Walk into Downtown Diner on Saturdays or swing by Dancing in the Square on Wednesdays in the summer and you’ll see people hand in hand, entangled and trapped by jazz. Frank Sinatra’s voice hums around their bodies, dancing as if practiced for years. Some of these people have just begun to learn and others have been dancing Lindy Hop, swing dancing, for years.
Lindy Hop comes out of the late 1920s, a fusion of jazz, Charleston, tap, breakaway and other dances that rely on careful footwork. Whether it came out of necessity to distract from the Great Depression or it evolved out of the progressing social norms, Lindy Hop still invites its dancers to collaborate and create in the moment. Eric Santoro is a regular dancer and teacher of Lindy Hop.
Santoro discovered his love for dancing and sharing that passion one summer night during Dancing on the Square. He suggests that those interested in learning show up at a dance. If you’re shy, that’s OK. Most people are. Once you get the fundamentals down, it becomes easier.
“Be as good as you want to be. We’re all just there to have a good time,” Santoro says. “It’s a little awkward being alone in your room practicing, but once you get the basic fundamentals of dancing you don’t have to focus on that and you can have fun while dancing.”
Lindy Hop, one of the very first forms of dance to widely reject the notion that you need to stay with one partner, is known for its social aspect, encouraging dancers to move from person to person.
“It’s a social dance, and that’s what makes it unique,” Santoro says. “I can go anywhere and dance with someone I’ve never even met before. I don’t speak any other languages, but in dancing if we both can connect there, then it’s like I know another language.”
Professional dancer Sylvia Sykes is one of the most influential figures in reviving swing. In the 1980s, she and others began to review videos from the early days of swing to capture what made the dance so transitional and pretty. At first confusing and thought to be very choreographed, Sykes and others began to understand what made this dance so successful: connection.
“Connection is super important. Once you learn the fundamentals, you can really dance with anyone as long as you’re connecting. You can create connection through counterbalancing and compressing with one another. You can cause injury or you can create tension if it’s not done properly or if you’re lacking that connection. It’s the most important thing in the dance. The footwork is less important than the connection. That’s part of the magic of it,” Santoro says. “It’s very much a lot of people trying not to bump into each other.
“When you do find someone that you connect really well with, it’s suddenly those people who are your best friends. This is the person you look at when you hear a song that you really want to dance to. We consider leads as the choreographer and the follows are sort of the star. Leads make their follows shine,” Santoro says.
There are various ways of connecting through dancing, through movement and attention to shifting weights.
“In the West Coast, we really like [the] Hollywood-LA style of Lindy Hop, meaning that we focus more on the deep connection of the dance,” Santoro says. “This allows for really smooth dancing. We’re not as focused on bouncy rhythm but rather the flow of the rhythm. On the East Coast, in New York where Lindy Hop was invented, the most standard version is really bouncy. It’s more a focus on footwork.”
We live in a time that asks us to step out of our comfort zones. Social dancing is just one of the many art forms that also help us create connections to the world and people around us. To understand another person without having to speak their language is one form of art that we can use to create and establish community while enjoying ourselves.
Margarita Cruz is a MFA candidate for Creative Writing at Northern Arizona University. She serves on the Northern Arizona Book Festival board and as editor-in-chief for Thin Air Magazine. Her work has been featured in The Tunnels and Susquehanna Review.
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