June 13, 2024

Styles Of Dance

Dance Styles Unite in Harmony

Fall into step with NYC’s best dancers

3 min read

Lindy Hop dancers and teachers, Midtown Swings

If you see a Lindy Hop video pop up on social media, your attention might be caught by a dancer being flung into the air by their partner; such brief moments of flight are fitting for a dance named after the pioneering aviator Charles Lindberg. The dance’s vintage swing aesthetic hearkens back to its origins in the 1930s and 1940s at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. “It’s not only Black American history, it’s also New York history,” says Gaby Cook. “But Lindy Hop is also a dance that lives in the contemporary world. It’s interested in being part of the present and future of dance.” Case in point: While a lot of historical footage shows men taking the leading role and women as followers, “that breakdown of people and roles has been boiled away,” Cook says; she and her usual partner, AJ Howard, alternate between roles, and it’s not unusual to see same-sex couples or gender-nonconforming folks on the floor.

Howard thinks that a popular misconception about Lindy Hop is that it’s too difficult for non-dancers to pick up. “A lot of people are like, ‘I don’t think I can do that dance, because it’s really active and energetic,’” he says. “It’s beautiful to watch them figure out that they can actually do it.” Howard might understand that transition better than most: He had no experience with dance before a coworker pestered him into giving swing dancing a try; shortly thereafter, he found himself dancing almost every night. 

Howard and Cook, who was a serious ballet student as a child and fell in love with Lindy Hop after taking a class in college, knew of one another but didn’t have a chance to dance together until 2021, when they were both cast in Caleb Teicher’s Sw!ing Out at the Joyce Theater in Chelsea. A week after Howard returned to Sacramento at the end of that show’s run, Cook called him with the opportunity to run a social dance program at a studio called Midtown Swings. “I was like, ‘Yeah, that sounds amazing, let’s do it!’” he recalls, laughing. “Gaby said, ‘No, but you’d have to move to New York.’ And I was still like, ‘Yeah, that sounds amazing, let’s do it!’ I was really excited about New York City, I’d loved working with Gaby, and Midtown Swings is such a beautiful community we’re growing together.”

“New York has all the things that we know it does—incredible jazz music, incredible venues,” says Cook. “The swing dance community benefits from the proximity to really special jazz music institutions.” Howard adds: “Every couple of weeks there’s a massive event that will happen in a historic ballroom from back in the day when Lindy Hop was first created, and we get to dance in those spaces!”

But the pair has also discovered that there is a swing dance scene in cities all over the world. “You can have a three-and-a-half minute conversation with somebody that doesn’t speak the same language, but speaks the language of dance,” Howard says. Diving into the Lindy Hop scene, wherever you do it, lets you have “instant community,” Cook notes. “You have your own voice, but then you’re also working in partnership with someone else, and you’re seeing the music through their movements and hearing what they hear. You’re living in their world, and that’s a really special experience to have.”

Lindy Hop is… “Fun, historical, modern, improvisational, dynamic.”

If you don’t think you can do it: “It’s an everybody dance!” Howard says. “A lot of people think they have two left feet, but you don’t have to have good knees to do this dance. People dance it in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and have a good time.” “It’s not really about getting good at it and being done with it so much as it is a community to plug into,” Cook adds. “Swing dancers are very nice people, they’ll help you learn and be along for your journey.”

Where to dance with Gaby and AJ: Midtown Swings classes on Wednesday and Thursday nights (there are beginner, advanced beginner, intermediate and advanced levels) and a weekly social dance on Wednesdays from 9pm–midnight.

Visit midtownswings.com/classes for the most up-to-date offerings and nycswings.net for more classes and events throughout the city.

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