LaTasha Barnes Dances With Tradition Through Lindy Hop : Rough Translation A jazz dance born in Harlem in the 1920s ends up in a tiny Swedish town. What happens when Black dancers try to bring the Lindy Hop home?

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GREGORY WARNER, HOST:

This is ROUGH TRANSLATION from NPR.

LATASHA BARNES: I grew up in a multigenerational household, as we say,

WARNER: LaTasha Barnes was raised in Winterpock, Va., just outside of Richmond.

BARNES: It was my mom, my grandmother and my great-grandmother and myself all in the same house.

WARNER: Growing up, LaTasha spent most of her time with her great-grandmother.

BARNES: My great-grandmother was a cook. One of the few cooks, few Black cooks especially, that ran her own kitchen in the city of Richmond.

WARNER: She ran the family home, too.

BARNES: Absolutely (laughter). She was usually the one that was in charge of planning a lot of the family gatherings.

WARNER: And LaTasha has this one early memory.

BARNES: I feel like it was an Easter Sunday because I remember having on a poofy dress.

WARNER: She's just shy of 4 years old. A crowd of family and friends have gathered in the fancy living room.

BARNES: I don't know what song was playing, but my great-grandmother loved Louis Armstrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDERS JOHAN GREGER LEWEN'S "WINDING BACK THE YEARS")

WARNER: She sees her great-grandmother dancing with a friend, and LaTasha can't help herself.

BARNES: And I was just bouncing around jumping at her. I remember her taking my hand, and I remember feeling the lead away from her. But it wasn't a shoving. It was just kind of - she was bouncing in, you know, in concert with how I was moving. She said, OK, hold on tight, and I want you to run and then jump and squat. And I was just revved up and I started to go. And she's like, wait, wait, wait (laughter). And then she kind of sat away from me a little bit. She says, OK, go. And I ran and she held my hand and we kind of went up, and she lifted it up just a little bit. And then she kind of brought me down to the ground, and then we both squatted. And then we bounced a little bit, and she pushed me away just a little bit and she said, OK, go. And I ran past her, and I jumped and she kind of lifted me a little bit higher, which was really cool.

WARNER: LaTasha still remembers the feeling of being swung around the room following along with her grandmother's lead.

BARNES: And she said, OK, hold on to me. And so then I held her hand tighter.

WARNER: The way her great-grandmother pushed her way and then, just as suddenly, pulled her in close.

BARNES: I don't remember any other bits of it. Just this in and out essence. It was just the release of the happiness and relief of being together.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDERS JOHAN GREGER LEWEN'S "WINDING BACK THE YEARS")

BARNES: We just went on like that for a while, and then she'd pick me up and throw me around. She was like, that's how we danced. This is how we danced growing up. And she called it fast dancing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDERS JOHAN GREGER LEWEN'S "WINDING BACK THE YEARS")

WARNER: In her 20s, LaTasha would become a professional dancer of house and hip-hop. But those were not partnered dances in the same way, not the same feeling of leading and following someone else. It wasn't until her early 30s that LaTasha decided that this dance was something she needed to know, part of her own creative journey and a way to reconnect to her past. But by the time LaTasha decided to learn fast dancing, the place to go study it was halfway around the world at a dance camp in Sweden.

BARNES: It was a simultaneous moment of like, this is so cool. Wait, I'm going where for a dance that was founded in Harlem?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BARNES: I don't understand - how did it get over there?

WARNER: This is ROUGH TRANSLATION with far-off stories that hit close to home. I'm Gregory Warner. Today on the show, what happens when a piece of your cultural heritage has been adopted by another country and not just adopted but embraced and loved with a fervor that is hard to shake off? How do you find your way back to a family tradition that has started to feel like a foreign language? ROUGH TRANSLATION will be back after this break.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: We are back with ROUGH TRANSLATION. Our producer, Justine Yan, has been digging into this story for about a year now.

JUSTINE YAN, BYLINE: Hey, Gregory.

WARNER: Hey, Justine.

YAN: So I've been watching all these videos on YouTube and dancing around in my apartment.

WARNER: I, too, have been doing a lot of dancing working on this story. So just before I pass the mic to you, I just want to let people know there are one or two or maybe three curse words in this story, which we have left unbeeped. And we're going to get back to LaTasha. But first, we're going to take a trip to Sweden.

YAN: To meet a young, blonde, Swedish boy with too many feelings to share.

FELIX BERGHALL: Because I would say everything. I wouldn't have - hold anything in.

