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

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The Philippines, Swing Dance, and Jazz

Mabuhay! Originally for Filipino American History Month 2018 I wanted to write a well researched and edited post about the relationship between Filipinos, swing-era jazz, and swing dancing. Sadly I did not have the time to fully flesh out a well-written post but I did not want to put off sharing what I did find. This is by no means comprehensive, but I hope you learn something new.

my_beautiful_phillppines

Bodabil a.k.a. Vaudeville

To quote Wikipedia,

Vaudeville/bodabil in the Philippines, more commonly referred to as bodabil, was a popular genre of entertainment in the Philippines from the 1910s until the mid-1960s.

In 1920, a Filipino entertainer named Luis Borromeo returned from North America, renamed himself “Borromeo Lou”, and organized what became the first Filipino bodabil company. The main showcase of Borromeo Lou’s company was an orchestral band, which played what he called “Classical-Jazz Music”, and variety acts in between. Borromeo’s band is credited as having popularized jazz in the Philippines. It was also Borromeo who dubbed the emerging form as “vod-a-vil”, which soon became popularly known by its Filipinized name, bodabil.

In 1923, there were three theaters in Manila that were exclusively devoted to bodabil. By 1941, there were 40 theaters in Manila featuring bodabil shows. The popularity of bodabil was not confined to Manila stages. Bodabil routines were also staged in town fiestas and carnivals. The typical bodabil shows would feature a mixture of performances of American ballads, torch songs and blues numbers; dance numbers featuring tap dancers and chorus girls and jitterbug showcases; and even the occasional kundiman.

General overview

Notable performers and musicians

  • Katy de la Cruz
    • Hailed as “The Queen of Filipino Jazz” and as “The Queen of Bodabil” her signature tune was her rendition of St. Louis Blues.
    • Article by Alex R. Castro that covers her background and her nomination for the 1924 Manila Carnivals. Held from 1908-1939, the 2-week fair was organized as a goodwill event to celebrate harmonious U.S.-Philippine relations and to showcase our commercial, industrial and agricultural progress.
    • Her Wikipedia page gives a good general overview of her life and accomplishments.
    • There was a musical based on her life named Katy! the Musical with music by Ryan Cayabyab and story and libretto by Jose Javier Reyes.

Katy de la Cruz performance of Some of These Days (Sadly it gets cut off early…)

  • Luis Borromeo a.k.a. Borromeo Lou
    • To quote this article from Alex’s R. Castro’s blog “Manila Carnivals”, “Luis Borromeo, originally from Cebu, was one of the first Filipino entertainers who made it big in the jazz music halls of America and Canada in the first decade of the 20th century. In 1920, Luis Borromeo returned to the Philippines, renamed himself Borromeo Lou, and put up a band that popularized classical-jazz music.”
    • Fritz Schenker writes about some of his compositions here. Sadly the .mp3 links no longer work.

Useful Books

  • “Creating Masculinity In Los Angeles Little Manila, Working-Class Filipinos and Popular Culuture, 1920s-1950s” by Linda España-Maram
    • Written by a professor in the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies at California State Long Beach this book is relevant to fans of jazz and swing dancing because it talks about the taxi-dance hall culture in Los Angeles from the 1920s and onward in respect to Filipino men.
    • A good overview of the book can be read here.
  • “Pinoy Jazz Traditions” by Richie C. Quirino
    • To quote this amazon page, “Pinoy Jazz Traditions, is an abridged version of an original manuscript, The History of Jazz in the Philippines, covering the full spectrum of jazz in the Philippines, from its beginnings in 1898, all the way up to contemporary times”
    • There is a free documentary online named “Pinoy Jazz: The Story of Jazz in the Philippines” which is based on this book.

 

Photos

LittleLindyHoppers1950sFilippinos

Little Lindy Hoppers, San Francisco, 1950s. Second-generation Filipino girls and boys participated in current American pop culture. Photo by Ricardo Alvarado.

