Vancouver class teaches swing dance to new generation
// Victoria Fawkes

If there ever was an underrated pastime, it’s swing dancing. Popular from the 1920s to the 1930s, swing dancing was born out of the smoky underground dance halls of Boston, New York, and Chicago. Big band jazz bands were the soundtrack for this particular era of dance, which brought swing dancing enthusiasts of all nationalities together. Swing dancing was also a major stepping stone in the birth of jazz dance, which is currently far more well-known than the art of swing dancing.

Lucy Falkner is the owner, administrator, instructor, and a performer at Rhythm City Productions, a Vancouver dance studio devoted to vintage jazz dance. She teaches the popular jazz dance style of lindy-hop, a partner dance that was created in Harlem in 1927. Falkner began swing dancing in 1999, and has since traveled extensively to dance, train, and teach lindy-hop.

“I was just one of those beginning students in 1997. I went to a drop-in lesson and was immediately hooked. I kept going and a few years later, I was asked to teach a class. So I’ve traveled around the world because of dance,” says Falkner.
Falkner has taught Charleston, vintage jazz, lindy-hop, and blues all across Canada and the Pacific Northwest, and at the world-famous Swedish Herräng Dance Camp. In 2000, Falkner spent two months studying African dance in Ghana, and is now involved in African dance, jazz dance, and tap dance classes back in Vancouver. Though Falkner has dabbled in other swing dance styles, her first love will always be lindy-hop.

With all the new styles of dance today, Falkner still values the style of dance that she originally learned over newer music or styles of dance, and is thankful to be able to teach other swing dancing enthusiasts who are willing to learn: “What’s important to me is fostering more enthusiasm for lindy-hop and have it in thriving in the Vancouver scene. The more people I have in lessons, the more people who get to experience swing dancing,” she explains.

What she sees as even better is the way first-time dancers experience the art of lindy-hop, and then tend to like it so much that they will gravitate towards other styles of vintage dance. “People who were students of mainly lindy-hop are now into other dance styles, and are exploring more than they ever planned to because they liked the first class they took,” says Falkner. “I still dance only in the classic vintage range, though,” she adds.

Falkner’s swing dance classes aren’t the only ones in which students can get exposure to classic vintage dance in Vancouver. The UBC Swing Kids program on the UBC campus, for instance, offers lessons, practice sessions, workshops, and group social dances for everyone in the Vancouver community, not just UBC students. Swing Kids not only covers the classic lindy-hop style of dance, but also West Coast Swing, Balboa, and other kinds of swing dance styles.

Though swing dance made its premiere almost a century ago, that hasn’t stopped it from regaining popularity, since the 1990s when swing culture experienced a revival. In a time when both boy bands and grunge swept North America, a more contemporary style of swing dance called “retro swing” made an appearance and has been going strong since. The origins of retro swing dance can be credited to the Los Angeles band Royal Crown Revue, who played an essential role in the revival of rockabilly and neo-swing music in the 1990s. Beginning their careers by playing in California clubs, the band popularized swing and ska music in the underground scene, and eventually went mainstream.

During the 1990s revival of swing dancing, pop culture was also influenced by the popular dance style. The 1993 film Swing Kids, which portrayed the challenges of German youth who loved swing dancing during WWII, was one such film that helped to promote the dance to a modern age. The 1994 film The Mask also attracted attention to modern swing dancing, as it featured scenes that portrayed modern styles of swing dancing and music. The Mask also featured music by Royal Crown Revue, which further helped to popularize the genre and create more fans of swing dance and swing music.

As music trends change what seems like every other day, Falkner and other swing dance enthusiasts know that the longevity of classic dance is something to be treasured as much as possible. And with over 13 years of dancing under her belt, Falkner believes that it isn’t hard to teach and inspire future swing dancers to popularize a form of dance that was so well-loved almost 100 years ago.

//Victoria Fawkes, writer
//Graphics by Chris Dedinsky

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