Thursday, May 17, 2018

Inclusivity in the Lindy Hop Community


I was recently asked by Judy Pritchett Board Member of the Frankie Manning Foundation to assist her in responding to a request from the Swing community in Greece to help them make their events more inclusive with regards to the inclusion of more African Americans into their scene. Why me? I guess because I've learned to navigate through my own feelings of isolation in this dance community.  I was a wallflower when I first started! Being black, older, plus size, and culturally not use to asking men to dance. But I had the encouragement from two great guys Samuel Coleman and Ryan Francois both of whom are swing dance instructors. They encouraged me to learn more and just hang in there and I am thankful for that. Now I rarely sit on the sidelines. So for the record swing dance has changed my life in so many positive ways and therefore I felt it necessary to respond as honest, reflective and  thoroughly as I could. After responding to her email she asked if I would mind her posting my response on the Frankie Manning Foundations website to which I have agreed. I thought it to be important to share this with you all because you because it is indeed an important topic in our global dance community. So here is the link and the actual blog post:  https://www.frankiemanningfoundation.org/questions/

HOW WOULD YOU ANSWER THESE LINDY HOP QUESTIONS?


Questions for Event Organizers, Teachers, and Scene Leaders in the Lindy Hop Community


Julia Loving at the monument where the Savoy Ballroom once stood in Harlem.

There have been some important discussions taking place in the Lindy Hop community about recognizing the Black origins of the dance. Julia Loving has created a list of some questions for event organizers to think about. This is a great list for Lindy Hop Event Organizers, Teachers, and Scene Leaders around the world to truthfully ask themselves in order to assure their events are inclusive.
Bringing light to an issue that needs correcting is the first step. We thank all event organizers for their efforts to create a more diverse, inclusive swing dance community and increasing Black representation is part of that.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Courtesy of Julia Loving

  1. Do I actively recognize that Lindy Hop is a Black art form? Is that recognition and acceptance represented in the way that I run dance events, classes, and overall dance scene?
  2. Am I comfortable dealing with or discussing race matters? If not, am I in a partnership with someone else that is?
  3. Do I look for, consider, or hire qualified bands or orchestras that are led by or include Black musicians and singers?
  4. Do I look for, consider, or hire qualified Black instructors on all levels?
  5. Do I look for, consider, or hire qualified Black DJs for my events or to cover band breaks?
  6. Does my event’s attendance (instructors, bands, audience, dancers) reflect the diverse populations of the world? If not, do I have a plan in place to make my event more welcoming to people of diverse backgrounds?
  7. Does the way that Lindy Hop is danced in my community look and feel like the original?
  8. Do I want to gain knowledge and do I seek out understanding about the African American experience? What about the dance history?
  9. Do I hire staff that have been vetted for non-discriminatory practices in the scene?
  10. Do I invite constructive responses for policy and programs to address racial inequities within my events?
  11. Do I invite local dance communities of non-whites to events?
  12. Do I share resources with my community about the origins of the dance, Black history, biographies of the original dancers, jazz musicians, music collections, etc.?
  13. Do I encourage my students to take field trips to venues or historical sites that represent the African American history or experience, especially those cities that are rich with the history?
  14. Am I committed to the long-term message of Black history and recognition, not just when the topic is trending?
  15. Do I lead by example as a dance instructor by including history lessons as an integral part of my classes. For example; we all do the Shorty George but did you know that Shorty George was a Black man who danced at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem? Etc.
  16. Do I pledge to welcome everyone regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identification, age, body type, physical ability, and mental ability?
  17. Do I encourage my students and fellow dancers to be open to dancing with everyone and to actively ask people of all kinds to dance? Especially those that might not get asked to dance very often? There should be no wallflowers!
  18. Do I encourage mentorships, trainings, or extra tutelage for any new Black dancers in my scene?
  19. Am I willing to accept and embrace change even though it may change how I originally experienced the Lindy Hop community?
Thank you Julia for sharing this excellent list of questions. We welcome feedback and suggestions for what can be added to this list.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Remembrance Dance @ The 2017 Intrepid Battle of the Big Bands





With New York City as the back drop who could go wrong. The night was alive. My Harlem lindy hop family showed up. Many of whom I have taken classes with for the last four years. It was good to see them and dance with them. Some I lead and some I followed. Three bands playing and at least 1,000 people swinging to the beat. For a brief moment the historian in me thought about being on the flight deck of a World War II aircraft carrier and the brave men that once graced its landing. I even thought of Japanese Kamikaze fighter pilots landing on this very deck. Then I thought about the lindy hop and how its a happy dance that promotes good times and then I thought about my love for a dance and music of a time period not so long ago. I felt nostalgic. I remember thinking I am sure during off time these sailors used to dance and very possibly they may have even danced to some of the tunes I am hearing tonight.  So as Gunhild raised her bag pipes and started singin' "When the Saints Go Marching in" it was perfectly appropriate for the nostalgic feelings I was having. In remembrance of those sailors during the Memorial Day Weekend I danced the happy dance on their flight deck.  

