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Swing dancing on Australian screens

I found a video today through Yehoodi of some jitterbug dancers in 1961. The poster expressed a bit of surprise to find footage of swing dancing in the 1960’s. This got me thinking about the history of lindy hop in Australia – something I have an interest in but have never had the time, and still don’t, to go research properly.

I thought I’d turn to the intertubz to see what I could find…

Although there’s record of Lindy Hop making it’s way to Australia before World War II (The Big Apple was being taught in Sydney in early 1938 and Frankie Manning and a troupe of Harlem dancers performed in Australia in 1938 and 1939) it seems that it wasn’t caught on film until 1940.

I’ve done some searching on the National Film and Sound Archive website and come up with a list of clips that I’d be interested in checking out. Unfortunately the majority of the holdings of the NFSA are very difficult to access and impossible to reproduce without permission from the copyright holder. I’ll put this on the list of longer term projects and see what I can come up with…

The British Pathé does have a few clips available. This one features a couple of young swing dancers and a bunch of kids joining in – reminds me of Groovie Movie

1943: This clip details the R&R experience of an American serviceman in Australia. It’s not clear where this was shot, but it certainly shows a rather different view of the War in the Pacific.

1944: This film show footage from a Jitterbug contest in July of 1944. It’s difficult to say where this was shot, contests were occurring in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, even Papua New Guinea.
The Australian Jitterbug Championships, which saw contestants from all over the country compete, were first held in the early 40s (probably 1940 or 41) and continued until at least 1954

Here’s a few more modern videos charting some of the Lindy Hop revival. There’s not a lot of information out there about how the revival got going in Australia. The prevailing assumption is that it first got going through groups of Rock and Roll dancers (who danced rock and roll back in the 60s when it was very popular) where it is still danced today – it’s also how I first started dancing. I need to go and do some more research and talk to some folk to learn more.

1995?: The early days of the revival in Australia

1997: Frankie Manning returns to Australia

2001: Competition Lindy Hop in Sydney

2003: The Today Show and ABC’s Stateline featured the return of the Australian Jitterbug Championships:

I’ve also tracked down the first group email newsletter from Swing Patrol in Sydney 

There’s plenty of other recent footage out there on the intertubz, but if anyone else knows of anything older, particularly vintage footage or clips from the 90s please let me know. I’m going to keep updating this post; it will be linked on my Lindy History page.

Swing Pit – 25 Feb – Set list

Although it’s been cooler lately the venue was still quite warm and muggy – I was playing second after the birthday/welcome jam. It was a fairly small crowd at the start of the night after the lesson but things picked up pretty quickly after that.

I didn’t really think I played that well – it’s my first actual dance gig in a while and I’ve been buying too much music so I really need to consolidate. There was too many new acquisitions that I wanted to work into my set. It’s also a fairly short gig so I felt like I hadn’t really found the groove before it was time to start wrapping things up. Nevertheless the floor was generally full and everybody else seemed to be having fun.

I Love Being Here With You – Barbara Morrison – Live at the 9:20 Special – 155BPM – 3:07

The teachers were using the Ernestine Anderson version in the class so I thought this would make a nice opener and get people dancing after the welcome/birthday jam.

Long Gone John – Gordon Webster – Happy When I’m With You – 144BPM – 3:57

I wanted to throw another well known tune in there to try and balance out the less new stuff that I was wanting to play. This track has almost reached overplayed status here in Sydney, but that’s cause it is quite a good track.

16 Tonnes – Jacques Hellian and Jean Louis Tristan – Swing Party – 130BPM – 2:30

Everyone knows the Tennessee Ernie Ford version of this song, though it hasn’t gotten much playtime in recent months. This french version has a very similar arrangement and went down nicely.

Tuxedo Junction – Glenn Miller Orchestra – Chesterfield Broadcasts – 112BPM – 4:28

Too slow, too muddy and too long, I should have played some early 1940’s Duke Ellington.

Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy – Stan Kenton – Intermission Riff – 124BPM – 2:36

To keep the music oldish, well-known and cut the time down I played this one.

Shout Sister Shout! – Shout Sister Shout – Hit that Jive Jack – 141BPM – 2:46

Another new acquisition and another well known song. I really like this version but I feel like the band needs a washboard (though this probably has more to do with my own washboard aspirations than anything else).

You Better Watch Yourself, Bub – Catherine Russell – Sentimental Streak – 167BPM – 2:57

I wanted to kick the pace up a bit. I’ve also been playing a lot of Catherine Russell since since I got back from the States last year. Virtually every single set of mine has one of her tracks in it.

C-Jam Blues – Gordon Webster – Live in Philadelphia – 170BPM – 4:12

Keeping the pace up and a well known song – but by the end of this one people were getting tired. The floor had started to empty out a bit so it was time to bring it back down a little.

Lavender Coffin – Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra – 137BPM – 2:47

All dancers want a lavender coffin. This song’s probably my number 1 go-to when I’m trying to pack the floor again. The folk that had sat down by the end of the last number were back up dancing.

Operator, Operator – Sister Wynona Carr – Dragnet for Jesus – 119BPM – 2:49

Probably a little too slow and it sounded fairly muddy on the speakers – I should have played some Lucky Millinder or Louis Jordan.

