Rent parties

I realise I’ve not actually given much useful information in my previous entry on rent parties.

Simply put:
In the 30s (and in the prior and later years), people living in Harlem in New York were often short of money. When rent time loomed, people who were short of money might hold a party in their house, invite lots of people, and have them pay to attend. They’d put on music (a band or records), and people would dance.

That’s the short story.
Some more details? Sure.

What went on at a rent party?
Eating, drinking, dancing, music playing, talking, love-making, fighting, arguing, kissing
party stuff.

Who were these people holding the rent parties?
For the most part, the majority of the stories I’ve found about rent parties placed them firmly in the Afro-American community. In the first 30 years of the 20th century – between 1919 and 1926, many freed slaves moved north from the southern states to northern cities like New York, Washington and Chicago. They followed the promise of work, fleeing lynching, poverty and scary-arse southern politics for the more tolerant north. Not that tolerant, but at least you weren’t being lynched.
The 1920s and 30s are referred to as an Afro-American renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance is of greatest interest to swingers (as it is the birthplace of lindy hop).

Harlem in the 30s was a predominantly Afro-American community. Conditions were crowded, there were more people arriving every day, and not enough work to go around. It was also a time of great creative and artistic endeavour (see the links to sites discussing the Harlem Renaissance below), human rights activism and social change.

Rent party hosts were usually ordinary Harlem people trying to raise their rent money. The rent party convention was later appropriated by more enterprising individuals, and often served as a front for brothels or illegal casinos.

Why did people hold rent parties?
During the 20s and 30s an estimated 200 000 people were living in this one neighbourhood in New York. The sudden influx of residents pushed rents higher than most families could accord. Families opened their homes to lodgers and often shared apartments with other families. Despite these measures, the rent was often due before the residents could find the money.

Residents would hold ‘parties’ in their homes, charging for entry or food, and ‘guests’ would come to dance and socialise, often all night. Advertisement was done surreptitiously, so as to avoid the wrong sort of guests, as well as the law, in this era of prohibition. The ‘rent party’ often served as a pseudonym for brothels.

On this site a woman explains why she held rent parties. This page provides a more detailed explanation of rent parties (with links to the site I referenced in my other post).

What did rent parties mean to swing dance?
For swingers, it’s an important time as these conditions saw the rise of the lindy hop, in tandem with the development of jazz. While the night clubs, cabarets, theatres and dance halls were pivotal public places in the development of lindy hop, the rent parties are important as they were private places made public, in a city where crowding and intensely interpersonal social and kin networks dominated. Rent parties fostered dancing and music, not only as fund raisers, but also as a site for individual self expression and the formation of community identity.

The following quote comes from this site.
“The dancers organize little impromptu contests among themselves and this competition is often responsible for the birth of many new and original dance-steps. The house-rent party takes credit for the innovation of the Lindy-Hop that was subsequently improved upon at the Savoy Ballroom. For years, it has been a great favorite with the regular rug-cutting crowd. Nothing has been able to supplant it, not ever the Boogie-Woogie that has recently enjoyed a great wave of popularity in Uptown New York.”

This link provides an interesting section of the book ‘12 million black voices’, written and illustrated by Richard Wright and Edwin Rosskam respectively. The site ‘America in the 1930s’ provides some archival and historical material from the States during this period.
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture provides an interesting overview of the Harlem Renaissance period.
Harlem Renaissance has a useful range of Afro-American authors, artists and their works.

it’s gotten cold


and while The Squeeze isn’t quite ready to start wearing jumpers (it has to be snowing for him to wear a jumper with sleeves), he made a concession with this hat. it’s one i made when i was in the uk. and it’s just lovely. my nanna thought it was horrid. i love it. pink fleece with crocheted flowers. and it suits The Squeeze just fine.

for reference, that day i was wearing, a tshirt, a long sleeved zip-up tshirt, a wooly jumper, thick socks and tracksuit pants. not winter yet, but definitely autumnish.


