Swing dancing was a hit in the ‘Forties, but faded into obscurity. It is making a big comeback, and the new documentary ‘Alive and Kicking’ captures the joy of the vibrant and exhilarating dance! It premiered locally at the Labia Theatre last night. 

I had seen the ‘Alive and Kicking’ documentary advertised on Facebook, enthusiastically promoted by Cape Town Swing. They sold out the tickets for the premiere documentary screening at the Labia Cinema last night, and arranged for a pre-movie meet at the theatre, and a get-together at Mustacchio Caffe, with some dancing thrown in, after the screening! 

On arrival we had our wrist stamped, as a sign that we had paid by bank transfer ahead of the documentary screening. To give a taste of what was to come, some of the local Swing dancers started dancing outside the Labia entrance, the weather being well-behaved, given that rain had been forecast. I loved the look of the dancers, some of the girls wearing wide skirts, and some of the men wearing waistcoats or jackets, looking elegant. Even though we were encouraged to dress up in the ‘Forties look, very few attendees did. 

Prior to screening ‘Alive and Kicking‘, a video made on behalf of Cape Town Swing was screened. I was told by other attendees that one can take classes at Youngblood art gallery on Bree Street on Tuesday evenings, followed by a Social. Cape Town Swing was introduced as a non-profit Association. On our seat was a voucher for a free dance class. It was also announced that ‘Alive and Kicking’ is running at the Labia for the following week, and that tickets can be bought via Webtickets.  

I took notes in the dark during the movie. The documentary positioning is ‘Happiness is just a few steps away’. The documentary jumped around in timing in presenting the history of Swing and related dance styles such as Lindy Hop, Blues, Rock ‘n Roll, and Charleston. It appears that Swing started in Harlem in New York, and was a means whereby many escaped the reality of poverty during the Depression, by going to dance. Louis Armstrong too is credited for creating the music for Swing, but he was based in New Orleans. Duke Ellington made Swing famous through his song ‘It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that Swing’. The Savoy Ballroom in New York was the first to allow dancers of all population groups. A TV commercial for GAP khaki clothing popularized Swing in 1998, dancers wearing the khaki trousers and dancing Lindy Hop. It became known as the Khaki Swing, and the GAP pay-off line was ‘Khakis swing‘! A number of Gap Khaki Swing-based commercials followed. 

Dancing the Swing was described as having made a comeback, making one feel free, that anything goes in how it is danced, it connects people who have become isolated and are only focused on Social Media and who text rather than talk. Dancing brings a balance to the loss in interpersonal skills, and with music elevates the soul. Swing allows one to socialize on the dance floor. A soldier returning from Iraq described that he did not fit in when he returned to America, and was suicidal. But dancing changed that, and gave him a reason to live. Dancing is sensual, and may lead to a romance within a three-minute dance. It allows physical contact, with people one dances with whom one has never known before. Dancing gets us closer to our heart and soul. 

Two dancing couples were tracked in the main throughout the documentary, Stephen Sayer and Chandra Roettig from the USA, and two sisters Emelie and Rebecka from Sweden, who call themselves the Decavita Sisters, described as two non-blood sisters who liked each other so much that they adopted each other and created a unique surname for themselves. One of the sisters developed cancer, but participated in a dance competition in the USA once the cancer was under control.  Both sisters are psychologists, and found that they came home depressed, having been involved in their clients’ problems during a full working day. They preferred to teach Swing dancing, being in a far happier space for themselves and their clients. Frankie Manning is also featured, and was regarded by many as the father of Swing and danced late into his life. 

After the documentary came to an end, a number of us walked to Mustacchio Caffé, where we shared tables, and space was cleared to Swing dance. It was so lovely to see so many young persons dance the Swing with such passion and enjoyment! I have decided to take Swing dance lessons. 

‘Alive and Kicking, Labia Theatre, Cape Town. 14 – 20 July. www.aliveandkickingfilm.com Twitter:@aliveandkick Instagram: @aliveandkick Book via Webtickets. 

Cape Town Swing. Cell 074 110 1828. www.capetownswing.co.za Twitter: @CapeTownSwing Instagram:@Capetownswing

Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel 082 55 11 323 Twitter: @Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein