Why I Want to Dance the Lindy

Dancing at the Savoy Ballroom

Last night was Saturday night and I went out dancing. When’s the last time you heard someone say that? No one does this anymore. Not like it used to be when people went out specifically TO dance. By going out dancing on a Saturday night, I was doing what used to be the most common thing imaginable. There are so many reasons for the popularity of dancing – it’s fantastic exercise, it’s great for your brain, it gets you socializing with others, and it’s more fun than you can imagine. Having almost no dancing experience and being a somewhat pudgy, older, single woman, driving to the hall took nearly all my courage. But having a handful of lessons under my belt and nothing much to lose, I decided to live a little. As I drove, I thought about the Kink’s song, “Come Dancing.”

Come Dancing

Ray Davies wrote the song in memory of his eldest sister who died dancing when she’d come back home for a visit after emigrating (unhappily) to Canada. She was 31 and had a damaged heart from rheumatic fever. In the song Ray tells the story of how his sisters would go out every Saturday night to the local “palais” or dance hall to dance. They loved dancing just for dancing’s sake.

Dancing on a Saturday night was a ritual that used to take place in every town, no matter how small, all over the US, Britain, Canada and who knows how many other countries ever since people lived near each other. Rural areas and small towns held dances in barns or large rooms anywhere they could be found, organized by neighbours, churches, schools, or social clubs. Big cities had purpose-built dance halls or auditoriums of every kind for formal dancing.

Everyone Welcome to Dance at the Savoy Ballroom in New York City

In 1927 the Lindy Hop was born when people danced at the Savoy Ballroom in New York city. The Savoy never discriminated against anyone who came to dance or to play and perform. The hall was a block long and accommodated over 4,000 dancers. With two bands going, the dance floor was replaced every three years. Sadly, the Savoy Ballroom was torn down in 1958 to make way for a seven block apartment complex.

Leave Something Beautiful

All the dance halls are gone now, snapped up by property developers and demolished to make way for blocks of ugly apartments. This is a pet peeve of mine. An apartment building will last for many, many years. Surely taking the time to design one that is aesthetically pleasing for its future inhabitants and the neighbourhood where it exists is worth the extra cost? The greed of companies and corporations – that they could put a few bucks profit ahead of every future tenant and city dweller is abhorrent to me. Look at the endurance of something beautiful like The Osborne in New York…

If you ever design a building, try for something like The Osborne.

In my small town the Moose Hall is being torn down to make way for an apartment block. The Elks building survives because it is a beautiful building and also because the Elks had the foresight to provide apartments above the main floors.

Demographic, Anyone?

Teenagers in the 1960s took over music and dancing and made it their own. Of course, they were the Baby Boomers – the largest group of people born of any generation in the history of the world. The term “teenager” was actually coined for the Boomers. (I have a love / hate relationship with the Boomer Generation. I write about it in:   Get Out of the Box or Die Tryin’ ) Before that, kids became adults without much ballyhoo in between. Sometimes that meant that you dealt with war, death, and destruction as a child, growing up really fast… initiation by fire.

But Boomer kids grew up in peace time. As they aged out of their teenage years, they weren’t willing to give up the fun of their teenage years – even as they became young parents. The 70s were an economic disaster so what did these young parents do? I can tell you first hand! Neighbours and friends gathered without much fuss at each other’s houses. The furniture got pushed to the side to make room for dancing. Someone always played guitar and everyone knew the words of the latest Cat Stevens or Beatles song. As the decade progressed, more young families had a stereo (hi-fi!) and a record collection. This was far more important than the lousy, two-channel TV (often black and white) for any cool parent.

Bust the TV

But the 80s came, the Boomers’ kids got older and instead of going out, they stayed in to watch TV, which had grown up to become a box with the world inside it. It’s hard to believe that only a few short years ago, you could not watch a movie on TV whenever you wanted to.

And then everything just…sped up.

Video stores came into being with the advent of the VHS player but died as “streaming” services made them redundant a couple decades later. Cable TV will die when the war generation gets too old to pay their bills. Streaming services are rushing to get into advertising and I bet within ten years will be indistinguishable from the TV channels they’re replacing.

The internet, too, is no longer what it was in the beginning. The first time I realized I could look up literally anything I wanted to know – in 1996 or so – I couldn’t sleep for thinking of the implications. A few decades later and the internet is increasingly regulated and monitored “to keep us safe” from any unpopular opinion. Or just one the government does not share.

