Around a large circle, men and women face each other while the feeling of nervous energy permeates the room. A song with an easy rhythm of 125 beats per minute fills the air. Tentatively, each man takes his partner’s hand and the couples begin to move – some more awkwardly than others – to the music. Though it may sound like one, this isn't a middle school dance or even dance class. It's Friday night at the Caribou Coffee on Sardis Road North in south Charlotte. In the middle of this vortex of excitement and uncertainty is the proverbial calm within the eye of the storm: married dance instructors Stephanie and Eric Simpson. Since 2007, the Simpsons have been hosting events like this in the Charlotte and Matthews areas, to share their love of the Lindy Hop.
The second Saturday of each month is Jumpin' Java at the Caribou Coffee,with a free beginner East Coast dance lesson from 7-8 p.m. and then open dancing from 8-9 p.m. Participant Shelley Stout’s love affair with Lindy began in the summer of 2010. Stout showed up for a lesson and stayed until the shop closed."I felt like Cinderella at a ball," she said. "I loved it. I go to dances twice a month now."
With its African roots, the Lindy Hop has a relaxed, improvisational style all its own that sets it apart from ballroom-style swing. Often described as jazz dance, the Lindy Hop is a member of the swing dance family. Gaining popularity and notoriety in the 1920s and 1930s, the Lindy Hop combines the six-count rhythm of East Coast Swing with eight-count footwork patterns. The Lindy Hop was also the first dance that allowed for partnered individuality in the open positioned swing out, where each dancer is connected hand-to-hand, instead of in a closed embrace, offering each person freedom of movement, while still linked as a joined pair.Eric and Stephanie demonstrate examples of what the dance should look like for the participants at Jumpin' Java. When partners are in harmony, it’s as if they just glide across the floor. There's a continuous back and forth movement that's both graceful and fascinating to watch, even now, while Stephanie is pregnant!
The couple met at a non-dance event on St. Patrick's Day in 2001. Stephanie was a Lindy Hopper and Eric was also a dancer.
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Before long the couple was dancing together. "We both danced Lindy Hop at least five nights a week," says Stephanie. After about six months, they competed together in their first competition, the Amateur Classic Hollywood division of the Virginia State Open, and took first place.
The Simpsons moved to Charlotte in 2004, and did a little swing dancing, but not much.
Eric, a chorus teacher at Hopewell High School at the time, performed some dances with Stephanie at a school winter assembly. It was just the jump-start they needed. Soon a Lindy Hop club was formed at Hopewell. By 2007, Eric, who now teaches at Carmel Middle School, and Stephanie were teaching classes to the community in Matthews through their company, Lovin' Lindy. Lovin' Lindy's courses begin with Lindy Hop 101. In this six-week session, you'll go through three weeks of East Coast Swing instruction, two weeks of the Lindy Hop and one week of the Charleston. "It's a teaser," says Stephanie, "to see how you like it." Next you can advance to the Swing Out Seminar, which is four weeks working on technique and defining variations. Following that is Intermediate Moves, which builds on the swing out classes. Lovin' Lindy also offer classes in partnered Charleston and Balboa, which is a cousin of the Lindy, but with an upright stance, close touching frame and leg-crossing. Knowing that dances are great ways to meet people, the Simpsons started the Queen City Lindy Exchange in 2010. Dancers from across the country all converge in Charlotte for a three-day weekend of nonstop dance. QCLX skipped a year in 2011 while Stephanie finished graduate school but returned with a vengeance this year. Over 125 people preregistered for the March event, which included over 22 hours of dancing around Charlotte. Additional dancers paid at the door for single dances.
Kris Trine has been dancing for just over a year, but he leapt at a chance to be a part of the QCLX. "I couldn't pass up the opportunity to dance for three days straight. There are a lot of good dancers, and you get better from dancing with different people," he says. Trine, a Gastonia resident, considers himself more of a sports fan than a dancer. A friend invited him out to dance, and though he never would've believed he'd like it, a year later he's still going strong.
You don't need a partner to participate at Lovin' Lindy events. According to Stephanie, "we rotate partners, so even if we have more of one gender than the other, everyone will get to participate." The benefit of this partner free-for-all is that dancing with everyone, according to the Simpsons, will make you a better dancer more quickly. And it's important to keep in mind that the Lindy Hop is a social dance.
"This is a great way to meet new people," says Stephanie. "I'm not a fan of going to the gym, and this is also great exercise." The Simpsons are expecting their first child in mid-June, so their classes and dance events are currently on hiatus until after “Little Lindy Hopper” is born. They anticipate classes and events will begin again in the fall. The Lovin’ Lindy website will be updated as soon as the schedule is available. You can also sign up for their email newsletter from the website to be notified when classes and events are announced.For more information visit www.lovinlindy.com.