Probably the same reason you would want to take up learning a dance that almost disappeared 50 years ago. This little project started out as a random post to my MySpace page. Yep, it was that long ago.
I was going to list and talk about some of my favorite Lindy Hop routines from over the years, but then I ended up focusing on two routines in particular that had a profound effect on the development of our community: Minnies’ Moocherss “Love Me or Leave Me” and Mad Dog’s “Well Git It!”
While working out why’s and how’s of the significance of these routines, I realized that I was going to have a hard time explaining something:
The Mad Dog routine isn’t very good.
That actually doesn’t diminish its importance, but it does require a bit more explaining than a simple “Gee this is kewl.”
That explanation turned into a 12 page paper. That sounded a little excessive even to me as person that fully embraces his verbosity. So to make sure I wasn’t being too obsessive compulsive, I shared my paper with Skye Humphries.
Rather than tell me that writing about Lindy Hop is a colossal waste of time and to get a life, he actually gave me a lot of good feedback and encouraged me to explore a couple things that I hadn’t thought of. Things that only he would know after being involved with both groups.
Eventually he gave me a copy of the thesis that he did for his masters degree . Reading that not only gave me some more things to think about, but also reminded me that there actually was a purpose for me doing this.
There’s a lot of things that have happened in the past that we still struggle to understand today. A good example would be something like what would compel Shorty George Snowden to break away from his partner and trigger the creation of a dance craze that people still obsess over 80 years later.
I wanted to make sure we understood what we’re doing today so some other poor loser, a hundred years from now, doesn’t waste an entire year of his life figuring it out. If you’re reading this in 2109, then you’re welcome.
That’s how my paper ballooned into 70 pages.
Well, now that I look at it, it’s only 59 pages with 6 pages of footnotes.
I know what you’re wondering: why didn’t you bother posting this opus after you finished it two years ago?
After I was done with it and got good feedback from Skye, and then later from people like Mike Lenneville, Emily Schelstrate, and lastly Naomi Uyama, I did a little more research (because I was on a roll), and eventually came to the conclusion that I was wrong.
I looked at the development of our community and figured that the next logical step was to focus on more purely performance opportunities. The thing that I didn’t realize was that this has played out in many other creative communities before, and the results are mixed.
It’s like the way jazz evolved from swing to bop and beyond after World War II. The musicians experimented by leaving familiar conventions behind to push the music and their ability to create to new heights, but in doing so, they left more and more of the audience behind. The musicians became so introspective and rarified in their “language” that only the very dedicated can begin to understand what they’re "saying."
Today, jazz blogs and message boards are rife with people struggling with how to get more people to care about jazz. Without audience support, musicians struggle to find ways to continue practicing their craft in a meaningful way.
This leads into the whole “shut up and dance” argument, which isn’t necessarily as frivolous as it sounds. In fact, it's pretty important to the continuation of the community itself.
It’s a tough line to toe for any artist. On the one hand you want to express yourself fully in your art, but what’s the point of creating the most intricate piece if you’re doing it in an empty room?
I’m not convinced that there is a cut and tried answer to that question, which is why I never posted my paper. There are lots of opinions on the matter in other art forms, but we have yet to seriously tackle that question as a community in Lindy Hop.
The other realization that I came to in the past year is that I needed look at everything from a different perspective. I think its conventional wisdom to look at the development of the Lindy Hop community as a group of people trying to reconcile a retro dance into modern times.
Now, I think that it’s the other way around: Lindy Hop is a vehicle for people to sort out their own identity issues. This probably shouldn’t have been that surprising since I generally think that our scene reminds me more of the "Island of Misfit Toys" than "America’s Best Dance Crew."
How I came to this conclusion is part of the reason for the existence of this blog. I’ve been having a lot of interesting discussions with lots of people about these topics, and I thought it would be interesting to try to broaden that discussion by taking it online.
I know we've seen how well that's gone in the past, but part of that was because the technology lagged behind our needs as a dance community. Talking about dance is like singing about cooking. But with the advent of websites like Youtube, it's now much easier to see what we're talking about. Also, we should theoretically be more mature in expressing ourselves online. (here's hoping)
Rather than let my paper languish on my computer, I thought I’d start posting parts of it here to get people thinking and talking. In fact, the sub-title of the paper is “Dialogue Through Dance in the Lindy Hop community.”
If that sounds a little pretentious, then don’t worry, the paper isn’t as academic as I’m making it sound. It’s a bit more casual, which is another reason why I didn’t want to pass this off as some serious scholarly work. I think it’ll work better in blog form anyway.
My current intention is to post roughly the first half, since that is a fairly straight forward linear history and analysis of the past ten years or so. I’m probably going to do some serious editing of the second half since that is where I think most of the flaws of my analysis exist. Plus I’m sure I have a little more perspective since I first wrote that stuff.
Posts of the paper will come under the heading of its original title: “Artistry in Rhythm.” I currently plan on putting them up about once a week for the next few months.
As the sub-title suggests, I fully expect and hope for feedback from people to point out flaws and contradictions. Feel free to comment to offer genuine criticism or just to make fun of me.
However, please note that I’m not going to pretend that this blog is a free country. If things get nasty, then I will probably change your comment to make it look like you’re flirting with me. You’ve been warned.
At the very least I hope you waste enough time here to get you through your day.