Going global, great venues, and the home of swing in Galicia

(Clocks go back, winter is coming, so I am turning to summer for this post…)

Panormaic view of Bueu and the bay of Pontevedra
Panormaic view of Bueu and the bay of Pontevedra

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As I was sitting having a beer in a leafy beer garden in southern Galicia this summer, while attending a meeting of the local swing association, I came to reflecting about globalization, universal human passions for music and dance, and the mysterious and circuitous turns in history which have led to this meeting taking place at all…as you do. The place is the Aturuxo bar in Bueu, a small village on the coast of one of Galicia’s southern bays. It is a lovely early summer afternoon and we are sitting around a table in the shade of the garden, surrounded by the countryside. The Aturuxo is in fact a great concert venue and the alma mater of Lindy Hop in Galicia. This is where Jorge and Elena started their first Lindy Hop classes when they returned after living in Porto (Portugal) where they had been bitten bad by the lindy hop bug. They started with a small weekly practice group in 2012 and now, in just three years, it has grown into a busy swing dance school (Swing On Vigo) and has spawned an independent Galician swing association which was formally created last year (Ghastas Pista Swing).  We were there to organize the association’s annual swing festival work programme and to attend a concert by Alo Django, a local swing band from Santiago de Compostela.

I think it is a fair bet to imagine that there was no Lindy Hop or other swing dancing occurring in Bueu in the late 1930s or ‘40s.  For a start the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and tough post-war period under Franco’s dictatorship would have been a dampener on the swing spirit. Bueu would have been a relatively remote fishing village. I would be interested to know if swing music was popular at the time in the larger cities of Vigo or Coruña, but it is unlikely that a group of lindy hoppers would have gathered to dance to a live swing band at their local bar, as was the case today. So I looked into this a little, there isn’t much material on the history of swing in Spain, but if you would like to know more this is the best source I have found article by Jorge García. It suggests that even back then Barcelona was the main jazz route entry in Spain and that while the fox trot and Charleston made it, Lindy Hop would not have been widely known or danced. Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers did a couple of tours of Europe in the late 30s, fitting in England, France, Switzerland and even a visit to Dublin, but did not reach Spain (which would have been in the midst of the civil war as mentioned).  I also doubt even Frankie Manning (Lindy Hop inspiration) had an inkling of how far his legacy would reach when he was ‘rediscovered’ in the 1980s and the Lindy Hop revival started in the US and Sweden. Ah the marvels of a globally connected world.

Enxebre festival presentation party
Enxebre swing festival presentation party

This global passion for swing speaks of the joy its music and dance transmits, which veritably ‘hooks’ lindy hoppers from all kinds of backgrounds. Alo Django provided us with some swingin’ tunes — crazy beat, foot stomping versions of All of Me, Undecided, Sweet Georgia Brown and others, which had us hopping in the grass well into nightfall. Alo Django are Xabier Mera (voice and guitar), David Tato (guitar), Quim Farinha (violin), Alfonso Calvo (double bass), often in collaboration with Gail Brevitt (tap and voice), and have been very supportive of the local swing scene. They recently organized the II Foliada Swing in Santiago for example, including a film screening, dance workshops, and a joint tap and swing shim sham on stage.

Here they are playing Sweet Sue

Alo Django playing at the II Foliada Swing, Capitol (Santiago)
Alo Django playing at the II Foliada Swing, Capitol (Santiago) Photo David Llecha

The route to the swing (dance) revival in Galicia has been circuitous and also follows the ebbs and flows of emigration and return: via Portugal and the vibrant swing community that Abeth Farag (US) helped to create over the last 10 years, via Jorge (from Bueu) and Elena (from Madrid) who after living in Porto have gone on to work full time at fostering and growing a local swing scene in Galicia; via Ireland and a half Irish-Spanish ‘migrant and back again’ (me) who started dancing in Dublin and has been doing her best to continue dancing and to share her love of swing dancing in Santiago de Compostela; via Carlos Tomico whose travels brought him to Scotland, Madrid (where he caught the swing bug), back to Galicia where he has been actively involved in Ghastas Pista Swing and teaching in Santiago, and are now taking him abroad again to Portugal; via Leti González, originally from Madrid, who has sailed the seven seas before docking in Vigo and getting on board the Swing On team – and also some really enthusiastic local lindy hoppers who discovered swing in this very location, like Daniel Pérez and Laura Rosales, current Treasurer and President of Ghastas Pista Swing Association. The people behind the local swing scene do paint a picture of globalization at its best, that is, bringing together people who love to dance!

