I arrived in New York City on Thursday last week and had a wonderful opportunity to go out dancing, see some of the history and hear amazing musicians.
My stay kicked off with Frim Fram, one of the more commonly attended weekly dances in NYC. Ryan Swift and Heather Flock DJ’d a request evening which had been set up through this Yehoodi thread; he is also featured on this weeks Yehoodi Talk Show. Despite some odd requests both sets were excellently sewn together without feeling jerked around by a random music selection; it really goes to show how skilled Ryan is as a DJ. He is featured in . Other cats were in town including Laura Keat, Jerone Gagliano, David Rehm; added on top of the strong local community who mostly all happened to be out that night it made for a great dance.
Friday night I attended a gig with Evita Arce, Nathan Bugh, and Mike Jagger at a mansion on the grounds of the Masters School. It was an engagement with a live band and a group of high school students which they had been working with for a project called CITYterm. It brings together students from various schools to facilitate a learning environment which encourages individual and collective responsibility, project work and stimulation from closer engagement with artists of various sorts. We were fed dinner and then as the students arrived the band, put together of both local and city musicians, kicked off. It was great to share the dance floor with enthusiastic beginners who lacked the restrictions that we sometimes arbitrarily place on our dancing. I also shared some steps with Nathan Bugh who has been working with Tom Lewis, and tore the heel off my Aris Allens in the process.
Returning from the gig, I met up with Ryan Swift (also my host) at a blues event called JookJoint Shimmy. I arrived late (only getting back into Grand Central at midnight), hocked up the 8 dollars entrance fee and danced maybe four songs. The event was, to me, a bust. The music was often poorly selected music without any sense of coherence or reference to what I would consider blues music. Now, this is not to say that I don’t enjoy blues music; in Rochester I practically spent my youthful dancer years in blues joints and I love it. The sort of blues dancing that occurred was what principally put me off; a sort of microblues with what felt like an added layer of uncomfortable physical intention. This sort of dancing is being left behind in the regular lindy hop scene for a more authentic blues dance that draws from sources like the spirit moves and footage from the savoy ballroom and shies away from the body rolls and waves of four or five years ago.
Saturday I toured up to Central Park and through the MET with Dianne Eramo where Jerone joined us. It was really great to see such a wonderful museum with many exhibits (go see the Chinese garden, the Japanese art exhibit and the East Indian exhibit, they were devoid of the crazy crowds that clog the rest of the museum) from a variety of time periods. We then had excellent sushi up on 84th St. and we all headed off to the Hop Swing dance down near NYU. Unfortunately we arrived after the first band break missing Ramona‘s performance but don’t fear, it will undoubtedly debut elsewhere. The band was hot; they are the Blues Vipers of Brooklyn. They play every Monday evening at Chez Oskars if you want to catch them live (and it is worth it). I picked up two of their CD’s, as did many other people. We then finished off the night with a diner (as per some sort of unspoken city rule).
Sunday, Emily Schelstrate, Jerone and I met up for brunch at a cool little cafe in Brooklyn so that I could transfer my stuff to Emily’s pad. We sat, talked and traded some tap steps in the cafe over coffee and omelettes. Later, I met up with my friend Alana from Montreal and the woman she was staying with for dinner and then headed to a 50′s and 60′s dance event held at the Iguana Bar. The event was alright, it had an older crowd, although I would have preferred for the music to be more consistenly dance-able; rock-and-roll isn’t my thing. There was this one older black gentlemen dressed up with a vest, tie and slacks looking pretty sharp who definitely had the moves.
Monday I attempted to go shopping, failed horribly in my attempt to find a fitted wool coat in my size despite the three or four hours I spent on it. Later in the evening when I met up with Emily and Mike Lenneville for dinner across from Dance Manhatten, we scoped out the remaining minutes of Evita and Nathans class then started walking to Banjo Jim’s. We stumbled across an H&M where I managed to find a coat that fit and looked halfway decent.