Friday, January 13, 2017

Chester Whitemore Choreography


I learned some amazing choreography both tap, soul and lindy while attending Paulette Brockington's American Lindyhop Championships in Detroit, Michigan back in October. This dance routine Samuel Coleman and I are doing together was one of the many choreographed pieces of the great Chester Whitemore. What an fun and educational experience. We also had the chance to learn from Norma Miller.

Friday, January 6, 2017

My First Lindy hop Video: You've come a long way baby!




I actually like this short footage.  This was the first video I ever had of me recording myself Lindy hopping. I am usually my worst critic, asking myself were you easy to lead, and even more so I always worry if I look "fat" in the video, but heck I am. Lol! But honestly this time around I felt a bit relieved that I just did my thing and did not worry about my size and focused just my simple skill set. And for a novice I don't think I looked so bad. I looked down to much out of uncertainty. After all, at least a year before I could hardly figure out simple routines and certainly did not have the stamina to maintain if I could. So the weight loss had begun to work and this short dance clip show me that I had come very far and at the same time I looked forward to where I could go! My kicks are better and I also don't just drop my arm any more. I have a little more polished style. Well I think anyway! lol I thank my dance instructor Samuel Coleman for persistent reminders about practicing and going out social dancing. His field trips helped many of us get used to social dancing. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Confessions of a Lindy-Hopper: Dancing Changed My Life!

                               
I've battled with my weight for more years than I can count. I am still struggling to lose more. Even though I'm brilliant at most things lol being overweight has caused me a great deal of frustrations, angst, and insecurities. As a result it has caused me to lose a loving relationship not too long ago and most of all get some not so great marks on my yearly physical. I realize that as I get older my health is not as easily something I can place on a back burner, especially with regards to having a child. So the lifestyle change began 3 years ago even though it was gradual.  Lindy Hopping became this lifestyle change.  The most important impact of this change has been a total weight loss of 52 lbs. since I started. This has been an amazing journey for me because I've struggled with losing weight most of my life and I never truly found a diet or exercise that fit me or my personality. The only difference now is that I have a tool to help me lose it and that is Lindy Hop. If taken seriously a lot more of my weight will dissipate. I try not to throw pity parties for myself because I am well aware that have been blessed with so many great things, opportunities, financial security and most of all a wonderful family and supportive friends.

So looking back while moving forward I had a significant amount of weight loss to be proud of. I have 50 more lbs to go and I know I can do it. I can tell by my West African waist beads that I am losing inches. I have to weigh in every week with this new program I am on. So kudos to Lindy!

PS, did you know it can get quite expensive shopping at the plus size stores for pretty dresses? Vintage plus size is outrageously priced!

AND Yes that is me in the red dress dancing with Sydney at the 2016 Midsummer Night Swing Dance Competition at Lincoln Center.



Keep Swingin’ Y’all!

Monday, December 19, 2016

SAVOY BALLROOM AND PAYING HOMAGE


Paying homage to the past is much more important to me than my plumpness. The picture above was taken back in August 2016 after a Jazz mobile block party down the street from the where the Savoy Ballroom once stood. The Savoy Ballroom remembrance plaque stands between 140th and 141st and Lenox Avenue in Harlem, NYC. After doing research and listening to Ms. Norma Miller, I discovered that the Savoy Ballroom extended for an entire block. The Savoy was owned by a Jewish man named Moe Gale, but managed by an African American man named Charles Buchanan.The Savoy Ballroom was on the second floor of a two-story building stretching the entire block.  It easily could hold up to 5,000 patrons.  It opened up in 1926 and was one of the first racially integrated public places or dance spaces in the country. If you were African American you could only work at places like the Cotton Club. Ms. Norma Miller said what she loved about the Savoy was that people of all races would come to dance.  She loved watching the Italian guys from the Bronx dance. It is where lindy hopping legends came from all of the boroughs to showcase their abilities and have plenty of fun.  They graced the dance floors with unique style and grace. According to Ms. Norma; Frankie Manning, Al Minns, Leon James, Shorty George Bearden, Leroy “Stretch”Jones, Twistmouth George, and Edith Matthews and so many others would assemble to listen and dance to Chick Webb Savoys greatest band leader and drummer. Competitions and social dancing came alive on any given night. Today sadly all that remains of this “Home of Happy Feet” is this stone plaque. But I will remember and help to share in its memory.

Friday, December 16, 2016

So....can actually fat people swing?


