< SWITCH ME >

Are you feeling a bit bored lately? Europeans know how to enjoy free time. Learn some new hobbies that you never heard of, but are widely practised in the continent. We start with lindy hop, a dance that was born in New York, but is now beloved in many European cities. Kina Markova sets to investigate this now European hobby.

lindy-hop-flickr
Photo: Eric Esquivel (Flickr-CC)
People dancing lindy hop in Paris.

Being gifted with two left feet, I decided that before I plunged into the world of lindy hop, which might cause irreversible damage both to the rest of the dancers on the dance floor and my self-esteem, I could adopt a more scientific approach to the topic. That’s why I got in touch with the so called "Gentse hoppers" (an informal community of keen lindy hoppers based in Ghent). Luckily, Steven van der Sype took pity on my journalistic research and invited me to join the official meeting of the Gentse Hoppers Exchange (GHX) organizers  and experience what lindy hop is  all about.

Armed with pen and paper, I headed on a snowy night to Ann's home, where the meeting was going to take place. Not being particularly used to going to strangers’ homes at night, I felt in the beginning a bit awkward entering Ann’s house at first but I received an extremely warm welcome which immediately wiped out my initial uneasiness.  I was also surprised by the diversity of the GHX organizers who included both students in their twenties but also folks above 40 as well as a combination of a professional jazz dance teacher and a few keen amateurs.

Nipping on red wine and apple juice, the hoppers fervently discussed the the nitty-gritty of the event and in the meantime gave me a quick course “Lindy Hop for Dummies”. The Gentse Hopper Exchange is a three-day event taking place in the end of April which combines lindy hopping with cultural events such as city tour and a pub crawl. The day passes for the event got sold out astonishingly quickly and eager dancers from all over Europe (Denmark, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Poland, Sweden, the Netherlands) and even Australia will bring their best dancing shoes and moves to Ghent. For the modest price of 65 euro the participants can enjoy 3 days of dancing plus help with arranging a local host who can lend them a couch. However,  the demand for certain international guests such as the Swedish ones  appears to be higher than for other nationalities.  Free drinks can also be arranged for the dancers who are willing to sacrifices few hours to voluntarily help with event. Still, in traditional Belgian fashion, the volunteers need first to finish their shift before they  receive their beverage vouchers.

A broad trend

To my greenhorn ears, the GHX planning seemed a bit overwhelming (especially the fact that is completely carried out by volunteers who do have other daily jobs). However, I learnt quickly that this exchange was not one of a kind and there were several akin ones such as the Lindy Shock University in Budapest ( 800 participants from 30 different countries), Smokey Feet in Amsterdam, London Lindy Exchange (dancers coming from 15 different countries), Herräng Dance Camp in Sweden (with 3000- 4000 participants) and many more. Quite few of the GHX planners have already travelled across Europe to join them;  often leaving completely alone but quickly finding new friends. However, one thing they mention is that whenever they go, the Belgian hoppers succeed in turning even the most  dull event into a full swing party.

Whereas the exchanges reflect the European (if not global) character of the dance, the pure core of lindy hop is about personal stories. That’s why each lindy hopper starts dancing prompted by a different reason: some to save their wedding, others to find an alternative to the alcohol- loaded parties where nobody dances but just stares at each other. While the motives differ, the first step towards becoming a lindy hop dancer is always the same: singing up for a course. However, this does not guarantee you that you will master the dance. As Marijke, a lindy hop teacher, mentions while many dance only few dance well. The key to becoming one of this few is to my surprise not talent but exercise and the best way to exercise is to attend lindy hop parties.

 

Both at the parties and the courses, you can encounter a phenomenon typical for many dance styles: a tangible shortage of men. Yet, this does not prevent anybody from swinging because the lindy hop couples are based on the concept of “leaders and followers” , which is not necessarily gender predetermined, even though the leaders frequently exhibit being in a possession of bigger egos. In addition, the majority of dancers do not have a regular dancing partner but swing with different ones, following the tacit etiquette of lindy hop. According to these unwritten rules, if somebody asks you to dance and you refuse, it would e impolite to immediately rush into somebody else’s arms without at least waiting for one song to pass. These simple courtesies as well as the look of lindy hop dancers (usually dressed in vintage attire as if they have just walked out from a Hollywood movie from the 40-ties) may appear as nostalgia for the past. However, the GHX enthusiasts quickly refute this hypothesis. Nevertheless, the girls mention that they even though they do not wear makeup of dress up in their daily lives, they always do that for parties. 

And while the opinions on makeup and nostalgia differ, one thing is for sure: lindy hop seems to be contagious and I confirm that. After my conversation with the "Gentse hoppers" I felt inspired to exchange my sneakers for a pair of dancing shoes and join the hordes of swinging Europeans. Hopefully lindy hop will set my two left feet on the right path.

NEXT ISSUE 01.04.2018