“The height of Lindy Hop’s popularity in the 30’s and 40’s was due, in part, to swing music being the popular music of the time. It’s impossible to think that swing jazz can make it back to the top of the world’s consciousness again, but I do think we can help it gain a bit more popularity.”
We can definitely say that Alex Yan did something very special for Lindy Hop and for Swing Jazz during seven years. He was the main organizer of the Jazz Dance Film Fest (JDFF), annual video competition whose main goal is to spread the love and the joy of jazz and swing dances to a wider audience.
“There were a lot of videos of swing dancing online, both vintage and current, but the scope of what is shown in those videos were “limited”, often to flashy competitions and class lessons. I felt like the Lindy Hop community needed to experiment with newer event formats, and I guess JDFF was one of my attempts to do that.
The project, which happened from 2009 to 2015, had as one of its main goals to bring video producers, dancers and musicians closer together. “I think that good dancing videos help us understand the music better. The dancing in the videos gives us insight into what the dancers are listening to, and how they are interpreting the music”. The popularity of “Black Coffee,” 2011 winner, was so high that it spread beyond the scene and had a real effect on the band ‘The Careless Lovers,’, which participated in the video. After that year, it was noticeable that more bands started to create videos to promote their compositions.
Alex believes that presenting videos to people that are not part of the scene, without any kind of social context or introduction to the dance, can make the material less accessible and less meaningful.
“Dancers tend to want to use video as a practice tool, as a mirror of how they’re doing, but they never film an entire song, just snippets of stuff they’re working on, and it’s filmed for themselves, not for an audience, and that makes a difference in how presentable that film is for non-dancers”.
The scoring of the videos was done by guests with different viewpoints and who did not have any ties to the competitors: an experienced dancer, a beginner/intermediate dancer, an expert on film, and a musician. The process evaluated categories like excitement, authenticity, creativity, legality and functioned the following way:
“We asked the judges to stack-rank the videos once without discussion, then to compare everyone’s rankings, then to stack-rank the videos as a group at the end. It was always an interesting process, and a lot of fun discussion.”
The winners were announced at the Seattle Lindy Exchange, after the exhibition of all the video during the event, in the presence of an ever excited audience. The winners were always very heartfelt with their accomplishment and they could make short thank-you speeches. Each video was made with the dedication and efforts of a team, therefore, winning the prize was a small compensation for the whole work invested.
In 2015, we had a Brazilian video among the finalists: ‘I Charleston Belo Horizonte’ won third place. Alex loved the result: “The video is fun and happy, the choreography and acting is fun and energetic and humorous, which matches the music, and it’s wonderful to see a whole scene come together like that”.
Lindy Hop is huge! The possibilities are endless and there is no obstacles for the dance. But Alex believes that there is a world to be explored by the audiovisual and that people engaged in the scene could be bolder. He remembers the 1927 video, where Mildred Unger dances on the wing of a plane: “Who takes risks like this anymore?”
Alex knows that putting anidea to practice is complicated; because of that, the project had only one category and ended up not continuing after 2015. “Making a video is not an easy thing, especially when it’s not your job, and you have to work on it on weekends and evenings. Each year we got different cities interested in producing one, and once one city finishes their video, they’re done with the contest”.
But the creator of the JDFF leaves some tips to potential enthusiasts who think about making future productions, like dancing in more locations, like bars, boats, airplanes, other different monuments; create online-collaboration videos; thinking of different storylines, like tragedy, drama, politics,comedies, parodies, documentaries, science-fiction; incorporate teaching and even produce animation and cartoon videos.
“Each time we do make one of these (videos), it’s a chance for non-dancers to see what it’s like and related to us, and maybe even become interested in joining us.”
If what Alex says made sense to you, and that inner desire to do something started to sprout inside, but your experience with audiovisual is timid, the JDFF website is still up and offers tips to help and encourage new productions.
“There are many ways in which Lindy Hop can grow beyond the bounds of where we’re at now, and I think one of the ways we can spread it is through video.”