I saw this post on an internet site that read So....can actually fat people swing?  
Reading this made me realize a great many things about perceptions. I now also understood why there are times other heavy set females and myself are often hugging the walls at swing events. There is an unstated realization that comes with that question. My reality is...of course I want to scream out
YEAH I CAN DANCE,


and aim it directly at those leads that walk right by me to the slender female next to me.  I sometimes feel invisible. I'm not sure if it is my weight, my color, my hair style, but I am not and others are not unapproachable. So I believe some leads make mental assumptions, have preconceived notions derived from historical mistreatment of us that fit somehow in that "others" category. Then they see me dance and here they come over and over again party after party. I've been actually lindy hopping for a little over three years now and I must be honest at first it was quite a turn off. I almost gave up a few times to the utter dismay of my dance instructor Samuel Coleman because I am not the wallflower type. But one day that all changed for me. I decided to stick it out thanks to a few magical dances with one of my favorite lindy hoppers the premier choreographer, lindy hopper and tap dancer Mr. Ryan Francois. At various events during the Frankie 100 lindy event in NYC he encouraged me to dance. One night when he came to Harlem my Sammy Swings crew and I met him at Harlem Shake. We all danced outside on the pavement.  He said we have to find more guys in Harlem to dance with you all. From that moment I was even more determined to prove that big girls can lindy too. Thanks Ryan!



LESS PERFECTION AND MORE HAPPINESS FOR THE SOUL



I decided to show the world that “I Too Sing Lindy hop and I am the overweight sister.” It’s in my soul. It’s in my history. It’s in the way my body reacts to the music. It’s in how I connect with others. It’s how I respond to learning the history of the dance. It's how people look at me and assume my weight will hold me back until they see they can't touch this! It’s in how I want to share the dance with everyone I come in contact with.  I am certainly not perfect but you best believe I am certainly happy. I am always happy to dance with my friend and jazz vocalist Mr. Charles Turner. Since Lindy hop originated on the streets of Harlem. I can certainly relate because I grew up in the Bronx just a #2 train ride or Bruckner Expressway drive away. For the record my first dance craze was “break dancing and pop lockin” so I am a converted Lindy hopper.  Like Lindy hop break dancing of 1970’s and 1980’s took the same course as Lindy hop first starting in the streets, clubs, then it hit movies, then Broadway, spread to the South and West coasts, and now it is worldwide. Literally, I like break dancing in my teens I like to love to dance outdoors. Taking Lindy to the street, to communities that have long since forgotten it is the best jolt of excitement. The crowds join in and want to learn. Some even start taking classes. Venues in NYC like Harlem Week, block parties, the Intrepid, Governor’s Island jazz Age Lawn Party, 125th St Pier, and the Charlie Parker Jazz have allowed me to showcase my love for the dance.  Although the ground pitch is not good on your knees this the time I have the most enjoyment because the crowd starts pumping you up. Of course, they are excited to see this big girl get to the get down. My knees are bent, and arms wrapped around my partner and my body is ready to be “swung out.” I am hoping that my body rhythm or what they call pulse is in sync with my partner. When the pulse between my partner and I is on point that is the best feeling in the world. My heart is racing; my body is moving fast, my giddiness is obvious by my laughter and facial expression. I have so many pictures that people Facebook tag me in that always show me in this mesmerized condition. And if the song just so happens to be Lionel Hampton’s Lavender Coffin then this one dance has come full circle. Wow! Homerun! Then it starts all over again with a new partner. Not perfection but happiness. As the great Queen of Swing Ms. Norma Miller reminds me “Lindy is indeed a Happy Dance.”


Keep Swingin’ Y’all!

A Parade for the Big Girl that Lindy Hops Too


A Parade for the Big Girl that Lindy Hops Too
Written By Julia 

The cats’ meow in your dancing garb, 
At the Renny; Savoy, and the segregated Cotton Club 
All eyes on me front and center 
I flipped him because I could
I was all woman, powerful and strong
In the imagery of how it used to be... Harlem was envogue 
and so were you
 Wishing I could be born again, 
as dancers like you Miller, Washington, Gibson and Watson
 and on an air step Saturday nights 
Bringing back Calloway, Ellington, and Basie 
 While at the dance camp and I could see them too 
The sight of you doing …
those jazzy African rhythms the cakewalk, blackbottom, boogie forwards, boogie backs or even the Big Apple would mesmerize any ballroom crowd 
He was smiling and in my smile there was a joy 
Something of an internal happiness drawing me to my own dance parade 
Hughes said it simply 
To fling my arms wide In the face of the sun, Dance! Whirl! Whirl! 
Till the quick day is done. 
Rest at pale evening... A tall, slim tree... 
Night coming tenderly Black like me.
 I am Dancing and Whirling and Dancing at the big girls parade.


I HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY…



BACK IN THE SUMMER OF 2015 WITH YELLOW FLOWER IN HAIR AND PRETTY DRESS TO MATCH, MY FIRST LINDY PARTNER BRandON JUMPED OVER MY SHOULDER. AT THE TIME HE WAS 16 and WELL LET’S JUST SAY I waS AT LEAST 20 years his senior. THE CROWD AT LINCOLN CENTER/MIDSUMMER NIGHT SWING WENT WILD. THEN WE STARTED DOING THE CHARLESTON, THEN SIDE PASSES, THEN HE GRABBED MY HAND AND AS SMOOTH AS CAN BE LED ME INTO A TANDEM CHARLESTON. MY MOMENTUM WAS HIGH BUT I WAS OUT OF BREATH. I KEPT GOING REGARDLESS AND THEN I HAD AN OUT OF BODY EXPERIENCE.  THIS BIG GIRL SUDDENLY FELT LIGHT ON MY FEET. I FELT I COULD JUMP AS HIGH AS THE SKY AND MOVE AS FAST AS I WANTED. I KEPT GOING AND I HUNG IN THERE. ON THIS EVENING WE WENT UP AGAINST DANCE TEACHERS AND SEASONED LINDY HOP VETERANS AND WON 3rD Place. THAT’S BRANDON JUMPING OVER ME AT MIDSUMMER NIGHT SWING. WE ALSO COMPETED AND WON (3RD PLACE) IN 2015 AND AT ALHAMBRA BALLROOM JAZZ VESPER COMPETITION WE WON (2ND PLACE). NOT BAD FOR A BIG GIRL. ALL EYES WERE ON US AT THESE DANCE COMPETITIONS BECAUSE WE BROUGHT IT HARD AND OF COURSE WE WERE THE ODD COUPLE. LOL.


OK! I ADMIT I AM ADDICTED TO THIS HAPPY DANCE. I HAVE BECOME A PLUS SIZE LINDY HOPPING DYNAMO! I SOCIAL DANCE AND I COMPETE. I LOVE TO DANCE. AS A TEENAGER I USED TO BE A HIP HOP DANCE AND RAP FANATIC. IT WAS NOTHING FOR ME TO BUS A RHYME OR SHOW OFF MY “ELECTRIC BOOGIE/POP LOCKIN”AND “BREAK DANCE” MOVES. BUT NOW I’M HOOKED ON LINDY. PEOPLE USED TO RULE ME OUT BUT NOW WHEN THEY SEE ME MOVE THE FELLOWS STAND AND FALL DOWN ON THEIR KNEES LIKE I AM THE HIVE FOR THE HONEY BEES. BUT SERIOUSLY IT TOOK AWHILE FOR ME TO GET TO THIS POINT. I LOSS SOME WEIGHT BUT NOT ENOUGH. AT ONE TIME I COULD BARELY DO SIX OR EIGHT COUNT STEPS. NOW I’VE BUILT UP MY STAMINA. I DANCE AT LEAST THREE TIMES A WEEK, BUT IN THE SUMMER IT’S ALMOST EVERY DAY BECAUSE OF THE MANY NYC FREE VENUES. MY FAVORITE SPOTS ARE MANHATTAN’S FRIM FRAM JAM AT YOU SHOULD BE DANCING STUDIOS, AND BROOKLYN SWINGS AT A CHURCH ON AINSLIE STREET.


MY FIRST LINDY HOP CLASSES WERE A LITTLE OVER THREE YEARS AGO WITH THE HARLEM SWING DANCE SOCIETY. CURRENTLY, I TAKE CLASSES ON MONDAY’S STILL IN HARLEM FAITHFULLY WITH SAMMYSWINGS.COM DANCE INSTRUCTOR SAMUEL COLEMAN. I HAVE A SUPPORTIVE LINDY FAMILY. WE TRAVEL OUT OF STATE TO DANCE CAMPS AND TO OTHER DANCE VENUES WE DRESS UP AND EVERYONE KNOWS THE CREW IS THERE. ONE OF THE GREAT THINGS ABOUT LINDY IS THAT I GET TO EXPLORE OUTFITS AND HAIRSTYLES OF THE DECADES. I LOVE TO DRESS UP.

RIGHT NOW, I TEACH BEGINNER LINDY AND ELEMNTS OF HIP HOP DANCE TO MY MIDDLE SCHOOL AND HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS USING THE GREAT MIGRATION AND HARLEM RENAISSANCE AS THE MAIN WAY TO GALVANIZE THEIR INTEREST. THE BEST IS YET TO COME. WATCH OUT!

keep SwiNGIN’ Y’ALL!