And at the same time the swing scene in Galicia is very much local, fuelled by Estrella Galicia and tapas, dancing on the beach or in narrow old town streets, gathering for a Galician winter stew (cocido gallego) or shim shamming on the pier or in front of the Santiago cathedral.

This was the Frankie 100 celebration in the Rías Baixas (the southern coast of Galicia) with the students of Swing On School.

This was Santiago de Compostela’s Shim Sham for Frankie last May.

Although the passion for swing music and Lindy Hop is now global and goes across all kinds of cultures –from the US, UK, Sweden, Spain, Korea, South America, Israel, South Africa…it also takes on specific forms in each locality. I have lived and experienced three different scenes mainly – Dublin, Barcelona and Galicia. In Galicia it is developing hand in hand with great bars, live music, and the special ‘swing vermouth’ modality, which combines a pre-lunch drink and tapa with dancing, usually outdoors. In Barcelona, thanks to the great weather, there is outdoor dancing every weekend in plazas and parks (but here sans tapas). The scene there has developed mainly thanks to very active swing dance schools and teachers (now nearly 20 schools in the Barcelona region, some with hundreds of students) which have contributed to one of the largest most exciting swing communities in Europe. In Ireland the scene has grown mainly as an evening activity in pubs – because what other kind of venue can you find in Ireland??- but as a generally beer-free form of pub-going (which doesn’t usually go down well with the pubs). It ends up being all your friends’ houses where you meet up to dance and party (Anita Walshe, thinking of your place especially). There are sometimes swing picnics, which are a nice Irish family-friendly version of the ‘swing vermouth’ where people bring along home-baked cakes, oh and there is usually some kind of roof, just in case.

Killer Swing party in O Ateneo 30, Santiago
Killer Swing party in O Ateneo 30, Santiago (photo Katerin Alvarez)

These are the scenes that I am familiar with, but I can only imagine that the Lindy Hop community in Sweden or Korea have their own unique forms of swingin’. What is perhaps special about the global Lindy Hop community is that we are also very closely connected,  frequently attending events abroad and finding fellow Lindy Hop addicts where we least expected. As Norma Miller said in her memoirs ‘Although Harlem created it, the Lindy belongs to the world’.

The swing community could not grow without great venues that support it by facilitating, a) a space to dance and b) promoting local swing musicians and events. In the south of Galicia the Aturuxo, Carycar club or Taberna O Rincón, and in Santiago O Ateneo 30, Gallaecia in Armis and Dado Dada club have been essential allies and great places to dance.

Let the swing spirit continue 😉

Note: this post is by no means a complete guide of swing in Galicia – I write about the people and places I know personally, so if you feel I have left anything important out…well just add it to the comments and let me know.

In fact, I would really like to know your views – what do you think attracts people to swing and Lindy Hop nowadays? What is unique about your scene?

Find out more…

Ghastas Pista Swing https://ghastaspistaswing.wordpress.com/

Swing On School LINK http://www.swingonvigo.com/

Compostela Swing https://www.facebook.com/groups/compostelaswing/

Alo Django https://www.facebook.com/alodjango

Aturuxo Bar http://www.aturuxo.net/

O Ateneo 30 http://www.oateneo30.com/

Ok and many many more great bands and bars

Estrella Galicia?? (I do think we should look for a sponsorship deal sometime…)

García, Jorge ‘El Trazo del Jazz en España’ http://www.bne.es/es/Micrositios/Exposiciones/Jazz/resources/img/estudio1.pdf

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