I figure there’s way too much money “left on the table” and corporations are working on shifty ways of tracking consumer behaviour in order to milk as much money from everyone as they possibly can. (This week Amazon is busy promoting it’s “hand payment” so you can just give them your palm print to order and pay for any of their merchandise. Um. No thanks.)

AI bots are deployed faster than J. Edgar Hoover’s 1950 FBI agents in much the same way. They roam around and nose through everyone’s garbage, filing it all away for future reference like creepy little internet cockroaches….

I digress.

Back to the Dance

On a Saturday night I left my TV off and went out dancing. The gym was small and the music canned. OK, and it’s nothing like the Savoy with only a few of us but we had a lot of enthusiasm and more than a few laughs. We got to know each other a bit and practised this now radical act: we danced. In our case, in the great, revived tradition of the Savoy Ballroom, we danced the Lindy Hop.

I am becoming convinced that this is an act of revolution because it is so different than everything else people do now.

Radical Act of Going out Dancing

At the dance, it became immediately apparent that no one sits around watching – you have to participate. I went alone yet danced with everyone there – men and women. There are “leads” and “follows” and many dancers go back and forth. That was how it was: everyone rotates and dances with everyone else. No one is left behind. The girl taking the money at the front right to the guy playing the music, everyone dances. (Turns out he’s not a half bad dancer; he’s been playing music for them for a few years now.)

This is no passive pastime where you watch others who have practiced for hours perform a scripted presentation, make a speech, or play a game. No. You are the entertainment. Go!

No Agenda

The cost covers the hall rental. No one is collecting for charity or fundraising for a new this or that. It’s all about dancing. No one is selling drinks or t-shirts, or trying to buy your vote. No one is there to hit on anyone, either. In fact, the most popular people are the best dancers, not the youngest or most attractive. Unlike pub nights with trivia games, the casino with its gambling machines, or Monday Night Football, there’s no alcohol. This means that everyone there has a single-minded focus: to dance. You need water – and plenty of it. The whole experience is refreshing in a straight-forward way I had forgotten existed.


Lastly, you meet with people who come from a complete cross section of ages, nationalities, and walks of life – and it doesn’t matter. Usually when I form a friend group or sign up for something, there is a general similarity in our ages / stages of life / or socio-economic background. This has to be true for most of us, I think. University students hang out with other students, new Moms with other Mothers, hikers in the club are pretty homogenous as are the people who bike, snowmobile, or go to Elks’ meetings, for example.

It’s gotten so that where we live is homogenized, probably by the price of living there. Cheaper condos for younger people getting into their first place; gated communities for older, wealthier couples; low rent apartments for immigrants, students, and the working poor. Students are clustered around the university and medical workers around the hospitals. The stores you shop at, the coffee shops you go to, the place you work – they become a kind of smaller enclave within the city, full of the same types of people. We put ourselves into blocks without our even being aware of it.

Last Night I Became Aware of How Small My World Had Become

The variety of dancer in even our small grouping was pretty incredible. At least three of the 13 of us spoke a language other than English as their first language. Happily, many younger people came out dancing. There were far more older women than men dancing but several men do come out without their wives, whose dancing days may be over, I don’t know. You really can’t talk to anyone too much because there’s far too much going on. Between ensuring you’re doing the right triple step in the right place, holding on without gripping, ensuring your elbows are firm but relaxed…all while trying to keep the beat of the music uppermost in mind, small talk kind of falls by the wayside. OK, and I’m winded and puffing too much!

There are wealthier people, who know how to ballroom dance and are so smooth it nearly makes you cry when they tango. And there are people who have that sort of rumpled, van life look to them. It’s definitely “come as you are.” Some dancers wear sneakers, some proper leather shoes, one hippie guy had what appeared to be slippers on, and another unfortunate young guy blew a sole off his shoe in the first dance. He spent the rest of the night dancing in his stocking feet.

The only thing we had in common was that we were there to dance.

And Now

I wrote this piece after my first dance. After completing my first series of lessons, I signed up for the advanced beginner lessons. On most Saturday nights, I’m out dancing with my new friends. My goal is to be able to dance without thinking about what my feet are doing so that I can just laugh and enjoy moving to the music in the company of others.

And I ask you – is there anything more important than that?


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