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Harlem's most famed dance is in "Alive and Kicking": But wheres Harlem and Why? Part 1

APRIL  5th  2017
With Talk Back/ Q & A
  PART 1 

Alive and Kicking is a 2016 American documentary film about swing dancing directed/produced by Susan Glatzer. It  gives the audience an intimate, insider's view into the culture of the current swing dance world while delving into the history.  We meet the dedicated dancers and witness their energy, drive, sacrifices, challenges and successes as they make the time to perfect their craft for the dance they love...

A dance that was made famous during the 1920's in Harlem at the legendary Savoy Ballroom: How apropos that this film have a showing in Harlem! 

Out of all of the four NYC screenings of this film this was the one I was looking forward to being at.  I was hoping for a diverse audience - and honestly for more of my people to attend - and it "balanced out".  Present were Lindy Hop/Swing Dancers, second generation Harlemites interested in the culture; some who have taken lessons in Harlem over the years.  Also present were dance teachers, a few CCNY students and others to make this a colorful viewing audience.

Please note that there were two short documentaries that were also being shown that were directly shot in Harlem.  While this film wasn't made in Harlem at all it qualified by Maysles (hosting with Magnolia) standards because it was about Harlem history.  But it was OBVIOUS the majority present where there to see this featured film.

There was much hooping, hollering and laughter at comments and jokes of the stars of the film, so much so you couldn't hear the full comments.  Sometimes you said to yourself "Well that wasn't that funny?!".  But alas quite a few saw their pals in the film and were "rooting" for them.  At certain points I could imagine, as a few people told me later, that you almost felt like you were on the outside looking at a world that was unknown... foreign... a place you where clearly unaware of.  Actually that is a great testimony to the film making and the way the story was being told :>)

While it was stated  at one point that Lindy Hoppers and Swing Dancers were a "big family" some felt like... well... maybe you weren't too sure you'd be welcome in the family - or invited to the party...   

You kind of winced especially if you were a Black Lindy Hopper/Swing dancer in NYC.


Look: You will not be getting too many spoilers in this post.  However a few comments that were stated in the film will be addressed, and as well feedback and possible answers to inquiries made.  

No film can give all the answers and this is not to take away from this great story telling. This film takes you into a "small" portion of what is EXACTLY going on within the greater Lindy Hop/Swing/Jazz scene!  It truly shows the excitement and zeal of dancers and musicians, and what they are experiencing within this exuberant dance community.  You should after viewing it - if you hadn't already - be ready to dust off the dance shoes and go out to dance!  If you didn't know about the dance you should be eager to go get some lessons, look up some history - something!  

For Harlemites I hope they check their family history and talk about it ...

However I know this screening was a shock to some who were present, and "no" they were not all or only black people who were stunned. Below are a few comments that were made publicly after the showing with the Talk Back/Q & A AND later to me personally - after the initial "shock" wore off:

  • 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...
  • I was disappointed...
  • Lindy Hop didn't die...
  • I want my money back...
  • This film wasn't made in Harlem - everywhere BUT...
  • This didn't show all of the history...
  • Some of this was fudged...
And the strongest feedback I received from one individual was this:

"I was left unsatisfied and disheartened... I don't know what the answer is for our dilemma ... but we walked away feeling ____________.....


In Part 2 some of thoughts and comments mentioned in this film will be addressed. Sound bites can be tricky, much like the above portions of comments made. So a reflection will be offered on select statements - or explanation in reply.  

These posts here will be observations... and musings. One can only state such with Alive and Kicking IF they have seen the film.  So if you haven't yet I would encourage you to have an open mind and see how a 90 yr old dance is still bringing excitement and meaning to many diverse lives.  Thats worthy of investigating in itself!

So see what you may be missing.  As my friend Frankie Manning had said years ago this dance of the Lindy Hop is "the most joyous dance there is in the world". It still very much is, whether your 9, 90 or in between...

 Look out for Part 2 which will address some key statements 



  1. I have felt all along as long as I've been dancing swing, that the black element is missing. at least where I dance. I am limited to once a week since I do work but miss my sisters and brothers for whom this medium belongs. It wasn't always this way as I teenager (who spent most of my free time in a ballet studio) introduced to interracial dancing at the DOM on t Marks Place. When I started dancing again as an adult in the 90's at Swing 46, it was much more of mixed group.

    I do think the film was so very "white" and was about competition and less about the day to day coraderie of the local dancers in New York. People who love the music and the dance (like myself). Swing is not about super stars, as the film focuses but about the music and the culture that created it.

    elaine buchsbaum

  2. Great feedback and observations. There many answers and reasons for the lack of raisins in the sun :>). As you read this series we hope you recognize them.... and the whys and hows from this voice here ;>)


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