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"Alive and Kicking" - Part 4 Comparing and Contrasting: And Facing Realities



As already stated I have attended 4 showings of the Alive and  Kicking Documentary Film. 

The first showing on April 5th had the largest and most gregarious audience, 95% of which were Lindy Hop/Swing dancers.  In Harlem it was a mix…. But the last 2 showings had a change in dynamics.  There was a varied mix of older persons and young dancers…. It seemed like the older crowd was there to reminisce about their youth or recall when their elders did it.  Again it was a light sprinkle of black people; I encouraged them to stay for the Q & A Talk Back because they would “need” and appreciate more clarity on what they were about to see.

At the Francesca Beale Theater you could hear better at these latter screenings for sure!  This is no cut against enthusiasm for the documentary – there was just a more concentrated interest in these characters on screen. Maybe more eagerness in a way to understand what has happened, since it was so surprising for them to see how far things have gone with a 90 year old dance. I was able to take notes and hear what was spoken that I had missed the first two times.




At these two screenings George Gee was there; Judy Pritchert was at one and Evita Arce at another.  Hearing what they had to say and their reactions was good.  George gave a musicians perspective with his varied travels, and how the audience of dancers move musicians to strive for their best. Thru him we found out that theres more footage leftover for another full length film!  Evita the seeming “star” of the film related for one that she had no idea there would be so much of a focus on her till she saw the finished product. Her hopes were that the film would inspire many more to get involved in the dance art form. Judy of course talked about Frankie Manning and his efforts, and as well how it is traveling to some of these various events that were displayed in the film.

Again for these two Talk backs I had no idea what we all would be asked…but I knew the usual “Whats happening in Harlem?” and “Why is this and that not happening in Harlem” would be asked.  Trying to keep things light and on the up and up I tried to give as much hope as possible
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And things are hopeful.

If you read Part 1 of this series there were some points made in Harlem from the audience that stood out.  A few more will be addressed here that merit value and an explanation.


  • Too much emphasis on contests and camps...

  • We (dancers) need to enjoy more of the social aspect...

  • I wouldn't have my students (black youth) see this film...

Too much emphasis on contests and camps

If you Google and want to keep track, yep that seems to be happening ALL of the time – maybe as many as 3 – 6 events (Contests, Dance Camps, Special Weekends) happening simultaneously every weekend out of the year.  One certainly has their choices of which feast to attend – all over the world – and this is great! 

These really can be equated to mini-conventions that give folks a chance to meet and great their “idols” and friends.  Make new ones. As depicted in the film it can be part of the package that select folks aim to be a teacher and showcase what they have. A realistic stepping stone to a career within this excitement.  Also it is a chance to learn and meet the “greats” they feel are on the scene of dancers and instructors.  AND too you can also see (depending on the organizers) some of the Lindy Hop/Jazz Dance Legends that are still with us.

This can be time consuming and for some an “addiction”.  When you have a love and a dedication for anything this can happen for sure.    We see that being in a dance contest has its advantages… as the film showed for some its not just about that per se.  Becoming proficient or popular to acquire a possible “teaching career” that can have you traveling abroad brings a big status up the ladder…. And you in this age of technology can be out there and catch the right person’s eye and attention.   So goes it with dance contests. Since being a part and competing was a goal and big thing back in the Savoy Ballroom days,  its to be expected to be a part of the equation – and the fun!

What can become a “must” also with this aspect as, the Decavita Sisters honestly told us, is that “People can forget you in 6 months to a year” if you don’t accept gigs.  We figure that may also go for not going to gigs … performing… being in contests?  Maybe depending on where you are at in the scope of things and which hierarchy you know?

To read more about this dynamic duo and their reaction to how they were portrayed check this link  http://www.swingzine.com/meet-the-decavitas/

So perhaps its come to that according to “Lindy Hop Land” standards.  But who is making up these standards or rules?  Who sets the bar and do all have to follow it?  HMMMmmm….

As far as the few (in comparison) Blacks/African Americans involved  we also observe and note some getting “caught up”… or a bit too involved.  “How so?” and “Whats wrong with that?” you may ask? Well these are folks who say they want to or who are “supposed” to be building up interest and/or a stronger presence in the African American community.  This would especially be in accordance or expected with the Frankie Manning Ambassador standards stated here http://www.frankiemanningfoundation.org/ambassador-program/

Are we saying anything is wrong with attending these events and partaking of contests and showcases?  Nope, not at all.  However if you say you want to build up in your home community…. well… then it can be questioned if you practice certain behaviors.  Or when someone pulls your coat tails (especially of color) you may want to listen up and evaluate yourself.

Why?

Maybe because you have blended in, or allowed yourself to be swallowed up by the glitter and possibility of being a “star” in Lindy Hop Land circles (or in a smaller locale) versus taking care of business at home. Maybe your actions can be perceived - or really are - being counter-productive.

Huh?!

 We will address this and more in another post.


We (dancers) need to enjoy more of the social aspect...

This is very true from a Harlem standpoint.

In this atmosphere of a dance social Beginners feel more comfortable and less stress to be perfect concerning what they have learned thus far.  These socials can be fun, harmless and very helpful in the learning process.  Teachers can observe students in action and guide them. Hopefully with the females Instructors won’t forget them on the dance floor. This is a critical piece; the scene can be cliquish as it is.  As stated in Part 2 in this series the least asked person to dance on the floor are black women.  So it would be nice if the teacher was more perceptive of this; otherwise she will feel its all about you taking her money at class … and then “abandoning” her on the social dance floor…

With the film Alive and Kicking focusing on Special Weekends, Dance Camps, Exchanges and Special Events this is a cause for concern.  Smaller venues or events are very important to help build a dance community in a locale.  It also attracts others in the area to see whats happening if it is advertised (and not an underground thing).  Needless to say in Harlem this would be a welcome addition as there are still 3rd and 4th generation Harlemites around who had relatives that this dance culture.

In time, in time….

I wouldn't have my students (Black youth) see this film...


Promo clip for Alive and Kicking showing Black youth,
 and this is the same amount of time they are on the screen

One of the things stated by an audience member in Harlem was that they wouldn’t take their young black students to see the film.  We can honestly understand why… and also why not to avoid having them see the film.

Depending on the age and exposure of the child to swing dance and Lindy Hop (whether viewing a video or experiencing via lessons) it would make a degree of sense.  Children wouldn’t fully grasp what was being stated, but of course would be entertained by the dancing.  Perhaps select clips or stories from the film would be better for a group especially in a public school setting.

For The Harlem Swing Dance Society it is a must that this film needs to be prefaced; we feel if it isn’t it can be a shocker.  One reason for this can be on how it is promoted by various institutions hosting the viewing (versus the film maker). Either way for us certain aspects – not many – of the current Lindy Hop/Swing Dance culture can be briefly explained beforehand.   Then after the film  leave room for discussion and Q&A afterwards.  Or – maybe – allow for commentary during the film, pausing here and there to clear up anything or explain more in a bit of detail.   We are not saying to totally spoon feed the information, but in a sense we feel this needs to be done to some extent.



Ebony Magazine: August 2015

See you must understand that the history of the US is loaded with appropriation and capitalizing off of Black culture.   Children would not pick up on this viewing the film BUT they will pick up that they don’t see themselves – as in their color.  Older tweens/teens would be more vocal on this appropriation topic due to knowledge and exposure of social media and videos.  With that  - and for all ages with people of color who are not in the know (or loop) -  they especially need that prior movie dialogue. To us it is a “must” from our perspective for certain people to accept watching or even finishing the film.  They simply have no idea what they are in for and need to be prepped.

This is not a cut against anyone’s intelligence, it is just the facts.  And we firmly believe the Alive and Kicking can be a spark in conversation and movement forward for this dance culture in African American/Black communities.  The film is 85% accurate of what is going on in the Lindy Hop Scene (it just couldn’t cover it all, that would be at least another 2 hrs!).  You see how some dancers think, and then their challenges and sacrifices for a dance culture that they treasure. Anyone who has a love for jazz dance, or its variations, offsprings and evolutions (Chicago Steppin’, Philly Bop, Hand Dance, etc.) should be motivated or encouraged to see this film. And then to get something going in their home region.

For The Harlem Swing Dance Society (THSDS) its always been about building – and rebuilding.  So we will take all the steps to make it easier and more receptive for our folks of color – especially in Harlem - to appreciate the film and its message.

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The late great Lindy Hop Legend Frankie Manning before he passed wanted to see more of Harlem’s dance in Harlem, and he was glad when The Harlem Swing Dance Society was eventually formed. Before THSDS and after there was always someone or some group trying to keep the dance culture going in their own way.  By any means they were aware of the deficit and did their part; this a fact proving that Lindy Hop didn’t die   in Harlem.   Even while Frankie was in the post office there were folks doing their due diligence in the Harlem area, contrary to the bad rumors that are afloat in certain circles.

However we just “don’t feel” WE KNOW Frankie Manning wouldn’t be happy with a few of the current trends that are currently happening in Harlem (and outside of the area) that are helping to discourage growth in Harlem.  This is whether this is  being done purposely or not.

Huh?

Well you’ll have to see and read the final post on this Alive and Kicking series, where one person expressed that they didn’t know what could be done about Harlem’s dilemma.  

We are going to attempt to answer their outcry – stay tuned for the fireworks in July :>)


L8R



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