Alive and Kicking: Part 5 "Black Lindy Hop Matters" - Really? Will Harlem be more Alive and Kicking in the future?
Not Alive and Kicking’s Fault
It’s been almost 4 months since one person’s major shock in Harlem about Alive and Kicking. Seeing it on the big screen was indeed a big SMACK for some present, or unfamiliar with what’s happening outside of Harlem with the community’s most famous dance. Thus the above reaction but honestly some others who were there and who are on the NYC screen were stunned and a little surprised too…
Basically they were insulted that it took 40 minutes in the film before this topic was addressed “Where is the Black Community”? Indeed people of color WERE missing from the filmed scenes - except say a few raisins in the background in scenes – but don’t blame the filmmaker. There are quite a few reasons why
For many of color it’s been a jolt of electricity to see this film…. But then the initial “rush” or feelings get reduced to a flicker. And back to the “same ol’ same ol’“ routine. They are angered, perplexed, and then seemingly give in to “defeat” on the matter of where they are in the mix. Or – maybe – folks don’t know how to go about the task of re-kindling an interest/new black blood into the culture. Then there is the search and discovery: Too much work maybe, and not enough returns…
Indeed it can be tricky with all of you non-black faces of every flavor out there enjoying “our” dance culture. See Harlem is seemingly having more and more pieces of their varying culture being physically destroyed and/or taken away from us… and low and behold this just adds insult to injury.
Or think about this: Are Harlemites and others of color offering Lindy Hop/Swing Dance culture on a silver platter to others… or maybe tossing it in the trash for others to have if they want?
The Harlem Swing Dance Society feels it’s a combo of all of these scenarios.
In this last and final post (though there are surely topics that will be revisited) about this noteworthy documentary film we will see whats been happening on the NYC scene.. reasons why… and compare Harlem. This isn’t exactly a “give-away” on how to get a swing dance scene back running and a decent momentum for or to people of color.
However if you decipher and reason on whats NOT being said you’ll understand and gain a whole lot too.
NYC – What’s Happ’nin?
TIMELINE: Since Frankie 100 … roughly 3 years ago
Well: An interesting turn and twists of events within the major 3 boroughs of New York City’s Swing Scene has happened since 2014.
By the Way: If you want to know for the most part who is doing what see Eileen’s Lindy Blog. http://thisweekinswingnyc.com. Eileen does this listing out of her heart and precious time to keep folks in the know – worldwide – of whats happening in the NYC area
So lets see who is doing what -
Brooklyn has lost one entity but Brooklyn Swings has been building and going strong. They have weekly lessons and dance parties. Also there are varying locales popping up who are welcoming dancing with their jazz bands. (We will miss B.A.B.B.L.E. though, which ran for 10 years)
With a steady momentum Queens is developing a good base with weekly lessons and options popping up of places to social dance there. All within 3 years!
Manhattan: Outside of Harlem - is KING. Period. All you have to do is look at Eileen’s Lindy Blog listing and it says it all…
However strangley and sadly some of the regular staples of social dances (like for the past 20 to 30 years) have now ended, while newer ones have emerged or have grown stronger. Plus there are a few promoters here in NYC who are determined to have their fair share and piece of the action with events – and thus there is a variety and spice going on. They do weekly events at various locations, AND the now special “staples” of the scene: Events on select Holiday weekends. Many look forward to these and they attract dancers from all over…
Actually Harlem is doing pretty good as far as an awareness of their signature cultural dance versus 3 years ago. But we are going to categorically break it down, and you’ll see fairly quickly where Harlem is deficient. No we don’t have a roving reporter here, but just some keen eyes and observers.
If an entity is not mentioned here they can fit in one of these categories:
- · Not advertising of what they do on social media or prominent Harlem websites
- · Advertise by group texts
- · Are unknown (to some anyway)
- · Acting “under cover” (avoiding the tax man) but distribute flyers
- · Or have been publicly destructive to progress in the area.
Squabbles in Harlem?
Why YES! The same squabbles, tensions, lies, bad-mouthing and being territorial (and of course more) that go on uptown as they have been doing downtown. Harlem of course is smaller and thus its more polarized – but mainly for “those in the know”. For those that are not they can be confused, which of course is the intent of those whom it fits who are manipulating truths or exaggerating their “credentials”.
