Lindy Hop, Swing, The Spanish Ballroom and Learning to Let Go

Saturday night I went swing dancing.  I didn’t see any zoot suits, but being that it was St. Patrick’s Day weekend, I saw men in green derby hats sporting suspenders and women wearing emerald glitter headbands,  full skirts and short crinolines.  We weren’t just anywhere, we were at the Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo located just outside Washington D.C. and two live bands were playing, The Rock-A Sonics and Natty Beau.

Due to the Pandemic,  my husband Peter and I hadn’t been to the Spanish Ballroom since the fall of 2019, but I recognized many of the dancers, regulars, from years earlier. We watched the man with the beard who effortlessly swirled his alternating dance partners into successive spinning turns and the stout woman in harem pants who smoothly kicked and jumped high into the air, extending her right arm to curtsy at the end of each tune. I admired the skilled dancers and chuckled over the efforts of the newer dance converts, gratified to know the love of swing dancing continues to thrive.

On the National Register of Historic Places, located outside Washington D.C.  the ballroom is considered one of the best dance halls in the United States. Mediterranean-style Art Deco, it was built in 1933 and was designed to accommodate 1,800 dancers!  Restored between 2003 and 2010, according to modern building codes it can accommodate 870 people. I first discovered and blogged about Glen Echo in 2011.  And this past summer I blogged about Chautauqua, which was the purpose for which Glen Echo Park in 1891 was originally constructed. It became an amusement park in the early 1900s.   

During the Pandemic lock down, Peter and I frequently danced around our kitchen and sometimes watched dancers  on Utube, trying to learn new routines. But recorded music is not the same as live music. What a treat to listen to a live saxophone, steel guitar, piano and drums, at one of our favorite venues. The musicians playing vintage favorites and singing new songs inspired by earlier styles, had the dancers spinning, jumping and turning.

Saturday night I had my very first Lindy Hop dance lesson, although I’ve been attempting to throw a few “Lindy Hop” steps into my East Coast  swing dance moves for years, I’m strictly a poser.  We arrived early, in time to take the group class, and we were excited to learn something completely new.  Usually beginning large group classes focus on the  triple step, rock step and the basic turn, but teachers Tom and Debra from Gotta Swing were ambitious. Tom Koerner and Debra Sternberg have been dancing together since 1987 and teaching since 1994.   They taught the side by side Charleston, turns, the cuddle-up and more. IF we weren’t trying so hard to master Argentine tango, I’d be tempted to sign up for their classes.

Introduced in the 1930’s, Lindy Hop is a flying dance.  It’s very athletic, but plenty of oldsters, into their eighties Lindy. Just watch Norma Miller, dressed as a dancing chef, perform with Billy Ricker in the 1941 musical “Hellzapoppin” on Utube.  She died recently at age ninety-nine, the last living member of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers and a regular performer at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. Until I read her obituary in The Washington Post, I didn’t know how Lindy Hop got its name. 

The daredevil of swing dancing styles; it is supposedly named after the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh. Fairly ironic, when I doubt Lindbergh would have ever set foot in the racially integrated Harlem Savoy Ballroom. The first man to fly across the Atlantic was an admirer of Germany, the Nazi regime and a member of America First; determined to keep America neutral and out of World War II.  But who said dancing is meant to be a political statement. It’s all about having fun, if everyone is welcome to participate.

Glen Echo Park, however, used to be for whites only until it  became open to all races in 1961. Visit the Spanish Ballroom today, and you’ll see diversity of skill, age, and ethnic background.

Norma started dancing professionally at age 15 and she never stopped enjoying swing music. She formed  troupes of her own: the Norma Miller Dancers and Norma Miller and her Jazzmen. Lindy Hop is an evolving dance style. Norma Miller became a celebrated dance teacher.

Every time I watch Lindy Dancers, I am reminded that anything goes. You just need imagination. I love the music. It has so much personality. A Swing Dance  revival began in the 1980’s and it’s still going strong. 

Each time I visited the restroom Saturday night, I carefully washed my hands.  The Covid-19 still evolves and mutates and one must be vigilant, even without switching dance partners. Nevertheless, the Spanish Ballroom is open and the dancing is so much fun, I seized the moment. For more information about their upcoming dances you can see the schedule here.

            Thank you for reading. Please sign up to subscribe to my blog and follow me on Medium or WordPress. For a short piece of prose about seizing the moment, here’s a link to my CNF flash piece “Freedom.”

  Writing Prompt

Think of a moment when you acted first and thought about the affect your actions might have on yourself and your relationship with others later. Living in the moment, what happened? Describe the scene using the present tense.

Remember to use all five senses, when recalling the experience. Which senses predominate your inner thoughts? Which lines contain the most power? 

Use those powerful sentences to keep writing a story or a new scene. Try it with fictional characters. Have fun and experiment. Maybe you’ll create a story you are pleased with or maybe you’ll learn something new about yourself. Writing is a process.

Published by Nadja Maril

Nadja Maril is a communications professional who has over 10 years experience as a magazine editor. A writer and journalist, Maril is the author of several books including: "American Lighting 1840-1940", "Antique Lamp Buyer's Guide", "Me, Molly Midnight; the Artist's Cat", and "Runaway, Molly Midnight; the Artist's Cat". Her short stories and essays have been published in several small online journals including Lunch Ticket, Change Seven, Scarlet Leaf Review and Defunkt Magazine. She has an MFA in creative writing from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. Former Editor-in-Chief of What's Up ? Publishing, former Editor of Chesapeake Taste Magazine a regional lifestyle magazine based in Annapolis, and former Lighting Editor of Victorian Homes Magazine, Maril has written hundreds of newspaper and magazines articles on a variety of subjects..

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