“In the Mood” for Swing Dancing

This piece was initially published in August 2009 on Mid-Shore Life in anticipation of a dance with the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

My mother helped me remember my great-grandfather’s age by telling me he was a year older than the year. Born in 1899, he was wheelchair-bound from a youthful bout with polio by the time I formed any memory of him. He lived until I was in 7thgrade; a greatly revered member of the family. My final memory of him is the most poignant and clear-cut. As we said our good-byes after a brief visit, he took my hand in his and said, “Soon, the boys are going to be taking your hand and saying, ‘May I have this dance?’ ”

Turns out, he was right.

Driving back from Easter weekend with my girlfriends in college, all I wanted was to listen to Harry Connick, Jr.’s, “Come By Me” on repeat. I wanted to dance. I’d been introduced to swing dancing earlier that year, but it was a pale imitation of the glorious truth.

It wasn’t until a couple years later—after landing a job that afforded me discretionary income—that I really learned to swing dance. I loved the promise of possibility at the beginning of each song, the intelligent and witty friends I made, and the music. Oh, the music. Dancing opened the door to a range of musical styles that I only had a passing acquaintance with previously. The big band and swing sounds of classics like Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Glenn Miller sailed forth.

Swing dancing became a refuge, something I did just for me. It was oddly emotionally satisfying and made me happy. Now for the cliché: I met my husband swing dancing. I hate to say that. Regardless of my intent, Craig and I shared a fateful dance in spring 2006.

Last year we began teaching swing dancing. I’ve grown as a dancer, teacher, and spouse as a result. Most of all, it has been an incredible joy to share our passion.

This Saturday, August 15, I am excited to be part of the team bringing the Glenn Miller Orchestra to Annapolis. This is not a big band that likes to play Glenn Miller or a tribute band. It is the Glenn Miller Orchestra, authorized by the late artist’s estate and using his original arrangements. The evening promises to be one not to forget. And if you’re like me and always wanted to learn how to move to Miller’s toe-tapping music, join us for the beginner lesson. Should you prefer just to sit, listen, and enjoy, well, that’s welcome too.

An added layer of significance for Saturday’s performance is that the Annapolis Recreation Center was initially constructed as a U.S.O. hall. The gym where we dance was originally a dance hall. Visible beyond the basketball net is the outline of a band stage. The city is constructing a new, more expansive recreation center that will be ready around the beginning of 2010. Rumor has it that the current facility will be used for offices. Please join us to celebrate the 1940s, the Greatest Generation, and the timeless music of Glenn Miller.

My memories of the dance itself are hazy. It was ungodly hot. Hello, August. Hello, old building with old HVAC system. But the beauty of a well-directed, talented orchestra using Miller’s original charts was worth it twice over. You know how sailors talk about boats as “she”? I see personalities in buildings. I envision what a particular building might have been like before the ravages of time. To me, the Glenn Miller dance was a fond farewall to a dignified U.S.O. Club that saw more lindy hop than I’ll ever know.

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Filed under Big Band, lindy hop, Music

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