It was one of the most electrifying and satisfying experiences of my life.
A few weeks back, I was contacted by a local band leader that I have worked with before, Brent Wallerab. He co-leads one of the best jazz groups in the Midwest, the Midcoast Swing Orchestra. In the past few years, I have been fortunate to work with the group in an hour long performance show called "How America Learned to Swing" teaching elementary and middle school kids about an era when big band ruled the stage and Lindy Hop and Charleston ruled the floor. The kids have always enjoyed the shows, but they are so short, and we dance so little that it is hard to truly showcase the magic that was, and is, Lindy Hop.
Saturday night, I was given the chance to remedy that. Brent had called me up and told me that he was doing a 2 hour show, with 2 live bands, 22 songs, and he wanted me to choreograph the show for 6 dancers. At first, I found myself overwhelmed, with dancers on about 15 of the numbers, that is a ton of choreography. And without the dance talent locally, I had to reach regionally. Luckily, the members of the Hoosier Hot Shots (John Holmstrom, Caitlin Baird, Chris Schoenfelder, Liz Thatcher, myself and Mandy Spencer) were all available and excited. Unfortunately, these dancers are all spread around the area, from Chicago to Louisville and all around Indiana, which meant our first rehearsal as a group would be the day before the show.
Fast forward to this Friday, after hours of choreographing, planning and fruitless phone calls, I couldn't have been more nervous,stressed or excited. After two antagonizing hours of rehearsal, a near sleepless night, and one last dress rehearsal where the entire team missed the beginning of one of our "show stopper" routines, I was certainly on edge. However, in true Lindy Hopper fashion, everything came together in the end, and I think the Hoosier Hot Shots put on one hell of a show for a crowd of near 1000 people at Indiana University's Big Band Extravaganza.
But there was something that was truly magical and electrifying about that night. To put Lindy Hop on a performance stage with 2 fantastic bands, playing great swing music, with a cheering crowd, is something that is beautiful to me on many levels. For one, the respect shared between the dancers and musicians was magnificent. We, as dancers, could not have asked for better music, and the band was enthralled to have dancers in their concert. Not to mention, that each and every musician is a budding jazz student at Indiana University. To have 40 or so performers on one stage, all under the age of 30, performing material from 80 years ago: the historical value speaks for itself.
Frankie himself said that he got his energy from seeing the young people of today still getting out there and dancing. I don't want to preach the gospel of Frankie, but the youthful energy was something that was incredible. Especially what the audience couldn't see. Backstage, the dancers and musicians mingled, joked around, and talked about jazz and "the good old days." Before and after rehearsals, a few of the musicians stuck around and just jammed a bit, so the dancers of course joined in. I remember thinking "why can't life always be like this?"
I like to think that, even for a split second, we captured the true energy of the good old days when Frankie and Norma were performing with the great bands at the great clubs in New York.