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Black Lindy Hop Matters: Progress, Protection....and a little Protest

On October 26th 2019 there was a special Black Lindy Hop Matters event in New York City.  Usually held in Harlem (for the past 2 years) the event was moved downtown for a special screening event honoring Lindy Hop Preservationist and Visionary Ms. Louise "Mama Lu" Parks Duncanson.  Thru her efforts and with many of the Savoy Ballroom & Savoy Manor Lindy Hop Dance Legends (who won titles at the famed NYC Harvest Moon Ball contest) it was imperative that they share stories. These dancers pictured assisted her in numerous ways, and thus they ALL kept Harlem's Lindy Hop culture alive locally and around the world...

Ms. Novaks, a Black Cultural Reporter and Artist was on hand at this event, and was shocked at what she saw and learned.  Ms. Barbara Jones assured her this event was only the tip of the iceberg.  This eventually lead to an interview with some pointed and needed questions...

1. Is there a State of emergency for Black Lindy Hop?

Yes there is.  Whenever a cultural phenomenon  that a group started leaves them - and is happily and gloriously being done by others who are re-telling it, monopolizing it, picking it apart, etc... Well guess what?  Its tragic.  The Harlem Swing Dance Society (THSDS) feels the culture is under attack.   So for Black youth to get that appreciation and excitement rejuvenated its gonna take some work -  but its well worth the effort and necessary.  For example: When you have some young kids expressing that Lindy Hop started in Europe something is very wrong and needs to be corrected as quickly as possible....

2. Lindy Hop has now been appropriated by other cultures.  I see less and less of the people who are descendants, so to speak, in the various arenas.

When you don't keep a solid piece or control of the action of a culture amongst yourselves this is what happens.  There are various reasons why you see less and less of "us" on the social dance scene, and The Harlem Swing Dance Society addresses this when they periodically have their event "Black Lindy Hop Matters" (BLHM)

3. My observations as a brand new dancer are: While at events black men , young and old, do not ask to dance and bypass the few black women available in favor of everyone else. Has this been your experience and what are your thoughts?

Oh yes this has happened to me, and still does to an extent.   Lets face it Black women can be viewed as invisible people and be trampled over at dances by white females to get to the few Black men present.  

THSDS addressed this issue within a blog within the last 3 years at  Has it improved?  To me, in some ways not really... but I'm talking about the NYC social dance scene and to be fair I personally don't hit every social dance.  Social media, Youtube and various posts tells me a lot of what goes on though :>)

This is something again that can be addressed to the Black male dancers discreetly or to the side.  Be careful though :>)  And in all fairness, some Black women need to get off their high horse and dance with the new Black male dancers so they'll feel confident on the social dance floor.  It can be a delicate subject yet it can and should be tackled... 

4. Are you hopeful? Is there a chance for black people to reclaim our glory? How?

Oh there's always hope and there are strategic ways to address the issues.  But THSDS will never embarrass or correct our people in front of other races.  That's why our BLHM events always state: 

"IMPORTANT NOTICE: "Please respect Keepers of Harlem Culture, and The Harlem Swing Dance Society's intention to create and hold this space for Black artists, Black /African Americans and Black Harlem community members only. We reserve the right to disqualify entry"  

We are being polite here with that notice; we don't have to do that.  However we are fishing for new interest publicly, and therefore must advertise the event and let new Black people know they'll be in a comfortable atmosphere.  You see we have heard personally and on social media from Black people who are disgusted at the state of affairs of Lindy Hop and Swing Dance.  They don't fully get the enormity of what has happened, but we understand their anger..... and while validating them and their opinions we get into the Nitty Gritty of who did what (and didn't do what).  

Yes we know there are folks (Black, White and more) who want to be flies on the wall at these events (especially this last one!)  but it isn't happening out of dignity and respect for those we know can help us reclaim a solid footing and take this culture to the next level.  More importantly a better hold on our glory with this famous dance art form for the past and future is (for and within) present generations of Black people in the Harlem area and beyond.  So we want their reactions and responses respected and valued

The avenues to do this - reaching more Black people -  are many and exciting! But sorry:  We cannot divulge our strategies.  However you just got a load full here if you think about it :>) 

5. There seems to be splinter groups of black factions in this community that are not on the same page, especially given the gravity of the state of BLHM, why is this and can it be remedied?

People have their own ways and you have to respect that.  I don't know if it will be remedied anytime soon.   THSDS encourages the other BLHM chapter when we can.... and to be honest because of the destructive and divisive elements of a few Black and White individuals we work around this select negative element here in NYC.  But we are happy to say that because of The Harlem Swing Dance Society being established there is more talk, enthusiasm and respect for the culture in Harlem within the last 10 years then the 10 years prior. 

Now this is no cut against the efforts of others thru the years, however "primitive" it may seem in hindsight. Truthfully it was always around from the days of the first generation of Shorty George and Company... a group. It just was not formally established - thats all.  Sadly and realistically there are quite a few in greater "Lindy Hop Land" who will groom you to disregard and disrespect the professionalism and work of these people if you’re not careful.   Lindy Hop Culture with the dancing performance-wise and socially NEVER died in Harlem: However it did for white folks. So for the Harlem community especially the Black Lindy Hop Matters events are relevant and will continue to make headway step by step, bigger and better. This is to awaken a new generation, and likewise stimulate the seasoned seniors who can give us much incite to ALL of the glorious years of Harlem's Lindy Hop culture.


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What the future can bring in the Home of Swing!

Our Concept: To preserve Harlem U.S.A.’s Signature Cultural Dance
The Lindy Hop and other forms of Swing Dancing
In it’s Original Cultural Home - HARLEM

The Harlem Swing Dance Society (THSDS) is the premiere non profit organization in Harlem promoting, preserving, propagating and protecting Lindy Hop and Swing Dance Culture. Our outreach is done by FYI sessions, lessons, performances, lectures, workshops and more.

We do weekly classes on Tuesdays - and Harlem Jazz/Lindy Hop Tours!

Contact us and make a difference!

The Harlem Swing Dance Society (THSDS)
347 - 709 - 7022

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Black History Month 2019: Harlem's Famed Lindy Hop Dance History and its History Makers

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Within the last 9 months or so in NYC there have been efforts to talk of this rich history in both the downtown area and uptown in Harlem.  As a quick overview and musing we'll examine a few of these a bit to show the importance of getting history straight - or accurate.

June 2018

Just a few days before NYC's Mid Summer Night Swing event opened - our BEST outdoor dance party! - there was a free panel discussion on "The History of Lindy Hop".  It was moderated by Zita Allen, a Dance critic, author, and professor...and it was to trace the evolution of Lindy hop from its Harlem Renaissance roots to its modern-day revival.  Here is a video of what happened here…

Class Act: Take note of our lead Dance Instructor in Harlem - Rafal!

"He's the teacher?!   I don't want that White Boy teaching me anything!"

"He's not teaching me my dance!"
And with that they - some African Americans/ Black people -  do an about face and march out of the dance classroom...

Harlem and Harlemites (aw heck Black folks!) can be a challenge - and that race card goes both ways a whole lot.  With that bad word "gentrification" and the bullying tactics in the area it can have some of the locals thinking EVERYTHING is being taken/stolen away from them.  So when some folks  - Black and White - see The Harlem Swing Dance Society's main teacher Rafal Pustelny he definitely generates all kinds of reactions. 
SSSSSSSSSssssshhhhh.... Most times he is unaware of it ....  ;>)

Oh but what they miss out on! Rafal Pustelny has built up quite a resume from the days we met him sometime back when he proudly spoke of "Boogie Woogie" influences. That love took him to Harlem's famed L…