YAN: Felix Berghall is from a small town called Axvall where he never felt like he fit in. On the soccer field, he might burst into tears, and he was an oversharer. Once he asked the coach, his dad, if he could go to the bathroom.

BERGHALL: And then I turned around and was like, everybody, I'll be back. I just have to poop. It's very not Swedish to do that.

YAN: In a culture that was about not standing out, Felix was too much. But then, when he was 8 years old, he discovered swing dancing in his PE class.

BERGHALL: Like step, step, step, step, step.

YAN: He started going to dance lessons after school, meeting new friends, and soon he was performing at local events.

BERGHALL: One thing that I do remember very vividly is that I felt very welcomed.

YAN: It felt like a space where he could be himself.

BERGHALL: I was accepted for being that person that was loud and expressive and so, like, you know, very outgoing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YAN: And then in 2004, at 12 years old, he attended his first Swedish national dance championships.

BERGHALL: There was this couple that danced to this song.

YAN: Do you remember what song it was?

BERGHALL: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SNATCH AND GRAB IT")

JULIA LEE: (Singing) Opportunity, opportunity.

BERGHALL: It's called "Snatch And Grab It" from Julia Lee.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SNATCH AND GRAB IT")

LEE: (Singing) Grab it in the night. Grab it in the day. Grab it right now. It'll get away. You better snatch and grab it, snatch and grab it.

YAN: The couple started dancing a routine that was so much more acrobatic than what Felix had learned in PE.

BERGHALL: I remember that I was so amazed, and I wanted to figure out how can they do this stuff?

YAN: The whole dance was packed with explosive energy. Like, if they let go of each other, they might actually go flying. The footwork was incredibly fast.

BERGHALL: They were hitting everything in the music. They were so musical.

YAN: They were swinging each other around, sliding across the floor, doing splits and flips, pushing away from each other and then pulling in close.

BERGHALL: Some kind of call and response or conversation while they were dancing. And I just thought, how can they do it? How are they able to understand each other?

YAN: This was the kind of dancing that LaTasha Barnes and her great-grandmother did on Easter Sunday, what they called fast dancing. Felix was seeing it on stage in Sweden, and this dance was born in Harlem back in the 1920s and '30s. It was called Lindy Hop.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YAN: So if you're a Swedish kid who wants to be a swing dancer, there's a path for you.

BERGHALL: And Sweden is all about systems, going with a system.

YAN: It's kind of like if you're a kid in the U.S. who aspires to be a professional baseball player, you might start with T-ball...

BERGHALL: And then it was divided by letters. You started in this E, E level.

YAN: ...Then join a little league team.

BERGHALL: And then when you went to the kids, the Cs...

YAN: And all of this is administered by the Swedish Dancesport Federation.

BERGHALL: And then you will go to the youth.

YAN: Sweden invests in its dancers.

BERGHALL: And then you go to the adults. And then it's this same thing. Yeah.

YAN: And Felix was all in.

BERGHALL: I think the focus was just to become what I thought at that point the best in Sweden.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YAN: Felix started to compete more, won some regional competitions...

BERGHALL: Step, step, step.

YAN: ...Then some national ones.

BERGHALL: Step, step, step.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YAN: By the time he was 21, Felix had snagged a spot on the Swedish national team. And in 2013, as part of the team, he went to the International Lindy Hop Championships in Washington, D.C. He and his partner won first place in their division.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Felix Berghall and Eleonor Kollberg from Sweden, everybody.

(CHEERING)

YAN: The Swedes were the team that everyone was trying to beat. And Felix was a part of that dominance.

Well, you were, like, elite. You were, like, VIPs (laughter).

BERGHALL: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, exactly. Like, we're like, come on. Like, we're the national team.

YAN: Just walking into a competition as a Swede seemed to put other teams on edge.

BERGHALL: And people, like, hated us. Like, there was - they were not - people did not like us at all.

YAN: LaTasha Barnes, who first danced the Lindy Hop with her great-grandmother...

BARNES: I don't think I ever heard the term Lindy Hop.

YAN: ...Her path was very different. Unlike Felix, LaTasha wasn't taught swing dancing in elementary school. There was no local club that she could have joined to train in Lindy Hop. There weren't youth leagues funded by the Dancesport Federation. And her family, they didn't want LaTasha to pursue dance professionally.

BARNES: Well, I wanted to, but everyone else was talking about it in terms of the only way to exist as a dancer was to struggle. So wanting to be an artist, wanting to be a dancer of styles that weren't in institutions was resigning your life to just struggle.

