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News and views '11/'12 #8
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Allen Hall
MN Prince of Snark Darkness


Joined: 26 May 2004
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 01, 2012 9:33 am    Post subject: News and views '11/'12 #8 Share topic on FB Add User to Ignore List Reply with quote

News and Views from the Stationary JazzLindyMobile
‘11/’12 Installment # 8

LISTEN, DANCE, DON’T DRIVE, AND REPEAT

(Editor’s notes: 1. This sucker is the mother of all “News and Views”, unconscionably long at 6 pages--so best you print it out. Reading time 13.5 minutes. 2. The publisher is attempting to reduce the frequency of N&Vs to one per month, but please don’t hold him to a promise.)

Table of Contents:
1. Mo’ dancin’?
2. Book Review of “Swing Dancing” by Tamara Stevens (With Appended Long Editorial, but please humor me and read It anyway.)
3. Review…not….of The Buddy Rich (phantom) Big Band in concert.
4. With luck, other items r.e. Jazz and Lindy Hop
5, Coming Attractions

MO’ DANCIN’?

We danced 5 nights in January, 7 in February, and I have 8 nights penciled in for March. Are we building to a moderate monthly Lindy Hop crescendo some time in 2012?

P.S. I just turned 80, and so, I got to supposin’ that I might be somewhere close to the upper edge for advanced age-group Jitterbugging, but a recent article in the Dayton Daily News turned me into a piker. Red Strauthers is a retired NBA Basketball referee, and at the age of 91 he is a jitterbugger. Apparently he started serious dancing when just beyond age 70. Now, even after two hip replacements, he only dances to the fast tempo numbers. His wife, Maxine, said, “Our favorite is Boogie Woogie”, and Red added, “Yup, people think we’re crazy, but we only dance the fast ones.” Sigh! I’m back in the pack again.

