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Lindy Hop Revival

By Christine Trask

On a rainy, chilly November Saturday afternoon, dressed in a casual sweatshirt, leggings, and dance sneakers, I ventured out to take up Uptown Swing’s invitation to dance Lindy hop at their dance day event at Glam Doll Donuts located on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis.

Opening the door, I felt like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, walking into a land of brightly colored art décor composed of vintage sectionals. I was teased with the sweet aroma of the owner’s grandmother’s recipe of mouthwatering, fresh-baked, rainbow-sprinkled glazed donuts. My gloomy attitude vanished. The air was filled with the melody of jazz music performed by a talented crew of three men. Many Lindy hop enthusiasts of all ages, including a baby that was harnessed to his mother, were dancing on the hardwood floor. I couldn’t help hopping over to Peter Strom, my new Lindy hop dance instructor from Uptown Swing and the founder of the group, to say hi. He took my hand to dance and led me into Lindy hop moves I didn’t know existed. I felt like that young pigtailed little girl I use to be, jumping rope on the playground.

Beads of sweat on my forehead, heart beating, I asked Peter if I could run a personal story about him. For you readers that don’t know, Lindy hop was born in Harlem, New York, in l927 and was named after Charles Lindbergh’s nonstop solo flight from New York to Paris. Lindy hop grew out of the Charleston, and during the swing era it was the dance that captured a nation. It is the granddaddy of swing dances, the precursor to west coast swing, east coast swing, shag, and more.

So when, where, how, and why does a young, tall, slim, fun, energetic man focus on teaching Lindy hop, and what are his future goals in keeping the hop hopping?

Peter first learned some simple east coast swing steps at a bar lesson in l998 taught by Cindy and Terry from TC Swing. Soon after the bar lesson, TC Swing flew Frankie Manning to their studio to teach his Harlem style of Lindy hop, a lesson Peter participated in. Peter was hooked.

He began to travel around to other cities to attend similar workshops by some of the great dancers of the Lindy hop revival in the 1990s, which included Steven Mitchell, Ryan Francois, and Sylvia Sykes. Eventually Peter even attended the American Lindy Hop Championships in 2000, where he surprised himself by winning the classic division.

After that, he was asked to teach locally and regionally, and discovered that he really enjoyed and was inspired by teaching people the dance that he loved. In 2002 he got his first chance at a big event when he was asked to start teaching at the Beantown Lindy Hop Camp located in Beverly, Massachusetts. He has taught at about thirty-five to forty weekend workshops a year all over the world, which included countries such as France, England, Sweden, Spain, Germany, Australia, Japan, and Korea.

In 2009, less than one month prior to the planned celebration of the ninety-fifth birthday of Lindy hop’s legendary ambassador to the world, Frankie Manning—the ambassador himself—passed away. Frankie had been teaching right up until a few weeks before his death. The birthday celebration became a memorial, and Peter performed a tribute routine to two of Frankie’s favorite songs with a group of other teachers and dancers, the Silver Shadows, at the Frankie 95 Memorial event held in New York City.

After Frankie’s passing, Peter felt called to take up some part of the weight that Frankie had carried introducing people to Lindy hop. Less than one year after Frankie’s death, Peter formed Uptown Swing, which is named after Uptown Harlem, where Lindy hop was born, and Uptown Minneapolis, where Peter was born and raised. He has been introducing more and more local dancers to the Lindy hop on weeknights in between his traveling workshop jobs.

For Peter, the dance has changed his life in more ways than he can count. In a world
where technology has taken away our personal touch with each other, dance has allowed him to express himself in a nonverbal way and connect with a person face to face by having fun in the moment, moving together to great music. He has found some of his best friends, including his girlfriend and dance partner, Naomi.

Peter’s future plans for 2014 are to continue teaching Lindy hop in other countries and to expand his Uptown Swing community. There’s no place like home, as said by Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz as she clicked her ruby-red shoes together. I plan to learn the shim sham line dance that the famous Frankie Manning led all over the world. Peter will be teaching it in the near future at the Lundstrum Center for the Performing Arts in Minneapolis.

Enjoy this fun dance and join me in the Lindy hop revival.