The spirit of lindy hop is rooted far back, but what is it, really? Angela Andrew pins it down. She is trying to transmit everything Frankie Manning ever taught her and she sure is an explosive element on the swing dance scene; not afraid of speaking her mind or dancing up a storm. In an open-hearted interview Angela is playing up a sketch and expose her positions—letting you into the mind of a legacy holder.
You don’t have to be a very experienced Lindy dancer to know that a swing out can be a pretty complicated move. Sure, it is one of the very basic moves, but first you have to know the footwork, right? Nope! Angela Andrew proves that’s not the case. Easy as pie, she teaches a group of beginners, including myself, the Lindy circle and the swing out, in just an hour. Of course, we don’t dance it perfectly but inspired into a nice groovy swingin’ mood we even do some butt shakin ́!
It is late April, at the Stockholm Tap Festival 2019, and the venue is full of chattering as Angela takes a break to let me in on her story. For more than ten years, she assisted Frankie Manning in his classes and her training includes mentorship from jazz dance masters such as Chazz Young, Norma Miller, Mabel Lee, Chester Whitmore and Othella Dallas. But the person who laid the groundwork for what was to come was Mrs. Andrew, Angela’s mother.
– I learned dancing from standing on her two feet, says Angela and gets up from her chair, waltzing around the floor, showing me how it was done.
Music and dancing was part of the family. “Happy people make sounds,” Angela claims and recalls how her family wouldn’t meet, eat or even drink a glass of water without someone putting on a tune. Already at the age of six, Angela led a church choir and her talents became so widely recognized that she was invited to lead major celebrations throughout London.
– Music is what I breathe, you know. My mum has never given me any particular piece of advice but she can spot a good dancer from a distant. She influenced my dancing a lot, always getting right to the point.
Hailing from the first generation of lockers, poppers and break dancers, in the 1980s Angela danced the Ceroc, a fusion of salsa, rock ‘n’ roll and swing dance. She was a crazy kid dancing to the pop music of the day, sweating and partying hard. One night at a party, she saw a girl named Sing Lim dance. Angela ́s eyes nearly popped. That’s what she wanted to do too. Not much later, at another party, Angela was invited to the opening of a new venue; the famous London club, Jitterbugs. In July 1991, the club boasted a performance with Chester Whitmore, dancing with Ryan Francois and Julie Oram, whom were a part of the dance company, Zoots and Spangles. That’s when Lindy hop was slap-bang established in Angela’s life, right in the center of her soul.
– They put on that Cotton Club show and literally, that was it! The combination of the music, the clothes, the dancing, the atmosphere, the people. Holy moly!
Ryan and Julie would not only perform but teach and social dance at Jitterbugs. Jivers and retro people, all sorts of styles, supported the scene. Some couldn’t do Lindy hop but everyone could dance. It was not all happy and wonderful, Angela recalls, but everybody understood what it was all about; dancing and music, and everyone was accepted, no matter what. Angela was nurtured into the scene by Lindy hop enthusiasts like Ronnie Slide Leslie and Chris Carter, invaluable to the London swing scene and to Angela.
Around this time Angela also met Frankie Manning. He came to Jitterbugs a few times, and later they met again, at Can’t Top the Lindy Hop, his 80th birthday event in New York. Angela was recognized for her energy and improvisational skills, the way she was taking pleasure with a dash of humor and Frankie came to proclaim her as one of the top five female Lindy dancers in the world–a statement that would make anyone’s chin drop.
– I know! And he said it a few times. I was like… are you just trying to make me feel good? It made me feel weird. Now he has passed and I see the gift he gave me by recognizing my dance ability. But I was like “ohh,” says Angela and continues:
– When I started off with Ceroc, I was just a crazy kid jumping around. To be a legacy holder, that is crazy! At the time I didn’t understand it, it was just embarrassing, but I wasn’t going to question him.
Angela didn’t question Frankie, but she did query Lennart Westerlund several times as he invited her to teach in Herräng in the summer of 1994.
– I was like; are you sure? There were so many fabulous dancers around so why me? Lennart asked me again after Frankie’s 80th birthday celebration and I thought, I can’t teach on that level of dancing.