BOOK REVIEW OF “SWING DANCING” BY TAMARA AND ERIN STEVENS

This 2011, 192 page hardback was written by Tammy Stevens with editorial contributions by her sister, Erin Stevens. To my knowledge it is the first book exclusively about swing dancing, and I commend them for their scholarship and writing efforts. The two sisters, both Lindy Hop dancers, are proprietors of the Pasadena Ballroom Dance Association (PBDA) which was formed in 1983, and which has provided a well-attended live-music swing dance in Pasadena for as long as I have been dancing in L.A. (1999). Erin with her partner, Stephan Mitchell, were early principals jump-starting the Lindy Hop revival, and all who have come to Lindy Hop since, including myself, owe them a debt of gratitude.
I enjoyed reading the book, and learned much in the effort, although it was, for my tastes, a bit too long in content about early jazz music, and social dance in America predating swing dance. Lindy Hop is the generally agreed upon primordial swing dance and this was not introduced until page 51. The book is reiterative in some subject areas that have already been well-covered in a overarching book “Jazz Dance: The Story of American Vernacular Dance” by the Sterns, man and wife. Some effort was made in “Swing Dancing” to include some of the various regional and city-specific swing dances which have evolved from the parent Lindy Hop. The Stevens write extensively about Lindy Hop and related dances in southern California, all of which they know well, and while they obviously tried to gather information about American swing dances found elsewhere, most of their information is current, and there was no apparent effort to study the development of these other major evolved and un-evolved swing dances, and, more importantly, how they have changed through the years.* In so doing, they missed an opportunity of do what no one else has done. This, as I see it, is the weakest part of the book and an easy trap for a swing dance scholar who is primarily doing and promoting one or a few particular regional types of swing dance. Not to put too fine a point to that statement, but I believe the authors were seeing a few trees very well, but were partially blind to a forest of individualistic swing dances in the United States. Furthermore, I saw no effort made to include the several swing dances popular outside the United States. A small point. but then, their book is an implied omnibus, and not entitled “American Swing Dance”.
*While almost all forms of social pairs swing dance are truly organic and undergo some changes over time, some forms tend to do so by stylistic changes in individual dancers, resulting in a plethora of individualism while holding the basic form of the dance relatively uniform. These I call “unevolved” Others do so as a result of abundant instruction at the advanced levels, and by competition, both of which can abruptly alter and codify an evolutionary change in style of the dance. These I call “evolved”. Additionally, gradual or sudden sea-changes in style and tempo of preferential music almost invariably changes the nature of a social dance. There was little mention made of these organic changes in any form of swing dance.
I think the book would have been improved by the addition of discussions of the music for each type of swing dance, and most importantly the changes in the nature of the preferred music. Enlarging the dictum “No music-no dance” I would add “and change in music invariably leads to a change in dance.”
In their wisdom, the authors did not try to describe or contrast or compare the individual physical stylistic appearance characteristics of Lindy Hop or any of the other swing dances, because to try to bring the appearance of a dance to full life in the mind of readers using words alone is nothing short of folly.
I was a bit confused by what seems to be two voices in the writing (author Tammy, & Editorial contribution Erin?) One more editorial and the other more emotional, with the latter suffering from the use of an abundance of superlative modifiers. The writing is less than crisp and the tone inconstant. I think the book would have profited from editing by a professional writer, not to change content, but rather, to tighten the sentence structure and delete extraneous words and trite modifiers. Picky picky picky? Yes. However—and to state the obvious---the best non-fiction writing facilitates understanding and locks-in memory about the subject in the reader’s mind.
If this seems like a negative review, it is not meant to be, and if it appears to be none-the-less, I think this is a disservice to the book. I am a harsher critic of a book which has as treatise a subject I hold with deep passion. Swing Dance is one of my passions, and so, I hold a high standard for a book with “Swing Dancing” as its the specific title purpose.
The book’s cover carries a slightly blurred photograph of two dancers depicting well the dynamic energy and athleticism of Swing Dance, but none of its grace, which is unfortunate, because I am convinced that Swing Dance in all its many forms is a combination of equal measures of dynamic energy, controlled athleticism and gracefulness. However, the book is enhanced by a selection of a number of photographs of dancers and historic dance venues interdicted within text, and not confined to one central section on shiny paper. I agree wholeheartedly with this method of using pictorial additions,.
I can warmly recommend this book for all swing dancers, but most especially for Lindy Hoppers, as it contains a exposition of Lindy Hop history since its inception during the early 20th Century, through to the present time.

(APPENDED EDITORIAL) It’s a long, wide–ranging free-association amble, making curves, and swerves plus hard rights and lefts, so hang on for a bumpy ride.

