The 1920s influence Dartmouth today

by Maura Henninger | 2/13/98 6:00am

Imagine yourself in the 1920s, dressed in a tuxedo or an elegant gown, lounging in a grand ballroom, a martini dangling from your hand. Couples dance to the swing band, which alternates, cabaret-style, with a jazz band. Worn out from swinging, you and your friends head downtown to the speakeasies to chat over a drink or two.

"The Roaring -20s," the theme for this year's Winter Carnival, were both wild and elegant. From a swing ball to a 1920s Rolls Royce snow sculpture, this year's Carnival will capture the essence of traditions a time past.

The idea for the theme originated with James Horowitz '98. For so long, he said, people have talked about the famous Winter Carnival traditions dying. The grouping of the Carnival with the big party weekends, he feels, detracts from its special place in the history of Dartmouth.

"Making the theme focus on the glory days of the Carnival is one way to focus back on the brightest spots of the event, not just Carnival as three nights of partying," Horowitz said.

The Carnival committee has planned numerous events to revive old Carnival traditions as well as begin some new ones. Following the opening ceremonies on Thursday evening, Main Street establishments will transform themselves into speakeasies -- serving drinks and appetizers -- such as the ones that served up drinks during Prohibition.

On Saturday, in addition to the Outdoor Evening at Occom Pond-- the revival of a Carnival tradition which includes musical performances, snow sculptures, ice castle building and sleigh rides -- there will be a Winter Carnival Swing Ball in Alumni Hall featuring Boston swing band, the White Heat Orchestra.

Carnival organizers hope to make the Swing Ball a lasting tradition, and they're going all out. Jazz and swing quartets will alternate in the Top of the Hop while tuxedoed waiters pass around hors d'oeuvres and drinks from the cash bar. The committee sponsored ree swing classes the week before the ball.

This year's theme not only brings back the old special qualities of Winter Carnival, but it picks up on the skyrocketing popularity of all things swing age.

The popularity of swing dancing is something of a phenomenon around the country. New swing dance clubs are springing up all over the U.S.: Magazines and journals covering every facet of the style proliferate.

At the College, David Larson teaches weekly swing classes. He attributes the rising popularity of swing to a number of factors. Primarily, he said, swing is one of the easiest dances to learn due to its freedom of movement and the adaptibility of the dance. Combined with movies such as "Strictly Ballroom" and the addition of dancing to the Olympics, swing is attracting a wider range of people.

In addition, Larson said, music groups are changing their rock 'n' roll styles and getting back to their jazzier, funkier roots.

"So now, you can dance to a lot of different types of music, not just big band. I like to swing to Elvis, but you can really swing to anything -- from country to Eric Clapton," Larson said.

Don Glasgo, a professor of music who teaches a course in the history of jazz and orchestrates the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble, concurs. "Swing music is really fun and contagious when it's done well. You can't help but move to it, and that is what young people today are rediscovering: there was fun, energetic, enticing dancing long before rock 'n roll."

According to Glasgo, student interest in his history of jazz class has increased over the past few years. Almost one-tenth of the student body has taken the class,Glasgo pointed out.

There is nothing more important, he said, than teaching students how to improvise in their daily lives, how to take risks, and how to listen to and appreciate jazz.

"Jazz is an amazing gift to all of us, one of the more remarkable artistic creations of this soon-to-be-concluded century," he said.

There has also been an increased interest in the young, popular jazz musicians brought to campus: artists like Joshua Redman and Don Byron. In addition, Glasgo has brought artists onto campus for longer, one-week residencies with the Barbary Coast; Trio 3 with saxophonist Oliver Lake will perform on Saturday evening in Spaulding auditorium.

"Once these artists get the lay of the land, they are usually quite impressed with students at Dartmouth, particularly with their intelligence and their willingness to try hard and do their best," Glasgo said.

But Glasgo attributes the growing audiences for the Coast as the result of long-term efforts to "beat the bushes" among jazz fans in the Upper Valley community and not the growing popularity of all things from the "jazz age." Glasgo and the Coast have made a concerted effort to stir up interest in their work.

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