New to swing dancing, Ian will be sharing his experiences of learning and dancing with us over the coming months as he delves into the world of swing here in New Orleans.
I started swing dancing about seven months ago. As a distant admirer of dance, it never occurred to me that I might one day do it regularly in a semi-formal setting. Dancing and I have always had this weird off-and-on relationship in which I’d make a fool of myself at one of the wildest house parties in front of some girl I was trying to impress, then abandon it for some time until it’d suit me again. It was unlikely I’d consider it a hobby, but I’d often find myself in my room wiping sweat from my face in silence as a playlist ended, quickly remembering the homework at my desk I’d deserted in a frenzy.
I don’t think there was ever a time in my life I didn’t admire dancing. When I was younger, dancing was never something I could explain entirely. It was a concept, to me, that existed only in its present form. I’d never thought about steps or beats or time because in every instance I’d seen someone dance, it seemed that they weren’t either. I can remember the earliest example of this. The first time I was introduced to what dance was through my own visual interpretation was when I was six years old, and I saw a music video for Bad by Michael Jackson. I remember feeling exhilarated, knowing that someone was expressing themselves in the most uninhibited forms one could imagine. Of course, what I was really seeing in this video was a man who’d practiced steps and routines vigorously since early childhood alongside several others who’d most likely done the same, coming together to create something that would appear to be completely raw and uninhibited. But that wasn’t what it meant to me. The artistry exhibited a freedom of expression I could relate to. And I don’t believe there was anything I related to more so beforehand.
So how does an 80’s music video connect to swing dancing? Fast forward over a decade later, after I’d recently moved back to the crescent city. Like deadly mosquitoes or water grabbing at your ankles on a rainy day, Jazz in New Orleans was something that had always been there. Even now, as I write this, heavy-rhythmed bebop is playing over the speakers above my head.
But I stumbled on a community that used old, Dixieland Jazz to carry on traditions over eighty years old. And that’s what makes lindy hop special here. Many big cities might claim the rights to Jazz but the people who would become Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington started here with their horns blowing away the dirt under their feet on a Sunday morning in Congo Square. And so this music became the heart of the lindy hop movement which still exists today. Whether studying the footwork of the Charleston or the rhythm in a swingout, the foundation of it started on the same grounds we now dance on. So, when I was finally face to face with this movement it caused that same feeling of exhilaration all over again.
I’d seen swing dancing in old movies where people wore zoot suits and long dresses with suede heels and put conks in their heads. Of course, swing dancing has a very different look today than it did then. Usually in a studio or bar setting, people come from all over to dance in a style that was invented nearly a century ago. There are no zoot suits (Though, maybe there should be) and there are definitely no conks.
I began attending more lessons and events. With lessons came learning, and through trial and error came true understanding. And this is how I, a distant admirer of dance from my toddler years through adulthood, finally became a beginner in a field I’d never truly understood. Now when I wipe the sweat from my face in my bedroom after an instance that might resemble a scene from Footloose, I know exactly what makes these steps possible, and what makes my feet fly.
Ian Monroe is a contributing writer for Crescent City Swing, community member, and friend. Watch out for more updates from Ian and follow along with his dance journey.