During the best, most connected partner dances, it can feel like you are flying, as you glide and spin your way across the dance floor, lost in the music, the moment, your connection to your partner. This past 4th of July holiday was one of those magical times for me: it was a midsummer night’s dream come true.
I spent the 4th of July in New York City for the 25th anniversary celebration of Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center. There, thousands of us danced to two of the country’s top swing bands in a “Battle of the Bands,” on a giant outdoor dance floor in Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center.
Then, I headed up to the rooftop bar at the Empire Hotel next door for the Liberty Belle Extravaganza, a vintage-themed event featuring live burlesque dancers. Perfect, right? It was like walking onto the set of the Great Gatsby!
Dancing the Night Away
A little heat couldn’t keep the dancers away. There we were, thousands of us, sweating up a storm together under the stars, dancing outdoors in Damrosch Park.
I’d pulled a vintage-style dress out of my closet that I had not worn in ages: a strapless number, white with blue polka dots and a bow at the top, with a blue sash, and black fitted skirt.
I topped it with red dangly earrings, fire red lipstick, and a red ponytail (I am not personally talented at crafting 1940s hair-styles, although I have friends in far-away places who excel at this!).
I braved driving to the city from upstate New York, and happily encountered almost zero traffic. Serendipitously, I found a free on-street parking space across from Central Park just blocks from Lincoln Center.
No traffic, free parking, strapless dress, a summer night under the stars and some of the best swing dance music and dancers in the world equals one very happy girl!
Seeing Old Friends
I first started swing dancing back in 1998 – an astonishing 15 years ago! And fell madly in love with it back then.
I love the big band era music, love jazz, and love getting spun around the dance floor by men of all ages. I’ve always loved to dress in 1940s and 1950s vintage pin-up styles as well, so swing dancing gave me a good excuse to get all dolled up.
I’d been studying lots of others forms of dance when I first stumbled onto swing dancing, from flamenco to ballet to tango to salsa. Yet swing captured my heart because I am such a fan of the music, the vintage clothing, and just because it brings such incredible joy to my heart.
I especially love Lindy Hop, the “granddaddy” of all swing dances that originated in the ballrooms of Harlem in the 1920s and 1930s. From 1999 to 2004 I studied, performed and taught Lindy Hop.
Since then, I’ve done it for fun, along with performing belly dancing and burlesque. Dance is one of my true loves!
Two by Two
Partner dancing is magical to me because there are so many layers happening at once. It’s a conversation that I am having with the musicians, interpreting their song as I dance.
My partner on the dance floor is also interpreting the song, which is an added layer, and leading me in a dialogue of dance as well as we create the dance experience together. Our connection enables us to together create a shared experience that is different for every song, different even if you have danced to the song a hundred times before.
I love this about social dancing, vs. choreographed dancing: we are out there making it up as we go along! Improvising on the dance floor! And how much fun is that!
And More and More and More Dancing…
In NYC at Midsummer Night’s Swing, under the stars on the 4th of July, I danced to the George Gee Orchestra, one of my favorite bands of all time. They “battled it out” with Mora’s Modern Rhythmists, who specialize in 1920s and 1930s era jazz.
I adore George Gee, and in my mind they were the winners.
Luckily I got to dance to even more of my favorites for the rest of the weekend as well.
Back in upstate, Albany dancers had planned a weekend of lindy hop, blues and swimming, including outdoor dances at a local state park.
Gordon Webster, one of the best swing dance pianists out there who tours the world playing Lindy Hop events, and another one of my favorites, was playing in Albany Saturday night. How lucky can one girl get!
Saturday night I would dance from 9 p.m. until about 4 a.m. to Gordon and Josh Fialkoff, another outstanding swing musician who played live at the “late night” (after midnight) dance.
Happy girl. Happy feet. Happy me!
Freedom to Dance!
Those of us who are U.S. citizens are truly so fortunate to have the freedoms that we do, and the 4th of July is of course the time to celebrate that.
I am thankful for the freedom to dance. For the freedom to be who I want, wear what I want, go where I want, sing along to the band even if my voice isn’t fabulous, and to dance and dance and dance.
Few things in this world make me happier than dancing. It is one of soul’s callings, a passion to be lived out loud.
I am a dancer, a writer, a poet, a speaker, a coach, a leader, by my nature. I end up living out all of these roles in various ways simply because they come naturally to me.
When I dance, I feel completely happy and free.
Of course, I’ve learned various dance styles over the years, and still work on perfecting my craft. I have definitely had my moments of feeling awkward on the dance floor!
But with so many years of lindy hop under my belt at this point, it is like walking or breathing to me. It feels like a natural way to move.
The groove in me just wants to come out and you put that music on and set me free on a dance floor and groove I will! Endlessly!
Hope everyone else had a magical 4th of July holiday, celebrating and doing things that make you feel happy and free.
May we celebrate our freedom by doing the things that make us feel most joyfully alive. Here’s to doing whatever makes your spirit feel most happy and free!
Lisa P. Graham is an inspirational writer, life coach, TED motivational speaker, and globe-trotter whose passion is to help others to find happiness and meaning in their daily lives. A political activist at heart, Lisa would like to empower more women to run for political office as a way to create positive change in the world. You can find her on her website or watch her TEDx speech on YouTube.
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