Our beloved friend Dan Hankins passed away in 2018 after a long fight with cancer. Dan was the kind of person who would go to every dance venue in one night just to support everyone. He was dedicated, kind, passionate, and supportive. He was a big part of the dance community in Arizona and we would like him to remain a part of the dance community by establishing the Daniel Hankins Memorial Scholarship – a fund that will help college students with tuition or books. The scholarship is for a swing dancer who is attending college in Arizona.
Announcing the winner for the 2019 Daniel Hankins Memorial Scholarship. Congratulations to: Andria Vitagliano who is studying to become a dental hygienist.
Read her essay answering the question “What does Lindy Hop mean to you?”
I’m not interested in fame and glory. It’s just that I would like others to know what a happy dance this is”- Frankie Manning. Throughout my Lindy Hop journey, these words from Frankie always resonated with me; they’re uplifting, inspiring, and grounding. They help me remember that I want my dance career to be shed in the same light – that Lindy Hop is a joy to experience and to share with others. Discovering this dance in 2011 utterly changed my life and thus it is easy to share what it means to me. To me, it means a sense of community, joyfulness, and a desire to honor and preserve parts of its history.
Growing up, community is something that I felt was missing. As most kids in my area were given a community through their churches, I often felt like I was missing out on being surrounded by people whom shared common interests with me as I was not religious. It was not until high school that I was a part of my first community – theater. Being in theater taught me a lot about being a supportive team player – especially since I often assumed the role as the director. Eventually, it was my theater friends that discover this thing called “swing dancing” at the Kats Korner in Mesa. They finally convinced me to attend one night and the rest was history. However, it was not until about four years ago that I discovered there were more dancing opportunities in Phoenix and I made it a point to attend them all. I discovered Fatcat, The Duce, The Grand Central Swing, Hepkats, DeSoto Central Market, and more. Over the past four years, I got more involved in the Phoenix Lindy scene. Not only have I attended every venue, but I began teaching group lessons, performing, giving occasional private lessons, and of course made numerous friends. One thing I have learned that comes with heavy involvement is a responsibility to care about a community that you feel close to. For example, when there is a new dance event, I made it a point to attend no matter what the circumstance. The floor could be challenging, there may not be many people who attend, the music may not be my personal favorite, but I just went anyway. By doing this, your fellow community organizers will feel supported and there may be fellow dancers that are excited to dance with you or vice versa. Additionally, you can post pictures of yourself there to encourage more people to come. I remember that Dan Hankins in fact attended one of my events when our attendance numbers were low and it made me feel very supported; I want to make other community organizers feel how Dan made me feel that night.
Another part of the Phoenix Lindy community that I love to support is the Phoenix Bomb Squad team. While unfortunately I did not have time to dedicate to being on the team, I could still show support in other ways. Specifically, for Camp Hollywood 2018, I purchased an Arizona flag to wave during their debut competition. I wanted both the Bomb Squad members and the national scenes to see how much we support them. After they competed, I ran over and hugged, cried, and laughed with all the members – it was a special moment. This year, I plan on attending the performances of their new routine before they go to compete at Camp Hollywood again this year. Lastly, one of the best parts of being a part of the Lindy Hop scene is that I feel like I could move almost anywhere in the world and have instant friends – even for an introvert such as myself. I finally feel like I can be surrounded by others like me and I am proud to say that I am a part of our local, national, and international communities.
Being a part of the Phoenix community also gave me opportunities to teach and perform which brings me joy. Performing gives me a rush because I enjoy showing others what I can do and it makes me feel special. Secondly, I love teaching because I feel so fulfilled welcoming new people to the dance and to share with them what I know. There’s one fond memory I have in particular that I wish all people could experience. In the fall of 2015, I attended Camp Hollywood for the very first time and it was also my first ever dance event. There was a moment that changed me forever. It was around 2:00am in one of the smaller ballrooms, Nick Peterson declared the start of the Underground Jitterbug Championships. As the informal competition began, there were just a few couples who entered, but they were some of the best in the world. They danced harder than I had ever seen and did all kinds of amazing aerials; their endurance and showmanship was incredible. The energy in the room was wild and it was such a rush just to be in the room. This is when I realized that I am going to do this the rest of my life and that I was home; pure joy. When I attend dance events now, I feel that I am in a magical world that I do not want to leave. Even on a small scale, just being able to dance at the end of a stressful day brings me happiness, release, and self-expression – it heals.
A part of spreading the joy of Lindy Hop also includes sharing its history with others. When I teach, I always make it a point to touch on its origins. I have been doing a lot of independent research for a few years, including watching original dance clips, video interviews, and reading Frankie Manning’s memoir. I then take the information I have learned to help others understand where Lindy Hop (among other dance styles) came from. Of course, it is also important to shed light on parts of darker American history, including racism and the fact that vernacular jazz really began as an African-American dance form. For instance, some vintage clips are performers wearing blackface – such as James Barton in “After Seben” – or the costumes of the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers in “Hellzapoppin’” were portraying them as “working class” because African-Americans were viewed as subservient to white citizens at the time.
Learning Frankie’s story in particular and what he stood for makes dancing even more meaningful to me. With that, there is a certain aspect of preservation that I also find important. For instance, my brother asked me one day why I do not want the dance to adapt to modern times and to be to modern music. I finally came to the conclusion that there is a certain draw to jazz music and vintage culture. Henceforth, it is jazz music that inspires the freedom of Lindy Hop; its syncopated, rhythmic, soulful, colorful, and expressive. The clothes of the time period also gives me a sense of creativity and makes me feel unique, whether I’m wearing them myself or surrounded by a sea of people who are – it just simply puts you in another world. Thus, having an understanding of the historical background creates a deep respect of the dance and makes it much more meaningful to me.
Ultimately, Lindy Hop is a very fulfilling aspect of my life and it provides me with many gifts. It gives me connections with people, emotions of many shades (including happiness), and the respect and desire to preserve history. Life is a gift, and we might as well use it to make meaningful and positive connections within ourselves and others, just like Dan did. He was endlessly supportive of the Phoenix Lindy community, he was kind, and he was genuine. I aspire to be like Dan and Frankie; I want to make my impact a positive one.
– Andria Vitagliano