YAN: So she joined the military out of high school, rose through the ranks. By her late 20s, she was a telecommunications and communication security specialist at the White House for the Obama administration. LaTasha was dancing on the side.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Please welcome LaTasha Barnes.

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

YAN: And she started training in house and hip hop. And she was competing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Tasha Barnes, everybody.

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Give it up for LaTasha Barnes.

YAN: She won the World Championship in house dance in Paris in 2011...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: LaTasha is the winner.

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

YAN: ...Which gave her the courage to finally quit her White House job.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: LaTasha goes to the next round.

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

YAN: That same year, her great-grandmother passed away.

BARNES: And I realized that I had an elder at my fingertips who I maybe hadn't gleaned enough from.

YAN: Because fast dancing, jazz dance, was at the root of the Black dance styles she'd been competing and performing in.

BARNES: There was some understanding that was missing, that was lacking for me, personally, because I did not have that underlying personal relationship with jazz, jazz music and jazz dance.

YAN: She contacted some New York-based Lindy Hoppers - they were mostly white - to start learning the steps. And then in 2016, at the age of 36, LaTasha won a scholarship to study Lindy Hop in Sweden.

BARNES: If the elders are there, then that's where I need to go.

YAN: This is where some of the original dancers would go and teach in the summers...

BARNES: Ms. Norma Miller and Barbara Billups and Sugar Sullivan, Chester Whitmore.

YAN: ...At a dance camp called Herrang.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Vocalizing) Seven.

YAN: Herrang is a Swedish coastal town of several hundred people. But every summer, it swells to host thousands of Lindy Hoppers from all over the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Vocalizing).

YAN: LaTasha got to Herrang Dance Camp in the summer of 2016.

BARNES: Step, step, step, step.

YAN: She loaded up her schedule with workshops.

BARNES: Step, step, triple step. Focus.

YAN: And for the most part...

BARNES: Focus. Focus.

YAN: It was eat...

BARNES: Step, step, triple step.

YAN: ...Sleep...

BARNES: Step, step, triple step.

YAN: ...Dance...

BARNES: Step, step, triple step.

YAN: ...And repeat.

BARNES: Focus.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: The two winners of this quarterfinal - they're going to move on to...

YAN: LaTasha stayed up late for social dances.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Cheering).

YAN: There were theme nights. It felt like a carnival sometimes with people walking around in vintage dresses, suits and elaborate costumes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Welcome all you cool cats and kittens out to the bebop night at the Midnight Ramble.

YAN: It's a place that feels frozen in time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: It's my distinct pleasure to introduce this fine swinging band. Rhythms so hot they'll smother your brother and blister your sister.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YAN: And this camp celebrates the legacy of one man.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANKIE MANNING: I remember going in. I bought some records. And I would take a chair, a broom, and I would dance to this chair or broom in my room, you know, trying to do the same steps that I had seen my mother and all them doing it.

YAN: This is Frankie Manning, a Lindy Hop legend, telling his story to the Smithsonian archives. Frankie grew up dancing Lindy Hop at the height of its popularity in the 1930s. He once said his only formal training came from dancing at the famous Savoy Ballroom, which took up an entire city block in Harlem.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MANNING: When you first come into the Savoy Ballroom, you start walking up the steps, man, and you hear that music. Before you get to the top of the stairs, you're dancing already.

YAN: Frankie was a member of the Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, a groundbreaking troupe of Harlem dancers who traveled internationally and appeared in Hollywood films. He was the one who choreographed the most spectacular Lindy Hop sequence ever captured on film. It's in a 1941 movie called "Hellzapoppin'."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HELLZAPOPPIN'")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Oh, man, don't stop now. We jumpin'.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YAN: You see savoy dancers, and they're doing these incredible moves - so fast and acrobatic.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YAN: People are sliding across the floor. Dance partners are being flung through the air.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YAN: This scene has become, like, a sacred text for modern Lindy Hoppers. It's a perennial favorite at Herrang. And remember, LaTasha came to Herrang on a scholarship. She was a Frankie Manning ambassador. And a big reason why she had come here was to watch films like this with teachers who could help her break down the mechanics of Lindy Hop.

BARNES: Some nights, it was just good footage. And it was like, OK, great, awesome.

YAN: But they also played some clips that LaTasha hadn't seen before.

BARNES: I can't remember the name of the clip, but there was one that was about - supposedly, quote, unquote, "about the beauty of Southern life." I just remember it being introduced as the film that's supposed to be a representation of the beauty of Southern life. I was like, I know you fucking lying. In the 1840s, like, the beauty of Southern life for Black people? OK. All right. Cool.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YAN: Felix was also at camp that year, and he'd been coming to Herrang almost every year since 2009. He'd recently started working as a staff instructor. One year, he was asked to be a part of a panel with two Black dancers from the U.S.

