To quote Don Draper from the television series Mad Men,

Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.

There are songs that to individuals, that once they are played, bring back strong emotions and memories. T’aint What You Do by Jimmy Lunceford and Love Me or Leave Me by Nina Simone are examples of that in our swing dance community.

Today I am going to share a song that has that effect on me.

The Carioca


To quote wikipedia, the Carioca is a word that refers to inhabitants of Rio De Janerio. It was originally made popular in a recording featuring by Vincent Youmans and lyrics by Edward Eliscu and Gus Kahn.

Flying Down to Rio (1933):

Our first stop down memory lane is a 1933 musical film known as Flying Down to Rio. Even though this is not their best dancing, this film is noted for being the first on screen dance of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

The Carioca is also the name of the dance Fred and Ginger performed in the film, which was a combination of Samba, Maxixe, Foxtrot and Rumba. It was supposed to be promoted as a ballroom dance, that did not have much success.

When I hear any versions of the song the Carioca, I can’t help but be reminded of the superb technicality and the finesse possessed in Astaire’s dancing.

Artie Shaw and His Orchestra (1939) & Buddy Rich (1982):

I won’t be shy about it, music by Artie Shaw is some of my favorite music to dance to. But this is especially true when Shaw had Buddy Rich on board, as a drummer, for his orchestra. For those of you who do not know swing era drummers, Rich is a beast.  Check out this 1982 performance of him at the Montreal Jazz Festival:

One of the myriad of reasons I like Jonathan Stout and His Campus Five is the fact that they really kill Shaw’s charts. A big factor in that is Josh Callazo who is an amazing drummer himself and captures Rich’s spirit when he plays. Check out Man From Mars from Jonathan Stout Orchestra’s performance at Lincoln Center (2006).

The Carioca reminds me of what past and present, it really means to have a band that ‘swings’ and that doesn’t just play swing dance music.

NADC (2003) [Kevin and Carla]:

In 2003 at the North Atlantic Dance Championships, Kevin St. Laurent and Carla Heiney competed with this routine to two songs. ‘Deacon’s Hop’ by Big Jay McNeely and to an edited version of The Carioca by Artie Shaw.

What strikes me is just the flow and musicality of the routine, while still maintaining the high energy of the song. I am reminded when I hear it of how some can rise to the occasion of interpreting music through motion.

Camp Hollywood Underground Jitterbug Championship (2009)

Camp Hollywood 2009 was my first ‘big’ Lindy Hop event and was a drastic change from usual cozy and smaller workshops/exchanges I was used to back East.  I was confused when I saw posters all over the walls Saturday night with cryptic messages suggesting something was going on at the blues room of all places at 2:00 AM in the morning. Then this happened….

Tiffany Wine & Kenny Nelson versus Dax Hock & Max Pittrezella. It was raw, vicious, and amazing to watch.  As someone who was starting to see what the national scene was like it was an amazing first impression.

What this added to the song for me was how the intensity of the song could be visually represented and the whole idea of “laying it all out on the floor”.

The Fly Rights: Camp Hollywood Showcase Division (2010)

To quote the poster who uploaded the following video on youtube,

What you are about to witness is a video whose sheer magnitude of awesome will shatter your eye sockets. This is the beginning of the end of an epic saga of a lone choreographer and a ragtag gang of misfits whose only goal was to perform at Camp Hollywood’s 2010 Team Division competition.

I could probably write a separate blog post about this performance, how awesome they all are, and how I don’t still have my Fly Rights flag from Camp Hollywood decorating my room.

But what this added to the song for me, is the idea of how hard work and dedication truly pays off.

In Conclusion

The Carioca is such song loaded with nostalgia for me because ultimately it reminds me what it means to be a dancer and a “swing” dancer. They are two questions I struggle to answer everyday, but feel I get slightly closer to the more experience I get.

One thought on “Nostalgia from Songs: The Carioca

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