Regular Dance Socials
There are no regular weekly dance socials. That is a major flaw that we can only hope is reversed as uptown dancers are being developed…
Yeah we know the “new” Cotton Club is listed on Eileen’s blog… but if you consider a $25 cover, the small dance floor, it being “out of the way” PLUS a floor show (recall that’s how the original Cotton Club was – not a social dance spot) its not a place dance folks exactly run to.
Back say 15 yrs plus ago the Cotton Club was the Monday uptown HOT spot to stampede to when their BEST promoter – the late great Naomi Johnson - was around... and she was also giving us her own show of sorts :>)
· Harlem Swing Dance Classes
The Harlem Swing Dance Society (THSDS) offers weekly classes that are beginner /intermediate leveled.
· SPECIAL and SEASONAL Events
A FREE regular Harlem staple for over 50 years Summer time they are at their best offering concerts to the Harlem community, most notably Wednesdays at Grant’s Tomb and Fridays at Marcus Garvey Park. They however do other events other times of the year, saving Jazz culture in Harlem on a great scale.
They have encouraged dancing for the past few years, incredibly something they didn’t have to do “back in the day” because folks just automatically did! Now if you see 3 to 4 couples dancing it is a “feat”! But a treat too, as now more and more are making an effort to support the culture of the uptown dancers.
NYC Parks and Recreation
Thankfully they are getting into the Swing of Things! THSDS along with The Harlem Renaissance Orchestra have been collaborating trying to likewise build on the Harlem Jazz Legacy in the area. As well its been a blast getting folks dancing and swinging with a free dance lesson offered and periodic events.
Festivals AND Themed Events
These happen year round, and more and more: The Harlem Swing Dance Society enjoys being a part to show Harlem what they can do if they try! We also try to do Meetups in the area... check our Facebook page for the latest https://www.facebook.com/HarlemSwingDance
Opportunities are always around and abound: The calls/requests keep coming in to THSDS.
Harlem Swing Dance Tours
These are offered in the area so the full gist and history of Harlem Lindy Hop/Swing Dance can be experienced on a grassroots but yet rich interactive level
20th Anniversary: The American Lindy Hop Championships
Coming in October 2017 - for 4 days (Oct 26th too) This will be an event that should surely bring awareness and shake Harlem to its roots! This will be held at the National Black Theater with our dear Lindy Hop Legends still with us attending, including Norma Miller (Whitey's Lindy Hoppers) to Crystal Johnson (Mama Lu Parks Dancer) and all in between those fabulous years. More info here at http://artspectrum.org/alhc.htm
The Harlem Swing Dance Society (THSDS)
The Harlem Swing Dance Society (THSDS), the premiere non-profit organization in Harlem promoting, preserving, propagating and protecting Lindy Hop and Swing Dance Culture. Outreach is done by FYI sessions, lessons, performances, workshops and more.
firstname.lastname@example.org 347 – 709 - 7022
As far as The Harlem Swing Dance Society, we maneuver around Harlem and do what we must to keep moving forward in our mission.
Progress and Regress: Pinpointing Critical Behaviors
No knit picking or bullet points here – just some facts… and a suggested reading…
Back in 2014 during Frankie 100 the Commemorative Book was released. The Frankie Manning Foundation this year has graciously now put it online so all can have access to it versus going on Ebay and paying a mint for the book…
On page 67 begins a seven page guide on “The Business of Lindy Hop”. Maybe folks will read that (or re-read, as we did) to see just what is going on… or has been. Considering what Alive and Kicking has shown we can only imagine where the trendy business of Lindy Hop will be in another 3 years…
Just the tip of the iceberg is what Alive and Kicking has shown us. Elsewhere its quite an occasion of fun and frolic – and a thriving business for many. It’s pretty serious with all of these weekends, camps, etc. Go on Youtube, Facebook and/or Google … see where the monopoly is and who is crafting and positioning themselves to benefit with Harlem’s dance culture and/or the Legends still with us. It’s truly mind boggling and fascinating, and to us a needed exercise for persons of color who love this dance culture and want to examine its history past and present more so. We even recommend it for those who are a part of the evolution of Lindy Hop thru DC Hand Dance, Philly Bop and other urban partner styles.
This makes more of a dent in the brain, a better impression versus just saying to folks “It’s all around the world”...
