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Winter 1997
City Journal Winter 1997.
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  S oundings

Cultural Swing
Matthew Robinson
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In the thirties classic Swing Time, Ginger Rogers opines, "To know how to dance is to know how to control oneself." This may come as news, of course, to most of today's younger dance set, accustomed as they are to the frenzied gyrations of the nightclub scene. But a growing number of the members of Generation X—as trend watchers call 18- to 34-year-olds—are embracing the moves and the music of their grandparents. Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman are cool again, and swing is back.

What's the appeal? In Southern California, the center of the new craze (with New York close behind), the young ballroom dancers divide along predictable lines in their answers. For many of the men, if s just a novelty, a stylish and physically demanding break from the tedium of rock. "I do it because it takes more skill than anything else. There are always more moves to learn," says Stan Kaneshige, a 26-year-old graphic design artist, as he takes a breather at the Derby in Hollywood. "It's a showstopper," adds Peter Loggins, 30, a regular at the Blue Cafe in Long Beach. For the ladies, swing dancing's great advantage is the civilizing effect that it has on men. "They're dressed up, so they have to act like gentlemen," reports Amy Jimenez, 18, a college student who does her retro steps at Alpine Village in Torrance. Alicia Milo, a 24 year-old makeup artist, likes the Blue Cafe because there "the man' leads, and this requires communication."

Dancers of both sexes know full well that there's something old-fashioned about the rituals and rules of swing, and that's just fine with them. Says Milo, "We're the ones combining some of the freedoms of the sixties with the hard-nosed morals of back-to-the-family—men respecting women, women treating men well." Loggins sees swing as an instructive lesson from another age: "Look at how people dressed in the forties. Whether you were rich or poor, you dressed in your best when you went out. We've got to get back that self-respect." Ginger Rogers couldn't have said it better herself.

 

 


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