John Land has attended the New Orleans Swing Dance Festival & Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown every year since the event came to New Orleans a decade ago.
This year, he will be hosting dancers from Belgium and Turkey who have practiced together online to compete in hypercompetitive contests where couples spin with daring, high-velocity centrifugal force.
“If you’re the best at Showdown, you’re probably the best in the world,” Land remarked.
Land says no other Lindy Hop dance festival in the world can compare to Showdown, which takes place Friday, Oct. 3 through Sunday, Oct. 5 at several historic New Orleans venues as well as outdoors in the French Market.
Wannabes can enjoy the festival as spectators or take free dance lessons, while more experienced dancers compete in contest “battle” preliminaries on Saturday and Sunday afternoons in Dutch Alley.
The crowd’s applause will judge winners based on dancers’ rapid-fire footwork, tangling turns and even awe-inspiring aerial stunts.
“It takes a certain gusto and bravado to dance in front of a crowd,” said Land, a former Showdown competitor.
And in the evenings, at the Civic Theatre, Wax Museum and Southport Music Hall, finalists will vie for cash prizes.
Showdown features live, unformatted music, so there’s really no way to train for it. Couples trade off dancing to musical phrases and “just go as hard as they can, like they did in the 1940s,” Land said.
“ ‘Battling’ is one couple versus another couple as they take turns soloing back and forth, each time trying to one-up each other in hopes to wow the judges and the audience,” said Amy Johnson, Showdown founder.
The event resembles New York’s famous Harvest Moon Ball dance contests, which years ago brought thousands to Madison Square Garden to dance to the big-band sounds of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Tito Puente.
Hundreds of participants from all over the world revel in the opportunity to jitterbug morning through night at after-hour parties that continue until 4 a.m., and they experience the history and the culture of the city where jazz was born.
“Showdown is different from other events, which are at a hotel or indoors. It’s not just about dancing,” said Yulai Liu, a software programmer originally from China who plans to compete in the Jack & Jill social dance contest.
“It’s the live music — unmatched in the world,” Land added.
Yet, Showdown is not expressly for experienced dancers.
Anyone who wants to try out the range of swing dance movements — St. Louis Shag, Balboa, Slow Dance and Blues, Collegiate shag and basic Lindy Hop — can do so at weekend dance lessons.
Ryan Francois, two-time winner of the U.S. Open and American Swing Dance Championships, among other credits, will teach Solo Jazz at 4 p.m. Saturday in Dutch Alley.
Appropriate retro attire — a belted, rayon frock or a jacket with wide lapels — can be found Thursday evening at the New Orleans Vintage Fashion and Lifestyle Expo at the Old U.S. Mint, while professional swing dancers perform and models sashay down the runway to music by Shotgun Jazz Band.
“Our main goal is bringing together vintage collectors, vendors and vintage lovers of all types — from burlesque dancers to swing dancers, rockabilly fans to history buffs,” Johnson said.
With a few new dance steps and the right ensemble, a newbie might just be able to melt into the crowd of gyrating jitterbuggers at the Civic Theatre on Saturday night.
New Orleans Swing Dance Festival & Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown
WHEN: Friday, Oct. 3 to Monday, Oct. 6
WHERE: Old U.S. Mint, Wax Museum, Civic Theatre and French Market
TICKETS: Ticket prices vary from full pass to single tickets at door. Purchase tickets online at lindyshowdown.net.
FRIDAY: Dancing to the Cottonmouth Kings in Dutch Alley, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.; dancing to Ben Polcer’s Swingin’ Seven at the Wax Museum, 8 p.m. to midnight
SATURDAY: Dance lessons in Dutch Alley, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; dance contests with The Palmetto Bug Stompers, 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.; chorus girls at the Old U.S. Mint, noon to 1:30 p.m.; dancing to the Jonathan Stout Orchestra at the Civic Theatre, 8 p.m. to midnight
SUNDAY: Dance lessons in Dutch Alley, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.; dancing to Meschiya Lake & The Lil Big Horns at Southport Music Hall, 8 p.m. to midnight