WHAT A SWELL PARTY IT WAS!
FROM DARRELL HOPE
Hello Fellow Dance Fans,
For once I'm going to give you a reverse DWDr as the event I'll be talking about today actually occurred last night. I had made it my "Pick of the Weekend" in the last edition of the DWDr, and had been mentioning its looming for weeks beforehand, but even armed with as much foreknowledge as I had on-hand, what went down last night will live on in swing dance history and those who were not able to be there will only be able to gnash their teeth in despair. Ordinarily, I wouldn't do this because I'm a great believer in that line from that 1976 comedy classic "The Gumball Rally" where Raul Julia enters his race car, rips the rear view mirror off the window and issues that wonderful edict: "What's behind me is not important." But some people who know what I do asked me to recap this evening for mental encapsulation, and probable enhancement of their gloating privileges over those who failed to make it.
It was called "The Decade of Dance" party, celebrating swing teacher, venue entrepreneur and all around dance heroine Rusty Frank's anniversary of making a living out of what she loves best, and graciously letting the rest of us in on it. But after bearing witness to what went on last evening, I have to take issue with Ms. Frank, because she blew the naming of this event. In truth, it should have been called "The Dance of the Decade," because I have doubts that we'll see it equaled for some time to come.
People walking by the Santa Monica Bay Women's Club last night must have thought that their calendars and their GPS devices were both malfunctioning, because Awards Season was supposed to have ended with the Oscars weeks ago. But the sight of so many dressed to the nines, including a great quantity of gentlemen in full dress tuxedoes and ladies in resplendent evening gowns, would have piqued the curiosity of most. All that was missing was a red carpet, hordes of lookiloos and stalkerazzi, and the usual retinue of TV bobbleheads asking the most inane questions possible as people entered the venue.
Once inside, they could stretch their limbs out in a warm-up session as "The Professor," Robert Vangor, was already heating things up and spinning tunes that made everyone make the precious choice between looking pristine in their finery for as long as possible, and testing the limits of their breathable fabrics and antiperspirants. And everywhere you looked you saw faces and feet that you'd probably not seen in years as dancers from all over came out to celebrate, so you were cursed with the old adage of "so many partners, so little time."
After the warm-up, MC Maxwell DeMille unleashed his prodigious vocal talents that hearken you to yesteryear and he opened the show to a sight and sound that has eluded the Los Angeles dance scene for far too long, the inimitable Bill Elliot Swing Orchestra. BESO hasn't been regularly heard in these parts since Bill moved to the East coast a few years ago. But from the sound that was emanating from the stage, you'd have thought that his move had only been a week ago, because the musicians were as tight as ever, and the chorus of vocalists (including the ethereal Cassie Miller, a woman who obviously must either sleep in a hyperbaric chamber, or has signed a deal with Mephistopheles himself since her beauty is as ageless and matchless as her talent) came together like the gearworks of a finely tuned Ferrari. Witnessing this band made wistfully clear how far we've slipped since the halcyon days of when we could get this kind of musical quality almost any night of the week at several venues around town. I'm not saying that there aren't still good bands playing in LA, far from it. But there's something extra special about seeing this many absolutely top-notch musicians working so seamlessly together that you feel like you've stepped into a dream. For a lot of the music we so love to dance to is essentially big band music, which means, it sounds best when actually played by a big band. As for Mr. Elliott, we can only hope that the taste of the adoration he received last night was enough to whet his appetite for west coast audiences and he lives up to his promise to be back before too many tides have passed. It was so good to see them all together again that it alone would have been worth the price of the admission, but The Bill Elliot Orchestra was just one entrŽe of a multi-course meal so rich that while those present may have danced their physical butts off last night, their spiritual asses grew by pounds.
Entering the club, you could see dancers from the original era of swing like Jean Veloz still doing their thing. But in the corner table off the stage sat a man who has charmed the hearts of so very many of us, that the sight of him alone was enough to bring tears to the eyes of many a heart, Peter "Pops" Walsh, the erstwhile vocal singer of Stompy Jones, and his lovely wife Lois. As gracious and wonderful as always, they gave us back a dose of the love that has been showered on them, and reminded us that our community is at its best when it reaches far beyond the dancefloor. Then when Pops took the stage for a number, backed by the Elliot Orchestra and vocalists singing backups like they'd been doing so for years, it gave us another reminder of why we love him so much in the first place.
The next wonderful shock came when a murmur shot through the audience that none other than Johnny Boyd, former lead singer of Indigo Swing, himself was in the audience and about to take the stage. To say that the crowd went wild, is about as useful a description as trying to explain the weight of an average elephant: i.e. it's one thing to know it intellectually, but it's quite another understanding when said elephant accidentally steps on your little toe. After reducing most of the women, and a few of the menfolk to puddles with his velvet crooning, Boyd let it be known that he would be appearing in LA in the not too distant future and promised to keep the DWDr apprised so I could do the same for you.
By this point in the evening, we were so full of joy that even had other MIA's like Red Young or Lavay Smith been present, it would have only served to overload us beyond the point of human endurance. As it was, it was just enough to be a few steps beyond perfect, but just under the point of fatally perfect. Other points of interest included getting to meet the folks who kindled Rusty's love of dance, her parents (who incidentally still didn't reveal the derivation of the name Rusty, as her mom refused to confirm or deny it stemmed from a birthing issue) and an official mayoral commemoration of our own Ms Frank (although, IMO, in spite of all her good works in the past, last night's event was worthy of its own commemoration). And for it all I'd like to personally thank Ms. Frank and everybody else involved (even beyond the thanks they already received in the form of my admission price).
It can be said that the mainstays of life can be broken down into two columns: triumphs and tragedies. But these are the events that bind us all together as a people. For families, it can be births, deaths, weddings and graduations. For nations it can be things like the Apollo landing or a peaceful electoral transition, or events like the Space Shuttle Challenger's explosion or a leader's assassination that tie you to a single moment when everybody in all their disparate walks of life felt pretty much the same. The same is true for us for dancers, but we also take it measure-for-measure in the memory of a perfectly executed move, or an absolute soul-to-soul connection with another being, melded by musical accompaniment. And for the dance community, it was evenings like last night, that years from now we'll think back and remember where we were, who was there, and smile in kind pity on those who were not. Yes, it's true we're living in a difficult age, but it's nights like last night that will help us all get through it with a smile. I truly hope you were there last night, and if you weren't fear not, for though you may have missed the "Dance of the Decade" if it's any indication of what's to come, then we're in for one helluva summer.
Stay tuned kids, and see you on the dance floor.
DWDr = Darrells Weekly Dance Report
Darrell dancing with Rusty at the party.