For Santa Fe swing dancers there is no age gap.
Odd Fellows Hall is devoted to all forms of dance, with a fine wooden dance floor and high-backed chairs that are rigid, formal and very uncomfortable. But who sits? Not me. I've come to dance 'til I drop.
Every Monday night, after broadcasting my radio show, I head over to Odd Fellows Hall for swing dance night. Come rain, heat, snow or exhaustion, I'm a Monday night regular. I make a point to dance with the good leads, which usually happen to be men between the ages of 18 and 31. I'm over 60 but does the generation gap faze me? Not at all. Because really, there's no gap-it's all about the music and the dancing.
How do they see me? Probably as a playful old broad who just loves to dance and can hold her own with a good lead. Once you get the basics down, and start to play with the music and with each other, swing dancing is really juicy. It makes me feel totally and entirely ageless. Well, more like somewhere between 27 and 35 years old…which I haven't seen in a fairly long time.
For me, happiness happens when my whole body is in joyful movement. As far as I'm concerned, moving and improvising to Ella and Louis singing "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" or Diana Krall crooning, "Gee baby, Ain't I Good to You," is as much fun as you can possibly have with your clothes on. I cut my teeth on those songs, I know all the lyrics and have known how to dance to that music since I was small. It's easy. All you have to do is learn the basic moves and then you are free to improvise to the music with a partner. For those who want to learn, Richard and Meg Maltz host lessons at Odd Fellows Hall on the first Saturday of every month. It's not free, but it's cheap and the proceeds support music in the public schools.
Partner dance has been described as a three-minute love affair, and there is a remarkable feeling that happens when you connect with someone else whose attention is focused only on you for three minutes. Leads can be men or women-everyone dances with everyone at Odd Fellows. It's sensual, playful, deliciously wholesome. And here's the thing about partner dancing. If you really get into it, you begin to see dancing as a metaphor for life. A dancer has to be good at listening, listening with his body to his partner, to himself and to the music. Dancing is also a good metaphor for relationships, which have the same requirements.
Ray Ortega is an Odd Fellows regular. He's often out of town, working in film, but when he's home, he and his wife, Annie, hit the floor. Ray says that dancing is a great way for them to reconnect because it forces them to communicate. Annie says it would be a great idea for kids to learn partner dancing because the experience would prepare them for a way of being in a relationship with the world.
Last fall, on Friday nights, Myriah Haggard began offering classes and lessons in Blues Dance at Studio East on Camino del Monte Sol. How to describe Blues Dance? It's a slower, funkier version of swing with more hips and more tush. It's more improvisational and, yes, sexier. With a sprung wood dance floor, pleasant ambiance, low light and great music, Studio East is the perfect venue for this kind of dance. If Odd Fellows is a high school hop, then Studio East is a cabaret.
Blues Dance Fridays at Studio East has become my favorite place to go dancing. David Keogh and Erik Hamilton run it now; Hamilton is usually the DJ, and he gives a half-hour lesson at 9 pm. He's a supercool dancer, and teaches a good basic lesson with style. He also plays music that definitely makes you want to move, like Nina Simone's version of "My Baby Just Cares for Me," Madeleine Peyroux's "Don't Wait Too Long" and Keb Mo's "It's all coming Back to Me Now."
If this sounds like fun to you, get out your most comfortable leather-soled shoes (so you can slide/glide on the dance floor) and come over. If you feel like you don't have a clue about partner dancing and have two left feet, come to a class. Mike Garcia, an incredibly smooth dancer and a fun teacher, teaches classes at Studio East on Sunday afternoons. I recently took the Intermediate/Advanced Swing class and it was definitely "swing different." Garcia's partner is Elizabeth, a ballet and tango-trained dancer, and so this class was a "concept" class mixing tango principles with swing moves. If rhythm, timing and connection are the basis for partner dance, tango is fundamentally all connection and interpretation of music, with no set timing. The lead is totally improvising and interpreting the music as he goes along. Swing has set timing which can be played with. Garcia says that the interpretation, the connection and the music create the dance. And connection is really the core connection of two bodies, focusing with the body, not with the eyes.
Partner dancing is a conversation, a permission, a call and response, a request and reply. Learning to dance as a beginner is being vulnerable to learning a new thing (and perhaps being clumsy at first) while touching another human being; in the course of that, you learn a lot about yourself. If getting out of your head and into your body is what you're after, I hope to see you on the dance floor!
ODD FELLOWS HALL
1125 Cerrillos Road
7:30-9:30 pm Mondays
8 pm, first Saturday of the month
332 Camino del Monte Sol
(one block south of Canyon Road)
988-3597 or 466-6996
9 pm lessons, dancing until 11 pm, Fridays
2:45 pm (Swing 1), 4 pm (Lindy Hop), and 5:30 pm
(Intermediate/Advanced Swing), Saturdays
Call for details