Baile Mallorca

A series of three-minute romances

From the Lindy Hop to the Balboa and from tap dancing to jazz. The different styles for dancing swing are winning over more and more residents of Palma in clubs which offer courses and organise parties and “underground” dances in the street. 

How is it possible that a stretch of Calle Arxiduc Lluís Salvador and a dance hall in the Santa Catalina neighbourhood vibrate to the rhythm of an afro music style, created in the United States after the first direct flight from New York to Paris to be made by a single-engine plane, nearly a century ago? 

The answer involves two apparently unconnected events: the 6,000-kilometre flight between North American and Europe by the pilot Charles Lindbergh in May of 1927 on board the Spirit of St. Louis. And the Harlem night where this story began on the eve of the stock market crash of 1929.

Just as the fortunes of large and small US shareholders were taking a nosedive over the precipice, at the Savoy – one of the most popular ballrooms in New York – was a glittering showcase for big bands, dance contests and the improvised steps of its most electric dancers, who included George Shorty Snowden. On one of these nights, after performing some unprecedented pirouettes and acrobatics, Snowden told a journalist that this was the Lindy Hop, in honour of the transatlantic flight completed by Charles Lindbergh two years earlier.  

That extraordinary aerial feat, which without meaning to, changed the history of swing music forever, has been bringing together hundreds of fans in Palma for some years now, in competitions, parties and dances in the street organised by clubs like Tandem, Galactic and Sa Cotxeria.

“I have always liked swing. The music is cheerful, and the dancing is very social. There is a great atmosphere and it helps you meet people”, says Basilio González, director of Tandem Club, the school which celebrated its 5th anniversary in April. He and his partner Anna Subirana, a specialist in swing dances, give lessons in tap dancing, balboa and swing kids, as well as lindy hop. “I had a tap-dancing company and we used to perform around Spain. Then I started doing the lindy hop and I fell in love with the balboa. That’s what I dance the most now. And I even compete on an international level”, adds Basilio.

“We set up the first school. We have 300 pupils and 17 groups a week. I believe that people get hooked on swing because you kill two birds with one stone: you have fun and you meet people”, says Xisco Joan, director of Galactic, a dance club which also has a bar. “On Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays we play swing music. Over 100 people come to dance every night. They are aged between 20 and 60. We get couples and girls on their own. That’s the big drama of dance: there aren’t many men”, he points out.

But the natural setting of swing is the street, in sessions called “underground”. The lindy hop, for example, came into being as a rudimentary dance, and was definitely not taught in academies. People would copy the steps from other people. This was how the figures came into being and were perfected.

Increasingly popular and massive, swing is gaining space and conquering hearts in places as diverse as Bogotá, Krakow or Pekín. “One day you go to a city you don’t know, you look for places to dance swing in and you find them after a minute. People come up to you, they want to dance with you, they ask where you’re from. There’s a lot of interchange”, Basilio comments.

As well as Snowden, Frankie Manning was another one of the dancers and choreographers who popularised swing in its golden age. A member of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, he made his mark in the films Big Apple (1939), Hellzapoppin (1941) and Hot Chocolates (1941), with Duke Ellington. His quote, “dances are like a series of three-minute romances” is a hallmark that defines it all.

“When we dance, we smile. Everybody smiles at a party or an underground event. This is one of the most attractive things: a mistake always turns into smiles”, Basilio points out. 

Evening falls in Palma. In the dance hall, lit up but still empty, the music of Duke Ellington plays, the cadence of the trumpet of Gillespie, the unmistakeable sound of the piano of Gordon Webster. Until little by little, people arrive – doctors, retired engineers, drivers, teachers, bank tellers, shop assistance, IT workers, waitresses… All of them united by a single passion: swing. 

A couple dance, another joins them and then another on the well-polished wooden floor. They casually rehearse some steps whilst others, who haven’t dared to join in yet, chat amongst themselves, expectant, attired with the classic vest, observing the caricature of Louis Armstrong, or a drawing of Count Basie with a black hat, or the photo of Frankie Manning, elegant and smiling, with his red braces and grey beret.

The party has just started at Tandem. And at the same time hips are swinging at Galactic. And feet are moving gracefully at Sa Cotxeria. The tunes follow on from one another in a series of three-minute romances. Because Palma got swing.

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