I would not be so bold as to tell the Stevens sisters what to do, but should they ever decide to publish a revised edition of this book, I might suggest they visit the entire varied and rich tapestry of American and international Swing dances, including what can be learned about the specifics of history, the current dance form and practices, the location where each is currently danced, and how they have changed over time. This urging gives me, in turn, an urge to editorialize. You didn’t think I would miss this chance, did you? Allen’s my name, editorializing’s my game—I live to editorialize.
In addition to “Lindy Hop”, which has undergone a series of recent evolutionary change in style, the Stevens’ book provides some information about the other two other most popular and highly evolved swing dances, “West Coast Swing”, and “Carolina Shag”. However, not much is written about the generic ubiquitous but nebulous swing dance known as “East Coast Swing” in all its various styles and forms, plus the other off-shoot domestic swing dances popular as city or area specific social dances, notably “Bop” which remains popular but primarily danced in the southeast USA.
Look, I don’t pretend to be expert on swing dance, about its history or current practice, and I am sure that I am unaware of some named forms of city-specific swing dance still being practiced, but, with that confession in effect, my wife, Rudy, and I have traveled widely in the U.S. for over 20 years to swing dance, and while doing so, we tried to experience the swing dances native to many cities and locales. As well, we have danced in several foreign countries to sample what is done abroad. It has been an fun adventure and education, albeit a slap-dash one. So much for my non-professional credentials.
The generic term “Swing Dance” has not always been with us. After WW-II many areas in the U.S. referred to swing dance, descriptively, as “fast dance”. “Jitterbug” is another generic name which had and still has widespread nonspecific usage. To complete this short list, influential swing dance teacher, Skippy Blair, tried to create an omnibus name for all swing dance with the descriptive label “American Rhythm Dance”, but such an unwieldy title was, I believe, doomed from the onset, especially when I suggested it be quickly divided into “Fast” and “Slow” depending on tempos of music preferred. Anyway, “Swing Dance” seems the best and most descriptive generic Mother Hubbard term** covering Lindy Hop and all the many and varied iterations of swing dance which were ultimately spun off as secondary or tertiary dance forms.
**A Mother Hubbard term, like a Mother Hubbard dress, covers everything while revealing nothing.
To be precise, Lindy Hop is also a derivative dance, an amalgam of dances which preceded it. It did not arise de novo in the Savoy Ballroom in 1927. Several previous popular dances contributed to the final product, notably the “Texas Tommy”, “Charleston” and the “Break-Away”. And, in keeping with that thought, as much as I try to be creative and musical in my dance, since I know I can be neither good nor graceful, it has been often pointed out to me that there is nothing I can do on a dance floor which has not been done before, and done better.
Some of the lesser city/region-specific swing dance forms remain vital and extant, while others are now only danced by few older people who leaned them as youngsters. Just as there is a current push by socio-archaeologists to study languages going extinct, so to do I believe it important to document the history and particulars of social swing dances destined to soon become extinct.
I need not discuss the recent evolution and popularity of Lindy Hop, as all of my readers are already familiar with that remarkable story, and it is already covered well in the book, “Swing Dancing”
But first, to the four most popular dances derivative from Lindy Hop. The first two are highly evolved and the last two much less so. (As discussed in the “Swing dancing” review, highly evolved dances change markedly and become more complex and difficult by dint of instruction at the advanced level, and, most especially, by competition. Non-evolved dances tend to remain basically constant and slightly constrained by few additions to each’s canon of steps, but instead, undergo marked change in individual dancer styles.

“West Coast Swing”

This dance underwent an unprecedented success story, becoming so popular, the dance metastasized into Latin, ballroom and country western dance venues as well as into other less popular swing dance scenes. At its apex, there were many weekend social/teaching/competition events in the US, including a premier swing dance competitive event entitled “The US Open” in California. More importantly West Coast Swing at its apex, became the swing dans franca of the United States, meaning that no matter where you went, you were likely to find a viable West Coast Swing dance scene. The dance has undergone an abrupt stylistic change circa ‘98/’99 as many younger dancers insisted on an abrupt change in the preferential style of music which was characterized by modern pop rock rhythms.

“Carolina Shag”

Rudy and I We learned much by visiting the Carolinas to dance with and learn about “Carolina Shag” as currently practiced widely in the south central coastal US States, plus I read “Shag” by Bo Bryant, which is an excellent history of the dance. Carolina Shag has developed 3 annual extended conventions for dancers, all three in North Myrtle Beach SC, two each year, one in spring and one in autumn, and both have attracted over 10,000 dancers each over each of their ten day spans. The other, in winter, has drawn 3,000 dancers over a weekend. Notably an annual competitive weekend dance event in Atlanta has resulted in young competitors creating an hybrid dance with elements of Carolina Shag and West Coast Swing and entitled “Swang”. Additionally, an annual two day National Carolina Shag Championship is held for adult amateurs and professionals, as well as seniors and two levels of juniors. Slightly preceding West Coast Swing by several years, Carolina Shag also underwent mild stylistic changes due to young dancers preferring music characterized by primarily pop rock music rhythms.

