Wednesday, 22 May 2013

...and then you'll be a Jitterbug!

or "A love letter to Swing".

About 9 years ago I decided that I wanted to learn to partner dance.

Looking around at the time It was clear to me that a large part of the scene was based around social dancing and dance weekenders, and I honestly think if you want to truly embrace a culture from the past then you need to embrace as many aspects of it as possible - back in the 40s everyone knew how to dance and it was a large part of socialising and the social scene.

Growing up in the 80s and 90s, partner dancing just didn't exist any more. Yes there were the odd occasions at a school dance when you had to embarrass yourself by nervously grabbing an available girl and slow dancing at the end of the night, but that was it, and let's face it, it was never a 'proper' dance, just slow stepping around whilst trying not to press yourself too close to the girl in question!

Partner dancing was for the older generation. I mean, who didn't end up at some wedding or party watching your parents or some relation or other swanning around the dance floor to a dance classic? It was embarrassing and totally uncool, right?


Imagine how much easier your teenage years would have been if you had to actually dance _with_ a boy or girl not just vaguely in their general vicinity?! You'd have HAD to have talked to them and you never know, they may even have ignored your physical awkwardness, terrible hair and bad acne and been impressed with your dancing skills instead!

Anyway, I digress. At that time 9 years ago in Brighton there were no swing dance classes. None.
Looking around on the internet (yes it was even useful back then) I came across a group called "Brighton Jive". Knowing nothing about dancing I took their claim to teach the "original 40s dance" on face value and headed along to their beginners classes. I stuck with it for all 8 lessons and I could just about dance at the end of it. Trouble was there weren't any club nights running in Brighton at the time playing the kind of music that you could Jive too and I was too shy to go along to the social events the dance class put on.

After this I met my (now) wife and when she expressed an interest in learning we headed back to Brighton Jive together and did the beginners course once again. This time I was comfortable, I got it and fortunately several nights had sprung up that played music you could Jive too, not only that but there were other people there Jiving!

Dancing with the Lady Wife on our wedding day

The main problem was I began to find myself getting bored dancing Jive, from a leads point of view the dance I'd learned didn't really involve much movement, in fact one could do it standing stock still! There was no formalised footwork, only a couple of lead spins and it was mostly based around arm leads.

Whilst attending The War & Peace show with a non-dancing friend in July 2011, we took part in what was billed as a beginners "Learn to Jive" lesson run by Natasha & Paul of the Swing Time Dance Co.
Turns out it was a completely different dance to the "Jive" that I knew, but I really enjoyed it and watching the other dances doing this version of "Jive" at the dance that evening I was in awe and completely hooked, THIS was the dance I wanted to learn!

I started really researching the 40s and "Jive" dancing and it dawned on me that the dance I had learned was actually a 50s dance and not a 40s dance at all. What I'd learned and seen others dancing at War & Peace was the same dance that I'd seen in original films from the 40s and was something called the "Jitterbug" and it was very different to what I'd learned in my Brighton Jive classes.

Then, about 2 years ago (having Children got in the way) I started to look around at dance lessons again to find more of this dance I'd learned with Natasha and Paul, discovering along the way that this thing which I thought was called either "Jive" or "Jitterbug" was actually a dance called the "Lindy Hop" and that it was from a large family of dances loosely called "Swing".

Turns out the term "Jitterbug" is actually not a dance at all but a term for a swing dancer - specifically one that knows several of the swing family of dances. The term itself comes from a song of the same name by Cab Calloway and was a jib on cocktail drinkers who couldn't stop moving when they'd had too many drinks. This applied readily to dancers whose feet wouldn't stay still when they heard a great song playing!

(Watch this! It's amazing.)

During the late 30s people started holding Jitterbug contests to see who was the best Jitterbug, so when the dance crossed over into both the public eye and the Atlantic during WW2 it became known as the Jitterbug as it was danced, wait for it, by Jitterbuggers.  Get it?

Fast forward to New Years Eve 2012.
I was out at the Black Dove at a night some friends of mine do called The Devil's Music and the subject of dancing came up. These same friends had also learned with Brighton Jive but, as we all listen to mainly Swing and Hot Jazz music, felt it might be more appropriate to learn the dance that was invented to go with this style of music.

Oli, Lauren & Myself at The Devil's Music NYE 2012

Me being me however I went one further, I made the resolution that in one year I would be a true 'Jitterbug'.

So, in the first week of January 2012, we all started going to Lindy Hop classes and whilst some dropped out after the first lesson and some lasted five or six, I stayed the course and have been pretty much having lessons every week ever since!

To this date I've learned:

6 count Lindy Hop
8 count Lindy Hop
1920s Solo Charleston
1920s Partnered Charleston
Collegiate Shag
The Foxtrot
1930s Charleston & Tandem Charleston (as part of Lindy)
Air Steps (also know as Aerials)
The Shim Sham
Moma's Stew
The Big Apple

As well as solo Jazz steps like:
Shorty George
Boogie Back
Tacky Annie
Shout out
Suzi Q
Spank the Baby
Fall off the log

I've taken workshops with fantastic international Lindy Hop teachers such as; Savoy Hop's Trisha Sewell, London Jitterbug champions Ben Cook and Ash Cochrane, International Lindy Hop Champion Sharon Davis and World Lindy Hop Champions Davis and Claudia!

In August I was one of four couples dancing in front of the Earl of March during the opening ceremony of the Goodwood Revival. Then in January of this year I was one of the dancers in this, a music video for The Speakeasy Three feat. the Swing Ninjas:

Then in February this year I started my own Swing dance night called Tail End Charlie's.

Along the way I've met and been inspired by many great dancers and have made many great friends within the swing dance community. When a great song comes on I just have to dance, and often make it my goal at dance nights to dance at least once with every follow in the house!

Twinwood Festival 2012

So, do you think I fulfilled my resolution to become a true Jitterbug? :-)

This post was brought to you by: Brighton Lindyhoppers, Sussex Swing, The Swing Time Dance Co, Brighton Jive & The London Swing Dance Society

Deepest love and respect to all my fellow swing dancers... you know who you are!

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