BERGHALL: In this conversation, I said that if I would be able to, I will go back to Savoy for one night.

YAN: The Savoy Ballroom, where Frankie Manning had made his name.

BERGHALL: In my mind, I was like, that will be incredible to see and to hear the music and to see the bands.

YAN: This sounded to some of the Black attendees like Felix, a white man, was saying he wanted to go back in time to an era of segregation. Shortly after the panel, Herrang organizers began to discuss an idea for a special skit that they wanted performed for the whole camp.

BERGHALL: Literally create a time machine on stage where I would enter and then come out at a party, a house - like, a house rent party.

YAN: Rent parties were held by Black residents facing discriminatory rental rates in Harlem. It was a way to make ends meet. They'd hold a house party and charge admission.

BERGHALL: They wanted to have a police come arrest someone on stage. And there were so many things with this situation that happened because I said this comment in this meeting.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BARNES: After a while (laughter) I think maybe after about four days or so, it became a game with the other Black attendees, especially the Black American attendees, like, all right, what bullshit are we going to have to scream about today?

BREAI MASON-CAMPBELL: I called it cosplaying Jim Crow.

YAN: This is Breai Mason-Campbell, another Frankie Manning scholar.

MASON-CAMPBELL: A cosplay experience - like, everybody, you know, they've - the hairstyles and the outfits and it's like you could go live in 1930. Like, you could only hear jazz everywhere you go and only be around people who want to make music and want to dance and want to stay up all night and dance. But, you know, it's like, did we deal with the issues, that race stuff?

YAN: There weren't a lot of Black dancers at Herrang, and LaTasha felt like she stood out.

BARNES: Yeah, constantly on display.

YAN: One night, LaTasha was waiting for an event to start when she saw a dancer arrive in blackface. She walked out...

BARNES: Because I was in a moment of rage.

YAN: ...And confronted one of the organizers.

BARNES: They were trying to put forth that it's not something that's as easily understood from their lens as it is from a Black American perspective. And I was like, that's true. I guess, though, if I just ran around and punched everybody in the face, then they would understand the level of hurt and frustration that goes along with this moment. You say people don't get it, so let me help you get it. And, of course, that's not the way to help people get it, but the fear of having to experience that did convey just a little bit more the sense of urgency because that is what it felt like. It felt like being punched in the face repeatedly every night.

YAN: I reached out to Herrang organizers about the experiences Black dancers had over the years while in the camp. I can't read the entire response here, but organizers wrote that due to the size of Herrang Dance Camp and the number of activities, it was difficult for the core team to be informed of all incidents. They said they were, quote, "saddened to hear that some individuals had bad experiences" and that, quote, "our general policy for the camp is that everyone is welcome and is treated equally. There have never been any limitations about who can attend." They added, quote, "our aim is to unite people from all over the world with a common interest in jazz culture. And we have no intention of politicizing the camp." Several Black dancers I spoke to told me that their frustrations went beyond Herrang. Being the sole Black participants in a largely white scene often meant doing the work of educating other dancers about race. And with this burden came a certain kind of fatigue.

MARIE N'DIAYE: I wanted to quit basically every summer. I was like, I'm done.

YAN: Marie N'diaye is a French dancer who lived in Sweden for almost 10 years.

N'DIAYE: I was like, why am I here? What is the point of me feeling weird in this scene?

YAN: Marie told me when she first started dancing, she'd be on the dance floor feeling where the music was taking her while her leader was pulling her in a different direction.

N'DIAYE: Who do I listen to? Do I listen to music? Or do I listen to the person that I'm dancing with?

YAN: But if she followed the music the way she heard it, people would tell her she was doing it wrong, accuse her of being a bad follower.

N'DIAYE: Like, you bounce too much and you need to listen more and all those things. And then it's like, you need to be less. There's this you need to be less idea, which a lot of Black dancers probably share. You need to be less. You're too much. This is not how we do things here.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YAN: Coming up after the break, how did a Swedish dance camp become the authority on a dance created in Harlem? Well, there's two versions of that history.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YAN: We're back with ROUGH TRANSLATION. I'm Justine Yan. Let me tell you the abridged version of how Lindy Hop traveled from Harlem to Sweden, as that history is known by most Lindy Hoppers around the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YAN: In 1943, Frankie Manning was drafted to fight in World War II.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: President Roosevelt delivers his war message.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSIONS)

YAN: When he got back from the war, his performance group, the Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, had dissolved. And the music wasn't the same.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MANNING: Like, they was playing bebop all over the place (laughter). I was hearing all this music and I didn't understand nothing, man (laughter). I went to a jazz club, and they was playing this kind of music. I said, what the heck is this? What's going on, you know?