sure, we had tomatoes.

heeeaps of them. that photo’s from the 10th march. it was a jungle. we still have jillions of cherry tomatoes on one bush, and a few romas on the little, stunted bush. but the so-called smaller, patio tomatoes were huuuuuge. they took over the veggie patch. finally i dug them up so The Squeeze had somewhere to play on the weekends (he loses interest in the veggies as soon as they produce, and wants to rip them out to plant new things). i get orange arms from reaching into the tomato plants. i’m a bit sick of tomatoes, esp since i gave myself a sore tongue from eating too many acidic cherry tomatoes.
but the other tomatoes have been replaced with a lovely layer of fresh mulch and some little seedling bubbs.
meanwhile, the zuchini plants (two – producing just enough fruit for us two) are going nuts, spreading across the concrete under the clothesline.
we’ve got a real brunswick back yard – half concrete, half veggie patch – and the laundry gets all tangled in the veggie stakes. but it’s lovely when it trails in the herbs and leaves the smell of mint in the air…

oh, art


two things, really.
first, they’ve got this interesting exhibition on at the tate modern in london – that picture is taken inside the turbine hall, where “The Weather Project”, by olafur eliasson has proved extra popular with londoners.
basically, they set up that huge space to look like a room with the sun in it. seems brits went nuts over it – just get crazy for the big warm looking ness of it…

the other thing – one of the guys working in the gallery kept a diary in the Guardian, where he talks about the exhibition.
it’s interesting stuff.

i’ve cut-and-pasted the entries into this entry so it doesn’t get lost. but make sure you go to the site – i’m sure i’ve contravened copyright doing this. it’s best to go to the site, really – nicer to read.

i loved the the tate mod. it’s facinating. i love old factories that have been made into public spaces – the power house in bris (look here for a truly horrible website that almost gives you an idea of the thing. goddamn hack IT designer people. or here for a photo by john linkins from the site) is another fave. i was utterly stunned by the tate mod in london – it’s so BIG.

and it sounds like this ‘weather’ exhibition is making interesting use of all that space. and of the brits’ weirdo weather obsession… which can be understood. they don’t see the sun in england, in winter. well, they do a bit, but it’s pale and far away. and not really sunny.

Continue reading “oh, art”

shop-a-docket haircuts – just desserts

I’ve just remembered this excellent story.

When I was living in the share house in Enoggera in Brisbane (with Paul and Jase), Jase was really really poor (living on Austudy at $120 a week, I’ve noted in another entry). He also had really big hair. But he was too poor to be able to afford a reasonable hair cut, and he certainly carry on with all that big hair. He was overjoyed when he found a hairdresser shop-a-docket deal after shopping one week. He went off and got his hair cut, came home and asked, somewhat mournfully, if I could help him fix it up.

Seems the hairdresser had taken one look at his shop-a-docket, entitling him to a $5 hair cut and given him exactly five dollars worth of grooming. Took her about 10 minutes, all up. And it was a work of inestimable beauty. Sort of uneven, with big chunks cut out here and there. So I tidied it up and he looked a damn site better.
And Paul yelled (because he always yelled everything, and sounded a bit like Seinfeld), “ah, you dickhead!” and then laughed his “ah-HA” highpitched laugh.

Moral of this story?
It’s better to get a household member to cut your hair than to take a punt on a $5 shop-a-docket hair cut.

The Squeeze is sick

he started off in bed with his lappy, with a strict one-hour limit from me, but wandered in here where i’m ‘working’ a little while ago, looking decidedly the worse for wear. he’s been asleep now for about an hour and half, after a big 10 hour sleep last night. he’s not well at all, and took the day off to rest. he’s got a nasty temperature, sore throat, achey head, goobers. just like a bunch of swingers and at least one of his workmates.
i have preliminary goobs in my sinuses, but i’m pretending they’re just allergies, or left-overs from pushing myself dancing last night (those whole 5 or so songs).
i will be strong.