The Jazz Dance Education Council (JDEC) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that is dedicated to the advancement of authentic Jazz Dancing in the greater RVA area. My husband, John Ennis, and I started JDEC 3 years ago to share our passion for Jazz dancing, especially the form known as Lindy Hop, and to provide a way to support the local community of dancers and Jazz musicians. We’ve been supported by a tremendous group of people, from our Board members (currently Jordon Chan, Will Russ, and Jaclyn Kelley, in addition to John and I), to our instructors, volunteers, and of course – the dancers and have watched the community really grow. And it is that sense of community that really drives us and is at the heart of everything we try to do.
Jazz dancing, like Jazz music, grew out of amalgamation of music and dance traditions from Europe, African, and South America, including classical, Ragtime, Blues, Afro-Cuban, and Gospel. It has always, at its core, been about coming together with other people to share the joys and challenges of life. In the early days of Jazz, in a deeply segregated American, performers like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday sang about challenging those societal structures, about acknowledging the pain and trauma of racism, and about banding together across racial lines to face those challenges. It served as both therapy and agent of social change. It flourished in those rare integrated music and dance halls, like the famous Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, NY, until it could not be contained, spreading through the country, and breaking down racial barriers. The Swing-Era arrived and became a national dance craze.
“The explosive nature (of Jazz) would have made it impossible to keep it to ourselves, even if we wanted to. The very nature of Jazz is to proclaim to all the world, "Hey, look, wow! Look, this is us, come have some, limitations are off - put race aside, come in, open your mind, open your heart, whoever the hell you are!" ~ Ossie Davis, in “Jazz: a Film by Ken Burns”
Unfortunately, social dancing as a past-time has declined across the US in the last half century, but there has been a vibrant underground community of Lindy Hoppers growing since the 1980s, when some plucky dancers from across the US and Europe sought out some of those original dancers who had danced at places like the Savoy Ballroom and been featured in the old films and brought them out of retirement to start teaching authentic Lindy Hop, Charleston, Balboa, and others. Although there were many of these “old-timers,” perhaps none is more loved than the late Frankie Manning, who traveled the world sharing his deep love of Lindy Hop until his passing at the age of 94.
Lindy Hop scene from the movie Hellzapoppin’ (1941), featuring the Savoy dance troupe known as Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. Considered by many to be the height of Lindy Hop.
JDEC strives to continue in the tradition of those early musicians and dancers by building a community where people can immerse themselves in the deep rhythms of jazz and experience and share life, with all its ups and downs.
For these reasons, I was so excited to hear that TheatreLab was producing Lady Day, and even more excited to have the opportunity to partner with them for the special performance on the 22nd. I hope you’ll join us for what will sure to be an amazing performance of Lady Day, and stick around for a swing dance lesson by JDEC and live jazz music and celebrate the legacy of those early trail-blazers.
-Ruth BrownPresident, Jazz Dance Education Council
I am not a native Richmonder, so when I talk to locals I take advantage of the opportunity to learn about different areas of this city. Richmond's neighborhoods are very interesting. Each are unique, rich with history, and have many stories to tell. Jackson Ward's history has especially intrigued me. Oh, to be alive and in the throws of Richmond's Jazz era, when Jackson Ward was referred to as the "Harlem of the South". When on any night of the week the Hippodrome on 2nd Street hosted legendary stars like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, James Brown, Nat King Cole and many more.
As the locals know, the once thriving community of Jackson Ward fell on severe hardships in the 1950's when I-95 split the neighborhood in half and displaced residents and businesses. Desegregation also played a role in the decline of the area. I have learned that there have been many attempts to reinvigorate the neighborhood over the years. The Convention Center, that resides next door to The Basement, was intended to bring business to the area but instead demolished historical buildings and forced residents out.
There has been a steady resurgence of Jackson Ward within the past few years. Richmond officials and business owners have been paying close attention to the neighborhood. There is a movement to perserve the history and reinvigorate the culture of the community. I am proud that TheatreLAB has made their home, The Basement, a part of the neighborhood's revitalization.
It seems fitting that TheatreLAB is producing Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill at The Basement. While the play is set in a seedy bar in Philadelphia, our Jackson Ward basement is transformed into an 1950's Jazz club, allowing Richmond audiences the chance to revisit those old days gone by.
For our production of Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill TheatreLAB has partnered with the Jazz Dance Education Council (JDEC). JDEC is a non- profit organization that is committed to keeping the Jazz dance and music scene integral to Richmond's lively art scene. The organization has a great interest in the history of Jackson Ward and Richmond's Jazz era and is eager to share it with their community.TheatreLAB and JDEC are hosting a Jazz dance event on Sunday, November 22nd. It will be a fun filled evening with a Lady Day matinee at 4:00pm, an instructional Jazz dance hour at 7pm followed by the Lady Day Social Dance with Jazz band 504 Supreme! Check the band out at 504jazz.com
Tickets for the JDEC Dance event can be purchased at www.theatrelabrva.org
-Heather Falks, Director of Community Outreach, TheatreLAB