YAN: In the 1950s, the big ballrooms in Harlem were closed. Even the Savoy was torn down.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MANNING: So I came back and tried to get a job like the regular people. So I put in applications for the sanitation department, the police department and the post office.

YAN: Three decades passed with Lindy Hop's greatest choreographer stamping mail. And then one day in 1986, Frankie got a phone call from two American dancers who knew his work.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MANNING: So then they was looking for any dancer from that era, and I just happened to be around (laughter).

YAN: This is Frankie in 2006 telling the story to a room full of students in Sweden.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MANNING: And they looked it up. Somebody told them - said, well, why don't you call Frankie Manning? So they looked in the telephone book and started calling the Frankie Mannings. And then they called me up and say, are you Frankie Manning the dancer? At the time, I was working in a post office. I said, no, I'm Frankie Manning the postal worker.

(LAUGHTER)

MANNING: And so they said, well, do you dance? And I said, eh.

(LAUGHTER)

YAN: When he got this call, Frankie was already in his 70s.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MANNING: I said, yeah. So they said, well, would you teach us? So I said, well, listen, I don't - I was not a teacher. I didn't - I said, well, you know, I don't do that. I don't dance anymore. But they were kind of insistent.

(LAUGHTER)

MANNING: So I said, OK.

YAN: After that first phone call, Frankie got more calls, including an invitation from some Swedish dancers who asked, would he come to Sweden to teach classes there? So in 1987, Frankie flew from New York to Sweden for the first time, and he would go back every year for almost 20 years.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Everybody, a big round of applause for Mr. Frankie Manning.

(CHEERING)

YAN: In those early years of teaching, Frankie's students worked with him to break down his moves. They even made instructional videos. And this first generation of students, they would become Frankie Manning evangelists. After he died in 2009, the village of Herrang even named a street after him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MANNING: Thank you. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very, very much. And thank you for giving me this life.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yes, thank you.

MANNING: Thank you.

YAN: The story of Lindy Hop's revival that was told in Herrang, that story said that Lindy Hop faded away until it was revived and relocated to Sweden. A whole generation of Lindy Hoppers saw Frankie's way as the authentic way of doing the Lindy Hop, and this is the style that's prized at Herrang.

BARNES: People took everything as the absolute gospel and then ran with it. Like, this is the way to do the thing. It's like, no, this was Frankie's way of doing the thing.

YAN: But there's another version of the story.

BARNES: No, you don't know everything there is to know because you're not of this. You haven't lived this. And even once you've gotten to a point that you have lived it, if you've lived it well enough, you recognize that you're still a guest.

YAN: Lindy Hop was always being passed around from person to person. That's the way Frankie learned it. He'd see something, then try it out himself. Lindy Hop lived on in the continuum of Black dance forms, in the living room fast dancing LaTasha did with her great-grandmother, in the house and waacking and hip-hop, the street dancing that she won awards for. Swedish dancers codified Lindy Hop as a series of steps that you can master, which meant you could dominate in competitions. The founders of Herrang valued authenticity. They discouraged dancers from changing the dance by bringing in steps and figures from modern styles. At Herrang, LaTasha felt like an outsider.

BARNES: For all intents and purposes, I was a guest in my own culture. I did not know Lindy Hop in that way.

YAN: LaTasha was in Sweden to learn, to reconnect with her great-grandmother's dance.

BARNES: Like, I really - I didn't know the rock step triple steps. I didn't know tuck turns. I didn't know - like, I could do it, but I didn't understand what I was doing.

YAN: But now, she wondered, was she wrong to come here, to travel so far from home?

BARNES: I've been taught for so long not to show up where there's too many white people because it's just going to be such a headache and such a frustration. That was from my great-grandmother. That was from my grandmother. That was from my mom. That's a Southern protective practice. If you see too many white people, go the other way.

YAN: But LaTasha didn't quit. She stayed at the camp. One night in Herrang, she's on the camp's main dance floor. The band is playing on stage, and the lights are turned down low. It's late, past 1 a.m. when the seasoned dancers are waking up from their evening naps to dance the rest of the night through.

BARNES: And there was, like, a little bit of a lull in between. And I had went and sat on the stage and was just kind of checking out, watching everybody, like, pair up and get ready to dance.