Banjo Jim‘s is located on Avenue C and 9th Street on the lower east side and the Cangelosi Cards were going to be playing. We got there early as the band was setting up and settled in with a couple drinks as they began playing. They played for about half an hour to an hour as dancers and regular patrons filtered into the tiny establishment before Gordon Webster joined. Gordon is a spectacular addition to the Cards, pushing their energy up a notch. The Card’s are great hot jazz to dance to with an old time feel, playing a variety of tempos with evocative mood and energy.
The night was kicking as dancers filtered in, including Ramona Staffeld and Joseph Wiggans (featured recently on Tapdance Man’s Blog). The energy was exceptional, reminiscent of the night they played at SONH, and dancing was exceptional. There were even two tap jams with another tap dancer who joins the band regularly and Joseph Wiggans. The night lasted late, till 3am when the bar closed up, and then some of the musicians and dancers adjourned to a Ukrainian diner to fill up those calories we burned up. What I think was most fantastic by this evening, not just the music or the dancing, but the inspiration and interest non-dancers showed in what we were doing. I think that cities with good live music should push their dancers in going out and dancing in public. It is a much better way to spark peoples interest in the dance than waiting for people to come to studios or dance classes. Teach them a triple step and a basic and you have them.
Tuesday, after such a gruelingly late night (6am), I woke up and Emily and I headed up to the Lincoln Center Library to examine the media library there. I have the first three sections of the Spirit Moves which I recommend to anyone who dances lindy hop but the fourth which is from the 70′s isn’t easily available. So we began by watching that selection; it was interesting to see dancers doing the funky chicken, the jerk and other dances of that time in their original form. The movements were much more African in appearance than the cleaner versions that I have seen elsewhere, a bit more wild and raw. There was also footage from the Harvest Moon Ball during that time with Mama Lou Parks. The dancers wore garish costumes (reminiscent of the time period) but swung-out hard and tossed crazy aerials for the competition.
Nathan Bugh then arrived, he is a great resource on the materials at the Lincoln Center Library with a vast amount knowledge regarding historical footage. We dug out some material from Margaret Batiuchok‘s masters thesis on lindy hop. There are four tapes with interviews with George Lloyd, Frankie Manning, Tom Lewis and Charlie Mead. We began with the interview of George Lloyd, a lindy hopper who danced mostly socially, except for two years in competition for the Harvest Moon Ball (’57 and ’58). The interview was fascinating, watching him dance with Margaret and tell his story. The manner in which he understood the dance is quite different from the academic method we have imposed upon it since its revival in the 80′s. His explanation of a basic step or variations is a marked difference in the way the dance was appropriated then compared to now.
Most astounding was a performance clip taken in the Cat’s Club (a dance club in NYC) from the 80′s where Margaret danced with George, Tom and then Frankie Manning. I was awestruck by her dance with Frankie. Incredibly spry, spectacular and innovative movement which rivals some of the footage from events like ULHS, it left me speechless. I had never seen Frankie Manning dance socially when he was younger (even in the clip he was in his 70′s) and it had an amazing impact on me, despite all of the excellent dance footage available from top notch dancers. I had to then watch the interview with Frankie Manning and it was just an interesting. He had a more current understanding of the dance (probably from teaching), using counts and explaining moves in a more classified manner. Even in his 70′s he was energetic and innovating new steps on the spot, fiddling with tap steps and more. You can see some short footage of him dancing in the 80′s here on youtube.
If you are ever in NYC, go check out the footage available at the Performing Arts Library, it will change the way you think about the dance. You’ll need an Access card to see the video footage in the research section, or a friend with one though. I could have spent days in there going through old footage and will hopefully get back there soon to see more.
We then headed back to Mike & Emily’s flat to have dinner and relax for my last night in the city. We made a thai curry, enjoyed our dinner and talked about music then traded some steps and ideas we had been working on. It was a great way to end my (almost) week in the City.