PinoyBandSanJose1950s

Pinoy Band, San Jose, 1950s. Music was often a highlight of gatherings. Photo by Ricardo Alvarado.

Useful Articles

While this was short I plan to commit to writing a more polished article next year. For other Pinoys reading this article I hope this helps bridge together our background as Filipinos, swing dancing, and jazz. Salamat po for your time.


Four Years Gone

On How I Am Shocked I Have Time For This

Time is my most valuable resource as of late. Between trying to further myself as a programmer, teaching sometimes bi-weekly as a swing dance instructor locally, and spending time with people often I find myself having to choose my battles wisely. Unfortunately for you my readers, this blog has sadly lost that battle more times than I would have preferred.

The penguin represents my conscience telling me I need to blog more.

The penguin represents my conscience telling me I need to blog more.

One of my goals was to write more posts that challenge the opinions and beliefs that people have about swing dancing and the swing dance community. Perhaps it’s a sign of maturity, but often I would have ideas that felt like soapbox preaching versus having well founded opinions. Instead those ideas often ended up on my Tumblr account, where I am much less filtered.

Interesting Posts This Year

Frequently Asked Question: How To Improve Musicality : In this post I went over the frequently asked question in swing dance classes  “How do I improve my musicality/be more musical?” There are some great youtube videos in this post that illustrate my point.

Aut Inveniam Viam Aut Faciam: I addressed the common problem I viewed in many swing dance scenes, which is a sizable portion of dancers are not proactive about their dance education. I related my own experience at learning dance at Penn State for this post.

A Few Thoughts on Recent Ambidancetrous Discussions: This past year there was a discussion on the idea of teaching classes ambidancetrous or with individuals learning both roles in the same lesson. I discussed why I thought this was appropriate for Blues, but not so much Lindy Hop.

Moving Forward

One of my big regrets for this year is simply I did not blog enough. My goal going forward for this year is at minimum to blog once a month and to regularly update my facebook page. As usual if you have any topic or issue in particular you want me to write about or just want to send me good old-fashioned hate mail my email address is still apache.danse@gmail.com. Otherwise thanks for reading and I hope you stick around!

 


“Rockstar” A Rather Pointless Term

I am going to spend today going over one of my pet-peeves when I am around swing dancers. This annoyance is the use of the word “Rockstar” when describing swing dance instructors, particularly the international-traveling instructors.
Image

To quote Nick Williams in his blog post “So You Want To Be A Traveling Lindy Hop Rockstar? (Part 1 of 2)

First off, I would like to say that I think the term “rockstar” in this scene is ridiculous and comical.

Below I am going to just a few of the many reasons why I think this term is at best a play at humor.

1. Swing Dance Instructors Do Not Receive Rockstar Pay

I’ve personally helped run about five different swing dance related workshops, and have had my hand involved in a few more besides that. Due to respect for privacy I won’t divulge any rates for any individual, but I can say on average most swing dance instructors charge between $100-$150 dollars an hour and expect travel/board & lodging expenses to be covered. On top of this there are a bunch of expenses that are part of the trade that instructors are expected to pay on their own such as; nice outfits for dances, performance costumes, their own insurance, et cetera.

If you get the chance talk to a West Coast Swing or even worse Ballroom dancer and ask them the rates their international instructors charge for private lessons or an hourly rate for workshop/group classes. It is borderline embarrassing once you find out about the price gap that exists.

2. It’s Not All Fun & Games, It Can Be Rather Socially Exhausting

About six months ago I went for a month straight of traveling every weekend to a swing dance event. (Stupidly I am doing the same thing again this month) I consider myself a textbook extrovert and for those of you who are into the whole Myers Briggs test, I am classified as an ENTP. In spite of this after the third weekend, I got home and spent a day mostly locked in my room reading and not wanting to deal with anybody I knew.

When a dance instructor is hired for a weekend, there is a lot more that goes on besides just teaching lesson. They are expected to be jovial and welcoming to students between classes, in between classes & dances people will constantly invite you out to do things, and it is often an unwritten expectation that you spend a large amount of time at the social dances. Combine that with the wear & tear of travel and it can easily become a mentally exhausting experience.

