The documentary Alive and Kicking is a lively update on the state of swing dancing, which was neither alive nor kicking as an American art form 60 years after its Jazz Age birth in Harlem.
Then, sometime in the 1970s, studios started opening their classic-movie vaults and began releasing Golden Age dance movies on VHS. A cult movie (Swingers) and a Lindy Hopping Gap commercial followed, and soon you had folks swing dancing all over the world.
You meet some of them in Alive and Kicking -- a couple of sisters from Stockholm who dance as a pair, competitive dancers from Los Angeles, an instructor from … no fixed address, because her job teaching swing takes her all over the world, keeping up with the pastime’s global expansion.
Alive and Kicking takes the measure of that popularity, and makes a larger argument for dance in general as an important form of human connection -- ever more necessary, we’re told, because of the isolating nature of modern communication (look around a swing dance get-together, says a dancer, and you don’t see a single person on a cellphone).
Enthusiastic testimonials in Alive and Kicking praise swing as a unique way to connect. It has the physical touch of ballroom dancing, adds the creative and collaborative ingredients of improvisation, and the ritual of rotating partners. This creates, says one, an evening of intense individual connection, and a vibrant community of people who return to seek it. Dancing heals PTSD in an Iraq war vet, helps a woman recover from paralysis, another from cancer.
There seems to be nothing swing dancing can’t do, and you feel that perhaps it’s all laid on a bit thick. Surely, somewhere, there is a person who’s had a bum experience on the dance floor. What of folks with two left feet? The optimists of Alive and Kicking would find someone with two right feet, hook them up, and off they’d go.
The movie has archival and recent interview footage of the late Frankie Manning, who helped originate the art form at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem – still upbeat and in wonderfully good health in his mid-90s.
That’s the one downside to Alive and Kicking. An hour and half watching happy, fit people dancing makes you feel terribly out of shape.