they are also clearly styling each step to suit their own aesthetic, athletic and social needs and interests. We see the personality of each dancer as they execute a set piece of choreography. The very concept of a Big Apple contest involves dancers performing specific steps as they are called, and being judged not only for their ability to dance the correct step in time and with alacrity, but more importantly (in a setting where dance competency, as Katrina Hazzard-Gordon has written, is demanded by the social setting – everyone can dance), for their individual interpretation of the step. This is a performance of improvisation within a socially, collaboratively created structure. The representation of individual identity within a consensual public discourse. This is the sort of thing that jazz musicians do – improvise within a given structure.
And man, is that some serious fun.
For contemporary swing dancers, the idea of taking particular formal structures and then reworking them to suit their own discursive needs extends from the dance floor to the mediated world. Online, swing dancers upload digital footage of themselves dancing, edited to best display their abilities. Or they edit whole narrative films like Hellzapoppin’ and Day at the Races and edit out the sequences they’re most interested in – the dancing. And dancers like myself are still watching these edited clips, recreating entire routines, and then, even more interestingly, editing out particular steps and integrating them into their lindy on the social dance floor, or into their own choreographed routines.
The notion of step stealing is not new in African American vernacular dance – it reaches back to Africa. And Frankie Manning himself is often quoted as saying ‘dance it once and it’s yours, dance it twice and it’s mine’. For me, as a dancer, this is exciting stuff. If I put in the time and effort, I can learn these steps (well, some of them – watch that Hellzapoppin’ clip and you’ll see what I mean). And if I practice, time it properly and really bring it, I can pull that out on the social dance floor. Perhaps. Contemporary dancers enact that philosophy on the dance floor every day -stealing steps that catch their attention on the social dance floor, or ‘ripping off’ moves they see performed in footage of dancers in competitions or performances or in social dance settings all over the world. Or from seventy years ago.
For me, swing dancers’ tactical use of digital media in their embodied use of archival footage is not only a source of academic fascination, but also a very practical skill to develop. I have had to learn how to watch footage of dancing in a way that lets me apply my knowledge of dance to separate out distinct steps, then figure out how they work, practically. Learning to poach dance steps from archival footage is a useful skill for lindy hoppers. But the testing of my skills is not online or in my ability to write and talk about these things. The real challenge to my creative and critical faculties comes on the dance floor, when I have to bring it – to bring the right step at the right time, but with my own unique, creative twist.
Bacon-Smith, Camille. (1992). Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
—. (2000). Science Fiction Culture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Clein, John, dir. (1939). Keep Punchin’. Film. Chor. Frank Manning. Perf. Frank Manning and Hot Chocolates. USA.
Hazzard-Gordon, Katrina. (1990). Jookin’: The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Hills, Matt. (2002). Fan Cultures. London and New York: Routledge.
Jenkins, Henry. (1992). Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York and London: Routledge.
Kaufman, S. J. (1929). After Seben. Short film. Perf. “Shorty” George Snowden. USA.
Potter, H. C., dir. (1941). Hellzapoppin’. Film. Chor. Frank Manning. Perf. Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers and Frank Manning. USA.
Solomon Douglas Swingtet. (2006). Swingmatism. USA.
Wood, Sam. (1939). A Day at the Races. Perf. Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. USA.

i’m not sure I’m buying the whole ‘flappers are great’ line any more

I’ve just read this review of a book I’d like to read, and while it’s all good stuff, I have some concerns.
I’d been thinking of an article where I talked about the way the popularity of 20s charleston with contemporary swing dancers meant that, finally, it was ok for women to dance alone (again). Just like in the 20s. And then I was going to write about flappers and women’s lib in the 20s. Reading the stuff I just have on blues women in the 20s, I could probably add a bit about how the 20s were just frickin’ hardcore generally. Compared to the late 30s anyway, mid WWII when we were wearing silly overly fitted dresses and then busily being kicked out of jobs and back into the kitchen.
But then I read this bit of the review:

Women of the 1920s began voting

And all I could think was ‘sure, if they were white and lived in the US’. Votes for women weren’t happening all over Europe in the 20s. And sure as fuck you weren’t voting in AUSTRALIA if you weren’t WHITE.
And then I thought about 20s charleston today and how the people who get out there and do it are generally the more advanced dancers (in ‘mixed company’ that is – when I’m at Funbags or other beginner-dominated gigs the noober dancers do all kinds of crazy shit without worrying that some frickin’ rockstar is watching). It seems social 20s charleston is not the People’s Dance as I had imagined it in two or three years ago.
I’m not sure I’m buying the whole ‘flappers are great’ line any more.
…and strangely, I’m reminded of the line from a Hot Club of Cowtown* song:

I can’t tame wild women,
But I can make tame women wild.

A sentiment I heartily endorse.
*If you don’t know the HCOCT, you should. That’s some hawt shit.

the dark side of the swinguverse

No, it’s not all Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers and solo jazz routines.

[Benji Schwimmer West Coast Swing Jack and Jill]
When I talk about ‘groover’ lindy in Melbourne, that’s the sort of thing I’m talking about. That’s not lindy hop in that clip, it’s west coast swing (a peculiarly American phenomenon – though we have our ceroc), and I have to admit that that’s some pretty shmick dancing. Particularly when you keep in mind that that’s a jack and jill comp (ie, they weren’t actual dance partners – that’s all made up shit). It’s just that it’s so… well, look at it.
That guy – he’s some pretty hot stuff. I couldn’t lead like that. But… you know what I mean.
Why isn’t it lindy hop?
Ok, so once you get past the music (which is the sort of pap I hear far too regularly out lindy hopping here in Melbourne – especially the first song), there’s the really upright bodies (even leaning backwards), the pointy toes, the lack of bounce, the heels on the ground (putting their weight backwards, rather than onto the front half of the foot)… it’s a completely different bodily aesthetic. And very white. This is honky dancing (note the way they sort of nod down to the ground, then up. And flick their hair about).
It’s almost latin, but look at their hips. There’s no saucy Cuban isolation there.
But I do have to say – that’s some pretty dang shmick dancing. Not my cup of tea, not one little bit (though it does look like fun), but that don’t stop that being some pretty good leading and following.
…. do I have to mention the whole black pants, black dress shoes, red collared shirt thing? No. Nor do we need to talk about black pants and black crop tops.

