The following was written by Ewa “W” Burak, lindy hop dancer, instructor, and former member of The Rhythm Hot Shots, Sweden who recently returned from teaching at Swingin’ Réunion along with Lennart Westerlund.
Reunion Island Oct 12-14, 2018
I have always been fascinated by the helicopter perspective. What in the moments seems to be random events look different from a far distance with a little bit of perspective. One could say, it’s all connected, just follow the dots…
There was this special dancer, beautiful person and friend of many, Frankie Manning, who turned 80 in May of 1994. A group of New York lindy hoppers were putting a big event together, Can’t Top The Lindy Hop, to celebrate Frankie, and invited us lonely islands out there that cherished the dance and Frankie. Now we had the chance to meet, teach, perform, and enjoy a social dance party together; this was a big deal.
There was this performance troupe in Sweden that I was a member of, The Rhythm Hot Shots. We were spending most of our waking hours studying and rehearsing the Lindy Hop in the basement of one of the main banks in Stockholm. I remember how very excited I was to go to New York (read Show up and Show off ) 🙂 as well as celebrate Frankie of course, whom we had the privilege to get to know over the years since 1985 when the troupe was formed (remember at this time the lindy scene was not the traveling circus it is today), and this was the first big event where we had a chance to spend time with like-minded lindy friends and colleagues. Can’t Top The Lindy Hop was a well attended event, it seemed like everyone was there. Waiting in the wing before hitting the floor for our lindy performance, I was beside myself jumping out of my shoes of excitement. I did not notice the big fat (ultra modern :smile:) video camera that captured the event.
Shortly after the event in NYC I met Jean Charles at the Herrang Dance Camp in Sweden. Jean Charles was a very enthusiastic dancer and instructor from a speck of a (French) island called Reunion Island. At this time Herrang was not the world wide dance phenomena it is today. Foreigners where a little bit like well dressed aliens wearing dance shoes. I was fascinated by Jean Charles’ dedication. I could not believe how far he had travelled to get to us in Herräng! He gave me a book about his home island, about the ocean and beaches, rainforest, wildlife, active volcano, and more. This meeting made an imprint. This was the most exotic and beautiful place I could ever imagine.
23 years after the event in NYC I met another extremely passionate lindy dancer, Sri Lankan born Shehan Jayasekera. In early 2000, in his own search for the dance and the music, the performance by The Rhythm Hot Shots at Frankie 80 somehow lit a spark and that old recording became important for Shehan, a direction in the dark. After years of studying and traveling, Shehan settled down with his partner Karin. Guess where? Yep, on a tiny speck of an Island, Reunion Island (where Karin was born). Shehan is as passionate about his own dancing as well as sharing and spreading the Lindy Hop, since that was also one of Frankies dreams, to be able to swingout anywhere in the world, Frankie Manning Foundation granted Shehan a Scholorship to go to Herräng, spend 5 weeks and really develop not only his own dancing but also his skills as a scene leader and developer. I met Shehan in Herrang summer of 2017.
Shehan and I stayed in touch during the fall that followed. Talking about the ins and outs of building and growing a scene. Shehan goes, “Hey W, you and Lennart should come to our festival to teach, meet the dancers and see the island, that would be sooo cool!” “Sure thing, just tell me when,” I replied jokingly. At the time it seemed like a far fetched sparkling idea, but since Shehan is the kind of guy that make things happen, a few months later I found myself on a 40 hr trip, meeting up with Lennart in Paris, and heading for Reunion Island.
Around 200 lindy dancers were there for the festival. I had the pleasure to teach and perform next to and together with Natasha Ouimet, Patrick Szmidt, and Rachel Lasuncion. The venue for the festival and where people stayed for the weekend was right by the ocean which invited us to go for a dip between any of the classes.
I enjoyed meeting and dancing with Jean Charles again. He knew we were visiting and brought his 15 year old son to one of the dances, such a sweet dancer! After a weekend full of classes, meeting new friends, live band dances, performances, and trying the local dance Maloya (its all in the hips), 15 of us headed for an overnight hike up the mountain to Aurere, a secluded village which you can not drive to, you get there by foot or helicopter.
I am feeling grateful and amazed. I can not help but looking at the dots and how it all came together: Frankies 80th Birthday; the old recording of our performance that touched Shehan’s lindy soul; meeting Jean Charles from Reunion and how Frankie Foundation brought Shehan to Herräng; a connection which gave me the chance to visiting this amazing speck of an island in (L)indian Ocean in a far away land. And I can’t help but wonder what would have happened with the revival if Frankie was not willing to step back in to the scene so full heartedly in the way he did in the 1980s. I love how Frankie still is part of what’s going on. I pack his framed picture when I travel, maybe silly, but he keeps inspiring me, and I believe all lindy dancers out there should know about Frankie as well as the history of the dance.
Please pay a visit to Shehan, Karin, and the dancers at the Reunion Island if you can. I can’t recommend it enough.
Thanks Frankie Manning Foundation to help Shehan and Karin spread the lindy hop and develop their scene. It’s lovely and full of heart.
Swingin’ Réunion : WWW.SWING.RE hosted in Réunion Island, off the coast of Madagascar, in the Lindian Ocean.
Ewa “W” Burak