Jump, Jive, and Wail: The Story of 90s Swing!!
Everyone says the
famous 1998 Gap Commercial started the Swing Craze.
Nonsense. Nor did "Saturday Night Fever" start Disco. Instead, both were
individual moments that stirred pent-up energies to create an explosion!
The roots of the Swing movement go back to
the late 80s, early 90s. Some of todays top Swing bands like the Cherry Poppin Daddies and Royal Crown Revue started as punk bands playing Seattle-style grunge
rock. Tired of the scene and looking for a change, they noticed some of their most
requested music were neo-swing songs of their own creation. Taking a hint from the
increasing popularity of their Swing songs, some bands as a form of rebellion against the
shabby Grunge look decided to go retro. They adopted 40s swing attire complete with
flashy Zoot Suits, black and white Bleyer shoes, and chains. Now they were more
outrageously dressed that the tattered shirts and jeans of the other punk bands.
Nevertheless, the clothing inspiration came first from the early success of their music.
Movie One: Swing Kids
The 1993 cult hit "Swing Kids"
struck a major nerve. It was a sad and highly romantic movie about German teenagers
reacting against the Nazi disapproval of the Black and Jewish-inspired 30s Swing
music. It featured many excellent scenes filled
with terrific Swing dancing, Benny Goodman classics like "Sing,
Sing, Sing" and the same spirit of rebellion against authority that helped drive the
popularity of "Rock Around the Clock" in the 50s.
Movie Two: Swingers
California is given most of the credit
for the Swing Movement. Not long after "Swing
Kids", another sleeper hit called "Swingers" came out in 1996.
Featuring a couple of losers in LA who were going nowhere,
a young man named Mikey suddenly finds
himself snapping out of a movie-long depression
when he dances with his new girl
friend to the hot Swing music of the Big Bad Voodoo Daddies.
Although this is the only dance scene in the
entire movie, the dancing was so fun and
spontaneous that it was the highlight of the movie. Oddly, no explanation
was given why Mikey's
dance skills are better than someone with
six months of Swing classes at
a dance studio, but then probably no one
noticed or more likely no one cared.
The point taken was that Swing dancing looked
like fun and the music was great!
Coupled with these two movies, the interest
in the neo-Swing music continued to grow. Groups like the Squirrel Nut Zippers and Indigo
Swing combined with the previously mentioned Cherry Poppin' Daddies with their famous song
"Zoot Suit Riot", Royal Crown Revue, the Big Bad Voodoo Daddies, and
original Stray Cats band member Brian Setzer to sell a lot of records. Not only did
the great Swing beat and terrific instrumentation appeal to the younger generation,
but the fabulously rhythmic music managed to get some over-30
people stompin' their feet as well!
Closer to Home: The Gap Commercial and SSQQ
Swing Dancing was quiet here at SSQQ at end
of 1997. However interest in Swing classes improved steadily in 1998
with attendance doubling in the first
six months from a year earlier.
The event that started the inferno was the famous Gap
Jeans Commercial in the spring of 1998.
The Gap Commercial featured sexy
Lindy dancers doing aerials and cool moves in Khaki pants to an infectious rendition of
"Jump, Jive, and Wail" by Brian Setzer. Just
as ordinary people had been riveted to the silver screen twenty years
earlier by "Saturday Night Fever", now the entire country was
mesmerized by how much fun the dancing appeared to
be and how good the music sounded.
Previously nearly everyone
had vaguely heard some of neo-Swing music. For example, MTV had been playing the
outrageous "Zoot Suit Riot" video in their mix and some of the music had been
playing on local radio as well. In the background of their minds, they remembered
"Swingers" and "Swing Kids".
Plus there had been various news stories
on local TV and CNN chronicling the emergence of Swing music and dancing. But it was the
Gap Commercial that announced to the world that Swing was Back in Town! Now
everybody sat up and took note!!
The effect was instantaneous! Once the Gap
Commercial came out in the late spring, attendance
in Swing classes immediately went through the roof at SSQQ. All summer
long, classes that were 40 people a year ago were now 80 strong. We had two Swing nights a
week a year ago, now we were up to three nights. And
the numbers kept growing!!
At the start of 1999, the Beginner classes
had grown to 100 people a night and we had to add a fourth
Swing night as well. The Swing
Extravaganza on the first weekend of 1999 had well over 200 people participating. These
are the biggest numbers in the history of SSQQ. Swing
classes were so big that it even bought us a new dance floor,
thank you very much. We poured our profits
back into the studio by investing in a beautiful new dance floor.
Is Swing going to crest or it is going to
go higher? America hasnt seen anything like this since the Days of Disco. My hunch
is Swing has more room to grow. We shall see.
