Monday, January 16, 2012
Lindy Hop Dancing
Mingo asked me to provide you with some caving story or to explain what my dancing is about. Although right now I do feel like telling a story, it's not going to be one about caves but about the latter topic: for the last year I've been taking dancing lessons for a dance called Lindy Hop.
As you might have guessed, dancing is something that never had crossed my mind, until more or less a year ago, when my girlfriend casually mentioned, that she had appointed us for some dancing lessons. I was shocked. Me dancing?
Since she made clear that the decision already had been taken and the lessons paid, there was nothing I could do about it except to hope that by some twist of fate I still could escape from it. No miracle happened and D-day arrived far too early.
In the meantime I had been told that the dance in question was called Lindy Hop and that it's danced to Jazz music - not the contemporanian one but rather that of bigbands from the thirties, of Ella Fitzgerald and so one. In short, it’s one of various styles of dancing to Swing music. Since I don’t dislike that kind of music at all, I came to the conclusion, that it could have been worse.
The day of our first lesson I was so nervous that I even felt sick. At the beginning of the class everything was apparently under control, but soon disaster struck. It came in the form of the order to switch partners. I couldn't believe it. I was forced to stay close to women totally strange to me and I not only had to touch but even grab them! Furthermore I was told to keep on moving as awkwardly as I had been taught before, trying to remember a most complex pattern of steps and twists, while standing emberassingly close to my everchanging partners. What in name of other's gods had I done to deserve that? (I'm an atheist, by the way.)
But once I accepted the new situation like a kind of divine punishment for the sins somebody else had committed in my name, it soon turned out to be real fun. During the rest of the class (and every class since then) the partner switching went on on a 2-to-3-minutes-base, interrupted by further instructions given, so that by the end of the class I rejoined my girlfriend and for the first time in my life actually danced with her. With the passing of some time and more lessons, both of us got slowly hooked to Lindy Hop.
By now you might ask yourself what exactly Lindy Hop is and what the differences to other dances are. I’ll try to enlighten you as well as I can, but please have in mind, that I’m absolutely no expert at all at this. The following is only what I believe to remember of the information I gathered together during the last year. I haven’t consulted any sources of information in order to write this for you.
It’s said that the name Lindy Hop has to do with Charles Lindberg’s “hop” across the Atlantic that took place in the twenties. Lindy first evolved in US-cities and was exclusively danced by black people, especially in Harlem, New York. And that’s why it’s less stiff and more elastic compared to other dances like waltz or cha cha cha. Lindy’s godfather was a lad called Frank Manning who invented most of the steps and inspired most of the later dancers who then figured out the rest of them. After the Second World War Lindy disappeared and got kind of forgotten until in the eighties (again, please don’t nail me down on the numbers) it started to regain popularity. Some Swedish dancers then contacted Mr. Manning in order to ask him to teach them how to hop properly. Despite of his age he taught them, giving the spark for a new Lindy community to grow. It’s still Sweden where the popularity of this dance is highest, but during the last twenty years it also started to appear in more and more cities around the world. Today a large number of annual Lindy festivals take place, the most important in a Swedish village called Herräng, but also in most big European, North-American and South-East-Asian cities Lindy happenings take place and lessons can be taken.
In Barcelona for example, several dance-schools and associations offer Lindy lessons and so does one in Terrassa, which is called the Terrassa Hoppers. That’s the one my girlfriend and me attend on a weekly base.
As I mentioned before, Lindy is a more elastic and less strict dance when compared to the commonly known partner dances. At our level that might not be important, since we usually stick to our memorised patterns and soon get lost if something doesn't turn out properly but more advanced dancers, by contrast, give space to each other while dancing and they often encourage their partners to improvise. The best way to understand Lindy is by watching an advanced couple on the dancefloor. If you ignore their footwork for a moment and just look at their bodies, they seem to be connected by a rubber band and constantly stretch apart only to almost bounce together a moment after, preventing this by twisting around each other or passing under the partner’s arm. To reach a point of fluid dancing, though, an important amount of time spent into practicing is required, because hopping well is a quite difficult task.
This summer my girlfirend and me participated in the Herräng Dance Camp, the Swedish festival I've mentioned before, in order to boost our dancing skills. We inscribed to a week of classes in the intermediate course. At that moment we didn't know that Herräng was the world's cathedral of Lindy Hop with both, dancers and teachers coming from all over the world. During our week there we were tought by six different couples of teachers, all of them considered to be world class hoppers and we even had a master class given by an old Lady called Dawn Hampton who back in the golden age of Lindy Hop was Frank Manning's dancing partner. Herräng was a very interesting experience to us and quite a different way to make vacations. Furthermore we got to know interesting people from all over the world and we're already keen on returning there in 2012.
Dirk Hamdorf - October 2011