YAN: LaTasha doesn't remember what songs were played that night, and there's no recording of this moment. But she does remember a friend suggesting she dance with someone new.

BARNES: They were like, have you danced with Felix yet? And I was like, no.

YAN: And introduces her to this tall, cheerful 24-year-old who's already a fixture in the Herrang scene. All she could think was...

BARNES: Oh, he's one of the Swedes. Like, oh, he's one of them. Like, oh.

YAN: But everyone starts partnering up for the next tune.

BARNES: I think the song was beginning to start.

BERGHALL: And I think literally, it's just one of those moments where...

BARNES: I looked at you, and then you looked at me and was like...

BERGHALL: Hey. Do you want to dance? And then you kind of just go.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BERGHALL: Step.

BARNES: Step, step, triple step.

BERGHALL: Step.

BARNES: Step, step, triple step.

BERGHALL: Step.

BARNES: Step, step, triple step.

BERGHALL: Step, step.

BARNES: The artist and athlete in me were, like, resisting, asking him every step that I took, like, did I do that right?

BERGHALL: Step, step.

BARNES: Step, step, triple step.

BERGHALL: Holy shit. We're trying to hang on with each other.

BARNES: Step, step, triple step.

YAN: LaTasha starts to improvise, throwing in steps from house and hip-hop.

BARNES: And recognizing, OK, my feet are executing. Is there a way in this that I can (vocalizing)?

BERGHALL: Whoa.

BARNES: (Vocalizing).

BERGHALL: Whoa.

BARNES: Oh, yeah. OK. I hit that one.

BERGHALL: She just do what she wants.

BARNES: And Felix will take note that I had that capability of hitting that rhythm, so...

BERGHALL: I better hang on. So then when we started speaking through our movement...

BARNES: If I wanted to drop down and swing out a little bit harder, he would be there.

BERGHALL: Imagine, like, you have a conversation, and you get the most surprising comment.

BARNES: If I wanted to take this rhythmic exploration that might not normally come off of this thing, I felt like he was still there with me.

BERGHALL: Yeah, yeah. I hear you. Keep talking.

BARNES: Then he would throw something in, and it was just like, oh, that was so cool.

BERGHALL: Whoa. OK, here we go. Here we go. You know?

BARNES: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BARNES: It was like - I'm sorry for my vegans out there. It was like perfectly prepared tomahawk ribeye with corn on the cob and sauteed kale with a perfect glass of red wine and a perfect creme brulee.

YAN: This dance - it helped her think differently about leading and following.

BARNES: You look where you want your follower to go. In order for your follower to get there, you have to make that space.

YAN: Felix was leading but not forcing LaTasha in any particular direction.

BARNES: He was already grooving without me. Like, he wasn't waiting to see what I was going to do. He was already grooving. And I feel him putting me into the space that he just made and backing out. I could relax. It restored my sense of safety.

YAN: Like, did it change your experience of the rest of Herrang after that dance?

BARNES: It did because it resituated me with what I was there for.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BARNES: Sadly, yeah, the BS was present. But I was there for the dance. I was there for the culture. But I think it just allowed me to sit in a place of resolve that - if that's the tradeoff for dealing with the BS, then OK. I'll take that.

YAN: Coming up after the break, Felix and LaTasha become dance partners. But what happens when the music stops?

BARNES: Honestly, I didn't know if we were going to survive some of those conversations. They were a little challenging.

WARNER: Hey. It's Gregory from ROUGH TRANSLATION with a question for you. This holiday season, as many of us spend time with family and friends, how do you remain neutral during these gatherings? How do you handle that one table where you don't know who has a beef with whom, where you know something's going to get said that's going to pull you in? What does neutrality mean to you? Have you tried to remain neutral in a family dispute or in a bigger conflict in your community or your country? Send us a voice memo to roughtranslation@npr.org on this neutrality theme, and we might feature it in an upcoming episode.

YAN: We're back with ROUGH TRANSLATION. I'm Justine Yan.

(APPLAUSE)

YAN: After Herrang, LaTasha and Felix found ways to keep dancing together even though they lived on different continents. And in 2019, Felix and LaTasha competed in the International Lindy Hop Championships in Washington, D.C., as dance partners at the same competition that Felix's team used to dominate.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAB CALLOWAY'S "PICKIN' THE CABBAGE")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: Felix Berghall and LaTasha Barnes, Sweden and the United States representing.

(APPLAUSE)

YAN: I sat down with Felix and LaTasha recently on Zoom. LaTasha says that Felix is still one of the best dance partners she's ever danced with. But I had a question about that.

