SPA Invites Audience to Improvise, and SW!NG OUT as a Community, Beyond Kitsch and Nostalgia

On April 9, 2022, Society for the Performing Arts will present SW!NG OUT, directed by acclaimed choreographer Caleb Teicher, at 7:30 PM at Jones Hall. Conceived by Teicher, alongside their brain trust of collaborators Evita Arce, LaTasha Barnes, Nathan Bugh, and Macy Sullivan, SW!NG OUT features exciting Lindy Hop choreography and improvisation, live music by Eyal Vilner Big Band, plus a post-show onstage dance jam for a limited number of attendees.

Lindy Hop is the pre-eminent, swing-jazz, partnered dance. According to Constance Valis Hill, “[T]he forward-driving propulsion in swing, produced from a fixed pulse and a wide variety of duration and accents played against that pulse, is a quality attributed to all styles of jazz performance. . . . The fundamental innovation of the Lindy Hop was the ‘breakaway,’ often performed during an instrumental solo, when dancers spun away from each other to improve a dance break.” In the late 1920s, movement elements, including those from The Charleston, The Collegiate, and The Texas Tommy, were swirling together in Black communities to form a new style, and they coalesced around a musical groove called “swing.” Dance champion George Snowden supplied the name “Lindy Hop” in reference to Charles Lindberg—whose recent transatlantic flight was the phenomenon of the moment. The name stuck, and the dance was popularized by early masters at the well-known Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. 

LaTasha Barnes and Caleb Teicher pictured. Photo by Em Watson.

At the end of the 20th century, a surge of popularity sowed modern, swing-dance scenes all around the world. There are now plenty of non-US hotspots, like Stockholm and Seoul, with robust dance communities. Lindy Hop continues to thrive in the US, and in Harlem.

“I wanted to make this work because I think swing and jazz has an appeal for young, old, rich, poor, black white, but it’s so often done with an eye towards nostalgia, or preservation of tradition, but I think the swing dance community and the swing dance scene is thriving so remarkably in the present, that we needed a show that expressed that. That being said, the show reflects those values, so we have men dancing with men, women dancing with women, and women leading men,” said choreographer Caleb Teicher.

Rather than only considering kitsch or nostalgia, the “brain trust” behind SW!NG OUT wanted to focus on something larger: “We use canonical swing tunes, choreographies, steps, and punch acrobatics within a daydream of social, often thoughtful, swing dancing. It’s the artifact of a modern community.”

For this engaged group of collaborators, Lindy Hop “tackles the issues of society-at-large, but in an arena of exaggerated humanity. Touch, trust, gender, history, intimacy, and partnership get ground together there, in the crucible of jazz, and they are reified as art. Our mission with SW!NG OUT is to search for perspective on these complexities, while embracing the joy of jazz dance and music.” SW!NG OUT will present genuine, swing-dance superstars in a blend of pre-arrangement and improvisation, where only some of the steps are choreographed; only some of the music on the page. SW!NG OUT’s creative team invites “performers and spectators to interpret the material in real time, to share in the exhilaration of creation.”

Tickets and more information about Caleb Teicher’s SW!NG OUT can be found at spahouston.org.

About the Author

Addie Tsai teaches courses in literature, creative writing, humanities, and dance at Houston Community College. She collaborated with Dominic Walsh Dance Theater on Victor Frankenstein and Camille Claudel, among others. Addie holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College and a doctorate in Dance from Texas Woman’s University. Her queer Asian young adult novel, Dear Twin, is forthcoming from Metonymy Press. Her writing has been published in Banango Street, The Offing, The Collagist, Nat. Brut, The Feminist Wire, and elsewhere. She is the Nonfiction Editor at The Grief Diaries, and Senior Associate Editor in Poetry at The Flexible Persona.

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