“East Coast Swing”

This is more a generic designation than an individual dance, but is usually considered a circling 6 count non-evolved dance, which is important because it is danced in so many places in the United States as an unorganized social dance. While this is speculation, I believe East coast Swing is the dance which initially spread throughout the country when servicemen from WW-II having learned swing dance during their service, handed it down to the younger people in the generation which followed by mimicry of whatever style they had learned while away, and, to further the supposition, possibly this has resulted in a wide disparity of style in city-specific swing dances which arose during the post WW-II years. East Coast Swing is, in my opinion, the most popular generic and widely varied form of swing dance taught to beginners, and is the default social swing dance done by many people all over the United States in all kinds of dance venues. However East Coast Swing has gained a competitive niche in Ballroom and Country Western competitions. Additionally, East Coast Swing is the common form of a training-wheels dance taught preparatory for beginning dancers who then, if they wish, can step-up to the more challenging Lindy Hop.

“Bop”

My wife, Rudy, grew up in Bop country, and we have attended at least 6 annual National/American Bop Conventions, one in Memphis drew over 4,000 dancers. Most of Bop dance is organized into member clubs most of which are in the South East United States, and a loose confederation of various swing dance clubs has been formed as the American Bop Association, a confederacy of 32 member swing dance clubs, most of which are in the SE USA, but, altogether, they span the U.S. They are currently holding two annual ABA Conventions, in St. Louis in August and Cincinnati in November. Bop is a very popular form of swing dance found generally in the south east USA. It is important to note that, while instruction in Bop at the beginner level is available, very little instruction is done at the advanced level, AND, more important, to my knowledge, no dance competitions occur in Bop. As a result, it may be said the Bop is an almost entirely socially driven and highly individualistic and thus remains that for the individual dancer unchanged over time. This not to put down Bop, as it is the individual who the final arbiter of the value of individualized styles, steps, and patterns, and not just a few people at the top of a competitive pyramid.
Of all the several varieties of popular swing dance, Bop has made the most effort to retain the type of music which originated with the dance, but the pressure from younger dancers have made inroads in a revolution to music which comes from modern pop rock genera.
I agree with all the writers about the mystery in how Bop got its name, as I too tried in vain to learn the origin of the Bop’s name. To wit, I either heard “Who knows?” or I listened to a variety of totally implausible fables about its origins.
Sadly, popular social fads or movements, (dances included) are seldom documented at the time of their origins, apogees or their demises, and, as a result, historians have few sources available when trying to tease out the particulars of their origins, developments and significances.

There are a number of other individual domestic swing dances, each with a unique history and each danced within a fairly circumscribed area. Included are “The Jamaica” in New Orleans. In St. Louis there is “Imperial Swing” and “St. Louis Shag” (which might be challenged as a swing dance as it seems to have been a consolidation of elements from Charleston, Tap and single step Shag). I saw a unique 6 count dance in Pittsburgh—the name eludes me—but it is the only swing dance I know of in which the leader makes his first weight-bearing step on the basic with his right foot. African-American dancers predominate doing “Philly Rock” in Philadelphia, and one of two forms of “Hand Dance” in Washington D.C., and “Steppin’” in Chicago. Additionally, “Cajun Jig” is a highly unusual swing dance primarily done in the Cajun country of southern Louisiana, and, in the same area, Zydeco dance is done to Zydeco music which is an apparent marriage of Cajun music and American Pop music rhythms. In Europe, there is LeRoc, Ceroc and the German variety of Boogie-woogie done to very fast tempos, and another variety of boogie-woogie in England to slower music. As well I think a term for a particular form of swing dance in Australia is “Rock and Roll” And, of course, there is “Jive”, the Ballroom swing dance which to my eye seems to be a prancy variation of East Coast Swing.