He's a - you know, he's a white dude from Sweden. Like, did you ever have to get over that in your mind a little bit to talk to him about certain things?

BARNES: In my mind, no, I didn't have to get over it. I had to berate him about it (laughter).

BERGHALL: In general speaking terms, I would say I was the happy Lindy Hopper.

YAN: The happy Lindy Hopper didn't want history to get in the way of dancing.

BERGHALL: You just want to go there and dance, and go home again and don't worry about anything.

YAN: Felix was still a part of the Herrang inner circle. And he knew a lot of happy Lindy Hoppers, people who felt like the beauty of Lindy Hop was that it wasn't political. But LaTasha pushed him to speak up.

BERGHALL: I felt extremely uncomfortable. Like, whew, this was a level of our friendship that hasn't been scratched before, like, touched on before. So now we are in this situation.

YAN: Felix worried about being seen as an activist in his workshops.

BERGHALL: If I start speaking up about values and being strong about certain things, maybe people don't want to hire me anymore.

YAN: But dancing together had opened up a space between them. And LaTasha knew he felt differently.

BARNES: I was like, oh, no. You don't get to run from me and act like you don't get this s***. I've seen you - I've danced with you. I've listened to music with you. I've seen you react to this. I know you get it. I'm not going to let you act like you don't know that you get it.

YAN: LaTasha and Felix had big plans for 2020. They were going to teach in Brazil together and South Korea. Then the pandemic happened. Classes and social dances around the world were cancelled. Herrang was canceled. Dance teachers were worried about their livelihoods. How do you teach a partner dance if you can't even be in the same room as your partner?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YAN: Lindy Hoppers were trying to keep their spirits up. One of the planned events in 2020 was a virtual celebration of Frankie Manning on what would've been his 106th birthday, May 26, 2020. On May 25, George Floyd was murdered. Marie N'diaye, the French dancer we heard from earlier, is processing the news.

N'DIAYE: Devastated. And I was following it through the news. And I was just feeling so bad and angry.

YAN: She logged onto Facebook, where her feed was full of Lindy Hoppers.

N'DIAYE: They're ignoring the death of George Floyd. They're ignoring the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and celebrating whatever it is that they're doing. It's like cognitive dissonance. Let's celebrate Frankie Manning. Happy, happy, shim, sham. And you're like, are you effing kidding me, for real?

YAN: Yeah.

N'DIAYE: Like, is this really the world that we live in?

YAN: That June, Marie started an organization called CVFC - or Collective Voices for Change. Their mission is to start the hard conversations like the ones Felix and LaTasha were having.

N'DIAYE: Black dances are political. So if you want to do this dance without being political, then you will never be able to do this dance.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YAN: I spoke to a Lindy Hopper who was attending Marie's lectures through CVFC. And she started asking herself...

KATIE LATTER: Am I the right person to be teaching this dance? I'm not American. I don't - I'm not African American. I'm not from New York. Am I supposed to do this? Is it OK that I'm doing this?

YAN: Katie Latter is a Lindy Hop teacher. She's from Hong Kong. Her mom is Chinese. And her dad's British. And like Felix, she found a sense of belonging in Lindy Hop. I started reporting this story because she's a ROUGH TRANSLATION listener. And she told me she'd taken a workshop with Felix.

LATTER: He did an advanced course in Madrid while I was still living there. And I went to it. And the last class of the course, he just sat us down. We didn't do any dancing. And we just talked about our responsibility as dancers in the scene. And, like, before that, I kind of had an inkling that, like, I should be putting more history in my classes. I should know a little bit more. I should do a little more reading. Or - but it wasn't - like, there wasn't, like, one crystal-clear moment until this conversation that we had with Felix.

YAN: Felix told me he was thinking about what LaTasha had told him.

BERGHALL: Tasha said this to me. She said, you have to acknowledge that you are carrying on a tradition. But it's not yours.

YAN: LaTasha calls herself a tradition-bearer. And she wanted Felix to see himself as that, too - not a silent ally or a passive follower, but an active partner in helping to carry Lindy Hop forward. Gradually, Felix found new ways to participate. He's deepened his practice of improvisation. Latasha has shown him how to bring more of himself and his own style into his dancing. He's also recently decided to end his involvement with Herrang.

For me, I'm thinking back to how LaTasha described the dance, how...

BERGHALL: Yeah.

YAN: ...As a leader, you are making - you are carving out these spaces for both of you to do what you want to do.

BERGHALL: Absolutely. One-hundred percent.

YAN: In a way, LaTasha has been carving out a space for you as well by leading you.

