Annual night of swing dancing brings community back in step with a old and beloved past time

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Courtesy image.

You don’t ordinarily associate a world-famous aviator with the evolution of partner dancing in America — then again, you don’t live in the Harlem of May 21, 1927, when residents were inspired to celebrate Charles Lindbergh’s solo transatlantic flight that day.

Suddenly, dance was as much a sport as an art form, with everybody trading rules on posture for aggressive, muscular licks that would eventually change the face of popular dance the Western world over.

The so-called “lindy hop,” a nod to Lindbergh’s achievement, is also a cousin to the jive, Carolina shag, boogie-woogie, congaroo, ceroc, DC hand dance, Charleston and almost as many names as there are participants; even the jazz-intensive music of the age found itself creating a subgenre to accommodate the huge interest. Those dance styles fall under the umbrella “swing” — and the Grossmont College department of music showed the community how it was done on Monday, Oct. 21, at its second Swingin’ Under the Stars scholarship fundraiser.

The event began at 6:30 p.m. on the Grossmont College Quad (between Buildings 10 and 70) at 8800 Grossmont College Drive, with an hour of lessons from the dance department, followed by music from the Gaslamp Quarter Jazz Orchestra between 7:30 and 9:30 p.m..

General admission was $20, $10 with a nonperishable donation for Gizmo’s Kitchen student pantry and $10 for students.

California School Employees Association members provided a nourishment for the dancers, featuring a baked potato and chili bar and sweets.

The “Western world over” part, as generalized as it may sound, is not that farfetched. The pre-war and war years saw a colossal interest in the swing sounds and moves, mostly in reaction to the ominous clouds that gathered over the international scene.

The Sweden-based Hot Shots have been teaching and lecturing on swing since its inception.

American troops took swing to Great Britain, where it was instantly embraced. Nazi Germany’s teens, especially the Hitler Youth contingent, opted in droves for swing dance outings as they copied the American and British ways of life, much to the Fuehrer’s dismay (“Swing heil!” was a favorite phrase).

And there’s undisputed lindy hop master Frankie Manning, who persistently talked up the dance amid the craze. For him, the fun was in the footwork, not the formality.

“I never taught people where to step on 2,” Manning was fond of saying, “because when I learned how to dance, there was no 2. We just danced to the music.”

Manning died in 2009 in New York at age 94 following 70 years of instruction and choreography, with a Tony Award among his many accolades.

Last year’s occasion took in $1,500, funding eight to ten scholarships.

Grossmont employs four full-time music faculty members and 17 adjunct instructors teaching 40 to 50 majors, all of whom are expected to heed the warning about the dance floor.

Attendees received instruction on the swing shoes’ special construction — “Street shoes on concrete and wood,” Cutietta said, “would be destroyed in a minute. This is a very smooth surface, so there’s no worry there.

“This event goes deep in the heart of the swing community,” said Cutietta.

And while it hasn’t had time to grow a tradition, the dance it’s based on certainly has.

For more on future events, see grossmont.edu or call 619-644-7254.