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Robert Abrams
DanceSpots
East Coast Swing
Foxtrot
Lindy Hop
Swing
Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill
United States
Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA
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Philadelphia Swing Dance Society Swing Dance

by Robert Abrams
June 14, 2014
Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill
Widener Hall
8855 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19118
Pushkin once said that it is better to start a story in media res, so I will start with the floor. The floor at the Presbyterian Church in Chestnut Hill, where the Philadelphia Swing Dance Society party is held, was excellent. The wood was in beautiful condition, maybe a touch fast for my Sansha split soled dance sneakers, but generally in the sweet spot that partner dancers hope for.

I arrived around 10 pm. The party started about 8:45 pm with a lesson at 7 pm, according to the web site I found. At 10 pm there were about 16 couples on the floor, and about as many people hanging out around the edge of the large room. The dancers looked like they ranged from college students to senior citizens, beginners to very accomplished amateurs. The music was conducive to East Coast Swing, Lindy Hop and Foxtrot, with roughly equal frequency. Admission was $15 per person, and included EANABs (punch) and snacks at no extra charge. No alcohol was served, but serious dancers often don't drink all that much while dancing anyway. If you are a student or in the military with valid ID, you can get $5 off. You can also get $5 off if you bring substantial home baked treats to share. Or volunteer and get in free.

The evening was serious fun, in a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. Philadelphia is often called the City of Brotherly Love, so much that it starts seeming like a cliché or something from some past age, but the Philadelphia Swing Dance Society party was the genuine article, showing one truth behind the tag line. By the end of the night I felt so welcome by so many people that I would seriously consider stopping by for the next party, if it weren't for the minor inconvenience that I live two hours away: that is, 30 minutes on the NYC Subway, an hour on the express train, and a half hour cab ride, more or less.

I write about dance as a way of trying to figure out why I am so passionate about dance. Sometimes, as with the Pennsylvania Ballet's rendition of William Forysthe's In the middle, somewhat elevated, I can tell you I liked the work, but why is still something of a mystery to me. And then there are peak experiences where suddenly things make sense. Tonight was one of those.

I had danced a few times, so I was warmed up. A good song came on, so I asked a woman in a red dress near me to dance. The music was a particularly driving Lindy Hop. She seemed compelled to dance to this song, in a Gotta Dance sort of way. I did too, but you have to understand that I am not really a Lindy Hopper. I have studied some Lindy Hop, but my Lindy Hop grammar is not that precise. My base dance is West Coast Swing, which is related to Lindy Hop, but is much looser, and doesn't use a number of signature Lindy Hop moves.

In an effort to solve this potential mismatch of our dance styles, I started by leading her into the open position end of what in Lindy Hop is often called a swing out. This enabled her to improvise in a fully Lindy Hop idiom, even though my knowledge of Lindy Hop is limited.

That was good and enjoyable. What happened next made it a peak experience. I suddenly found myself leading from momentum. Rather than my planning out moves, her movements suggested the next shape to lead. It was a particularly long song, and the momentum and energy kept moving to the last note. This was one of those moments where why I am so passionate about dance becomes clear. Once in a while the right music and partner and training and accident come together so that the movement flows, in the moment and suspended from it, thinking and not having to think.

I can't guarantee that you will have a similar peak experience as a dancer, at the Philadelphia Swing Dance Society party or anywhere. It is possible. There is certainly a very good chance that you will have a very good evening at a PSDS party.

The cab ride from downtown Philadelphia to the party cost about $33 plus tip. On the way back, I tried Uber for the first time. This cost $56, although I liked the service and I had a $20 discount from Bill Doyle the Go To Guy, the conference coordinator for the Dance Critics Association conference (my reason for being in Philly), so it ended up being $36, about the same as the regular cab. My first cab driver offered to stay and wait for me until I wanted to leave (presumably with the meter running), so based on this admittedly very limited information, Chestnut Hill may be an area where it is difficult to get a cab, and especially since it was very late at night and the Uber car didn't take that long to get there when I used the app, I am not complaining about the cost. The cab rides make an inexpensive evening into an expensive one (it looked like most of the dancers at the party live in the area and drove there), but I still think it was worth it. There is, I discovered from the flyer at the event, a way to get there on the commuter train, but that wouldn't have worked in this case because the commuter train workers were on strike at the time. Worth a try though. And perhaps the Philadelphia Swing Dance Society would consider offering ride sharing for out of town guests. The party is offered about once per month. For more information, go to http://www.swingdance.org/.

I left around Midnight. The party was in the process of shutting down, but there were still a few couples on the floor. The woman in red was going to leave, and then had one more offer to dance from a regular which she just couldn't refuse, and one more… Passionate about dance to the very end, the part signifying the whole.

As a coda, when I was going down in the elevator at 1 am in my hotel to write the first draft of this article, someone asked me what I was up to. I said I felt compelled to write. He said "what ever that means." While it should be clear why it was worth getting this experience at the PSDS down right away, the larger question of why I feel compelled to write about dance is a mystery I will have to figure out some other time.
Philadelphia Swing Dance Society party - many couples on the dance floor

Philadelphia Swing Dance Society party - many couples on the dance floor

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Philadelphia Swing Dance Society party - accomplished dancers having a great time

Philadelphia Swing Dance Society party - accomplished dancers having a great time

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Philadelphia Swing Dance Society party - the dancers at the party were a pleasure to watch and an honor to dance with - this was true of both beginners and advanced dancers

Philadelphia Swing Dance Society party - the dancers at the party were a pleasure to watch and an honor to dance with - this was true of both beginners and advanced dancers

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams

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