And NO: They are not all Culture Vultures. But they honestly all can appear to be…
Raisin’s in the Sun: Experience Highlight
At a certain dance camp this year we get this experience. This is being reprinted with permission -
"WHen I arrived at ______ I was working alone with one of the sound techs who is new to camp and will remain unnamed. He, referring to us setting up sound in the classrooms, said to me, "So, how did you get roped into this slave labor." That was an extremely hurtful thing to hear, but I was too tired and fresh off a red eye to say anything about it.
S____ was harassed outside on campus during one of the dancers by three 'Frat boy' looking white boys in a car.
WHile we practiced our routine, an unknown white man said, "What are they doing? I have to keep an eye on them." Shortly after an associate of his showed up, they conferred, then left.
These experiences became the driving energy for me to want to see this number happen, because it became so much more than just a dance or a performance this was our protest. Listen to the lyrics of the song (I'm on a) Sit down Strike for Rhythm by Lil Hardin Armstrong. It's about Black Art, Art that is created by black folks, art that was incredibly important to cementing our multi-faceted identities and various communities in the U.S. Art that we share with THE WORLD freely and happily. HOWEVER folk (usually white folk) will come along and participate with us, then take all the credit for it without paying any homage to the black originators of the art form.
It is incorrigible do have your life devalued and your art stolen. When people ask me, "Why aren't there more black people dancing Lindy Hop today?" and THIS IS WHY! The black community has been and still is a constant and consistent machine of creation and innovation. We make, it gets co-opted and stolen, and we move on.
Thank you for your love, and your responses to our number. We leave you with love and with this message."
We know where this happened, and the people this happened to, but for personal reasons are not going to mention names. Overall that’s not the main point anyway… and there are a few points to this…
It’s sad this occurred, but it could have happened anywhere. We thank them for their candor and honesty. And it’s commendable the folks involved reacted in a way that added no more negative energy to the situation, instead preferring to save and channel it for a performance.
Yet and still in the 21`st century these are incidents that can happen when one goes off and out of their home turf. Anyone of color has every “right” to, they just have to remember that they leave themselves open to anything. It’s unfortunate but it’s the truth.
Please note: We Black people didn’t create the world and its social climate, racism and divisions that still linger…. at least here in the U.S.
Notice the statement made that “The black community has been and still is a constant and consistent machine of creation and innovation. We make, it gets co-opted and stolen, and we move on”. The “move on” part depending on your experience and/or description for the most part is sadly true. If you don’t take or make a stand for your culture and then you “move on”, well you deserve what you get. Or don’t get or lose out on.
You do lose out in a number of ways. Foremost you lose respect, because it appears that your own culture - to you - is not to be that important to you. This is amongst others and amongst your own people. You say you care about it but actions speak louder. Many of the other ethnicities involved on this dance culture that are smiling in your face and won’t tell you this. They’ll just continue to marvel at your stupidity… and continue to capitalize…
If Black people are “a constant and consistent machine of creation and innovation” with this culture then there is a serious lack of commitment or stability. “We move on” - DUH that’s a key problem, and there are a variety of ways certain Black people move on with this.
Let’s do some real talk about those who fit this description: Some plausible scenarios. These folks can start to get accolades in greater Lindy Hop Land, wanting (or being pushed) to be the rising “stars”, being feigned and fawned over. It goes to their head, and that’s easy to do because their own folks aren’t doing it. Yet these rising starts don’t share this culture with their peers or others of color. See they may be too busy trying to keep their position in the spotlight once they’ve had that taste of it. Some move “on and on” in this fashion.
So are they their own person? Or are they so dependent, “so dedicated” to certain entities that built them up that they have a fear of losing their status with them? Is this way or course of action easier, more fun, exciting and more inviting than community building and sustaining? Hmmm….
A few are not aware or haven’t questioned these things, but they need to… and gradually the time comes when they will evaluate if they are indeed someone’s puppet or not. Or a side show - or mascot. After that deliberation the choice they make is of course their own to live with...
You know it’s kind of sad and pathetic here in NYC when we hear a few African Americans who have been to these ventures waaaaay out yonder “begging” for others to come to these dance camps and so forth. Seriously. Seems like they are looking for more color to “join the party” so maybe they’ll be a Black section at these places, ya think? Or so they’d feel more comfortable out there? Or maybe there’s a group discount in the mix? You just have to wonder…
We feel there is enough Youtube videos and more out there and other information on the world-wide web to see whats going on and how things are maneuvering. And of course to be inspired by…
Hidden Colors: Lindy Hop
What is the Answer to our dilemma?
