So the last part of this paper got posted about a year and a half ago. The whole thing has actually been done for almost four years now, but in posting it here on this blog, the plan was for me to revise it as I went along because I actually don't agree with some of the original conclusions. However, as time goes on, it is becoming apparent that I'm just not going to have the time to do a full scale revision. I'm also not close to finishing any other posts anytime soon, so in the interest of completion and just to post something this is the thrilling finale of Artistry in Rhythm. Astute readers will note that some elements from the previous parts are included here because I was taking the paper apart and reassembling it as part of the revisions. I kept some of those things in this post since it just makes the whole thing easier to read. And let's face it, it's been a year and a half, you probably don't remember those parts anyway. However, I will admit that I have cannibalized quite a bit of this paper for other posts so the likelihood of deja vu is very high.
When asked, Fred Astaire liked to describe his dancing as an “outlaw style” because he didn’t want to be confined or limited. However, competitions by their nature tend to do exactly that due to the narrow focus on winning rather than creative expression. That pressure tends to curb intellectual and creative honesty as Lucy Dunne talked about after NADC 2002. Compounding this problem is the fact that the majority of performance opportunities available in the Lindy Hop community were mostly limited to the competition events.
Two years ago, I compiled a list of my favorite routines from The American Lindy Hop Championships in response to an open request by that event’s promoter. As I was making the list, I discovered that I found it harder and harder to come up with stand out moments as time went on. It wasn’t because the dancing was bad—in fact it was much better technically as years pass—but very little stood out creatively in the way Minnies’ Moochers, Jenn Salvadori & Justin Zillman, or Mad Dog did during their times.
The most important creative decision concerning the Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown had nothing to do with the format of the competitions. The event director, Amy Johnson, not only allowed people to film the contests with their own cameras, but also to let them distribute their footage freely. It was probably the most significant marketing idea in modern Lindy Hop history.
The most obvious was the re-emergence of faster classic swing era and hot jazz music at dance events. People were now encouraged to work on their improvisation skills at faster tempos like they previously did to slower, groovier music.
This led people to mine and more vintage film clips for more ideas to move to this music instead of trying to force hip hop or other modern movements into the music. Since most of the Lindy Hop clips had already been found, the search expanded into tap and other jazz inspired black dancers of the past from the Nicholas Brothers to Josephine Baker.
One was the development of the phrase battle by Janice Wilson for the Hellzapoppin’ competitions at the Harlem Jazz Dance Festival in May of 2002. A phrase battle consists of couples taking a certain number of “8’s” (Two bars, eight beats total) to shine jam style, alternating with other couples.
Until Janice came up with this idea, most social dance contests, usually called “Strictly Lindy” contests, consisted of couples taking turns dancing to separate songs. This allowed for a clear boundary to be established between all the contestants, and also has the logistical value of allowing judges time to evaluate each performance.
Naomi Uyama likes to use the phrase “Traveling was the internet” when talking about the ol’ days of Lindy at the turn of the millennium. I think that it could be reasonably be argued that the Lindy Hop community evolved at the rate it that it has in the past 10 years because the available technology greatly facilitated the communication of ideas, and more importantly, helped to foster friendships over great distances; linking small, isolated scenes into a global community. But unlike a lot of online social networks these days, the whole point of ours is to meet in person and dance. There's no replacement for seeing and experiencing dance in person.
2001 was a pivotal year. Sensing the various trends I have outlined, many instructors and dancers were beginning to make serious efforts to actively influence the overall dance style of the community.
Ryan Francois and Jenny Thomas returned to active teaching after their long hiatus from the community for their run on the Broadway musical “Swing!” In the aftermath of the 1999 WLHC debate Ryan talked of forming a “united front” to address the issues that came up in that original debate. Nothing formal ever happened after that, but he was clearly dismayed at the state of dancing when he returned in 2001 and was not shy about making his thoughts known.
“[I]t is obvious that artists reflect their times and backgrounds and their art works are oftentimes more eloquent than any politician’s speech or sociological study.” Marco Pignataro
Also at the ALHC 2000, Ben Furnas and Lucy Dunne performed one of the competition’s most infamous routines where they lampooned the general state of competitions in both the Lindy Hop and West Coast Swing worlds.
Another interesting trend during this period was the growing number of people, regardless of style, who worked intensely on partnering mechanics. Again, this is where crossover events had a major effect. Even if a Lindy Hopper would not appreciate the music or the general aesthetic of West Coast Swing, there could be no denying that WCS during this time period had a much more superior grasp of connection than was generally known in Lindy Hop at the time. Since WCS dancers were seen as superior dancers because of that grasp of technique, it led many people to focus on that. As with many other things dancers were doing at this time, it was eventually worked on to an extreme.