Fly 3,000 miles for dance lessons? The moment the muse beckoned in 1986, Erin and Tami Stevens booked flights.
As dance teachers, the Pasadena siblings knew all about waltz, fox trot and the like but yearned for something more. Something that jumped.
"We couldn't find a style in California we felt in our souls," Erin Stevens recalled recently.
In fact, manna was waiting in New York City, where the women sped when they heard they could learn the Lindy Hop from one of its founding fathers. Smitten, they'd seen the infectious form of swing in a Marx Brothers movie and begged Frankie Manning, who was hopping before the Great Depression, to teach them what he knew.
Returning home enlightened, the women began spreading the gospel, hoping a few students might catch the bug. They never imagined what was to come--and stay.
Remember the lambada? Perhaps only the macarena had a shorter shelf life. But 12 years after the Stevenses taught their first Lindy Hop, their swing classes are bigger than ever and still growing. Today, 250 people jam their nightly lessons at Fellow Hall and Throop Hall in Pasadena, taking what they learn there and at myriad schools elsewhere to clubs across Los Angeles drawing throngs seven days a week.
"The resurgence of swing," Erin Stevens said, "is lasting longer than the true swing era," which flourished from the mid-'30s to the mid-'40s, when big-band leader Benny Goodman was king. "We're overwhelmed with what's happened."
Indeed, class rolls throughout the L.A. Basin continue to lengthen even as the fad that won't fade begins to boil in pockets of Middle America and all manner of newbies discover what long ago turned L.A. trendsetters into self-described addicts.
Members of the Inland Empire Harley Owners Group peeled their leather for a recent afternoon "Putt-n-Strutt" at Anaheim's Memories nightclub. Parking their horsepower outside after a 25-mile caravan from Riverside, the heavily tattooed riders took their first tentative "rock steps."
"It's nice to see bikers getting culture," said organizer Richard Hall, also known as Splatt the Harley Ratt.
Only a few hours later, 300 seasoned hepcats, most in their 20s, turned a drab community center on La Brea Avenue into Hollywood circa 1940, when boys on leave from war danced each dance as if it were their last.
Flaunting the retro threads seen nationwide in Gap commercials capitalizing on the craze, guys in two-tone wingtips and Eisenhower jackets rocketed their split-leg partners in platforms and cherry-red lipstick above their heads, and whoosh, back down to the ground.
The room exploded with energy as the frenzied crowd circled around the night's shining stars--including Burbank's own national Lindy Hop champions, Sylvia Skylar and Erik Robison--to watch a breathtaking display of swivels, kicks and acrobatic aerials ignited by the blaring horns of a new-swing band.
The dance highlighted a weekend workshop celebrating Hollywood swing, an indignous style championed by the late hoofer Dean Collins.
Many of those assembled had taken their moves directly from Collins' films, such as "Buck Privates," the 1941 Abbott and Costello opus in which the Andrews Sisters sang "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." Mary Collins, his sixtysomething widow and sometime dance partner, was invited to judge a Lindy contest. She bubbled with praise for the dancers' authentic stylings, thrilled and a bit stunned to see the dance she'd learned decades before thriving in the '90s.
"A year ago, I thought, well this is just a phase," Collins said. "But it's getting bigger and bigger."
So is attendance at the Derby, the club that rose to international fame through its featured role in the 1996 cult hit "Swingers."
The plush Hollywood venue, which hosts swing dancers Monday to Monday, had been packing them in for three years when the film came out. This year it was voted America's hottest nightspot by Playboy magazine and TV Guide and has become the preferred party place of such celebs as Whoopi Goldberg, who turned another year older there two months ago.
Later this month, the Derby and eight other Southland swing clubs will host preliminaries for a national dance contest promoting the film "Blast From the Past." Opening Feb. 5, the romantic comedy is no "Swingers," but Brendan Fraser wins Alicia Silverstone's heart in a single, swinging scene on the dance floor.
Dance lore designates the Lindy Hop as one of the earliest forms of swing dance. Inventive African Americans supposedly hatched the jump fest in Harlem's Savoy Ballroom in 1927, the year headlines announced that Charles Lindbergh, dubbed "Lindy," hopped the Atlantic solo, writes dance historian Christian Batchelor in "This Thing Called Swing."
Manning, 84, was just a teen back then. He later earned renown for creating the aerials that became ubiquitous when the dance soared in popularity as big-band leaders Goodman, Duke Ellington and Artie Shaw toured the nation with the bouncy tunes driving today's resurgence.