I have always felt profoundly affected by the Holocaust. Some of my friends from the Woo-woo camp might jump up and down and holler "past life experiences!" at me. Reason dictates that as that was the first truly horrific historical event that my little kid brain had to attempt to process, that it has always held more impact than all the horrible stories that came after it. Still, though, I have trouble when I think about it too much or read too much. I was dizzy and nauseous at the National Holocaust Museum and I could not go tour the concentration camp that my music trip took us to on my tour of Europe at the tail end of high school. I could not bring myself to get off the bus; I thought I would probably throw up.
Nevertheless, the subject still fascinates me because it is so unthinkable, and it was a moment where, to my eyes, it really seems like a huge battle against good and evil and not so much like a battle for land or god or oil. I suspect this fascination is why one night, when renting a movie to watch with my mom waaaaay back in the early 1990s, I wanted ever so much to watch a film called Swing Kids. It's not a super-well known film, but it is a fictional story set within the confines of an actual counter-cultural movement in Nazi Germany, one populated by young people who were not so up with Hitler. They displayed their rebellion by wearing British Fashion, listening to American Jazz, and by dancing in clubs that were pushed further and further underground as the Third Reich got increasingly tetchy about this bit of revolt.
Something happened to me when I watched this movie. Yes, I had my usual fit of "OMG the Nazis sucked so bad why were they so crazy and mean to everyone??!" I also fell madly in love. And no, this post isn't about Robert Sean Leonard (who I still think is underrated and completely lovely). It's about the music. Being immersed in that sound and watching the dancers in that movie captured my imagination in a way that proved to be so much bigger than anyone might have guessed. Until I got the soundtrack for Christmas, I'd watch that movie any time it was available to me just to hear the songs and just to watch them dance. From that soundtrack (a still-excellent combination of actual music from the period and fabulous updated but period-sounding arrangements by Chris Boardman), came a full fledged obsession.
My favorites ended up being the amazing Benny Goodman, the fucking unbelievable Count Basie and the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald. I was listening to their records made when my grandmother was a little girl while most of the people my age were living, appropriately, in the present. They had TLC, and I had Glenn Miller. They had Green Day and Ace of Base, and I had Duke Ellington and Peggy Lee. Until I fell more heavily into my rock and a cappella phase in college, I listened to little else when I wanted music. I could not get enough.
And in college, I found the dancing. After years of dreaming about it and wanting so much to learn it, I took to it like a fish to water. I was too busy to be dancing two and three nights a week, and I did it anyway. I quickly mastered the basics of the jitterbug and the lindy hop, learned how to bust out a proper swing charleston or fall in with a Big Apple or a Shim Sham. By my sophomore year, I was teaching the newcomers the basic steps, and I was so in love.
My love affair wasn't just with the music or the way one moves to it. Swing dancers, by and large, are incredibly nice. When you go dancing in a modern club, it's a lot of pelvic thrusting and unfortunately, a lot of unknown people putting their hands where I only like known hands to go. Swing dancers, on the other hand, are courteous and playful. They walk up to your face, offer you a hand, and lead you out to the floor. After this point, hands are reserved for the art of steering, and providing the tension and leverage for a lot of the turns and countless other fancy things that come out of it. Swing dancers work together and communicate, working from this base language that everybody knows and improvising the rest. It's a little bit magical.
All good things must come to a pause, and my dance sabbatical has lasted for years and years. My musical life eventually got directly in the way of my life as a dancer. Even when I had time in Philly, a willing partner wasn't to be found. Aside from the very occasional night out with a friend or two, I have been living in a dancing wasteland. A few weeks ago, I decided to leave the desert of my lindy hopping life.
As I am certain now that I like many things about Baltimore and expect to be here for at least a few more years, I thought it might be time to attempt to build a social life that does not revolve exclusively around the Physics Department of Johns Hopkins. I knew that swing was relatively hoppin' in Baltimore and DC, and I found a group that does cheap open dances on Monday nights.
The music is great! There is no shortage of really talented, really friendly, really awesome leaders. In years, I have not spent a whole night following, and it was so, so, so nice to be back in the girl shoes (and to be led by such gifted dancers, holy fucking god, I forgot that I can spin that much). I have now been twice, and I have that feeling again. I am remembering all the steps I once knew. I am giddy and blistered and desperate to learn more. I am exhausted and a little bit sore in all the right places. I feel like a swing dancer again. I'm a little in love.
- Status Report: Excited!!!
- Soundtrack:Flat Foot Floogie