These dancers invented a new way to travel, and it's bringing cities back. Back to life.
True
Airbnb

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!

True

Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less