Alright, Okay, You Win with Everyday I Have the Blues – Barbara Morrison – Live at the 9:20 Special – 130BPM – 5:27
Billie Jean – Pink Turtle – Back Again – 137BPM – 4:58

Playing these two tracks was a mistake – both 5 minutes long and high energy and by this time of night a lot of the dancers’ stamina was starting to flag. Billie Jean certainly got a few strange looks from the crowd when the lyrics started up and they realised what it was, but it’s too long and has some lengthy harmonica solos. It’s also another new acquisition and now that it’s out of my system I think I can put it on the ‘low-rotation’ list.

Let the Good Times Roll – George Gee and His Make Believe Ballroom Orchestra – Swingin Live – 150BPM – 2:32
Your Feet’s Too Big – Pugsley Buzzard – Chicago Typewriter – 124BPM – 3:24

Coming up to the end of the night I wanted to focus my attention on shorter tracks so that folk could get more dances in (particularly after the 2x5min tracks). I started dropping the energy down a bit as well before coming back up to the last song.

Ain’t Nothing Too It – Fats Waller and His Orchestra – 127BPM – 3:14
Let’s Do It – Benny Goodman – Essential Benny Goodman – 137BPM – 2:03
For Dancers Only – Jimmie Lunceford and His Orchestra – Life is Fine – 149BPM – 2:43
Bli Blip – Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra – Live in Swing City – 137BPM – 3:16

I finished off with For Dancers Only and Bli Blip – crowd faves and nice high energy songs.

I’m playing the same set and venue in 2 weeks time so I’ve got some work to do to consolidate and improve.

Links of the week

Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
  • Bad Astronomy reviews the highest resolution image of the moon ever created.The full file is an enormous 550Mb so download it at your peril!
  • Jeff Sparrow comments in the Drum on the rise of ‘racyism’ in current public discourse and opinion 
  • Ross Gittins in the National Times argues that politicians and media interests are playing to the innate fear of outsiders. He makes a point: how often do you see asylum seekers being interviewed by the press?
  • Insight on SBS featured the terrible flood and cyclone disasters that have impacted Queensland and discussed the links with La Niña, climate change and what might mitigate these disasters in the future.
  • And as the earthquake disaster unfolds in Christchurch, Julie Bishop has these words. I couldn’t add much more…

Working Families?

With a state election in NSW in the next few weeks and a federal election one by-election away we’re again being bombarded with political commercials. Here’s a few for sampling:

NSW Labor’s “Fairness for Families”


NSW Liberal’s spoof of the above (which gets points for comedy)

And (because it features Zombies) my favourite from The Greens

Although you’d only know it from the Labor video “families” appear to be a strong theme for the campaigners, as has been the case in most recent elections. But how many families are there out there for these policies to target? Although many policies will benefit the whole population the benefits will vary.

Take Labor’s Fairness for Families promise of an extended and increased energy rebate. People on a variety of welfare payments (including the aged and disability pension) currently receive an annual rebate which in 2011/12 will reach $161. The policy promises a household with combined income of $150,000 a rebate of $250 a year. $150,000 is more than double the median household income in NSW. This means that a significant proportion of the better-off half of the population will receive $250 they didn’t have whilst someone on the aged pension get’s $89 more. That’s barely a third. So it’s quite clear who this policy is aimed at from a monetary perspective.

Looking at the campaign material targetted at ‘families’ generally shows mum, dad and the kids. How common are these households?

Let’s take a look at houshold composition. The source for this is the 2006 Census Basic Community Profile for NSW. Of the 2.3 million households in NSW they are made up of:

Single person households – 24%
Non-family group households – 4%
Couples without children – 26%
Couples with children – 34%
Single parents with children – 12%

So couples with kids seem to come out on top making up a third of all households. As the biggest group it probably makes sense to market more to them.

Hold on a minute though. How many campaign ads do you see showing the 23 year old uni student still living at home or a group of run-amok teenagers in the house? Most advertising material shows young children, very rarely older siblings.

Fortunately the census data breaks down further. Of those 34% of couple with children households only about half have all their children under 15. Let’s redo that table with this new information – I’ll call the new group “Working Families”:

Single people – 24%
Non-family group households – 4%
Couples without children – 26%
Working Families – 18%
Other couples with children – 16%
Single parents with children – 12%

The largest group of households is now Couples without children – and you don’t see many ads targetting them. Admittingly this is a fairly diverse group ranging from newlyweds to empty-nesters to retirees. Also couple households should have roughly double the number of votes of the singleton households. Unfortunately the Census doesn’t collect data on voting habits so we can’t know whether working families are swinging voters or not.

In any case the stereotypical ‘working families’ bloc is not nearly as large as most people think. With another five and a half weeks to the NSW election there’ll be plenty more fodder aimed at them though.


Welcome to my bloggings. This could be an appeal to my narcissistic side or an opportunity to share things I think I have to say. I hope to somehow work on getting some sort of dancing/jazz calender going and this may end up being a stepping stone into some other web projects – we shall see.
In celebration of the creation of this blog I though I’d share a somewhat unconventional creation story: The Bible According to Spike Milligan. “The Creation According to the Trade Unions”, with some modifications to a more Australian perspective, was my individual performance for my HSC drama course. The youtube link has a reading of the original by the author. Enjoy.