JUSTINE YAN. GREGORY WARNER
A jazz dance born in Harlem in the 1920s ends up in a tiny Swedish town. What happens when Black dancers try to bring the Lindy Hop home?
This article is a companion piece for the Rough Translation episode “May We Have This Dance.” Listen to the story about how a dance traveled from Harlem to Sweden, and how Black dancers are reclaiming it as a living tradition.
When she thinks about being a tradition-bearer through dance, LaTasha Barnes goes back to her family.
Growing up, Barnes spent summers at her family home in Winterpock, Va. Her great-grandmother, Elizabeth Harris, was one of the few Black cooks to run her own kitchen in the city of Richmond. At home, she’d often cook to the sounds of Louis Armstrong.
The way Barnes remembers her childhood, there was always music and dancing in the multigenerational household. Cousins came to visit Richmond from Washington, D.C. and New York, bringing the latest dance trends. Barnes grew up watching her parents rehearse their entrances to the social clubs, where they would enter dance contests.
One Sunday afternoon, when she was about 4 years old, her great-grandmother took her hand and led her into a swing out. Barnes still remembers the feeling of being pushed and pulled by her great-grandmother’s hand. It was the same “in and out motion” that she saw in the dancing that her aunts and uncles did at parties.
“It was a baseline groove that everybody had. And then I felt like I could see it in their individual movements as well,” she said.
She now realizes that afternoon with her great-grandmother was the first time she danced Lindy Hop.
Lindy Hop is a jazz dance that originated in Harlem in the 1920s and 1930s and has since gained a following across the world, with large communities in Sweden and South Korea. It’s an African American social dance. To Barnes and her great-grandmother, it was just called “fast dancing.”[…]
Read more: May We Have This Dance? : Rough Translation