Thoughts on swing dancing and Lindy Hop, one word at a time…

Bridging the Gap: Jazz Music & Dance

This past weekend during Steven and Virginie, a workshop weekend in Rochester I had the privilege being in attendance at the live recording of a new CD “Live in Rochester” by The Gordon Webster Swingtet  featuring vocalist Naomi Uyama. While the experience was amazing and Naomi’s vocals on “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” sent a wave of nostalgia through me, in hindsight it put an interesting thought in my head.

Many people in the swing dance community know Naomi as a one of the dancers in the international instructors circuit, but my first experience with her was as a featured vocalist with The Boilermaker Jazz Band.  To me for several months she was “Naomi, the vocalist” not “Naomi, the International Lindy Hop Instructor”.

Mike Faltesek is another example of someone who fulfills these double roles. Around the world from Seoul, Korea to Philadelphia, United States dancers know him as a widely recognized swing dance instructor. Yet he also has an identity as a musician for the Careless Lovers having played recently at such events like Camp Hollywood or the Albuquerque Lindy Exchange.

Steven Mitchell is a shining example in this category for having been this duel role for quite some time. He regularly travels around the world as a swing dance instructor with his dance partner Virginie. However he also known to sing with Gordon Webster and occasionally other bands.

And You Crossover

It’s no secret that some jazz musicians ranging from back in the early 1900’s like Artie Shaw to today are skeptical of dancers,  thinking we would dance to anything if it had a beat. But a trend I have noticed is the swing dance community putting an honest effort understand the viewpoint of the musicians who perform for our community and to show that we appreciate what they bring to our community.

Perhaps this effort has always existed and I have been largely ignorant to it, but lately it has seemed to come not just from prominent members of our community leading by example (such as dancers listed above), but from scene organizers and average dancers as well. An example of this is found here in a post by Hamphats.ca of how the Montreal swing dance scene went up in arms on Facebook when a promoter was late in the payment of Meshiya Lake and Her Little Big Horns.

The Welbourne Jazz Camp is another example of this integration, creating an environment where one can pursue an education as a dancer, musician or both if you wish.  To quote their webpage,

“The creators of Wellbourne Jazz Camp  (Amy Johnson, dance director, Ben Polcer, music director)  have a vision of further bridging the gap between the inseparable jazz music and jazz dances.”

I think a lot of dancers wonder how can we improve and grow the scene? I think this idea of bridging the gap is a step in a very positive direction.

I’m not saying you have to go out and pick up a musical instrument and join a jazz band. (Though it is totally cool if you do.) But even little things help such buying a band’s CD instead of burning it from a friend or even something as simple as going up and introducing yourself to band members and thanking them if you enjoyed their performance.  Most of them are more then happy to talk to you and you can get some amazing stories in the process.

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