Susan Glatzer’s film follows competitive swing dancers and sprinkles in some joyful history along the way. Rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.
“Swing dancing is the pursuit of happiness,” says a sweetly earnest dancer early on in Susan Glatzer’s irresistible documentary “Alive and Kicking.” As you watch beaming duos twist themselves into happy pretzels of movement, it seems she’s not wrong; it’s impossible to watch this film without a tapping toe and a smile.
Glatzer, a longtime Hollywood film executive, is herself a swing dancer, but you don’t need to be told that; everything about “Alive and Kicking” has a labor-of-love feel to it. Though it adheres to documentary convention by picking out a few competitive swing dancers and following them throughout the film, “Alive and Kicking” keeps dancing off into other areas, and we just hold its hand and follow.
A brief history of swing dancing reminds us that while it began in black communities, it’s now a mostly white art in this country. Several African-American dancers young and old (including footage of swing legend Frankie Manning, taken before his death in 2009) urge the dance community to remind black youth that this playful art is part of their heritage. Dancers speak of how swing dancing saved them from depression (a returning Marine describes how it brought him back to the world), helped them recover from illness and injury, brought them a human connection in an increasingly digital world. We learn a bit about some of the different forms of swing dancing: the Lindy Hop, for example, is the goofball of the swing world; blues dancing, by contrast, is syrup-slow and sensual. (“You melt into a dip,” explains a dancer, “and you just sort of drip all over each other.”)
Movie Review ★★★½
‘Alive and Kicking,’ a documentary directed by Susan Glatzer. 84 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains brief strong language and partial nudity). Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday. The 7 p.m. screening April 16 will feature pre-screening live dance performances, and a post-screening panel discussion led by Seattle-based swing dancers. The 7:30 p.m. screening April 19 will be followed by a 15-minute beginners’ lesson and 45 minutes of social dancing in the lobby with Savoy Swing Club.
And oh, how they dance, in movements that look impossible — electric-quick whirling, skirts and bodies flying through the air, snakelike hips twisting, eyes meeting in a shared joy. It’s no wonder swing dancers tend to go on forever; if you could do this, why would you ever stop? “I’ll stop dancing when my feet don’t move anymore,” says Manning in a clip, “and then I might just sit in a chair and try to do it.” He died at 94, dancing to the end.
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