Monday, August 22nd, 2011
“I am originally from New York, but I have been here for 30 plus years, so I like to claim dual citizenship. When I was living in New York, I latined, which is what they called salsa before it was called salsa, and did the hustle, so I was no stranger to partner dancing.
“When I moved to D.C., I started hearing about this thing called hand dancing. My friends told me that I would love it because If you know me, you know that I am a big fan of the oldies, but goodies. I love music from the 50′s and 60′s. One night, I came out to the Eclipse, and was amazed. I had never seen dancing like this.
“Hand dancing is a swing-style partner dance that is rooted in lindy and jitterbug, and indigenous to this city. Back in the late 1920′s when the jitterbug, lindy, and swing were created by Shorty Snowden in Harlem, it was danced the same all over the country. In the 40′s, with bebop and then later on with things like Rock and Roll, the dance became more urbanized and different parts of the country made the dance their own. You had Philly bop, Norfolk swing, Chicago bop, now called Chicago stepping, Texas swingout, Detroit ballroom, and hand dancing in D.C.
“Each dance style has its different rhythm and movements. In Baltimore, it is a little jerky. In Norfolk, the foot patterns are really fast. And in D.C. with hand dance, well, we are just plain smooth, of course!
“As a woman, the dance makes you feel feminine and wanted. When a man asks for your hand to dance, you know that he is going to take care of you. You come together as one on the dance floor and it is not about what you do or he does, but what you do together. While this is one of the few dances where men are still in control, the woman actually has the hardest part because she has to respond to him and anticipate what he is going to do.
“In that way, hand dance, especially old school hand dancing to music from the 50′s and 60′s, is a very chivalrous thing. Men are gentlemen and woman can leave pocket books out all night and come back to find that everything is still there. This is a community of people who are about the dancing. And, people are always smiling. You can dance three or four or five records with someone and smile the whole time. Coming from New York, people don’t smile like that.
“Now, as President of the National Hand Dance Association, we are working to bring the dance and its rich culture to the younger generations. The older generation had so many places to get together and learn about hand dancing. There were always parties in recreation centers, dance halls, school gymnasiums, block parties, house parties, and basement parties.
“Today, the social climate for young people is so different. They don’t always get to interact in a safe, positive environment like we did, and there are not as many places in the city for them to get together. So, we try and host youth hand dancing parties with the support of Mayor Gray, who is one of us. You will find him out here, dancing at places like the Chateau, because he’s an old school dancer.
“It is really amazing to see how the younger generation has made the dance their own and added their little hip-hop to it. We have kids from the area competing in national dance competition, and winning. It is so nice to see that there is a growing group of young people who want to keep this dance and its traditions alive. They should because hand dance is the official dance of the city, and something we are very proud of.”
Beverly Lindsay-Johnson is the President of the National Hand Dance Association, which works to preserve, promote, and educate the art form of Hand Dancing in the community. She is also an award-winning filmmaker and the producer of Dance Party: The Teenarama Story and Swing, Bop & Hand Dance.
You can find a list of weekly Hand Dance parties, including events that offer lessons, here.
And, this guy is the man.