There are only two DecaVitas in the world; they are professional and beloved dancers, feminists and movie stars – featured in the Hollywood picture Alive & Kicking from 2017. We sort out why their teaching is described as a “feminist revolution,” what relationship they have to each other, and why no one can beat their connection. In this interview the duo shares what really happened behind the scenes and why they wish they never participated in documentary film Alive & Kicking from 2017.
By: Annika Munter Editor: Odella Schattin Edited in December 2019
“Swing dancing is the pursuit of happiness!”, “It’s like having sex while you’re on amphetamines.” Those who’ve seen Alive and Kicking, the Hollywood film from 2017, about swing dancing, recognize these statements. The last quote is Rebecka DecaVitas. She is portrayed in the film together with her dance partner Charlie DecaVita. But we´ll get back to that. I meet the duo in a dance studio in DecaVitas hometown, Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. It is a sunny spring day and we grab a table at a nearby restaurant. Charlie orders a cup of tea. Rebecka is happy with water. Her hair is blonde, set up in a braid. Charlie is brunette and today the tips of her hair are blue. Both are slender and petite, Emilie’s bare arms, with colorful tattoos, are muscular from many years of dancing.
Charlie and Rebecka have been friends for a long time. When Charlie was eighteen she signed up for a course in Lindy hop.
– I really liked it and thought it was wonderful and wacky, she says. Rebecka adds:
– Lindy hop was the first partner dance I ever tried. Charlie introduced me. There were not enough leads in the class, so I chose to learn how to lead.
The duo practiced together. They watched dance clips on the Internet and taught themselves the choreography. They founded a performance troop, began to teach Lindy hop and in 2008 they participated in their first competition as a couple. It went well and they decided to go for it – an international Lindy career lay ahead.
– In order to afford traveling and dancing, we rented a cheap room and ate inexpensively. We really focused, danced all the time and cut down on everything else. Usually, we practiced at night. That was the only time that the school’s gymnasium was unoccupied. We had keys, but a lot of times the burglar alarm went off and, to avoid being fined, we ran.
Success was around the corner. In the years that followed, they placed in finals and appeared on podiums in international competitions in Europe, Canada and the United States. They continue to do so today. Rebecka reflects on their success:
– I’m proud to inspire so many women to begin to lead. In Sweden, it’s become quite usual.
What about the rest of the world?
– It’s become more common in other parts of the world too. I get messages all the time. A few days ago a woman from South America wrote and thanked me.
DecaVitas are the only same sex professional swing dancers in the world and with their dynamic and unique dance style they stand out. They also get attention for colorful clothes, hairdos and for unexpected choreography. Most often, the attention is positive, but not always. Charlie explains:
– We get mixed responses. I would say there are three categories: Some people think of us as exotic flowers and a unique phenomenon. Others identify with us, they encourage and praise us. Finally, a small coterie are critical.
I’ve have heard that you become a better follower if you also can lead. Is that true?
– It’s possible, but I not necessarily! No more than if you also play an instrument or can do a handspring, says Emelie Charlie and shakes her head. She is tired of “dos and don’ts” in the swing dance community. Fellowship between dancers would be more fun and transparent if the community was less conservative, she reckons.
– It is difficult to stick to a dress code from the 1940s, affirm a yes-culture and still be equal despite gender.
– In our experience the scene in Europe, compared to the US, is boxed in and controlled; everyone expects you to dress in vintage and dance the same style. In the US, we feel there is more variety and tolerance. We want to dance in our way and not as others think we should!
Perhaps this is precisely what makes DecaVitas so beloved; how they move with ferocity, feeling and willingness to throw down. It appears that their way of mixing dance styles break unspoken boundaries in the swing community. And perhaps this is what Susan Glatzer, director of the film Alive and Kicking, loves about them too? DecaVitas met Susan Glatzer for the first time at Camp Jitterbug in Seattle, Washington, eight years ago. With a camera in her hands, Susan asked if she could do an interview. “Of course,” DecaVitas answered! Still on a dance high, after a fantastic evening, they responded to Susan’s questions without filtering themselves.
– We took it as a joke; spoke deliberately bad English, mocking ourselves and were generally capricious.
A few years after that first interview, DecaVitas began to realize the extent of Susan’s projects.
– Susan and her assistants began to emerge where we were. With years apart, we participated in new interviews and recordings. Sometimes we did it just because we wanted to help the photo assistants, we felt sorry for them. It took a long time before we realized what the project was all about. We did not know it was going to become a movie.
Now it is too late to change anything. The picture will be broadcast all over the world beginning in April 2017. Emelie and Rebecka have already seen it and they are invited to the premiere in Los Angeles.
– In retrospect, I regret that we exposed ourselves, Charlie declares.
Rebecka’s quote, about Lindy hop being like sex under the influence of amphetamines, is not real, she feel that she got persuaded to say so.
– Susan asked me comparing a great Lindy hop-dance with anything else. I jokingly said something about amphetamines and Susan asked me to repeat it in a special way. It was just plain stupidity. I am not an actor, especially not in English. And I have never taken amphetamine! During the recordings, we were asked to say certain things in certain ways, that happened a lot.
Have you spoken to Susan Glatzer about this?
– Yes absolutely! She knows that we don’t appreciate how we are portrayed and we have asked her to remove certain images. But I can hardly bother any more, because even if Susan agrees to remove a scene or an image it will not change the big picture.
At some point Rebecka is giving Charlie a cautionary look, but more often a smile of encouragement. They are tolerant and supportive of each other. Being underdogs in the modern swing scene, where everyone is fighting to make it internationally, has made them the best of friends. They have also faced life battles. In 2012, Rebecca became ill. She was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. The crisis paused their profession dance career just when it was about to take off.
– It gave me insight into what I want and what is worth something in life. Before that we were practicing with tunnel vision, says Rebecka.
The experiences of illness and follow up treatments have profoundly changed her – and the duo’s relationship.
– Sure, we can argue, but we are incredibly loyal to each other, which makes us strong and impervious. I think that provokes many people, says Charlie and continues:
– Rebecka is the smartest person I’ve ever met. Whenever I want to do something cool with someone, I always choose her. She is the best!
With that said, let’s take the opportunity to sort out their relationship to one another. Charlie and Rebecka are not sisters, nor a couple.
– It’s no stranger than we dance together!
There are only two DecaVitas in the world, where did you get your name?
– We made it up, as an artist name. We were both unhappy with our previous last names so we choose to use DecaVita. In retrospect, maybe it was not quite so clever; the name sometimes creates problems when we travel.
In 2016, DecaVitas decided to focus more on the artistic aspect of their dancing. They have entered fewer competitions and travelled less.
– We do more performances nowadays and have begun to perform at events other than swing events. Traveling and teaching every weekend is tough.
Every semester, DecaVitas arrange a weekend workshop called “Swing Connection” in Stockholm. During the workshop, they focus on the art of leading and following. Participants have described the course as “a feminist revolution” and followers are happy to receive as many challenges and material as leaders do, which is not always the case.
– Dancing’s all about dialogue and that’s what we want to teach. You can have so much fun and help each other to create new moves, moves that you could not do on your own. Magic occurs when you work together.