December 11, 2017 – Before watching this film about the revival and spread of swing dancing I thought the style of dance known as Lindy Hop, which dates back to the 1920s, was ancient history, but it turns out that Lindy Hop, and a lot of other dance styles born in the Big Band Era are truly “Alive and Kicking.”
This documentary film by Susan Glatzer is a joyous tribute to the energetic, acrobatic and sometimes seductive dance styles born in the 1920s in Harlem, and to the dancers who carry on this tradition. This film is also a tribute to dancers from the classic Lindy Hop era (1927 to 1935) who continue to aid in the revival of swing dancing into this century, including Dawn Hampton, Norma Miller and the late Frankie Manning.
While many of the dances shown in the movie have similarities to each other, the dances are highly improvisational, allowing the dancers a lot of freedom to create their own moves. Some dancers in the film are very acrobatic with the kinds of spins, flips and throws seen in figure skating and other sports. The dancing is very fast and energetic.
Maybe the exercise people get in this kind of dancing is why some of them live so long, Frankie Manning had already retired from his job as a postal worker when he started getting calls, starting at age 74, from people who wanted him to teach them to dance.
These people had seen him dance in films made more than 40 years earlier, like “Hellzapoppin” (1941). Norma Miller, who appeared in the same film with Manning, also got requests to teach swing dancing, but she says in the film she doesn't have the patience to teach beginners. Manning does have the kindness and patience for teaching dancing to beginners.
According to the film, the swing dance revival was fueled in Los Angeles, New York, Sweden and England 1983 by old movies freshly available on VHS tapes, then was further popularized by newer dance movies, “Swing Kids” (1993) and “Swingers” (1996) as well as a popular TV commercial, Gap “Khakis Swing” (1998). That is when Manning started traveling the world, teaching a kind of dancing that many, including Norma Miller, once thought would never come back.
Hilary Alexander, founder of Camp Hollywood, founders of the Mobtown Ballroom event, dancers, instructors and others talk about the social aspect of dance, and how it brings people from different countries, backgrounds, religions and political views together. Dancing, it is argued, is the antidote for the social isolation caused by smart phones, computer games and social media.
An Iraq War veteran talks about how swing dancing saved his life. Another dancer talks about how she was greatly aided in her recovery from an injury by all the support she got from many other dancers. There can be little doubt that dancing is good exercise, but according to the dancers the social support provided by dancing is even more important.
The film follows some dancers through the ups and downs of competing in dance contests. It also charts the course of some dancers who are trying to make a living through dance. They teach dance classes, set up dance studios and other enterprises in order to make a living at what they love to do. This can be quite difficult, and some dancers worry about what happens when they can no longer compete in the top dance competitions.
Most of all, however, this is a very life-affirming movie with joyous dance performances with a lot of amazing acrobatic moves. It is not only a lot of fun to watch, but a good antidote for these dark, depressing times in the world. This film rates a B+.
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