At the time, Herräng Dance Camp was a small camp but already well regarded. Everyone talked about it, how badly they wanted to go. Angela did too, but to teach? She didn’t feel she had the authority or the maturity, being such an inexperienced Lindy hopper. She had other worries too, like sleeping on floors and being attacked by thousands of mosquitos! “I don’t do floor!” she jests. Her laughter is contagious but behind the easy- going surface there is seriousness; the subject of authority is something she repeatedly returns to.
Teaching in Herräng was a big thing, and still is. At the time, before social media, the opportunity came as a letter. Angela lowers her voice as she tells me about this mythical mail, preceded by an equally exciting phone call from Sweden.
– It was Christmas day at my parents’ house when the phone rang. We were having Christmas dinner and mum answered and said to me; someone named “Lennad” is calling.
Angela pantomimes cropping the phone from an imaginary mum, playing up a sketch:
– “Hello, this is Angela”, I said. “Hello this is Lennart”, Lennart said. “Oh hello!” I said and then he asked me if I wanted to teach with Frankie.
Soon after that she got The Letter and summer of 1996 she taught in Herräng for the first time. She assisted Frankie until 2007, at Herräng and elsewhere. Having had him as a mentor, Angela’s teaching is very influenced by Frankie’s no-nonsense approach. She is trying to transmit everything he ever taught her.
– I ́m obviously a vehicle. We are all vehicles. Frankie himself was a vehicle for the music that came from somebody before him and even from somebody before that. He never wanted to be worshipped, he wanted the spirit of the dance and the music to run through.
The spirit of Lindy hop is rooted far back, but what is it, really, if you were to pin it down? As Angela talks about blackness – and “the importance of knowing and feeling what the African holocaust of enslavement is” – I get a view of the gravity of what she calls integration; how crucial it is to make people fit into a community. Angela addresses the topic of acceptance, once present and valued in the scene, saying that it is not anymore. She lifts a warning finger, obviously getting upset, saying that the center has shifted to what it never was before.
– It ́s important that people at the center, at the root of things, are integrated into the community. Not just put a hat on them. Herräng tries to do this, we have the same aims–similar ideas about how to preserve and respect the legacy, and the whole development of the art–but the approach on how to accomplish it differs.
Angela compares it to the root of a plant, how it has to be nurtured and protected, in order to survive. Says that we need to respect that “oak tree in the middle”.
– If revive a plant, you need to learn about what that root needs. You need to ask yourself if you’re the right person to nurture that root, and if you’re not, be humble enough to let somebody else do it. Not just do it because you can or because you ́re here. You might be there but other people might want to be there too, and because you ́re being there they can’t.
If the center of Lindy hop has shifted, where is the center today?
– It is vintage clothing and whiteness and what it means to be whit politically, not personally. The starting point is from a place of whiteness, whiteness informs everything. In I my opinion; that’s not how Frankie meant it to happen. He came out to teach his dance, I don’t believe for a second that Frankie thought that people learning the dance would allow such a shift in center. Today, people fit in because they know the code. That’s not what I came from.
Angela recollects feeling that she was being pushed away from the scene. Now she is back. She stayed firm and kept doing what she felt she had to do; having conversations, speaking her truth, trying to understand. Angela turns to me asking why I ́m so surprised about her feelings as an outcast?
Why? Because since that first lesson of mine I have seen Angela perform and teach several times – creating that groovy swingin’ mood; that makes students feel like dancing queens, even wiggling some butt. Becouse she is approachable and seems to be just as curious about me as I am about her. It’s nothing dramatic; it just makes for a very happy place – and who doesn’t want it that way?
FACTS ABOUT: Angela Andrew
Nickname: Cookie. Referring to the UK rap music duo “Cookie Crew” popular in the mid 1980s. Cookie was cemented as Angela ́s nickname as she became a part of the dance group The Ladybugs.
Home: in London ́s East End, were she was born and raised
Work: as a dance artist and teacher. Her latest work, Radical Integration, is a collaborative project about legacy and the transmission of dance. It was showcased in London in the spring of 2019, together with Othella Dallas (93-year-old former principal dancer of the Katherine Dunham Company).
Artistic input: Missy Elliot, Nina Simone and Antonio De La Fe
Career highlights: In May 2014, Angela performed at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. That same year she also fulfilled her role as Madrinha to Hodi Dance Company, at their dance exchange in Harlem and Brooklyn.