Every generation is unique and inspired in different ways. But in a city where colloquialisms and a love of jazz music are passed down from generation to generation, it’s not surprising that New Orleans is seeing a resurgence of a popular dance form from the past. This city has a bar on every block and almost all neighborhoods are within crawling distance of a music venue.
With a budding fashion scene, entrepreneurial projects, and other- worldly art experiments in the works here in New Orleans, it comes as no surprise that social dancing is joining the bandwagon, too. I decided to hop on and check it out. What is this other social scene that I am missing out on?
While swing is locally, still relatively new, there is a handful of professional dancers that moved here to teach and take advantage of what our nightlife has to offer. There’s the Nola Jitterbugs, the folks at Dance Quarter, and even an exchange program called Fleur de Lindy Exchange, just to name a few.
The swing scene is poised to commandeer New Orleans nightlife. With the city’s abundance of live music and laissez-faire attitude towards, well, anything and everything, award-winning professional swing dancers have sunk their feet into a local revival, which comes on the heels of a swing movement that swept the nation in the mid-1990s.
“We are just seeing the beginning of it. We are so lucky in this town because of the live music and abundance of young people looking for something new,” says Nathalie Gomes, a swing-dancing star in her own right and a teacher with Dance Quarter.
The turnout to Gomes’ classes proves her right. What a lot of her students may not know is that French-born Gomes is a World Swing Dance Champion. She was a featured dancer in the 2003 Julia Roberts movie “Mona Lisa Smile” and has performed for former President Bill Clinton at America’s Millennium New years Eve Party. After 11 years in the Big Apple, she hightailed it to New Orleans in 2005. Gomes is pregnant, happy, and still in the swing of things as she teaches classes around the Crescent City.
Walking into the classroom reminded me of the awkward Cotillion classes I had to attend in seventh grade. However, everyone was friendly and ready to get moving. My two left feet were welcomed and Gomes gracefully walked us through our first encounter with swing.
Gomes looked polished in a black skirt that flowed with her every move and classic heels that seemed to have a mind of their own. She says swing dancers really immerse themselves in the role and at times get dolled up in 1940s garb to jump, jive, and wail at the many venues around the city. Swing night at Rock N’ Bowl was a good indicator that NOLA folks do like to dress the part, as if this city is a stranger to costumes. I did spot some seersucker suits and fedoras on the gentlemen. It all came full circle when I realized that I, too, wear fedoras, but not to anything as appropriate or nearly as stylish as swing night. Some women were ultra feminine, curling their hair, wearing skirts, heels, and donning fire engine red lipstick.
There is a vague indication of a rivalry between the two coasts, that one swing dancing style is better than the other. Not so, says Gomes. “The rivalry is something Hollywood has sort of made up. There are two distinct styles, but one is not necessarily better than the other, but more of a preference,” she says.
Those two distinctions are appropriately named East Coast Swing and West Coast Swing. East Coast is considered by some to be the “easy version” of swing. It’s a descendant of the smooth-move Lindy Hop that originated in Harlem. It uses a basic six-count tempo to get people going. West Coast is a more sophisticated, slower type of swing with upright, slower tempos, says Gomes.
In swing, which dates back to the 1920s, the male is the leading partner, which is typical of many traditional dance forms. It’s also something our gen- eration is not too familiar with, given that our modern, popular dance forms are often unpartnered and less structured. But in swing, women are to follow the men. Dancers must speak through body language only, so a connection needs to be made between two dance partners in order to work.
“Swing is almost innocent. It’s very friendly and vibrant. It’s a safe thing,” Gomes says. “Girls don’t feel like they’re there to be picked up. It doesn’t come across that way.” Romance is an extra perk, as Gomes has seen many couples make it to the aisle after a rendezvous in swing class. Gomes says sometimes it seems she’s a couple’s therapist and dancing is a healthy way for couples to work through problems.
Swing is also a good opportunity for couples to try something new together. Lucy Wolfe, 27, and Brian Goss, 25, are Tulane University law students who are always looking for a study break. “I love couples dancing and wish people did it more often,” says Wolfe. “It’s a nice change of pace than just going to dance at F&Ms.”
“She made me come. But, I’m glad I did. It was fun. We’ll do it again,” says Goss. “It all depends on our free time, but it’s great to find a non-drinking activity and something to do together.”
So it seems people are actually looking outside the ol’ watering hole and try- ing to immerse themselves in the diverse cultural aspects that make this city so charming. Most of the swing nights are accompanied by a live jazz band, which makes joining in the groove almost irresistible. Other events are more competitive in feel, such as the Lindy Hop Showdown, moments of which are captured in the featured photos. For those looking for an unconventional take on New Orleans nightlife, this may be the ticket. Perhaps you’ll run into romance or at least leave with new moves, new friends, and a new hobby.
The history of the necktie is as rich and colorful as the patterns that adorn them. Designers, actors and royalty in the 1920s and 1930s left a distinctive stamp on the tie that gives the modern man the opportunity