3. People Only Get Dance Famous… Not Real World Famous

Have you tried starting in a conversation with muggles non-dancers about Nick Williams or Naomi Uyama? People will probably give you a blank stares and confused looks. While it is true that within the sub-culture of the swing dance community our international instructors might get some perks that are not available to all of us, outside of that they are just normal people like you and me. (A big secret is a good portion of them also have normal people jobs as well.)

Connotation is the Problem

What it comes down to is I really do not like the negative connotations that come with the word rockstar. I don’t think that most of (if any) our international instructors trash hotel rooms, do lines of cocaine before social dances, or bite off a bat’s head during showcase divisions. They are actually just normal people trying to make a living at doing what they love.


Avalon

Avalon, this is a word that if you are a Southern California dancer should be no stranger to you. If you aren’t (or are behind the times, tsk, tsk) allow me to explain. Avalon is a historic city on Santa Catalina Island (often shortened to California locals as Catalina Island), in California, that contains one of the most beautiful ballrooms, The Casino Ballroom in the United States. This picturesque location is immortalized in a jazz standard with the same name as the city, ‘Avalon’.

Perhaps the sentiment I am trying to express can be best summed up by this quote,

“’Avalon’ is practically an advertisement for the resort town on Catalina Island off the coast of California which was a popular resort destination for the film community of Hollywood.” -Chris Tyle

Mythical Origins

Originally Santa Catalina Island was inhabited by the Gabrielino/Tongva Native Americans, until about 1930 when most of them died off or migrated to the mainland for work. [1] However in 1887 a gentleman by the name of George Shatto purchased the island for $200,000 with the intentions of developing it into a resort town. According to wikipedia: His sister-in-law Etta Whitney came up with the name Avalon, which was pulled as a reference from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “Idylls of the King”, about the legend of King Arthur.

Mr. and Mrs. Shatto and myself were looking for a name for the new town, which in its significance should be appropriate to the place, and the names which I was looking up were ‘Avon’ and ‘Avondale,’ and I found the name ‘Avalon,’ the meaning of which, as given in Webster’s unabridged, was ‘Bright gem of the ocean,’ or Beautiful isle of the blest.’ [2]

– Etta Whitney

To quote Wikipedia about the Arthurian legend origins of this island city,

Avalon (probably from the Welsh word afal, meaning apple; see Etymology below) is a legendary island featured in the Arthurian legend. It first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 1136 pseudohistorical account Historia Regum Britanniae (“The History of the Kings of Britain”) as the place where King Arthur’s sword Excalibur (Caliburnus) was forged and later where Arthur was taken to recover from his wounds after the Battle of Camlann. Avalon was associated from an early date with mystical practices and people such as Morgan le Fay.

The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon by Edward Burne-Jones (1881–1898)

The Casino Ballroom:

Unfortunately in spite of Shatto’s efforts to develop the island he defaulted on his loans and was forced to sell the island. However in 1919 a chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. bought a controlling interest in Santa Catalina Island and its associated properties. [3]

In 1929, Wrigley built the Catalina Casino over the site of a previous dance hall known as the Sugarloaf Casino. Throughout the 1930s the Casino Ballroom hosted many of the biggest names in entertainment, including Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, and Gene Autry.  [4]

To quote the Los Angeles Times,

“Catalina was Hollywood’s home away from home, and casino gigs were highly sought after. The concerts were broadcast across the country on radio, enhancing the venue’s popularity. Thousands of concertgoers paid $2.25 each to take the Great White Steamer from San Pedro on the mainland to Avalon. Then they danced to big band music, thanking their lucky stars that the concerts themselves were often free, thanks to the building’s founding father, chewing gum mogul William Wrigley Jr.”

