Buzz: one of the biggest ways to get your event attended and almost impossible to buy. Swing & Soul had a phenomenal buzz about it; I’ve been hearing about it since last fall. For every person that told me about it, I told six others and I was not alone.
All that buzz paid off with dancers from across the U.S., Westies and Lindy Hoppers, converging on Atlanta, GA for three packed nights of performances, classes and parties. Friday night started off with a dance at Georgia Tech DJed by Tom Hamrick and Peter and a performance by Bryan Gaynor (who also performed at the finale of this past seasons So You Think You Can Dance). The late night kicked off with DJ Gary Tate from Atlanta. Although I didn’t really dig the music that he played most of the night (I wanted more classic motown tunes) and the constant voice-over of upcoming songs was a bit unexpected, people were up and dancing.
Saturday had an array of great classes, so many in fact that it was hard to decide which ones to go to. I ended up attending Mama Ye Ye‘s African class in the campus recreation center. The class was packed with all sorts of dancers of all levels, including Ramona, Carla Heiney, Mario Robau. It’s been a while since I’ve done African dance and it definitely showed me how out of shape I was. Despite the exertion, it was glorious, my back loosened up and my body got moving to the great rhythms of the Mali Empire. Mama Ye Ye was inspirational to work with and I was disappointed that I missed her class on Sunday. After the classes Alan Slutsky, a musician turned Grammy winning producer, gave a talk about his documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown which documented the fabulous musicians, the Funk Brothers, behind the big names of motown.
Saturday night had a bevy of wonderful performances during the main dance including a Temptations tribute, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, and double act of the Supremes. They were lip-sync acts but, regardless, they definitely helped capture the feel and spirit of the weekend. Hopefully some of the performances were recorded and will end up on Youtube.
With such a high note at the main dance, we progressed over to the late night for another soul food buffet (chicken and waffles) and DJing by Peter Strom and Jim Wheatley. Now, sometimes a DJ can get two dancers to connect but it is a rare gift and a wonderful occasion when they bind an entire dance floor into one interconnected social entity. The entire floor screamed and jumped to tunes like “Shout” and it didn’t matter that you were dancing with someone you had never met before, someone you had known for a long time, or dancing by yourself, you were engulfed in the energy of the party. It was amazing how the room reacted to each tune and it was definitely the highlight of the weekend.
Sunday I ended up missing the classes while we practiced a performance number, although I did peek in on a few, particularly Manu and Peter’s class where they did a routine to poison; if you’ve never seen the episode of Scrubs where Turk busts out to it you should watch it. I was duly impressed with all of the classes for the weekend and the phenomenal attitude people brought with them into the classroom. It definitely reminded me that all too often we get preoccupied with a sort of hierarchy in the dance, where we are at some point above dance classes, however, as dancers we can not stop returning to the bar (as a ballet dancer would know).
Before the day concluded there was a fantastic sit down with Peter, Manu, Steven and Tena where they talked a bit about how Swing and Soul came about, why it was what it was, and why everyone was there. The floor was opened up to everyone, so it felt more like a gathering in someones living room (albeit a large living room), to share why they had decided to come to this event and what the music meant to each of us. I was particularly touched by those who shared how the music pulled them back into their memories both difficult and joyous; that music with soul touches all of us and enriches us. Special thanks here to Andrew Slac and Tena Morales.
I arrived for the evening dance late (with packing and dinner, time slipped by) and had to prepare for the performance we’d been practicing all weekend for. There were three performances showcasing what some of the classes did during the workshops and we were the only stage act. We performed a Jackson 5 routine to “I want you back” that we had previously performed at SONH with a few replacements. Jerone Gagliano, Mike Thibault and I (Carl Nelson) returned while we added Dan Amores and Sha (I never learned her last name) to the number.
Thanks to Steven and the rest of the Swing & Soul gang for inviting us to perform, it was a blast.
The late night was at a different venue, smaller and in Decatur, where those who remained trickled in throughout the late hours and others said their goodbyes. It was a great close to the weekend where people hung out, ate Krispy Kreme donuts, had a couple drinks, and danced to Peter and DJ Tate until closing time (5am).
Swing and Soul has lived up to its buzz and I believe for many turned out as the event of the year. It showed me what a dance weekend can really be and it has set the bar for many events to come. It not only showed us spectacular classes, DJ’s, and performances but also how a room full of individual dancers can become a party; how bringing everyone together without judgment or dismissal can create a vital community. I thank Steven Mitchell, Manu Smith, Peter Strom and Tena Morales for bringing us an event which will inspire many more to come.