[Don’t Cha (Pussycat Dolls) – West Coast Swing demo]
Yep, that’s that sweet west coast action as well.
And the scariest part of all this is that this sort of dancing is getting about in Melbourne, masquerading as lindy hop. And I. Don’t. Like. It.
[edit: I can’t stop watching that Benji clip. It’s mesmerising. The Squeeze watched 10 seconds and left the room in disgust]

Jimmie Lunceford Rhythm is our Business

I’m currently enjoying (another) Jimmie Lunceford album called Rhythm is our Business. I can’t find a link to it, I’m afraid. It seems that quite a few of these CDs I’m picking up second hand are actually ones that you could mail order or get as one of those monthly music club deals. So they’re not on amazon or the other major music sites. Which sucks, because they’re actually really great compilations – some unusual stuff that isn’t on the more usual CDs.
Anyway, this Lunceford one is really neat. It has a few of my favourites (Hitting the Bottle (which I LOVE), Organ Grinder’s Swing (great fun for dancing but goes over like a lead balloon with Melbournians because it has those tinkly ‘organ’ bits), Wham (Re-Bop-Boom-Bam) (fun lindy fun)), but also a couple of new things that I didn’t have before. Perhaps the most interesting version of Black and Tan Fantasy I’ve heard so far. Most of the versions I have are by Ellington (as you’d expect), with a few other ordinary versions. But I really like this Lunceford one – it has a different intro and the initial trumpet solo feels quite different.
I’m a big fan of second hand CD shops, and regularly turn up nice surprises. Nice cheap surprises.
I was going to post a clip which I remember as Black and Tan Fantasy, but is actually something else (East St Louis Toodle-oo or something) with the Five Hot Shots or the Berry Brothers or somebody dancing…
…look, I’m having trouble remembering, ok?
Anyway, because I couldn’t find any of those things on youtube (one search is enough), here’s the Nicholas Brothers, who frickin’ rock.

And because the 70s were a very strange place, here’s the Nicholas Brothers with the Jacksons.

And because I can’t keep away from youtube, here’s something else:

Yes, there were skips dancing lindy in the 30s. Though I’m not sure Dean Collins counts as a skip – he was Jewish. That’s some serious jazz action he and Jewell McGowan are pulling out, west coast lindy style.
The best bit of that clip is right near the end where the white dood sings Darktown Strutters’ Ball – that’s some seriously dodgy racial politics right there.

meaningless side note

When I follow, I find I’m spinning every third move. This is partly a Melbourne thing – the leads stand around a lot waiting for the follow to finish making them look good. They don’t make much constructive use of horizontal (lateral?) space – perhaps a result of our relatively crowded dance floors, but most probably because there’s a very particular dominant ‘lead culture’ in this town.
When I lead, I very very rarely do spins myself. It’s directly related to my other life as a follow – I just get sick to death of the stupid things.


The first recorded black woman blues singer (ie first black woman to record a non-religious commercially released song), Mamie Smith’s 1920 song Crazy Blues had the lyrics:

I’m gonna do likea Chinaman… go and get some hop
Get myselfa gun… and shoot myself a cop.

That’s about sixty years before NWA and Ice-T came along.
Adam Gussow (in “‘Shoot myself a cop’: Mamie Smith’s Crazy Blues as Social Text” (Callaloo 25.1 (2002): 8-44) claims:

Ths song is… an insurrectionary social text, a document that transcends its moment by contributing to an evolving discourse of black revolutionary violence in the broadest sense – which is to say, black violence as a way of resisting white violence and unsettling a repressive social order (10).

I’m doing some reading on blues and women blues singers of the 20s and 30s and it’s hardcore stuff. No pussyfooting around this topic. I’m still working on ideas I wrote about briefly here, here and by extension here.
And to think a bunch of white middle class kids are using this shit to dance dirty at late night parties. Though I guess they were doing exactly the same thing in the 20s too.
I can’t seem to get past the idea of the 20s as a far more radical moment than the late 30s. And the 20s were charleston time, flapper time – women dancing on their own, not wearing stockings, cutting their hair, staying up all night and getting divorced. While the 30s were lindy hop time, partner dancing, seriously tailored clothes with lots of darts and War Work.
It’s really nice to have a chance to finally read and read on things that are entirely ‘off-topic’. I can read whatever I like and write about whatever I like. I still can’t get over that!
Meanwhile, I’ve done that paper I had to do and a draft of that guest blog post thing (which is scaring me – the pressure!). I’ve also got a stack of stuff about online community to read, including some neat stuff by Barry Wellman about the relationship between offline and online community. That dood is beginning to rock.
…I’m sure my interest in writing about seriously dance-related stuff (as opposed to more media-centered stuff) has lots to do with the fact that I’m actually going dancing more often than I have in a year – I dance pretty much every day and do at least 2 serious out-the-house dance things a week. My brain is ticking over all the time. And I feel like I have the time (and freedom from stress) to really think about ideas and make them coherent (sort of, anyway).
No doubt this is post-thesis euphoria and will soon be all over, replaced by some sort of post-thesis anxiety/depression/self-doubt.
For now I’m enjoying myself.