*Oops! They put all of Michelle's credentials under Kate's name. Michelle's the one who has been trained in ballet, and started dancing in the 90's.
My new editor and I got off to a rough start. Bossman tried to send me to a ballroom dancing class.
Yeah, I know. So I say to him, "Hell, no, Daddy-O. No way I'm taking our righteous readers to the
fascists of social dance, to the frame fanatics with the rods up their ass and threaded through their
spines. This zoot-suited bendy-backed cat wants to swing!" Then I snapped my fedora, did a little spin,
and strutted off to find Atlanta's sultans of swing.
Well, anyway, that's the way I remember it.
About a week later, I find myself at the Garden Hills Recreation Center, a Buckhead log cabin where a
group of swing dancers gather every Monday night at the "Hot Jam" to dance the Lindy Hop, the
Balboa, the Jitterbug, the Collegiate Shag, and, well, whatever the hell it is that I'm doing out here
on the floor with my friend Terra McVoy, an occasional CL contributor who came along with me to learn
how to swing.
OK, so, in theory, it's the East Coast swing we're doing in the free class held before the dance. It's
allegedly the simplest of swings, though it does make you bend a 4/4 rock 'n' roll-raised brain to a
six count. "Rock-step, step [pause], step [pause]," calls out Bobby White, co-founder and organizer
-- along with Kate Hedin and Nima Farsinejad -- of the weekly Hot Jam.
"I was a dorky white guy in high school," White tells me before the class begins. "I had no clue
how to interact with people other than the drama group." He'd seen the movie Swing Kids (1993), in which
German youth rebel against the Nazis by dancing the forbidden dance (seriously, swing was forbidden in
Nazi Germany). So White was primed when nouveau-swing came along in the mid-'90s, courtesy of ska's
fondness for swing jazz and that 1998 Gap ad where khaki-clad twentysomethings went all Matrix on aerial swing.
Hedin [he means Michelle] was already a dancer when nouveau-swing came along. She'd trained in
classical ballet and modern. Then, in the late-'90s, she started showing up at the Masquerade. "They
had swinging on Sunday night, and it became this mecca, just hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people."
That heyday of nouveau-swing has since passed, but a solid core of dancers is still swinging and bringing
in new converts all the time. About 35 of them show up on this night, as Terra and I crash and stumble
and spin and laugh and go back for more. The DJs are playing big band and blues, jazz and rockabilly. We
break off and try to figure out what the dance becomes with other partners.
Three times over the course of the evening, I dance with Marie Lovejoy, who has been doing swing for a
little more than a year. The first time, I'm still talking myself through it -- "rock-step, step [pause],
step [pause]" -- dancing stock straight and stiff as a board, like I'm cringing in anticipation of a ballroom
scream. The second time, I forget about counting steps and just move semi-smoothly through the patterns we
learned in the class. The third time, I let go and just let the music take us, sometimes stumbling and
blushing, where it will.
And here's what I quickly learn to love best about swing: The crazier I dance, the more I let the music
release me, the more compliments I get from the seasoned swingers. There is a core discipline and structure
of steps, but the magic is in the "swing out," that seminal liberation of swing, that break with the close
hold of the original partner, the Charleston. You start out together in a close embrace, but then the lead
swings the follow out so that the two are connected only by one pair of hands, freeing each to go nuts at the
end of that elastic tether. The core steps matter, they are the discipline, but once you get those down, the
art is in invention, in wild, crazy, spontaneous improvisation.
"You're kind of taken out of the world a little bit," says Hedin. "I'm not really worried about what I look
like or what's going on around me. It's just that connection you have with your partner and the music."
Terra and I sit down to watch the veterans for a while. White and Hedin dance a Lindy Hop with bits of
Balboa to a high-tempo rendition of "Can't Buy Me Love" by Michael Bublé (the Beatles put to swing, imagine).
They're throwing in kicks and dips and drags and so many other embellishments that I can't begin to track them.
Enthralled, Terra tells me, "It's no wonder people in the '40s used to fall in love and get married and make
babies to this."
Several times we decide we should probably get going, but we stay for "just one more dance." At last, with a
vow to return again and again, we say our goodbyes and head out the door to a gorgeous spring night, six counts
still pulsing in our knees.
It don't mean a thing ...
OK, all you cool cats, here's where to swing:
Hot Jam Swing: Mondays, 7:30-8:30 p.m. (class), 8:30-11:30 (dance). $5. 307 Pine Tree Drive. www.hotjamswings.com.