A word about competition is in order, as it tends to raise the standard of a swing dance, making the dance both more difficult to do at the advanced level, more stylistically fixed and unique, and the best competitive dancers set the standard for excellence. I believe, this is a danger to a social swing dance, and taken to its logical conclusion, the competitive standard of the dance can become elevated so far above the ability of the average social dancer there could arise a rift arise between them. Since a base of social dancers supports competitive dance, and the stars of competition in the future arise from the social dance milieu, a dance which is shrinking in popularity may choke-off advanced level dancing altogether. While the graveyard for dead social pairs dances has many headstones, I have never read a cogent reason why any of them died, and it would be interesting to know this. However, the widespread popularity of West Coast Swing and Lindy Hop have tended to co-opt beginner dancers, and stifle the persistence of less popular swing dance forms.

Swing dance revivals have occurred. Lindy Hop is unique in that it was largely left for dead, except for a few US cities with a few, mostly older, dancers, struggling to keep the guttering Lindy Hop flame burning, and then, KABLOOIE! Lindy Hop came back abruptly and with a vengeance in the ‘90s and is now danced around the globe, and has become a true successful revival story in Swing Dance. Less abruptly both Carolina Shag and Bop underwent similar revivals, both apparently during the ‘60s and ‘70s, and reaching an apogee in the 80’s and ‘90s. In general, popularity fell for all forms of paired social dance during the first 40 years of Rock music popularity. The old hack “Nothing ever stays the same” equally applies to all forms of social pairs dancing, regardless of how much teaching professionals may wish it to be otherwise.

To complete this list, I do not fully understand if Balboa and Collegiate (double) Shag should be considered swing dances or not, but both have come back to widespread popularity by riding the coat-tails of the Lindy Hop revival, and both have since spread internationally. It is important to note that both dances, spurred by instruction and competition, have evolved rapidly into dances which look much more like swing dances than did their elemental social forms.

In summary, all swing dance is done to 4/4 time signature music, at tempos ordinarily between about 115 BPM and about 250 BPM, with each dance form preferring either a loose or tight range of tempos, and it is important to add, that as the nature of music for a particular swing dance form changes in either tempo, style or rhythmic nature, so too does the dance, but usually in ways impossible to predict. Otherwise, I am not going to try to generalize about what swing dance is and is not, based on the appearance of dancers, because every time I have attempted to do that I got into a lot of hot water.

West Coast Swing, Carolina Shag and Bop are usually organized into clubs with dues-paying members***, and supported by a national organization. Generally speaking, all three of those dances are now dominated by people in their 30s and up. Lindy Hop, which tends to attract younger dancers, is much more loosely organized at the local and not at all at the national level. A few metropolitian Lindy Hop Societies notwithstanding, most locales offering Lindy Hop are best described as “scenes” in which information most often flows from a dedicated website, and dances are both organized and unorganized at live music or DJed venues. In the last few years many Swing/Lindy Hop clubs have arisen out of colleges and universities. The proliferation and popularity of Lindy Hop has been driven by two types of events: 1. inexpensive mostly non-teaching non-competitive weekend events known as “Lindy Exchanges” of which there are now 33 scheduled internationally from Mar. to Dec. ’12, and 2. an equal abundance of weekend Lindy Hop Conventions featuring competition, instruction and social dance most often including live music. Further, there are several extended week-long Lindy Hop “camps”.
***I have seen clubs as small as 30 members and one as large as 450 members. Very large swing dance clubs of any type have a propensity to divide into two smaller clubs, the causes of the breakups are typically one or more of the common human failings i.e. ego, power, and money, but rifts also occur along age lines, but most often in my experience, rifts are accentuated by differences in music preference, which in itself, is also age-dependant.

