News

6 Roaring '20s Parties That Will Get Your Knees Knocking

Prohibition fever is sweeping the nation with toe-tapping picnics that will have you shimmying all summer long.

"I think with 2020 approaching and the release of the 2013 film The Great Gatsby, people are excited about the Roaring Twenties," says dance instructor Andrew Selzer of Boston Lindy Hop.


You may have missed Miami's Jazz Age at Art Deco VIP or Atlanta's Great Gatsby Lawn Party, but the summer's still hot. Large-scale events, like the Great Jazz Age Party in New York York City, are so popular they happen twice a year, not just in June but August, too. Spectators dress up and mingle with professional dance teams like New York's Canarsie Wobblers and the Dreamland Follies. Through the power of social media—Instagram loves costumed dancers with a story—revelers can share the joy online.

"People want to experience that '20s vibe," says Courtney Drasner, rehearsal director for the Dreamland Follies.

Whether you go by yourself, with a partner or dance troop, think in "classic images," suggests Drasner, who has performed with the Follies for six years. The group's designs range from silver bobbed wigs and long gloves to bright-red bathing suits and canoe paddles. When developing your look and attitude, watch old movies to get a feel for crowd-pleasing dance moments, like kicklines and Busby Berkeley formations.

Live music is ideal, but that may not always be possible.

"As much as I would like to use authentic 1920s music for performances, recording quality wasn't the best back then," says Selzer, who will perform with the Boston Lindy Hop at the Roaring Twenties Lawn Party in Ipswich, Massachusetts. "The faux pas I see with many newer performers of 1920s routines is to use scratchy old recordings that don't go over well, especially for nondancing audiences. Luckily, there are some modern bands that play in the 1920s style, like Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, who have many of the songs from that era, but recorded with good sound quality."

To enhance flirty expressions, makeup can include defined lips and eyebrows. Anytime dancers appear in large groups, they stand out with dramatic clothing pieces. Think pearls and headdresses for women and vests and suspenders for men. Amazon sells inexpensive, authentic clothing for everyone, but don't be afraid to come up with your own concept that might include parasols or press passes tucked into the bands of colorful fedoras.

Ladies and gents should also be able to interact with the crowd in unique spaces that include gardens or historic homes. At New York's Jazz Age Lawn Party, partiers take a ferry to an abandoned military base on Governors Island in New York Harbor. At the celebration in Ipswich, guests mingle on the Crane Estate, making them feel like they're part of a plot by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Now that your bees knees are knocking with excitement, here are some places to practice your bunny hugs (*indicates ages 21 and over):

July 28, Michigan City, Indiana

Gatsby at the Gardens at the Friendship Botanic Gardens*

This event includes bocce ball, tug of war and traditional dances performed at the 72-year-old property.

August 4–5, Ipswich, Massachusetts

The Roaring Twenties Lawn Party at Castle Hill on the Crane Estate

Pretend to be Lady Mary at the Crane Estate, a National Historic Landmark reminiscent of Downton Abbey. With views of the Atlantic Ocean, this event includes opportunities to picnic, purchase vintage clothes, learn the Charleston and catch live performances.

August 10, Midland, Michigan

Gatsby Party at the Dow Gardens*

Meet 1920s characters at this decadent picnic in Dow Gardens, named after Herbert Dow, founder of The Dow Chemical Company. Fedoras and flapper dresses welcome.

August 11–12, South Lake Tahoe, California

Great Gatsby Living History Festival at Tallac Historic Site

Go back in time to experience vintage cars, music, games and clothing at the Pope and Baldwin Estates.

August 25–26, New York City

The Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island

Now in its 13th year, the Jazz Age Lawn Party is the world's largest Prohibition era–inspired event. Featuring live music by Drew Nugent & the Midnight Society and Michael Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra, this two-day picnic is family-friendly with magic shows, vintage fashion and plenty of Instagram opps on two dance floors.

September 29, Washington, DC*

Dardanella: The Great Gatsby Lawn Party at the Washington National Cathedral

Polish your Charleston on a huge dance floor beneath the Washington National Cathedral. This event includes vintage orchestras, lawn games and photo booths.

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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