Holly Dumaux and Tip West in 2001. (courtesy www.campjitterbug.com)
To say the Road of Life is bumpy might be the understatement of the year.
For me personally, the last two years have been like one of those back roads that are so full of twists, turns, and potholes that you swear you will never take that route again. And it brought a level of stress that is new to me. If we could harness the twitch over my left eye we would have a new form of clean energy. My ego is grateful that it is not apparent when looking at me.
Yesterday’s “bump in the road”—a woman ran a red light and hit my car in a very busy intersection near my home—left me with a headache and has made me acutely aware of how our time on this planet is often not in our control, no matter how many organic vegetables we consume.
The time we spend here is often taken for granted and death can be not just a loss but a shiny reflective mirror. Not only reminding us that we are mortal but it also can bring up questions. The passing of one of my best friends helped motivate me to get to get my act together. Literally and figuratively. “You better get to that stuff while you are still able” is what all the voices in my head were screaming in unison. I swear there is only one (at a time) but I like the idea of a Greek chorus. While my friend was fighting the cancer that did him in he heard my very first recording. I will always remember the unique look on his face that said so much.
My entry into swing music came from many different sources. I was certainly exposed to it long before I ever socially danced to it. When I started dancing Lindy it reinforced that swing music was the beat that my inner drummer marched to. As a child, every time I heard a horn section I’d get all bouncy on the inside. Still do.
Swing dance wasn’t something I had always wanted to do. I just stumbled into it. I was in downtown Santa Monica at the Promenade which is an outdoor walking mall. A buskers’ haven where you can find any number of “performers” doing their thing. It was sometime in the late 1990s and I was walking and saw a group of people swing dancing. In that group of outdoor dancers there were two dancers that were clearly the best. Anyone who had danced at a wedding had done East Coast Swing (that’s the very basic of the social dances that falls into the swing dance category), but this other thing I saw these two doing was different. I knew from watching it I could follow it if a strong lead took me through it.
I stayed that day at the outdoor dance where the joy was so thick you could cut it with a knife. I laid in wait and I asked the male of the duo (Tip West) if he would dance with me, he asked me if I knew how to Lindy. (Oh, that’s what it’s called!) I whispered in his ear if he counted it I could do it. His eyes betrayed him I saw both dread and “Okay, little miss crazy pants.” He couldn’t know that the round girl in front of him was a professional dancer and could follow a strong lead of just about any social dance. And I couldn’t know that I had just asked one of the best leads in the scene at the time to take me out for a spin. A ballsy neophyte indeed. But to his credit he went through with it and danced with me. A few counts in he knew I wasn’t crazy and by the end of it, I could Lindy. If I hadn’t seen Holly and Tip dance would I have ever swing danced?
A few days ago, on social media I saw that many of my swing dance friends were upset about the unexpected passing of a swing dancer. My first thought was “so young so sad” and my second thought was “I didn’t know her.” It wasn’t until much later in the day that I realized that I did, in fact, know this dancer: it was Holly Dumaux Ginsberg. The “Holly” of Tip and Holly. She was a major part of the neo-swing revival of Los Angeles in the nineties. To say we were acquaintances might be overstating our relationship. I didn’t even know her last name. If we spoke it was probably when I was looking to dance with her then partner (on and off the floor) Tip.
Holly’s passing made me think of legacies. I didn’t know her that well and yet she affected my life in a positive way. And by the outpouring of love I saw on Facebook, I was hardly alone in that feeling. Spreading the joy of dance as a teacher or an inspiration to others is a quiet legacy but a very special one.
I am not sure if any of us know while we are here if we are leaving a positive mark. I know the artist psyche is often so busy struggling to survive we don’t give much thought to that notion (egomaniacs aside). From what I gather, Holly’s dancing days were replaced in the last decade with raising a family and a successful IT career. In fact, our local NBC nightly news affiliate where she worked did an on-air tribute to her and while a video montage of her life was shown the female anchors voice narrated and just as it showed her dancing we heard, “. . .and what many of us didn’t know she was a champion swing dancer.”
I am grateful for those that inspire me in any way. No one in any field whether it be the arts or sciences would be anywhere if it weren’t for inspiration and the occasional shove in the keister. For all those that inspire there are also those that can’t imagine why anyone would choose the life of struggle that comes with being an artist. I have noticed here in Los Angeles where so many dreams come to die, you represent what someone else couldn’t do which is…not give up. You can’t explain why that is, not even to yourself.
Just today someone asked me as I passed him outside my local coffee shop. “You still acting?” I answered in the affirmative and I got the surprised laced “good for you” the subtext to that question was “haven’t given up yet?” And if I had given up? That is some ugly casual street chat. Aspire to inspire it’s less messy and you never know what kind of good you are doing. As for why I keep at it even though it means sacrifices? I have decided it’s more of a calling than a choice. If only they had cloisters for artists, I would gladly join the “Order of the Red-Hot Mamas”.
In that same creative spirit, I have decided to cross The Big Apple off the creative bucket list so I will be doing a show in Manhattan. It will be in a new (for me) form but that form will include swing tunes. It will be my birthday show and if you care to spend an hour with me, my story, and some hot jazz I look forward to meeting you. I know I wouldn’t have had the courage to make the dream happen without my keister kickers. And you know what they say about New York……
If you can make it there you can be unemployed anywhere!
Randi Cee is a bandleader and a swing and hot jazz vocalist living in LA. Her CD, Any Kind of Man, is available through cdbaby.com or via randiceemusic.com. For booking information please write: firstname.lastname@example.org .
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