(Author's Note: It is now 2004 and we now have our answer to the
The amazing Swing era has come and gone. The numbers in Swing Dance
classes here at SSQQ have now retreated to the same numbers as 1997,
the year before the Gap Commercial and the Swing Explosion. All
the SSQQ Swing Kids are adults now in their 30s and 40s. They now wear
normal clothes and hold steady jobs. And each pay me a small
fortune not to put incriminating pictures of them from the 90s Swing
Era here on the web site.
But I know a secret. If you surprise them and play 'Jump, Jive,
and Wail', each and every one
of them will be right back on the dance floor Swing Dancing in an instant!)
The Amazing Story of the
Lindy Hop !
By eerie coincidence, just as interest in
Swing music was growing, an extinct dance known as the Lindy Hop was returning from the
dead thanks to a couple of kids and a 70 year old post office worker in New York. It was
such a million to one shot, obviously no one could ever have predicted the outcome of such
a simple moment in time. I honestly think the story would make a good movie. Here
Erin Stevens and Steven
One day in the mid 80s Erin Stevens and her
dance partner Steven Mitchell were watching vintage 30s movies. Their eyes bulged as
they saw the fabulous aerials being performed in Lindy scenes from movies like
"Hellzapoppin" and the Marx Brothers "A Day at the Races". They
both thought the dancing was cool. Erin Stevens was curious to know if anyone was still
around who might be able to show her that style of dancing. Armed with some of the names
she had found in the credits from the movies, she started to do some investigating.
Calling around the country from LA, at one point, the name "Frankie Manning" was
suggested to her. Not knowing him from Adam, she found the name in the vast New York City
phone book and simply called him up. "Are you Frankie Manning, the famous dancer?" she asked.
Frankie Manning was stunned.
"Famous" was not exactly the word he would have used. When Frankie had returned
from fighting in World War II, he came home to find that interest in Swing/Lindy dancing
had begun to fade. Frankie had been a championship dancer in the 30s, an original
Lindy dancer at the fabled Savoy Ballroom in Harlem who danced to the swing music of Count Basie. In his time Frankie had won numerous contests, invented aerials, was filmed dancing
in movies, had performed with his dance company before Royalty and famous people, and even
found time to hang out with the legendary singer Billie Holliday as his dance company
toured the world. Now after fighting brutal hand to hand combat in the Pacific, Frankie
had come home to find the world had changed during his absence. As Dinah Shore lullabies
like "Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy" dominated the radio and the Big Bands
exited stage right, Frankie didn't need any help reading the writing on the wall. As the
40's reached their conclusion, he decided to hang up his dancing shoes and move on.
There was absolutely no way for a black man to make a living with his dancing ability now,
so he got a job with the Post Office, settled down, and raised a family. A quiet, private
man by nature, forty years had come and gone. No one knew anything about his past.
Frankie Manning had been a great dancer,
the best. In some ways, this was like asking Michael Jordan if he ever played basketball.
But Frankies past was anonymous. He even had a co-worker who offered to give him
dance lessons. Now at 72, single with grown children in their 40s, some kid in LaLaLand he had never heard of calls out of the Blue to ask him about a part of his life
he thought had ended long ago. The next thing he knew, Erin Stevens started to beg him to
teach her how to dance like the 30s.
Apparently it took a lot of coaxing and
pleading, but finally Frankie agreed to meet with her and her friend Steven. Erin and
Steven got on a plane and flew off to New York. From what I gather, the lessons did not go
smoothly. His rust combined with little experience at explaining footwork, leads, and
timing were a big handicap, but apparently the two students were determined to learn.
Getting the Ball Rolling!
After Frankie taught Erin and Steven
how to dance the Lindy, they returned to the West Coast to turn people
onto the Lindy in California. Meanwhile Frankie decided to come out of
retirement and began teaching Lindy in New York.
10 of his original Lindy students
banded together to form an organization they named the "New York Swing
Dance Society". These people were
intelligent, media-savvy New Yorkers. Not only did they get hooked on the dance, but using their contacts, they were able to
spread the "word" in much the same way a forest fire starts from a
single spark. These people were literally Swinging before Swing was cool again.
They had been interested
in the music and the dancing long before the Gap Commercial
came along. What the commercial did was make it obvious to the whole country that interest
in Swing music and dancing was shared by everyone, not just a few pockets of people here
and there. The New York Swing Dance Society
was at least five years ahead of everyone else.
Frankie's 80th Birthday
Party in 1994
In the next 8 years, Erin, Steven, and
Frankie did everything they could to promote the dance. They did workshops across the
country, went to Europe to teach, performed, made instructional videos, appeared on TV,
and basically did whatever it took to continue the Lindy Hop Revival. Frankie in his
70s was becoming quite a celebrity in the dance world.
the Lindy had become very strong in two places: LA where Erin and Steven taught and New
York where Frankie taught. In 1994 the NY Swing Dance Society
threw a huge party to
celebrate Frankie Mannings 80th birthday. They rented a fabulous dance floor,
invited the best dancers from New York, California, and Europe to perform, and had a
wonderful black tie and gown dance. Rallying around the cry "Can't Top the Lindy
Hop", everybody who was anybody in the Lindy dance world attended. They videotaped
the entire event and marketed the tapes. Through their efforts, now the whole world could
see this wonderful dance! Lindy had disappeared, but
now had come back to life thanks to
Frankie Manning and the two Swing Kids whose energy got the flames
flickering again. As you will see, these
videotapes eventually brought Lindy to Houston, Texas, via SSQQ.
