Photo: Jan La Salle
How did you meet and when did you start dancing together?
Tony: We were introduced by a mutual friend at a time when I was looking for a new dance partner. We started working together immediately teaching, competing and performing, even though Jaime was just learning swing.
Can you tell me about each of your dance backgrounds? What styles did you start training in first? When did you start dancing Swing?
Tony: I don’t have any other dance training besides swing dance. I started swing dancing right after I got out of the military in the ’95. I started teaching, competing, and performing various styles of swing six months after I started and continue to this day.
Jaime: I began dancing at the age of four. I studied ballet, tap, jazz, and modern dance throughout my childhood and went on to major in dance at Hofstra University. I moved to the city to start working with professional companies once I finished college. In 2010 I met Tony and he trained me to be his swing dance partner. Swing has been a great and valuable addition to my dance career, and I have learned to incorporate it in much of my current choreography.
Since this is not your first time performing in the JCE show, can you talk about your inspiration for the different pieces you’ve created throughout the years? Do you always have a story line or are you moved more by the music?
Given that swing dance is so driven by the early jazz music of the 1920s-1940s, we always start with music. We find a song that provokes a mood, challenges our partnership, and encourages us to explore new movement qualities within swing. We are inspired to create works that contribute to the legacy of swing dance and early jazz.
What is your piece about this year and how do you feel it fits into a jazz themed show?
We selected the song “Cotton Tail,” a famous jazz standard originally by Duke Ellington and beloved by jazz fans and lindy hoppers around the world. It is fast paced, energetic, and creatively challenging to dance to. We chose this version featuring Ella Fitzgerald because of the rhythmic complexity of her scatting as well as the vast variety of instrumentation and textures in the arrangement. It is our way of paying homage to this historic foot tapping staple of jazz music and to Ella herself.
Do you both collaborate on the creation of the piece?
This piece started as Jaime’s inspiration for a group piece performed at a vintage swing dance event this past summer. Then we decided to collaborate together on how to turn it into a duet just for us. We worked together to personalize it to our own partnership and adjust the movement and feeling to fit the stage.
Why do you think it is important to keep jazz dance and swing dance thriving in NYC?
Jazz, and particularly swing dance, are American born traditions that shaped history and culture in this country and spread all over the world. Lindy hop, swing, and the jazz music that those styles were danced to was largely developed right here in NYC. Yes, it is a dance that still influences jazz performances of today and it is important for dancers to understand the roots of the movement, but it should be equally stated that that music is still alive here in this city, and therefore those dances are still progressing.
Can you talk a bit about Kilowatt Dance Theatre and how long you have been a part of the group?
In 2012 we were regularly working on competition pieces for swing dancing events. We wanted to explore the idea of using swing dance vocabulary in a concert dance context, so when we were invited to present work at Jacob’s Pillow’s Inside/Out Series in 2014, it seemed like the perfect time to start. Since that first show we have been creating performances that highlight the fusion of early jazz and swing with contemporary dance forms.
I see that you teach/perform in such styles such as swing, shag, lindy hop, and Charleston, but for those who are not familiar with these dance styles, can you explain the difference between each one? What is your favorite style to perform? Favorite style to teach?
You can think of swing as an umbrella term to describe sub-genre dance styles. Under the swing umbrella, you’ll see dances like Lindy Hop, Charleston, Shag and Balboa. There is a lot of overlap between them in that they are all done to the same types of earlier jazz music; however, they tend to vary in rhythm, look, and feel. They all are defined by different footwork patterns and have a different “basic step” and different preferred tempos. Despite these differences, these styles are often danced together during a single song.