When it previews next month at the 45th Annual Dance on Camera, a festival co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Dance Films Association, Susan Glatzer's Alive & Kicking (2016/USA) is sure to be a crowd-pleasing highlight. An expansive yet intimate look at contemporary swing dancing, the 84-minute documentary celebrates this practice and its community of freewheelers with their rollicking swing dance camps and competitions. Swing dancers depend on a network of international competitions to display their talents and build teaching careers, the only way they can monetize their artistry. The film depicts swing dance as a healing force in a society that has lost touch with touch itself--except where touch involves a fingertip and a screen. Glatzer eagerly argues for swing dance as a low-risk way to foster openness and trust between people of all kinds, a natural bridge across divides of race, ethnicity, gender, religion and politics.
The earliest moments of the film made me worry that Glatzer would confine her focus to young white people reclaiming a historic dance phenomenon that originated in Harlem's Black community, the product of Black genius and skill. But I'm glad I hung in with Alive & Kicking. Not only does this film respectfully address the Black roots of swing dance in Harlem's Lindy hop, but this history is often spoken for by Black dancers themselves, and the film lovingly includes clips of Frankie Manning, Lindy hop's great authority and ambassador, who passed in 2009. Glatzer's interviewees also note the scarcity of young Black swing dance students and performers today. They recognize the need to make their community an attractive, accessible source of opportunities for Black students and performers, an issue contemporary tap dance has also faced.
And, like tap, swing dance has a strong tradition of improv, of connecting with a new partner at one of those fun gatherings and the creative surprises those moments can hold. "You're sharing your imagination with someone else," says one of the dancers, and Glatzer shows us examples of first-time interplay between skilled dancers leading to mutual awe, gratitude and something quite a bit like love.
Alive & Kicking screens on Monday, February 6 (8:30pm) with Kristen Lauth Shaeffer's animated short, 349 (3 min). There will be a Q&A with Susan Glatzer. For tickets, click here.
For information about the complete Dance on Camera 2017 schedule of screenings and public events, click here.
Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th Street (north side, upper level), Manhattan
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