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Swing Fever

I don't have it anymore--that feverish need to consume the dance floor at every opportunity, regardless of song, of partner, of venue. I haven't had that drive in years, frankly, and while I know that there is merit in becoming a more selective dancer--in developing my own musical tastes and knowing whom I can connect with on the dance floor--I feel a sort of loss for the mindless, ravenous dancer I once was.

I remember with such fondness the many regular nights at Atlantic Dance Hall in Orlando, starting in the summer of 1999. Even though I knew hardly the first thing about swing dancing, the mere idea of it was surrounded by so much energy and enthusiasm. It's as though everyone who went out to the club simply had to dance, or else they might explode. But hardly anybody in that initial group of Atlantic dancers knew how to dance; perhaps that is what drove us all together. Erik was the exception. He was transplanted from California, where lindy hop had already been re-popularized for some time. There were two, maybe three, women who could dance with him at first, and Anna and I would just watch in awe at their movements and his seriousness. People eventually started catching on, learning from videos, from traveling, and from each other, and within months Atlantic Dance Hall was a full blown lindy hop scene that attracted dancers from Gainesville, Jacksonville, Tampa, and St. Pete.

Anna and I were still living at home, having just graduated high school, and there was little that could keep us from going out nearly every night of the week, arriving when the doors opened and leaving when they kicked us out, but carrying the socializing out to the parking lot, or to a diner, for another hour or two. We both injured our ankles at first from the new and constant floor pounding, but we just wrapped up our stress fractures (self-diagnosed) and continued dancing nightly.

During that summer we were working at a bakery, which we often opened at 6am. Since the dance club closed at 2am, and we usually stayed out until 3am, we would often come home for a quick nap and then drag ourselves out of bed to prepare racks of fresh bread and pastries. Often only one of us was scheduled to open the store, but we'd both go to help the other out. After working until 1 or 2 in the afternoon, we'd come home for a deep sleep before waking in time to go back out to the dance hall and do it all over again. I'll always remember that summer as one of the best of my life.

Today my reaction to swing dancing is drastically changed. There's little that can drag me out to the most regular dance night in Tampa, the beloved Sunday night Zendah Grotto dance. So much as I've ever been able to figure out, Grottoes are members of the masonic lodge, M.O.V.P.E.R., or the Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm. This has absolutely nothing to do with swing dancing, but I find it interesting and somehow telling of the very strange aura at the Zendah Grotto dances. Where there is no segue from the venue to its Sunday night purpose, there is also no segue from the folks running the dance and DJing (with the exception of Abdel) to the dancers. This strange element has never been lost on us dancers, but with nowhere else to go, we always settled for it and hoped for a better night of DJing than the last.

I went out this past Sunday for the first time in months, which saddens me to think about, and while the scene was more foreign and awkward to me than ever, I did get to experience swing dancing from a beginner's perspective. No, I didn't quite forget everything I'd ever learned, but Joe came out with me and did his step, step, rock-steps with me at least half a dozen times on (and off) the dance floor. He held his own and even seemed to enjoy his accomplishments, which made the evening all the more rewarding for me as well. Next lesson: triple-steps.


Anna said…
Oh, Atlantic Dance. You're right - what a chapter in our lives! Blissfully ignorant, though we may have been in the beginning. It's sad to think that we'll never have that again, but there are absolutely no regrets, and we know we lived that out to the fullest.

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