At some point in your dance journey, it’s not enough just to be fed routines, to go to workshops, and to hang out with friends. You’ll want to start reading about the history and the context that created the dance. It will help you as a dancer, a choreographer, a promoter, and it will allow you to fill in a lot of gaps for your students. It will help you to develop appreciation for where the dance came from, and how it developed. Understanding something’s past is a part of falling in love with it.
Starting a book club with your friends or team is going to be a lot like going surfing or hiking. You should invite 15 people, but expect 3-5 to actually show up. If you are facilitating discussion after suggesting a book, a paper, or a podcast, make sure that everyone gets to participate. My experience with team discussions is that a small percentage of people are the most vocal.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but I have read all but one of these, and they are all fantastic. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!
Marshall Stearns wrote one of the most complete tomes about Jazz dance. He spent most of his life on it, passing before it was finished. His wife Jean finished the book, and the end product is one of the most complete histories of Swing and Jazz ever compiled. It has a lot of interviews, anecdotes and stories. It even features an impressive amount of dances notated in Labanotation, which I talk about it my blog about notating dance.
Because some of this was written by Marshall’s wife posthumously, and because there are always different stories about the history of Jazz, this book in particular lends itself to discussion, as well as interactive learning through the Labanotation.
This book is on my “must-read” list for any serious Tap dancer or Lindy Hopper.
Steppin’ on the Blues
A wonderful read for a book club.
Ambassador of Lindy Hop
If I had to pick one book on this list, it would be this one, hands down. I’ve got an edition signed by Frankie, and I’ve made my way through the book a couple of times. Not only do you get a look at the history and development of Lindy Hop, but you also get a peek into Frankie’s life, and what it was like to dance during and after the swing era, and then to bring dancing to millions during the resurgence of swing.
Cynthia Millman did a fantastic job on this book. It’s an easy, enjoyable read, and captures the joy that Lindy Hop brings to people’s lives through it’s ups and downs.
Swingin’ the Savoy
Norma’s biography is a great companion to Frankie’s. Probably the easiest read on the list, this is a good choice for a lighthearted, fun discussion of what it was like to be a member of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, and to live through the swing era. This book gives a lot of context to the modern swing community as well.
I recommend this especially for dancers on a team. It’s fun to put the current experience of being on a swing dance team in contrast with being a member of Whitey’s, and there’s only a couple of books that touch on this.
A nice compliment to this volume is the movie, available on DVD.
An extremely detailed book about the history of swing from a couple of people that were instrumental in the swing revival. There are interviews, timelines, bibliographies, and more.
When love & the Soulare uncoveredthen you will alwayssound likeDuke Ellington
The cover of the book shows the author as LeRoi Jones, but this is the work of a man who later changed his name to Amiri Baraka. An accomplished poet, activist and historian, this is a remarkable piece of ethnomusicology. It was one of the pioneering volumes that propelled jazz education into academic curricula. I found this book to truly embrace the overlapping influences and cultural forces that formed blues and jazz, and to be much less from the standpoint of an observer and more empirical than other volumes. It spoke of lived experience and of oral history as well as recorded. It gave me counterpoints and filled in gaps that none of the other books in this list did. I highly recommend it.
Django, the Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend
There are two prevailing biographies of Django Reinhardt’s life. Django is the most prolific and well known of all musicians of Jazz Manouche, often also referred to as Gypsy Jazz. One of Django’s biggest influences was Louis Armstrong. Django influenced Oscar Aleman, a prominent South American jazz-era musician. Studying the history of Django’s life and travel puts a lot of context into the history of swing and the proliferation of styles around the world.
One amazon review describes this book as “Hagiographic”. Yep, I had to look that up. And chances are if you are the kind of person who already knew what that word meant, you’ll enjoy this volume. It’s packed with great information, though a little bit less digest-able than the Dregni volume above.
I found it interesting to read both and compare / contrast.
Fred Astaire, an Autobiography
Rusty Frank recommended this one to me, and it was nothing but pure joy from cover to cover. Fred is a talented dancer, and singer, but also a very engaging storyteller. He starts with his childhood and goes all the way through retirement and his life.
This book will transport you to another time and place, you’ll finish it in the blink of an eye. I watched all the Fred and Ginger clips through different eyes after reading this.
Besides books, there’s a wealth of academic papers on swing dance. They are a nice alternative to books and can be really really informative, because they never had to confirm to the requirement of marketability or palatability for the mass market.
If you prefer your book club to be a listening club, there are a number of great podcasts out there.
The Track Podcast is perfect for listening, discussion, and edifying your swing dance experience with a variety of viewpoints.
Hey Mr. Jesse is more music focused, but they do talk about dance and the community too. It’s one of the longest running swing podcasts, and it’s always got fresh content.
Vintage Swing Review’s No Cover podcast is a newcomer, and is showcasing vintage-style music by modern bands. It’s definitely worth a listen.
From the Top podcast is really well done, and showcases a lot of perspective. I like it’s bite size episodes, they’re great for
I’m interested to hear how this goes (or has gone) for people, so I’m looking forward to your comments