(Side Note: To avoid confusion,
todays Swing and todays Lindy are not the same dance. They are very good
friends that can be used to the same music, although Lindy is much easier to the slower
tunes while Swing prefers the faster music. Lindy has an 8-count basic with intricate
footwork and many Charleston variations. Swing has a 6-count basic with minimal footwork.
Swing is more popular because it is far easier to learn and it fits the modern music
better than Lindy does. Nevertheless, after learning both dances, students like to say
that Swing is Hot, but Lindy is Cool.)
The Lindy Virus Invades
In the summer of 1995 a friend of mine
named Lester Buck walked in the studio carrying videotapes
from the 1994 Frankie Manning
Birthday Dance. Lester had taken a business trip to New York;
he connected with the NY Swing
Dance Society while he was up there. I thought the dancing looked fun, but quickly forgot
all about it. Some visionary I am.
But Judy Archer was mesmerized!!
the tapes home and just sat in front of the TV watching the dancing over and over and over
again. I honestly thought there was a chance Judy was a reincarnated Lindy dancer the way
she was so instantly hooked.
Judy learned about
Frankie's teaching videotapes
and sent away for them. She studied the tapes daily. Nobody in Houston had a clue how to
help her. She was the only person in the whole city working on this project.
Judy didnt even have anyone to practice with. I would walk in and see her dancing in
the living room with her hand in the air leading an ethereal partner. I decided everything
was too odd.
Judy makes her Move !
After four months of
watching the instructional tapes, Judy decided she was ready to
teach the Lindy at SSQQ. The only problem was that no one had ever
heard of it and didnít care about it. After her countless hours
studying the dance, she was stunned to find that not everybody was a
Reincarnated Lindy Dancer from the 30s. Should this knowledge have
stopped her? Yes. Did it stop her? No.
To her credit, Judy talked up the dance to anyone who would listen.
She even found a guy willing to learn, Jack Benard, and taught it to
him so they could demonstrate it to everyone. Now Houston had doubled
its number of Lindy dancers.
In November 1995, Jack and Judy taught
the first-ever Lindy course in Houston. They were not only the best Lindy couple in
Houston, they were the only Lindy couple in Houston!
40 brave SSQQ dancers decided to
show up and see what the fuss was all about. Then in February 1996, Judy started
teaching 4-week Lindy classes as a follow-up to her successful Crash Course back in
Pilgrimage to Swing Camp !
Then Judy found out that the Erin Steven's
LA Lindy people had organized a weeklong Lindy Swing Camp on Catalina Island off the coast
of California. In June 1996, she made the dance equivalent of a pilgrimage to Swing Camp
to meet the master himself, Frankie Manning. While she was there, Judy even had the nerve
to correct Frankie on a mistake in his footwork! Knowing her, she probably fussed
at him in her previous lifetime as well.
Inspired by her trip, Judy brought back a
lot of infectious energy and many advanced patterns. Smitten by that terrific Big Band
Swing beat, the Lindy caught on with several SSQQ students who banded together under
Judys tutelage to create Houstons first performing Lindy dance company in 1996.
When it came to Swing Dancing here in Houston, Judy was so far ahead
of the curve that no one else was even in sight.
work paid off in a big way. Judy was finally able to see some terrific
results of her own pioneering effort. In 1999, three long years after
she had brought the
sacred Lindy flame to Houston, Swing and Lindy
suddenly exploded into the public consciousness.
to Judy's efforts, in
1999 SSQQ was named as the leading "Swing
Studio" in Houston. Not comfortable to rest on her laurels, her Swing/Lindy
company, the Swinging Skirts and Mugz, became a
very talented group of Swing dancers.
The culmination of her efforts occurred in January 1999 when over 200
students from across Houston came to SSQQ to learn to Swing and Lindy
at the SSQQ Extravaganza. That night
they stayed for a Swing Party as big as the city has ever seen!
SSQQ duplicated the honor as leading Swing Studio again in 2000
despite some pretty fierce politics.
result of Judy's efforts, during the 90s era, Houston
developed a terrific reputation in national
Swing circles. New York did originate
the Lindy and California helped bring it back, but
Houston was the first major city to pick up
the early vibes ahead of the pack thanks to Judy.
Houston was one of just a handful of
cities at the forefront of the Lindy Hop rebirth!
Just like Erin and Steven had the privilege of starting an entire
dance movement, for a moment SSQQ had the same heady thrill of
turning an entire city onto to an exciting new dance!