Hey, it's Faraone here with my new dance partner, Sara Faith Alterman. Despite her co-author status, Sara has zero input into how we're commencing this feature. All she knows is that, however I decide to lead, it's her duty to respectfully follow. That's how the Lindy Hop community operates — guys just start dancing, and gals — no matter how many women's-studies classes they took in college — have to counter with appropriate reflexes. When I move, she moves — just like that. It might seem ludicrous to feminists, intellectuals, and liberals who shuffle past our basement ballroom clueless about what's popping downstairs, but beneath St. Mary's Orthodox Church in Cambridge on Friday nights, that's simply how cats groove.
Ow! That's my foot, Faraone. Pay attention.
If Chris could ooze grace and charm as easily as he does beads of sweat, this partners-dance thing would be a piece of cake. Instead, we're stumbling all over each other while two instructors — members of the nonprofit dance-revival organization Boston Swing Central — glide along effortlessly, marking off dance steps in counts of six.
This six-count is the foundation of Lindy Hop, a faction of Swing Dance named for Charles Lindberg that emerged from the ballrooms of Harlem in the 1930s. It was re-popularized in the 1990s by, of course, a commercial retail-marketing campaign, as finger-snappin', toe-tappin', khaki-wearin' daddy-o's swung each other in circles in a series of late-'90s TV ads for the Gap.
Sara forgot "ho-mackin'," but that's alright. Anyway, even though the khaki-wearin' poseurs deserted the scene circa 2001, there seems to be a looming contemporary Boston swing boom, led by the likes of Mike Hibarger — a super-smooth six-stepper who was cool enough to drop background on us before this blind-sided shoop. After learning how to dance in Boston in the early '90s, Hibarger brought his wingtips to the University of Wisconsin, but couldn't find a partner with adequate pizzazz. "I always watched old movies and thought it would be a cool thing to do," he says. "But I wanted to have an actual connection with a person when I was dancing, not have them looking at me, bored." Needless to say, Hibarger hardly resented the renaissance spawned in the wake of those cheesy Gap spots.
In fact, he reveled in it, which is evident as he welcomes Chris and me to the dance floor at St. Mary's. A few dozen people are milling about, a mix of old-hat Lindy Hop fiends andswing virgins. Hibarger tells us that the dance attracts 20 to 40 new people each week, plus a core group of devout enthusiasts. They, like us, are waiting for the free lesson that precedes the Friday night dance, and Chris and I stick out like Dianne Wilkerson's rack in that now-infamous bribery photo. Mostly because Faraone, who takes his fashion clues from the movie Malibu's Most Wanted, chose to don bright-orange pants and a jauntily cocked ball cap. I'm half-expecting him to spark a blunt, mid twirl. Of course, I have my own fashion crimes. I love a theme outfit as much as the next chick, so I gussied up in polka dots and did my hair up all fancy-like. Even wore lipstick, like a true 1930s wannabe. Except for the Boston Swing Central members, we're pretty much the only assholes who didn't wear jeans.
Shots and steps
Hibarger gives us a pre-lesson lesson, beaming while he snaps his fingers and trots through what he says is a pattern of steps, but, to me, is similar to the tactic my mother uses to avoid stepping on bees when she's barbecuing barefoot in the summertime. He counts aloud as he moves: "One, two, three, and four, five, six. One, two, three, and Lin-dy-Hop."
By the timeI, Chris, and the other aspiring Lindy Hoppers form a circle on the dance floor for our group lesson, I've already forgotten everything Hibarger showed us.
At least I have an excuse for forgetting: before descending into the St. Mary's cellar, I tossed back one shot of Cuervo, three pints, and a small bathtub full of Southern Comfort. It was an ill-conceived game plan: booze might facilitate club and wedding dance scenarios, but the Lindy Hop requires some learned movements, and the sauce hardly assists my memory retention. I should have heeded Hibarger's understatement of the century: "Swing dancing and alcohol don't really mix. It's a great social lubricant, but once you get dancing, you don't need it." True, and for the record, when you're face-to-face with strangers, it's also embarrassing to reek like booze and breath mints.
It doesn't help that we change partners every three minutes, even if I do enjoy the Wilt Chamberlain carousel. With every counterclockwise switch, I essentially forget everything. Put my hand where? Three, four, what? One second, I'm romancing a co-ed whose boyfriend bites his lip across the room; the next I'm ogling mountainous middle-aged cleavage. (This is a phenomenal place to meet women, by the way, particularly for anyone who can't commit to even eight-minute dating.)