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Swing sisters question politics of partner dance
Date posted: 29 June 2018
People Dancing members Nancy Hitzig and Cat Foley are rehearsing a dance, music, comedy showcase for the Grimeborn Festival, London. Here dancer and choreographer Nancy shares her lindy hop journey, looks at the politics of partner dance and ‘Swing, Sister, Swing’.
Nancy Hitzig

From my earliest memories I loved music and movement. I ice-danced as a teenager but I started learning to lindy hop in Toronto from two women, Alana Hock and Mandi Gould, just over 13 years ago. And I guess I’ve been asking questions about gender and dance ever since then.

Partnered social dancing changed my life. It offered me a non-verbal, informal conversation with my partner and the music, rhythmically contributing to the soundscape of Chick Webb, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. The people, the opportunities and the places lindy hop and swing dance has taken me have been incredible. It is the music that inspires me to dance and to encourage all people to partner dance. 

Drawing on those first classes, I chose early on to learn both roles – lead and follow. Now, as a teacher, I work in both roles but in performance I most often follow. Unlike some of my contemporaries in the lindy hop community, I have regular weekly teaching partners but not a regular dance partner. At times this has been a huge set back in my career within lindy hop.

I believe that we value male leaders differently to female follow or lead dancers and I do feel a bit uncomfortable about the unconscious bias within me to hold hands with a man and look for a dance partner who is a male leader. It’s a societal thing, not a uniquely lindy hop issue but I think it’s deeply important to address. After all, there is no masculine or feminine movement, just movement and roles to make the dance function. The roles are distinct and different and that’s what makes it so much fun!

Along with my dear friend Cat Foley, I am interested in exploring these ideas of gender-normative roles, what it is to be in a dance partnership but also what it means to be alone and find self-acceptance. As an often under-resourced dance form, Cat and I are really interested in exploring how we tell stories through lindy hop, music and comedy that have lasting value. 

We have a rare opportunity at the Grimeborn Festival to experiment with these ideas of togetherness and love in ‘Swing, Sister, Swing’, a cabaret-inspired show celebrating female choreographers, kick-ass musicians and pieces created and inspired by jazz greats Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday. It sprung from our shared desire to showcase some fantastic jazz dancers in London and to challenge how we use partner dance to talk about our personal experiences in the community dance scene and this niche dance form.

So often, I leave class feeling empowered and proud of myself when I teach both roles and when I get my students of all ages to surprise themselves. As a performer and choreographer, I want to do more to put lindy hop on the map for more traditional dance audiences and to dispel some of the perceptions of community dance.  

It is these lines of thinking that push me to model the kind of world I want to live in in my classes and choreographies. This is a world where there’s a culture of consent to ask another person to dance to phenomenal music, a culture of acceptance and inclusion for all those that wish to try dancing for the first or millionth time. That is the beauty of swing dance – it’s so joyful and has room for all of us.

Nancy Hitzig 
Lindy hop dancer and choreographer

Portrait photo of Nancy Hitzig by Katie Latter Photography