These dancers invented a new way to travel, and it's bringing cities back. Back to life.
They've got more than rhythm.
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?
That's right: These swing dancers, or Lindy hoppers, are more than just the zoot suit riot you remember from back in the '90s*.
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.
(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
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."
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!"
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.
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!