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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!

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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