The retro style is starting to become en vogue again. From clothes and decor to film and TV, it’s hip to have a vintage flair. And while the Lindy Hop hasn’t been considered to be a cutting-edge dance form since it first emerged in the 1920s and 1930s, it’s now become a widespread phenomenon.
The growing popularity of the modern swing dance craze will be featured in a full-length documentary premiering this month. Entitled Alive and Kicking, the film follows the development of swing dance from its Harlem roots all the way up to the present day.
During the Great Depression, earlier jazz dances evolved into what’s now known as the Lindy Hop. The form is based on tap, the Charleston, breakaway, and jazz, combining improvisational Black dances and European partner dances in an exciting celebration of movement.
Since its creation, swing dance had a brief resurgence in the 1990s — many of us may remember that infamous Gap commercial — but the film’s director, Susan Glatzer, says that the true swing dance revival has lasted much longer than those brief trends. For those who participate, it’s often a way of life.
The film’s official trailer opens with a soundbite from a dancer: “Swing dance is the pursuit of happiness.” This seems to be the general consensus of many dancers and instructors, citing the form as a cure for what ails you.
In the film’s voiceover, one instructor notes the high number of students she’s had who have been able to go off of anti-depressants due to their involvement in swing dancing. Some of the oldest baby boomers were likely alive during swing dance’s inception, and since one in seven baby boomers are being treated for depression, it’s possible some could benefit from involvement.
The film certainly proves that you’re never too old to dance. Frankie Manning, one of the founders of the Lindy Hop, appears prominently in the film and says, “I’ll stop dancing when my feet don’t move anymore.” When dancing, a 150-pound person burns an average 240 calories per hour, so it’s a great way for people of all ages to stay active.
Interestingly, although the movement started in the black community, the majority of today’s swing dancers aren’t African-American. Glatzer hopes that with this movie, younger generations of African-Americans will become more interested in the art form.
“It’s important for young black kids to know that this dance belongs to them, it’s their heritage,” says Glatzer. “Swing is not in their everyday sphere of influence. The great thing about Lindy Hop is that you can do it to any four-four beat, even to rap music. In fact, the main hip-hop comes from Lindy Hop, which is very street oriented. There are a lot of moves in hip-hop.”
Both swing and hip-hop are fusion art forms, and that spirit continues today in other popularized dances that were expanded upon in the black community. Although African-Americans have historically struggled to be recognized in traditional dance forms like ballet, a new form known as hiplet is hip-hop done en pointe, blending arabesques with body rolls and hip movements. The juxtaposition provides empowerment for classically trained black dancers who have so often been left out of the narrative.
Glatzer says one of the best parts of swing dancing is that it’s now so inclusive and serves as a foil to a politically charged reality that relies heavily on technology.
“One reason I think swing dancing is so needed right now is that it forces you to put down your smart phone, shut down your computer, and physically join other people in another space. You meet up in person and you connect on a human level. You’re touching people and being touched in acceptable ways. And we don’t do that anymore. Cell phones are great but they can’t give you a hug or swing you out. In this time, when we’re becoming so distrustful of our neighbors, when there are so many things dividing us, swing dancing allows us to put our differences aside and get together on a human level.”
Alive and Kicking will be available in theaters, On Demand, and on Amazon and iTunes starting April 7th.