Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mayor Gray is a Hand Dancer

Washington Post Article foresees a popularity spike for DC's Official Dance

Hand Dance holds the distinction of being Washington, DC's official dance according to a 2003 city council resolution sponsored by Phil Mendelson. A recent article in the Washington Post written by Nikita Stewart, indicated that the dance style's popularity may get another boost from the local government. It seems that recently elected mayor Vincent Gray is an avid hand dancer, and has been practicing the art form since his childhood. According to the article, Gray, who grew up in Northeast Washington, showcased his talents throughout his campaign. His dedication to hand dance could spark a revolution among DC dancers young and old. Some may hope to preserve the dance and the traditions it represents, and some may see it as an entrée to the local culture and community of which they hope to be a part.

The Humanities Council of Washington, DC awarded a 2010 DC Community Heritage Project grant to Beverly Lindsay-Johnson and the National Hand Dance Association for a documentary surveying the history of this descendant of the Lindy Hop and Jitterbug. The film, entitled Hand Dance: a Capitol Swing, was the result of an August 8th  oral history interview session that featured some of the most notable names in DC Hand Dance. The entire finished product is available through the Humanities Council's DC Digital Museum and Youtube channel. Lindsay-Johnson is also the producer of Dance Party: the Teenarama Story, a documentary film about Washington, DC's Teenarama dance program of the 1960s. The show was open to African-American youth unlike many of its contemporary counterparts. 

As Ms. Stewart demonstrates in her article, shared cultural traditions do not always function as bridges across generational and racial boundaries – not at first. But there also seems to be significant evidence that the world of hand dance holds a lot of potential. Like differing interpretations of a good book, the multitude of ways DC residents have adapted hand dance are likely to fuel debate and discussion among dedicated dancers and newcomers alike. Perhaps those discussions will be limited to the beat of the music, and the occasional trash talk challenge, but the longer people from differing backgrounds spend together, the more likely they are to find common ground.

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