Thursday, 8 September 2011

Article in Headington Monthly Magazine - August 2011

Swing Dance in Oxford by Keith Frayn
Keith Frayn has lived in Headington for 25 years and has been dancing Lindy Hop for the last 3. He and his wife Theresa are also now learning Balboa, another type of swing dance taught by the Oxford Swing Dance Society.

I had not heard of Lindy Hop until a few years ago when I noticed on the programme for the Headington Festival a performance by the Oxford Swing Dance Society (OSDS).  Curious, I went along to see people dancing outside the Co-op, quite obviously enjoying themselves and having a great time.  I picked up a leaflet but then, typically, did nothing for a year, when I saw them again, this time in Bury Knowle Park.  They were dancing to ‘swing music’, the big-band sound associated with the war years, music to set your feet tapping if nothing else.  So I went (with my wife, Theresa) along to an OSDS evening at Barton Community Centre – and was quickly hooked!  Admittedly it took a few weeks of coaching (very patiently done by the small group who run OSDS) but it was evident from the beginning that, for anyone who likes that sort of music, this is a fun way of moving to the rhythm.  The teaching begins quite simply with turns and Charleston-based kicks, and then moves onto the classic Lindy moves of ‘swing-out’, Lindy turn and Lindy circle.  It really doesn’t take long to get to the stage when you can put together a series of moves and have a whale of a time.

Lindy Hop is danced by people of all ages.  There are a number of young people, students and similar age-groups, but there are also people like Theresa and me in our 60s, and older.  You don’t need a partner.  In the classes, the men (‘leads’) stand in a circle round the room, and every few minutes as we practise steps, the ladies (‘followers’) move to the next lead.  So the men get to know all the ladies, and the ladies get to know all the men, but the men have to make more of an effort to talk to the other men!  The classes are organised at different levels, with a beginners’ class at the beginning of the evening: the beginners then get a follow-up lesson while the next level (‘intermediate 1’) have theirs.  Then the Intermediate 1s have their follow-up while the advanced class (which is perversely called ‘Intermediate 2’, although it always seems pretty advanced to me) follows on.  Between each class there is an opportunity for social dancing.  The evening is not only great fun, it’s also an extremely good work-out, and I regularly get home and put my sweaty clothes straight in the wash!

Incidentally, why Lindy Hop?  Swing dancing arose in New York, especially, from the Charleston and similar dances.  It was about the time that Charles Lindbergh made the first solo flight, or ‘hop’, across the Atlantic in 1927.  When "Shorty" George Snowden, a well-known exponent of this dance, was asked by a reporter what he was dancing, he is said to have replied without thinking ‘Lindy Hop’.  Lindy Hop disappeared for many years as jive and modern dances took over, but in the past couple of decades has made a remarkable resurgence.

If you enjoy music with a beat and would like to have fun and get a work-out at the same time, come along and have a go. Everyone is friendly and everyone enjoys themselves!