Bitten by the jitterbug

I’ve been a dancer my whole life, including a stint with the professional company Albany Berkshire Ballet many moons ago.

I’m currently in my 8th year as a volunteer dance teacher (ballet and tap) at Groove With Me, a program in East Harlem, NYC, which uses free dance classes and performance opportunities as a tool to instill in young women the leadership, pride, spirit of cooperation, creativity, joy and discipline needed to confront the adversity in their daily lives and throughout their future development. The love I have for this organization and my current and former students could be an entire blog post, but I digress..

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Teaching ballet class. These girls are teens now (eek!)

My ballet career ended because of a knee injury, so I’m unable to do anything near what I used to do. And now I recently discovered the NYC lindy scene. Apparently, there are people out there who appreciate historical accuracy, dancing, music, and period art/architecture, and said people get together at events to dance, wear their vintage or reproduction finery, and revel in the glory that is all things vintage.

My dear friends Sarah, whom I met while dancing in Albany Berkshire Ballet, have gone to the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governor’s Island in NYC a few years ago with me. We’d always talked about going again, but things come up, like graduate school, work, her living in the Berkshires, etc. We finally went to Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra‘s Winter Ball last week. A period ball, with 20s through 40s music, set in a private Gilded Age mansion on 63rd street.

Of course, we had to be historically accurate in all details. Stockings, shoes, dress, hair, accessories, etc. Sarah is a stylist and costume designer, and has background working in museums and other historical contexts, so texting each other about the appropriateness of a round toe vs a pointed toe shoe for the 1920s is not out of the ordinary for us.

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En route at Grand Central.

I altered a terribly frumpy but beautifully beaded evening gown from the 1980s that I got for $5 at a church rummage sale into a quite accurate 1920s evening dress.

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Before and during the transformation.

Sarah wore an authentic 1920s beaded dress borrowed from a friend. That thing weighed about 10 pounds! Quality, heavy glass beads adorned this incredible dress.

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Look at this beading!

Alas, we took few photos, but managed to snap a few at Grand Central on our way there.

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The weary travelers sitting on the floor really add to the glamour, no?

The event incredibly glamorous. Upon entering, one was completely transported to the jazz age.

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We took very few photos since we were having such a good time, but thankfully one of our new friends, Kay, snapped a few of us in action.

Thankfully we found some gentlemen who knew how to dance, and some ladies who knew their vintage.

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One of my dance partners, a lovely Londoner newly transplanted to NYC.

What an incredible evening.

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Sarah doing the Charleston.

The next day, at Webster Hall in NYC, the Dreamland Orchestra also hosted a jazz age Tea Dance, which was less formal and much larger. Sarah didn’t have time to finish sewing an afternoon dress, but I quite think she got away with wearing that antique dress again for an afternoon/early evening event.

I wore a 1930s silk chiffon gown that I also picked up for $5 through my crafty thrift-hunting skills. It was a bit dingy due to the age, but I am smitten with the zipper, which was sewn diagonally along the bias.

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My attempt at a selfie.

Sarah was a bit tired from the night before (we got back to my place around 3:30-4am!), but being photographed by Bill Cunningham and meeting some lovely people- including gentlemen that knew how to dance- definitely perked us both up. I’m not particularly into current fashion- I prefer making my own look that incorporates vintage and whatever strikes my fancy, rather than what’s prescribed in the latest rags- but I knew who he was. If you haven’t seen the documentary, check it out! He is an incredible street style photographer, often in the NY Times. I’ve heard of fashion bloggers hearing he is at an event, going home to don their most impressive outfit, rushing to the scene and waltzing around in hope he’ll take their photo. Apparently he doesn’t respond to invitations and doesn’t let people know when he’s coming. He just shows up. I guess you can do that when you’re Bill Cunningham!

I chatted with some ladies in the bathroom about their fabulous outfits and especially their jeweled headpieces and stunning outfits. We ended up being pulled aside to do a quick photoshoot with another photographer, Jeffrey Clark Grossman, that attended.

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Emily has a great Etsy shop, Lulaverse, where she sells beautiful vintage, and Robyn is a singer in Postmodern Jukebox, which does vintage arrangements of contemporary songs. Not sure if I am in love with the angle but it was fun nonetheless.

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Officially starting to take swing/lindy and other vintage dance classes here in the city. I’ve taken some private ballroom lessons, and my training in tap and jazz should help a bit. I’m terribly excited about merging my obsession with history, artistry, and dance.

xo Jaime

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