Mea Culpa! I hadn’t intended for this editorial to go on like a bad dream, but that’s what happens when a guy who will write, starts thinking too much. For anyone reading this, I encourage you to please feel free to add, subtract or change anything you find here which is believed in error by commission or omission. Send you comments to mrmusichall@att.net I am anxious to learn, or unlearn—whichever.
To my knowledge, a complete internet assay of all Swing Dance does not exist, but the best I have found is Sonny Watson’s www.streetdance.com

REVIEW….NOT…..OF THE BUDDY RICH (PHANTOM) BIG BAND IN CONCERT

See, I have long had a bucket list of all the good phantom jazz big bands still out there and touring. I want to see them all. I have already crossed off Count Basie (seen the band more times than I can count, since Rudy and I were on a Jazz Cruise for a week with the band, plus I have paid to see them on three other occasions), Ellington once for free in a park in St. Paul MN (but will not see them again. Duke’s grandson is leading a listless group of I-don’t-give-a-damn musicians and I do not intend to be bit by that same jazz dog twice), Tommy Dorsey, once in the Medina Ballroom in MN, There will be no Buddy Morrow phantom band, at least for now, since Buddy is leading the Tommy Dorsey phantom big band, and he, obviously, is not dead yet—but I still have hope that a Buddy Morrow Phantom band will arise. I caught the Gene Krupa phantom band once in the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake Iowa, and after chasing the Woody Herman phantom band for years, I finally caught up with them in Dallas TX. I really didn’t think that there would ever be a Buddy Rich phantom big band for two reasons:
1. It was unlikely that any jazz drummer would ever have the balls to try to impersonate Buddy Rich.
2. On his death bed, Buddy expressly demanded there be no phantom band.
But, Lookie here! The Buddy Rich phantom big band is playing a high school auditorium in Beavercreek OH on a Saturday night. I go, and was turned away from a sold-out house. Figuring they are touring, I think, “No Sweat”, I would drive to Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis or maybe even Cleveland to cross the BR band off my bucket list. I go the band’s website which indeed indicates they are on tour, but there are no gigs listed beyond the World Famous and Divine Beavercreek High School Auditorium gig. Is this the curse of Buddy visited on a phantom band, but see, rights to the band’s name probably belongs to Buddy’s daughter, and she is doing the MCing on the band’s tour. Can it be she is short of bread and is asking Dad to help her from the grave, Maybe, but Buddy is a bad dude to cross—even if he has been mouldering in his coffin for 25 years.

WITH LUCK, SOME JAZZ & LINDY HOP STUFF

1. No jazz and Lindy Hop stuff this time around, but talk about luck--my son, who….ahem…..works for Apple as a IT guy, gave me an Ipod thingy for my birthday. You younger people are probably well over your amazement, but I ain’t. This thingy is an inch square and about 6 mm wide. It clips to my shirt and two thin wires feed music to ear buds (I am now Soooo cool, jus’ like everyone else at the gym), and my son somehow squeezed the music from 25 of my jazz CDs into it. Well, to be precise, it was 2 recordings short of a full 25 CDs. And, I can play them straight as entered, or randomly, and there is a wee button, which, if pressed, will tell me the title song and the musician who recorded it. How cool is that? It’s in stereo, with a crisp full range of sound; like the band is right in front of me. And if I turn it off and go to bed, in the morning when I turn it back on, it picks up right where it left off. And it will play in my car through the radio speakers. I can advance it one tune or go back to replay the same one again, and I can turn up the volume or turn it down, I got one question. How da hell do dey get dat stuff in that pissy-little thang, ‘n’ how do it to do all dat thangs it do? I guess that’s two questions, but I sure would like some answers. On second thought, better you don’t even try. I wouldn’t understand, and that would make me feel even more like an old idiot. Now I understand there is an ipod which is about the same size as mine, but into which you can load the music from 160 CDs. Is there no end to these nano-marvels?

COMING ATTRACTIONS

1. Buckeye/Bobcat Lindy Exchange, Jointly hosted by the Lindy clubs in Ohio State U. and Ohio U.
2. Sundry Jazz and Lindy Hop Info.

If you got this far, you are a champion, and you have my thanks for reading.

Allen Hall, Lindy Hopper
April Fools Day, 2012, and still in Dayton Ohio, but we plan to be home in MN come early May.
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