The new Swing Documentary, “Alive and Kicking”, has officially been released to the public. Facebook news feeds for Swing dancers exploded with shares and comments about the movie. Over all, it’s been a positive reaction. I have seen the film 4 times, first in Austin, Texas at it’s premiere at SXSW, and in New York City at Lincoln Center’s Film Society. I was part of a panel discussion after 3 of those screenings and I’d like to share with you some of the thoughts, questions and reflections I have gathered from those talks.
The director, Susan Glatzer, found me around 7 years ago at the Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown in New Orleans. It’s possible Susan knew me before then, but that’s when I remember meeting her. She was in a “Solo Blues” class that I was teaching. The packed room was on the second floor of a bar on Frenchman street. I told the class to let go of their fears and allow the movement to express how they felt. It was an emotional and very charged session. Susan came up to me in tears afterwards saying “thank you, you don’t know how much that meant”. Apparently she was very touched.
Later at the evening dance, Susan approached me again and told me about her documentary idea on Swing Dancing. She enthusiastically explained how dancing had lifted her out of a horribly difficult time and she felt compelled to share the dance with others. She asked if I would allow her to interview me. I hesitantly said, “we should talk more about the details.”
I have a Bachelor of Science in film production, and I knew that getting involved in a movie, if it was the real deal, could be complicated. I was also wary of giving my time to a rinky-dink project that wouldn’t reflect me or the dance in a professional light. According to Susan, she asked several other dancers to be interviewed but often times no one took her seriously.
After several phone calls and magical, random appearances from Susan, I became one of her characters with out really knowing what I was getting into.
“What was it like?”
The first question someone asked me was simply, “what was it like being in the documentary as one of the subjects?” It was deep. It made me reflect on where I was and what I was doing. When Susan found me over the years at Lindy Hop events, some how squeezing in moments to catch me on camera, I just did my best to give her time and honestly answer her questions. I assumed I was one of hundreds of people that she was collecting footage on. In documentaries you never know what will happen as you follow your subjects so it’s wise to follow several individuals and see what happens. There were definitely times when I wasn’t in the best place to talk, or I really didn’t have time, or others around me were annoyed at the camera being present. Looking back, I’m really grateful that I carved out time for this project.
“How much did the film cost?”
I don’t know the answer to that question. But I do know that Susan came up with most of the money through crowd sourcing and fundraising campaigns within the Lindy Hop community. That’s amazing! I also know that Susan, formerly an executive at Paramount Pictures, has connections and resources to very talented editors, camera people and sound engineers. She was able to do all the sound remixing for the documentary at Sky Walker Ranch for a good price. It might be of interest to know that I was not paid, nor will I receive any monetary compensation for being in this documentary. Which is perfectly fine with me. I didn’t do it for the money.
“How much has life changed”
Another interesting question was “how much has life changed and perhaps does that make some of the ideas in the documentary non-applicable?” It’s true. Life does change. Some people in the film are no longer with us. Some people don’t dance anymore or no longer are partners. Currently, I am incredibly happy and settled with my husband Simon, where as in the documentary I was lonely and unable to maintain a relationship. Also, at the time of the documentary Michael and I were intensely building the dance company and dance school, Syncopated City, but we have released those projects. Even though the details of our lives change, I think the essence of the stories still ring true and the documentary does accurately tell the right story. The life of a traveling dancer is hard and tiring and often lonely. The fact that someday we will each see past our own needs and look farther out towards the community, our family or even someday our children is very real. Although I am not choreographing and developing a dance company in New York City, I am still focused on how I can give back, teach, coach, train, and help others to become passionate dancers.
“Too good to be true?”
A criticism of the documentary might be that sometimes Swing dancing seems too good to be true. “Swing dancing cured my depression, cured my cancer, cured my heart break, etc.” Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. But it really only matters to those who experienced it for themselves. And to an outsider it makes Swing dancing look like a very attractive activity. As Rikomatic wrote in his blog it’s “A Love Letter to Lindy”. And why not. There have been some very dark, negative issues rising up lately in our Lindy Hop community. Many of us have become suspicious of flirtations, worried about partners, anxious about competition and status, over dosed on late night parties and broke our banks traveling to events. I think this documentary is hugely uplifting and comes at a time when we need to be reminded of the positivity and joy that this dance has given all of us.
“Was anything left out?”
The last question asked just the other night at Lincoln Center’s Film Society was, “Do you think anything was left out?” In one respect, yes. I know all the individuals who didn’t speak; I think of all the organizations and communities that were not mentioned; I think of the many historical experts and champions who were not seen or heard from and I wish they had been. But how could Susan Glatzer physically fit everyone and everything into the 88 minutes of screen time? I feel like Susan did an incredible job covering as much as she did. It is clear that Lindy Hop is a global phenomenon when you see the film. A map of the world displays flyers of numerous events, Los Angeles, New York, London, Stockholm are singled out as the revival spots in the early 1990’s. Even south Korea and New Orleans are spot lighted. Susan also spends a decent amount of time on the lack of African American representation in this dance which is tragic because it originated with them. Finally, Susan is able to express her main message about human connection. Human contact and physical touch are her central ideals which she believes can unite all of us across generations, locations, race and technology. So when I was asked if anything was left out, I can say, of course there were specific people and details left out, but I think Susan did a great job capturing the happiness, educating quickly and sharing uplifting stories about our Lindy Hop community.
It’s exciting to think of a wider, non-dance audience watching this film. I hope it gets more people excited about Swing dancing. If anything I wish it to be well received so that it proves there is an audience for this subject. Then hopefully other interested producers, directors and artists will create more projects about Lindy Hop, for Lindy Hop.