Friday, July 07, 2006

Lindy to liven up City Hall

A DANCE craze famously associated with Harlem's Savoy ballroom should liven up London's City Hall in a couple of weeks, when the Jiving Lindy Hoppers pay a visit to Ken's palace as part of Dance Week.

Making a change from the jive talk of politicians my old friend Terry Monaghan who did much to bring the Lindy Hop back in Britain, and helped script Brucie's US dance documentary on telly last year will be doing the talking bit between dance demos in the event, on Thursday July 20 at 6.30 pm.

Terry says the event is free and all are welcome. And for those who can't make it, but want to know more, or those who are coming but want to do their prep or homework, here's the full s.p.:

Stepping Out With Lindy

On July 20th at 6.30 the London based Jiving Lindy Hoppers will be bringing their performance and research skills together in a unique lecture/demonstration as part of the Big Dance celebrations at City Hall on the South side of the Thames near Tower Bridge.

As part of the nationwide dance celebrations taking place that week the JLH will be moving on to a major event at Trafalgar Square on Saturday the 22nd where they will attempt to break a couple of Lindy Hop/Swing dance records in conjunction with the BBC and the Guinness Book of Records.

The JLH have been pushing the limits of the prevailing meagre understanding and mastery of this epic 1930-50s dance ever since Terry Monaghan and Warren Heyes set out back in 1983 to re-stage the original form of "jive" dancing that was first called the Lindy Hop. Not only did that initially lead to the re-familiarisation of the name throughout the country, but it resulted in far flung international performances for the company itself.

Two coast-to-coast 50 gig tours of the US, three with the Boston Pops Orchestra, four tours of Japan, plus all kinds of festivals and concert halls across Europe and in the US now compromises the JLH’s unique record among the new international wave of exponents of this art form. The key to that success has been the combination of its twin commitment to mastering formerly marginalised dance techniques with a rigorous range of formal research and theoretical activities. It would surprise many audiences to realise just how much of the more spectacular aspects of the JLH’s performances derive from interviews in obscure parts of the USA, repeated visits to institutional archives and pouring through old copies of the black press.

Yet this commitment started from real community concerns. Back in the late 1970s there was increasing talk in the UK amongst the extreme right that "jive" was a "white man’s dance" and that it should be made more popular than "reggae." Terry, counter-argued that "reggae" itself, in its first form of "ska" largely evolved from Louisiana style rhythm and blues, a great deal of which when played by Fats Domino was known as "rock ‘n’ roll!" However more importantly "jive" itself derived directly from the Lindy Hop that was originally created in Harlem, NYC in 1928.

JLH research since then has pinpointed "Shorty George" Snowden and Mattie Purnell as the two key dancers responsible for this innovation, and thus who as Americans were probably responsible for more people dancing all round the world than any other leading, and invariably hugely more celebrated American dancing icons. Ironically confronting the "state of denial" among extreme right elements when it came to the true origins of "jive," has continued on into confronting even many new Lindy Hop enthusiasts.

A significant proportion of the latter persist in attempting to deny the specific African-American authorship of this dance form, and even when they do grant it limited acknowledgement only talk about the role of males whilst leaving out their female partners. But there is no question of Lindy Hopping or Jiving on your own, or without that stunning breakthrough that originally took place among the ordinary people of Harlem!

This community understanding of the dance form has enabled the JLH to sustain its self-defining orientation in the way that it "sees" the Lindy Hop. Basing its activities through working amongst local youth in different areas across London starting in Mile End and currently in Acton, the company has always made a major feature of educational work of all forms.

Three major projects have marked mile stones along the way – the 1991 Ballet-Jazz Project in which the company staged workshops and lecture-demonstrations in conjunction with the educational/community units of four major UK ballet companies courtesy of a Sainsbury’s Educational Award, the 1993 Community Holidays Festival in Lincoln Center, NYC in which the company staged eight performances for nine thousand New York public schools children in Xmas 1993 and the 2002 "Out For the Count" educational residency at the Royal Festival Hall in which the JLH worked with and performed in conjunction with the "Back to Basie Orchestra" and 50 secondary school children from across the country. At the same time it collaborates each Autumn half-term with "The Descendents" – an organisation for young people from Caribbean families, to stage a week of dance that is open to all in the Acton area.

The company will never forget its revered Harlem mentors – "Mama Lou" Parks, "Pepsi" Bethel, Frankie Manning, Norma Miller, and George and Sugar Sullivan - just to name the most obvious. They have schooled the JLH in how to distinguish the "inner" Lindy Hop i.e. its cultural and community meanings, from the "outer" – the "steps" and well know choreographical patterns, which now enables members of the company to find new ways forward. Recently two JLH members played a leading role in organising the celebration for the 80th anniversary of the opening of Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom that was the epicentre for the Lindy, in the surviving historic Alhambra Ballroom in New York. Over half of its capacity attendance of 400 people were drawn from the local community who had danced at the Savoy. Thus the commitment of the JLH to the art form is not specifically about a dance form, but to that sense of self-empowered communities such as existed at the Savoy which played a major part in the destruction of the insidiously brutal racial stereotypes of African-Americans that had existed up to that point. The dance still conveys that victorious notion of people who made an epic break through, and is perhaps why it still causes concern today amongst those who want to keep things as they are.

The JLH remains committed to encouraging others to see new shades of meaning in the Lindy Hop, and in its related dance and other art forms, and is highly appreciative of role of ADAD and Dance UK and others in being given this opportunity in National Dance Week to explain and demonstrate with both live and recorded performances the many faces of this dance form.

The Dance Manifesto
There is currently a great appetite for dance in all its diverse and dynamic forms, be that watching or participating. It is therefore a fantastic time for a Dance Manifesto, which is currently being produced by the National Campaign for the Arts (NCA) and Dance UK. The Dance Manifesto is a new document aimed at Government outlining the key aspirations of the dance industry. The Manifesto has brought together the whole dance industry to speak in a united voice and define the absolute priorities for the sector now.
The key ambitions for dance identified are:
· We want dance to be supported and developed as an art form
· We want dance to be an integral part of every young person's education
· We want dance to be available and affordable for everyone to watch and participate in
· We want dance to be a sustainable career with world class training
· We want investment in dancers’ healthcare

Presentation to David Lammy
The Dance Manifesto will be presented to David Lammy MP, the Minister for Culture on Monday 10 July 2006. The delegation visiting the Minister will include Darcey Bussell, Matthew Bourne, Arlene Phillips, Jonzi D, Victoria Todd, Director of the NCA and Dance UK’s Director, Caroline Miller.
Celebrate the launch of the Dance Manifesto at Big Dance on 20 July:
The launch of the Dance Manifesto will be celebrated during the Big Dance at City Hall, The Queen's Walk, London, SE1 2AA on Thursday 20 July from 7.30pm – 9.00pm following the Lindy Hop event.

For Caroline Miller of Dance UK with regards to the launching of the Dance Manifesto of which this lecture/demonstration is a part,
Email: Tel: 020 7228 4990
And Pamela Zigomo for ADAD, - Association for the Dance of the African Diaspora.
For Carolene Hinds who is a leading member of ADAD, and Artistic Director of the JLH email: Tel: 07815 202 825



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