DESCRIPTION: Hidden Colors is a documentary series about the real and untold history of people of color around the globe. This film series discusses some of the reasons the contributions of African and aboriginal people have been left out of the pages of history. Traveling around the country, the film features scholars, historians, and social commentators who uncovered such amazing facts about things …
Can you imagine this happening to Lindy Hop?! Maybe a tad of sarcasm here, but after examination this already has happened extensively! It can happen in Harlem and elsewhere if the current script doesn’t get flipped! Thus the challenging but rewarding work of The Harlem Swing Dance Society in Harlem...
DON’T BE FOOLED: The methods and means by many has already been cast and is in operation…
This is how many black people, whether they will readily admit it or not, view this famed dance culture that started with them and the current situation. Like its Hidden or has been White Washed... whited out. It’s in the past and black people are purposely hidden from view – or non-existent. Gotta hand it to the propaganda and marketing on one hand by the organizations out there; it’s been so effective that its only images and clips from the 1930’s that show up when you Google and try to find current Black Lindy Hop dancers.
And then you have some non-dancers of color who have googled, see/saw the Gap Commercial, etc and wonder “What the…” and “How did that happen”. They’re really upset, but then again don’t lift a finger for change. They seemingly wanting to wallow in their anger and complain… and let the gentrification continue.
AND by the same token - when Malcom X, Idlewild and other films came out with dance scenes - very little effort was done in retrospect to bring the culture back. Sure there have been to “Harlem Nights” parties and such, in full regale and costume. But that’s been the honest extent of it for many. Here in NYC we have some that would rather flock to an over-priced costume party and be out of their true element culturally and otherwise, so what can we tell you….
Hear what noted Dance Historian Dr. Katrina Hazzard, author of Jookin', has to say about that question of Black dancers currently being involved in Lindy Hop/Swing Dance. This is from 2 years ago, very telling:
"The lack of VISIBLE black dancers is like the invisibility of African people in the U.S. on all other levels.... it's purely white supremacy. We don't have those financial skills because we are INTENTIONALLY EXCLUDED from economic networks. We are intentionally undermined by those that appropriate our cultural products but continue the patterns of oppression and denial."
With all that’s been written thus far here, you can see that its up to folks to wake up, be responsible and do something for their communities… or keep going with the current flow and again lose out…
Maybe some folks'll read her book since Frankie's pic is on the cover huh? LOL
Speaking of Frankie Manning: Again it's been three years since Frankie 100 took place in Harlem. How would he feel if he were here?
He wanted something back in Harlem – not taken out of it….
Or how about these other Lindy Hop Legends: Shorty George, George Greenwich, Al Minns, Leon James, Mickey Jones, Pepsi Bethel, Ann Johnson, James “Blue” Outlaw, Mommy Thacker, Thomas King, Willa Mae Ricker, Thomas "Tops" Lee, Eunice Callan, Gregory “Waco” Arnold, Richard “Dickie” Harris, Delma “Big Nick” Nicholson, Mama Lu Parks and so many more… those not with us?
These men and women who are crucial and essential to Harlem’s dance history that many – if they keep avoiding their history and valued input – will not know about and miss out on.
AND what about those still with us? How does Norma Miller, Sugar Sullivan, Beatrice Pierce, George Sullivan, Sonny Allen, Barbara Billups, Crystal Johnson, David Butts, Rudy Nelson, Yvell Richardson Nelson, Deborah Youngblood, Clementine “Tiny” Thomas, Tony “Big Tony” Gomez, Darlene Askins Gist, Gloria Thompson, Ralph Hopkins, Douglas Wade… And again SO MANY MORE with us? What would they want?
These are just a few of the names of the Pioneers, Innovators, Trailblazers and Keepers of the Flame.
Susan Glatzer, the Director of this unique insider's look into the culture of the current swing dance world, also wants this film to be a catalyst for more African Americans to get into their historic dance culture. If Alive and Kicking is viewed and appreciated in the right way it can be inspiring and motivating! Hopefully some more folks with guts will "get it" and get going in the right direction to make a difference.