Dancers + Hot Jazzers = Stayin’ Alive!

When swing dancing came back into vogue in the late 1990s, it grew in great part out of the popularity of ska and rockabilly, which was on the rise nationally at the time.  As interest shifted to swing dancing, it was a pretty easy switch for rockabilly bands to add swing tunes to their repertoire because there was ample middle ground and that’s where the money was going.  So you had Brian Setzer, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy playing what was dubbed ‘Neo Swing’.  The bands and the dancers who adored them chose loud, colorful outfits with a touch (or drenching) of the most outlandish aspects of vintage styling.  (um, are you really going to wear that yellow suit?  and the hat?  really?) 

In addition to questionable fashion, the Neo Swing era was a time of much bad technique, herky jerky awkward dancing that had little in common with its 1930s origins, and injured shoulders caused by horrid moves like The Pretzel.  As the swing movement gained more followers, many people began to look back to move the dance forward.  Extensive hunting for jazz clips ensued.  Gradually, the swing dance community learned better technique and how to dance styles that were much more authentic, like Charleston, Balboa, and Lindy Hop, and that caused people to want to discover more of the music of the 1920s through 1940s that drove these dances to evolve in the first place. 

YouTube’s debut in 2005 accelerated this like nothing ever before and we suddenly were able to share all this information, copy moves from people halfway around the world, and see what really good dancing looked like.

And all that time, all over the US and Canada and much of Europe, there were hot jazz or dixieland festivals and organizations and bands going strong.  I think though that these sorts of things were viewed as being some sort of vintage, old-timey, historical reenactment.  I don’t know if anyone under the age of 65 had any true understanding of how great the music is and how current and relevant it could be. 

There’s a trend going on nationwide of dancers and early jazz bands mutually discovering each other, and this is leading to new partnerships, new audiences, and new generations discovering the happy, hoppy beats of Dixieland Jazz.  It happened here in Columbus when SwingColumbus and the Central Ohio Hot Jazz Society (finally!) discovered one another in 2008.  Our events are most heavily attended by people in their 20s and 30s, whereas the COHJS tends to be 60s and up, so it has been really neat to share our different appreciations of the jazz era and our interests in seeing this American cultural treasure stay alive.  It’s a mutual admiration society!

Here’s an excerpt from a recent newsletter of the Central Ohio Hot Jazz Society:


We’ve all noticed with considerable pleasure the advent of dance group attendance at recent COHJS events doing the Lindy Hop, Charleston, Cakewalk, and other vintage dances to the live music eminating from our traditional jazz bands.  Turns out we are not alone in this most entertaining experience.  Don Jones, editor/publisher of the American Rag recently collected and then disseminated communications and commentary from festivals and jazz society directors and other interested parties which reveals much about the mutual awareness and beneficial relationships developing between these groups and dance clubs around the country.  The dancers, many in their 20s and 30s, are doing the authentic jazz dances of the 1920s and 1930s, much to the delight of the older attendees, many of whom are inpired to dance with their younger counterparts and each other.  Dance instruction by the clubs is offered, young people are attending the events, and the whole thing seems to gather momentum.  In addition to our COHJS experiences, we’ve observed first hand at functions in Cincinnati how contagious this can be.  We are most pleased to see this, and we bid it increasing success for all involved.

If you want to see some happy feet, come listen to the Tollhouse Jazz Band at the Gahanna Creekside Jazz and Blues Festival this Saturday, June 19, 2:30pm-4:00pm.

It’s just $3 to get in, and SwingColumbus will be there (at several other times too) wearing red shirts and dancing with big smiles on our faces.  We’d love to dance with you and we’re happy to give an impromptu lesson so you can join in!