-Rosemary McClure

Buddy Rogers Orchestra at the Casino Ballroom

To give one an idea of the grandeur of this place again I will quote the L.A. Times writer McClure,

“The casino, 12 stories tall and ringed by balconies that overlook the bay, was believed to have the biggest dance floor in the world when it was built. It was called a masterpiece of Art Deco design that “receives patrons at its doors from seaplanes, yachts and motorcars,” according to a 1929 article in the Catalina Islander newspaper.”

-Rosemary McClure

Exterior of the Casino Ballroom

Interior of Casino Ballroom

An important detail for dancers, the Avalon Ball website writes how the floor was constructed at the Casino Ballroom,

The ballroom dance floor was carefully constructed of maple, white oak and rosewood that rest on a layer of felt and acoustical paper. The felt and paper are installed over a subfloor of pine that floats above the support beams on strips of cork. Such careful attention was given to the dance floor to ensure a smooth and comfortable dancing experience for the building’s many visitors.

The Jazz Standard:

This part of the post is what I am assuming most swing dancers would be familiar with, the jazz standard known as ‘Avalon’.  It was   a 1920 popular song written by Al Jolson, Buddy DeSylva and Vincent Rose.

To quote wikipedia,

“A popular jazz standard, the song has been recorded by many artists, including Cab Calloway (1934), Coleman Hawkins (1935) and Eddie Durham (1936). The Benny Goodman Quartet played the song in their famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert. The song was included in the biographical films The Jolson Story (1946) and The Benny Goodman Story (1956), and is also being noodled by Sam (Dooley Wilson) at the piano right before he plays As Time Goes By in the movie Casablanca (1942).

In the original lyrics of the song there are two versus and a repeated chorus, though in most performances of the song that are non-instrumental only the chorus is frequently sung.

I found my love in Avalon

Beside the bay

I left my love in Avalon

And sail’d away

I dream of her and Avalon

From dusk ’til dawn

And so I think I’ll travel on

To Avalon

For reference here is a 1937 performance of ‘Avalon’ by Benny Goodman and his Orchestra:

In a modern context here is the Gaucho Gypsy Jazz band featuring Tamar Korn:

In Context with the Contemporary Swing Dance Community

The Casino Ballroom at Avalon is still used by the Lindy Hop community. Small events are sometimes sponsored there, but it is most notably featured by the Catalina Jazz Dance Festival.

Travel On

When I think of Avalon I get slightly nostalgic because of the history and meaning the place has in a myriad of ways. The song ‘Avalon’ is one of my favorite songs to Balboa to and for myself as a Southern Californian brings memories of home when I am away.

If you have any particular; thoughts, details I missed, or even fond memories of the place, I encourage you to share them in the comments section. If you get the chance I encourage you to travel on, to Avalon.

Footnotes:

[1]: Otte, Stacey; Pedersen, Jeannine (2004). “Catalina Island History”A Catalina Island History in Brief. Catalina Island Museum. Retrieved January 8, 2012.

[2]: Williamson, M. Burton (December 7, 1903). “History of Santa Catalina Island”The Historical Society of Southern California (Los Angeles: George Rice & Sons): 14–31.

[3] Wrigley Buys Catalina Island”Los Angeles Times: pp. II1. February 13, 1919. Retrieved January 8 2012.

[4] McClure, Rosemary (June 19, 2009). “Backstage at Catalina Island’s Avalon Casino”Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 8, 2012.


Facebook Page

Cracking under peer pressure, I have broke down and created a facebook page for this blog. Besides announcing when new posts are up, I will occasionally put links up to dance related things I find interesting.

If this tickles your fancy, like the new facebook page here.


Your Moment of Zen

So I was stumbling around on youtube looking for videos on Jack Carey and came upon this clip uploaded by Doug Silton. If you don’t know, Jack Carey’s claim to fame is being the person who designed the Jack & Jill format for contests which are still used today.

Normally, I wait a few days after a post before I put up another one. However this was too hilarious to pass up. This features legendary dancers Annie Hirsch and Jack Carey talking about a vegetable they found at what appears to be Newport Beach, California. In the clip 1:07 is where the real hilarity starts.

Here it is… your moment of zen.