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Afternoon Delight Dance Series: Dangerous Dancing

by Jerome Weeks 13 May 2011 1:00 PM

This is swing dance as a form of brilliant, rhythmic, physical assault.


Afternoon Delight is a daily diversion for when you’re just back from lunch, but not quite ready to get back to work. Check back Monday at 1 p.m. for another one.

Two weeks ago, I put up several videos for Afternoon Delight that demonstrated how great African-American performers dealt with Jim Crow segregation and the racial stereotypes of popular culture — often projecting their artistry brilliantly through the confines.

I didn’t have time to put up this one, so thanks to Stephen being out of the office, you have the pleasure of meeting Slim Gaillard and Slam Stewart, known as Slim and Slam and performing here in the 1941 film, Hellzapoppin. Slim was a comic character who specialized in his own invented jive language — “”I feel a rhythmic brainstorm comin’ on,” as he says here. But Silm was also a talented vocalist, jazz musician (on piano and guitar, as the video shows) and composer, best known for his novelty numbers, especially “Flat-Foot Floozie,” a 1938 song that hit #1 when covered by Benny Goodman (the original title was changed to “Flat-Foot Floogie” to get mainstream radio play).

It’s typical that Slim, Slam and the other musicians are depicted here in nothing but menial roles: cook, maid, chauffeur, etc. — people who just happen to pick up trumpets and drums and crank out a high-velocity, impromptu jam session. Or we could take all this as a sly, subversive comment: Your gardener could actually be a whiz-bang musician.

At any rate, the other reason for spotlighting this video is the breakneck swing dancing that starts around 2:40. There are number of video records of hyperventilating ballroom throwdowns, but the flips, back-flips, kicks, splits and leaps here are fast and relentless.