Ben and my new friend Caitlyin
I’m completely obsessed. That’s usually the way it goes with me. I find something I enjoy and then it becomes more than a passing interest, it becomes a consuming point of fascination. The latest obsession in my life…Swing dancing.
It started simply enough with a photo assignment. Earlier this month I man came into the office to pitch a story idea. His name is Pete and he was there to say that he and his friend Joe were hosting a Lindy Hop dance at the Sassafras Ballroom in Kalispell and would the paper be interested in covering it. It’s Friday afternoon when he’s telling me this and the dance is that night. Internally I groaned. I don’t want to work late. It’s my weekend. Dang it. So, I took his name and information and said I would check the schedule. Really there is nothing to check, the only person available is me and I don’t want to go. But I also don’t want to be rude, so this creates a nice “get out of jail free card” for me.
After he left and I began walking back to my desk I immediately started thinking about how cool an event like this might be in terms of photos. As a photographer, once that happens, I’m hooked. It doesn’t matter that it’s been a long day. It doesn’t matter that I want to go home. It doesn’t matter that this is going to postpone my wonderfully beloved three-day weekend. All that matters is the possibility of intriguing imagery. How dressed up will everyone get? We have a ballroom in Kalispell? Dancing always makes for nice photos. What if this could be a Montana Life feature? It took me the length of the newsroom to know absolutely that there was no way I could miss this dance. And by the time I reached my desk I wanted to go. So, I called Pete, thanked him for the story idea and let him know that I would in fact be in attendance.
The Sassafras Ballroom is not a ballroom per se. It is a historic space located behind one of the businesses that lines Main Street. From what I have gathered it was originally a health club of sorts built in the early 1900’s. While it may not have been intended as a dance scene, it easily serves the purpose. Hardwood floors, nice windows, good light and even a chandelier-type lighting fixture. It also has a narrow walkway around the top of the room great for speakers and perfect for a photographer interested in the view from above. I loved it on sight.
When I arrived Pete and Joe, the guys responsible for the dance, were teaching some of the basics of Lindy Hop. I hadn’t seen Joe before but Pete was a complete surprise. He came into the office after his shift at Colter Coffee, dressed in grey and faded jeans looking positively “scruffy.” He and Joe were easy to pick out because they were the only two guys in formal shirts and ties. Within minutes I knew I had made the right decision to come to the dance. A great space. Cool people. Fantastic music. And best of all, smile after smile. These people were having fun. Lots of it. And that only adds to the photographs. When someone is genuinely into what they are doing and enjoying themselves, they tend to be less self-conscious about having their picture taken.
Photos from my first excursion to the Sassafras
I think I was there for about an hour. And for most of that time I had a smile of my own on my face. I easily got enough photos to do the Montana Life feature. Montana Life is a photographer’s showcase of sorts — it’s a section of the paper that usually runs a photo package of between 5 and 8 images. If you are interested in hearing from Joe and Pete and seeing the slideshow it is posted on the Daily Inter Lake site. As it turns out for this Montana Life I did the photos as well as the story. Although I have a degree in journalism I seldom write anything other than cutlines. But a reporter didn’t get to go to the event. No one from the paper saw it but me and I wanted to write it. I didn’t want the experience to end. Days later I was sitting down to interview Pete and Joe. Pete said, “We had to tell our buddies from Seattle that you left with what us swing dancers know as ‘that smile’ that we all had.” In the course of writing the article I learned that the buddies from Seattle, the ones who taught Pete and Joe were coming to Montana for a workshop. I think I knew right then that I would have to go.
Eastside Stomp instructors Peter Flahiff, Ben White and Mark Smith
The workshop was this weekend. The teachers from Eastside Stomp (located in Seattle) came out to Lakeside, Mont. and put on a two-day workshop. Did I mention that dancing is far, far, far outside my habits and routines? Even the idea of dancing is a fear-inducing phenomenon. And yet, somehow that didn’t matter. I went. Our teacher, Ben, noted that it’s difficult to cram a month’s worth of classes into two days, but for me it was absolutely worth my time. I had so much fun. Tripped over my own feet far too often of course, but outside of that, I loved it. I probably would have headed north for home once the classes ended, but my friends made me promise that I would come at least for while to the social dance.
The Sassafras is perfect for this kind of event, and even better, it was built in the period when this kind of dancing was going on. The guys in their suits, the girls in their vintage outfits. It was stunning. So, of course, at this point I reverted back to my comfort zone and became a photographer again. And what do you know, I got some photos I loved. My memories from this weekend are now linked up to lively jazz music, wild dancing, and the chance to be both in and out of my own comfort zone.
Sunday night social dance
As it turns out, I got much more than I expected from this experience. I really enjoy the music. Before he left Ben gave me a list of musicians to check out. Benny Goodman. Count Basie. Duke Ellington. Glen Miller. These are names I’ve heard before. But there are others that don’t sound even vaguely familiar. Boilermaker Jazz Band. Django Rginhardt. Cats and the Fiddle. Mora’s Modern Rythmists. Next stop: the iTunes store. 🙂