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Hopping Aboard the Big-Band Wagon : The Lindy is alive and well in Orange County. The dance from the '30s has young people kicking and spinning all over again.

October 13, 1995|JENNIFER DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's like a scene from "The Birds."

A quiet, empty dance studio recovers its countenance on a Saturday evening after a full day of little girls in tutus learning to plie and dancers auditioning for shows. All seems serene.

Then they arrive, one and two at a time.

Dropped off by parents, the teens perch on the curb in front of the studio, slowly collecting into groups of four or five.

Then carloads of older teens and twentysomethings descend upon the parking lot. Trucks, VWs and economy hatchbacks tear into available spaces. People emerge, looking furiously for familiar faces. The cars keep coming, and the young people continue to amass.

What has them flocking to Jimmy De Fore's Dance Center in Costa Mesa at 6 p.m. on a Saturday?

Lindy Hops classes taught to the sounds of big band swing.

The Lindy is often called the grandfather of swing and the jitterbug. It's lots of syncopation and spins and kicks.

"For our generation, there's no style," says Betsy Batten, 21, of Newport Beach. "Rock, punk and rap are negative. Big band is so upbeat. It's the opposite of the music you hear on the radio. It's classy, not aggressive."

Batten, who heard about the classes while dancing to swing music at Birraporetti's in South Coast Plaza on a Monday night, seems more advanced than other students in the class.

"When you dance the Lindy Hop, you know the limits," she says. "You know what to expect from your partner. If a guy asks you to dance, he should know how to dance."

Audrey Wilson, 33, and James Allen, 22, teach the weekly Lindy Hop classes at De Fore's that attract equal numbers of males and females.

Wilson, of Irvine, says she has noticed a growing interest in big band swing dancing with young people in the past two years.

"It's the snowball effect," says Wilson about the $8 classes. Last spring they had eight students in their one-hour class, and now there are more than 50 who attend each week.

"We were totally surprised by the size of the group," says Allen, who lives in Newport Beach. "We didn't advertise; it's all by word-of-mouth."

Chuck Sanders, 22, of Anaheim says, "It's real. The music is classic, and the dancing is wild. You can be creative. It's not like dancing at clubs, where you're just standing alone."

Although he has only taken three classes, Sanders is one of many students who look natural doing kick moves such as the Charleston Jockey.

Because big band music is up-tempo, it's perfect for the fast-paced Lindy, which first gained popularity in the 1930s.

"The bouncy rhythms of big band are good for kicks," says co-teacher Allen. "With so many instruments, the music is real meaty, so you can really get into it. The better the music, the better the dancing."

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The Lindy Hop is difficult to learn, says Wilson, who earned her master's degree in dance from UC Irvine with her thesis on swing dancing and also teaches classes at UCI, Century High School and the Sports Club/Irvine. "But once the kids get it, they can't get enough of it," she says.

During the lessons, Wilson and Allen group the students in front of mirrors to demonstrate the Lindy basics.

"Grab a partner," Wilson announces, and shy young men reach out their hands to young women in what is for many their first "touch-dancing" experience. The studio is filled with the high-pitched squeak of size 11 sneakers galumphing along a hardwood dance floor to the repetitious whispers "rock-step, one-two-three, side-together, one-two-three."

Candice Jones, 14, of Orange, joined the workshop after her friends had taken three lessons. "I like the music and the energy, but mostly it looks better" than contemporary dancing, she says. She wishes her high school would play this type of music at events. "It would make them a lot better."

Some of the young dancers--lured inside by the recorded big band sounds of Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Tommy Dorsey--wear baggy jeans, Dr. Martens and T-shirts promoting surf companies and bands such as Green Day. Others show up in '40s-style suspenders and wing-tips or cotton-collared dresses from thrift shops.

Patricia Straight, dance instructor and owner of Dance Sounds D.J. Service in Huntington Beach, has been observing young people's growing interest in swing dancing for the past few years.

"I know it's a fad with the costumes and everything, but it has just really taken off," Straight says. "High school-age kids come into Cloud Nine [a dance spot at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park], and they're asking me for Glenn Miller's 'In the Mood.' "

Straight says swing competitions have always been a favorite with audiences, but the competitions have drawn larger crowds since they added categories for dancers ages 6 to 18. The World Swing Championship and the U.S. Swing Championship will both be in Anaheim in November.

And converts appear every day.

Dirk Onstott, 24, of Dana Point, was among a crowd at the Blue Cafe in Long Beach when he decided the Lindy Hop looked fun. "I don't really go with trends," says Onstott, "so if it's coming back, that's fine. I just like it. It's a great way to meet people, plus a great workout."

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