The dances are simply swell

I HAVE never really gotten into the '80s, and though a happy, active New Yorker, I wish I lived in a different New York: the New York of many large movie palaces, more than three newspapers, and phone numbers beginning with words like ACademy, BUtterfield, or SUsquehanna. Sadly there are no such things as time machines, but fortunately for me there is Swing Dancing.

Harlem's Savoy ballroom, the Astor Hotel, and the Caf'e Rouge at the Pennsylvania Hotel no longer exist, but the music and the dancing remain, as do people young and old who love them.

I saw a flyer on a telephone booth (calls costing a quarter, not a nickel) announcing live Big Band dances sponsored by the New York Swing Dance Society at a place called the Cat Club. I went with two friends and found a wonderful dance place that had once been a roller skating rink.

Usually a loud disco, the Cat Club becomes, on alternate Sunday nights, a '40s-style club with live big bands - I had found my flashback, my time machine. I was ecstatic. I had to get involved.

I immediately began taking swing lessons, since I saw that there was a lot to learn beyond the simple one-two-back-step I had learned in college. There were the eight-count step, Lindy whips, Charleston jumps, cuddle steps. And there was the music. Soon I began to learn the names of songs other than ``In the Mood.'' There were all those jump songs, though I at first was known to refer to the Count Basie classic ``Jumpin' at the Woodside'' as ``Jumping off the Woodpile,'' much to the laughter of my ever-expanding group of Lindy Hop friends.

The dances themselves are, as they would have been called 40 years ago, simply swell. I have no doubt when I say I think the Sunday night Cat Club dances are one of the most happy, wholesome times to be found in New York. The mix of people is refreshing and varied, with all ages, backgrounds, and professions, everyone loving to dance and more than willing to help beginners and serve as inspiration to all.

Nothing is more heartwarming than to see dancers, some over 70 and who themselves all but invented the dance form at the Savoy in Harlem, teach practice sessions to left-footed beginners and to see what had been their life's passion 50 years ago make a comeback. I had found a wonderful bit of the past alive and well in New York.

My wardrobe also took on new life. The wider the flare of the skirt, the better. First, my mother's closet was virtually emptied. I returned from each trip home with a new skirt or dress. One polka-dotted dress won first place in the '40s costume contest, a very sentimental victory, as my father had designed it for my mother 40 years earlier.

I accessorized it with a snood for my hair - people asked if they could touch it because they had never touched a real snood. I didn't have the heart to tell them I had crocheted it myself the night before. Polka dots have also become a personal trademark of sorts, ``Polka-dots and Moonbeams'' my favorite song.

What's next? Well, I am now on the board of directors of the Swing Dance Society, edit the newsletter, Footnotes, and collect big band records. Slightly obsessive perhaps, but I'm happy.

Now if only I could get this city to officially change my ZIP code from 10025 to ``New York 25, New York'' and my phone exchange back to ACademy.

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