BERGHALL: Yes. That very, like, mutual love and sharing respect for that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BARNES: I had to divorce myself from the good-bad understandings of appropriation because if it hadn't been for appropriation, I would not be aware of the style at all. If a white community had not appropriated Lindy Hop, I probably would not have had any interaction with it, not in this way, not to this degree - to be able to learn it. I don't know if I would've encountered Lindy Hop in this way.

YAN: LaTasha came up with a phrase that she hoped would create a role for non-Black dancers like Felix and Katie. She came up with it while getting a master's at NYU in the anthropology of dance. Instead of being a cultural appropriator, you can be a cultural surrogate.

LATTER: Once you've been a surrogate for something, a part of you has affected this thing as much as it has affected you, so you never get to leave it. You carry the weight of being responsible to and for that thing in everything you do.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YAN: Surrogacy was a way to talk about Lindy Hop as a living tradition instead of a curriculum of steps that were frozen in time.

I'm wondering, like, to fit all these different people that you love that you've learned from, who don't fit into the black and white appropriation sort of narrative, did you have to come up with cultural surrogacy in order to integrate all of this?

BARNES: That was necessary for myself.

YAN: Cultural surrogacy allowed LaTasha to see herself and Lindy Hop's history.

BARNES: Because there was a point in time where I felt like a cultural surrogate because I didn't have a personal relationship with jazz - well, not in the way that I do now.

YAN: I was so focused on the mistakes that the Swedes had made, how they held or withheld Lindy Hop's history, that I almost missed the fact that surrogacy was an idea that made room for LaTasha, too.

LATTER: Like, I used to listen to it with my great grandmother. But that was my great grandmother's relationship that I got to enjoy because I was with her.

And she's like, that's how we danced. This is how we danced growing up.

Then eventually, it became my personal relationship because of the memories that it evoked in me.

And she pushed me away just a little bit, and she said, OK, go.

Which then led to my own full relationship with it.

And so then I held her hand

tighter. And I just always - I felt like I could always hear her laughing (laughing) and singing, get it, baby, as I was dancing. I wanted to carry that forward. I wanted to carry her sense of self that she found through jazz that I clearly found through hip-hop and house. It's like there's a couple of generations and a couple of other additives in there, but I still belong to you. Like, I still belong to you.

WARNER: This story was reported by Justine Yan and produced by Adelina Lancianese, with help from Justine Yan and Pablo Arguelles. Our editor is Luis Trelles. I helped report and edit the show.

Just a reminder. We can do all this fancy footwork because of the support of our member stations. And there's still time to give at

donate.npr.org/translation. Huge thanks to those who listened to drafts of this story - Christina Cala, Robert Krulwich, Andrew Mambo and Brianna Scott. And special thanks to Thomas DeFrantz, Joshua McLean, Shelby Johnson, Kendra Unruh, Siani Beckett, Tena Morales-Armstrong and Buddy Steves.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPEAKEASY STREET STYLE")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: They just don't make records like that anymore.

WARNER: Archival tape of Frankie Manning came from the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program collection. Thanks to Kay Peterson from the Archive Center at the National Museum of American History for digitizing those tapes for us. Additional archival material came from the International Lindy Hop Championships and SwingBud Films.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPEAKEASY STREET STYLE")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Now we resume our scheduled program.

WARNER: Upon the ROUGH TRANSLATION bandstand sits Neal Carruth, Didi Schanche, Chris Turpin and Anya Grundmann. Our supervising producer is Liana Simstrom. Our supervising senior producer is Nicole Beemsterboer. Extra special thanks to Gilly Moon for the care she took in mastering this episode. Fact-checking by Will Chase. We also had help from Micah Ratner and Kimberly Sullivan. Adelina Lancianese scored this episode with music from Audio Network, Blue Dot Sessions, FirstComm Music and Universal Production Music.

Now, just a note about the music in this episode. We had so much fun scoring this with the classic swing music, as well as electro swing, which you're listening to right now. But there was so much more swing that we'd love for you to check out. And if you're curious to hear more of what might be played at a Lindy Hop competition or a social dance near you, we have some recommendations and some videos to watch in the show notes. Maybe it'll make you want to dance.

Now, we would love to hear what you thought of this episode, or what are your ROUGH TRANSLATION moments? You can always reach us at Twitter @roughly, or send us an email, roughtranslation@npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPEAKEASY STREET STYLE")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Let's have another go at it.

WARNER: I'm Gregory Warner. We'll be back next spring with more ROUGH TRANSLATION.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPEAKEASY STREET STYLE")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Thank you for listening.

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