These dancers invented a new way to travel, and it's bringing cities back. Back to life.
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There's a growing army of smart, radical, and extremely articulate Americans who have been teaming up to make serious change — right under our noses.

They're ... swing dancers?


Image from the Nevermore Jazz Ball, a Lindy exchange held in St. Louis, Missouri. ( Watch the video. It's cool.)

That's right: These swing dancers, or Lindy hoppers, are more than just the zoot suit riot you remember from back in the '90s*.

*Hey, '90s, we're cool. But I'm talking about now right now.

They're traveling across the country, preserving the history and integrity of this uniquely American dance form, all while bringing neighborhoods together.

Dancers recently rallied around a dance hall that once hosted some of St. Louis' (and America's!) jazz greats.

The city of St. Louis was planning to turn The Palladium, a beautiful, historic building...

...into a parking lot.

Via Save the Palladium Facebook.

(It's the only building in the city that's recognized by the National Trust as culturally significant to African-American history.)

But Lindy hoppers had other plans.

According to St. Louis historian and author Kevin Bedford, the Palladium was famously known as Club Plantation, and much like The Cotton Club in New York City, it "hosted legends of American music such as Nat King Cole, the Mills Brothers, and Ella Fitzgerald."

"It was only because of the grassroots effort by the music and dance culture of the city of St. Louis that the building was placed on the National Trust's list of endangered historic landmarks. " — Kevin Bedford, St. Louis historian

Jazz musician, St. Louis local, and guy you probably heard on "Prairie Home Companion" Pokey Lafarge even joined in:

And from the looks of the Save the Palladium Facebook page, many people are joining the dancers' call to action.

From a love of music, dance, and people, these swing dancers are spreading kindness to cities everywhere.

How's this happening?

Well, there's a unique way to travel that's emerged among dancers in America (and around the world) called a Lindy exchange (named after a type of swing dance, the Lindy hop).

For a long weekend or more, dancers from around the country gather in one city. People who have never met descend upon neighborhoods — often in places where even locals rarely go. They're basically city swaps.

They're united by a few things: a love of dance, a love of history, and a love of people. They wind up not only meeting each other, but spending time with other folks in the neighborhood, too.

They shop, they drink, they visit historical sites, they dance — and they breathe new life into cities.

They really take it to the streets. Literally.

Hundreds of people descend upon neglected historic streets in disrepair. The streets come alive again.

Preserving the history and integrity of this American dance form turns average Joes with some rhythm into historical scholars, preservationists, and citizens who care about their town and the people and places in it.

These Lindy exchanges are like having instant tour-guides and friends who just happened to plan the perfect and most historical and knowledgeable weekend ever. No wonder they're popping up all over the country!

Participants in these exchanges get to know each city they visit on the ground by dancing in old ballrooms...

...walking along former streetcar routes...

...visiting old barns...

...crowding sidewalks that haven't seen foot traffic since the '50s...

... and in many other ways, revitalizing as they go.

In 2012, dance exchanges gave birth to the Cherokee Street Jazz crawl in St. Louis, breathing new life into a business district that hasn't thrived since the '60s.

"[The Cherokee Street Jazz Crawl was] born out of our desires to make Nevermore open and accessible to all members of the community and to showcase the wealth of local musical talent that we have at home in St. Louis. The Cherokee Street Jazz Crawl brings the music to the people."

Photo c/o Elizabeth Swift of St. Louis MO

Another exchange, called the Nevermore Jazz Ball, even has a code. Here's my favorite part:

"Jazz music and dancing are a part of the fabric of our community and our everyday lives. Nevermore is not a swing dancers' bubble; it's exists symbiotically with the greater St. Louis community. We value our neighbors, our local artists, and our local businesses. We hope you'll show your love!"
These dancers on exchange serve as historical students of these towns, using social media (and the exchanges and the nationwide social connections from them) to remind towns of their past.

Just by meeting each other and seeing the world through the eyes of their hosts, this army of dancers are reminding us that every town has something special, different, and unique to offer.

In an era when you're more likely to see a McDonald's on a street corner than a local person, these folks are truly a blessing.

Cities are made of people. And through these exchanges, people from all over the country are reminded of the magic of meeting each other.

It's not the first time swing dance has had a powerful impact on people understanding each other.

Take this jazz festival in New York City from 1938:

Looks like some folks meeting and partying with each other. Crossing some boundaries — class and race — with nary a care. Not a bad start to getting to know your fellow humans, right?

These dancers can move their feet, sure. But after hearing about all they're doing to remind us of how special our hometowns are, they're kinda moving my heart.

See you on the dance floor. Or on the sidewalk. Or ... who knows!

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Anne Hebert, a marketing writer living in Austin, TX, jokes that her closest friends think that her hobby is "low-key harassment for social good". She authors a website devoted entirely to People Doing Good Things. She's hosted a yearly canned food drive with up to 150 people stopping by to donate, resulting in hundreds of pounds of donations to take to the food bank for the past decade.

"I try to share info in a positive way that gives people hope and makes them aware of solutions or things they can do to try to make the world a little better," she said.

For now, she's encouraging people through a barrage of persistent, informative, and entertaining emails with one goal in mind: getting people to VOTE. The thing about emailing people and talking about politics, according to Hebert, is to catch their attention—which is how lice got involved.

"When my kids were in elementary school, I was class parent for a year, which meant I had to send the emails to the other parents. As I've learned over the years, a good intro will trick your audience into reading the rest of the email. In fact, another parent told me that my emails always stood out, especially the one that started: 'We need volunteers for the Valentine's Party...oh, and LICE.'"

Hebert isn't working with a specific organization. She is simply trying to motivate others to find ways to plug in to help get out the vote.

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

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