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  • Writer's pictureAbigail Haresign

Lindy Autonomous Zone

In 2020, I moved to New Orleans on a whim. I had tickets to fly somewhere else with the intention of moving, and a week before I was set to go, I changed my flights and arrived at the Louis Armstrong International airport with the idea that maybe I would stay six months. Like many people, I was caught off guard by the vibrancy of life within the city, the harsh realitites expressed in color and sound. It is quite literally inescapable, especially during parade season.

Early on in my time there, I had some opportunities to teach classes, I think I taught one of the very last classes ever at the Rhythmic Arts Center. Then the world shut down for the pandemic.

New Orleans was an interesting place to be during the pandemic because due to the nature of Mardi Gras, the city was one of the initial breakout hot spots and such a community based culture really came to a halt for a while. People would say to me, "Oh it's such a shame that you aren't here for the real New Orleans." Which I always felt was strange becaues without a big influx of tourists the anarcist nature of the city really allowed for authentic community care to sustain one another in ways that probably were less previlant in places where one is less likely to know their neighbors.

As a city that is used to caring for itself and not depending on the government, people took their practices outdoors in ways that were less likely to be happening in colder areas of the world. While masking and distancing still was a big practice I think we returned to music and dancing sooner than other areas of the country.

When things started to pick back up, I led a weekly Wednesday night dance for a few months at a venue in the seventh ward. It was a pay what you can drop in class and it was always followed by a live band.

I also taught some solo jazz classes at the New Orleans Athletic Club. The athletic club was so beautiful and I dreamed about filling that ballroom with dancers from around the world.

All the while, I continued to train and practice my dancing, with others, with masks, with myself, indoors, outdoors, etc. An opportunity to collaborate appeared and I supported by organizing a local level Mix and Match Competition. The Swinging G's performed and the winners of the competition recieved a painting of themselves.

Afterwards, the planning for a larger event began to unfold with the intention of connecting the greater lindy hop community to New Orleans and New Orleans to the greater lindy hop community. After a long time of being disconnected from my larger dance community it was joyful to be able to dance with one another at the return of ILHC in 2021. I was even happy to submit a competition entry with my dance partner Sarah. You can see our submission here and listen to our reflections on the experience of queer lindy hop.

Inspired by the New Orleans Autonomous Zone sign at the old Navel base and the lack of centralized Lindy Hop, I organized an event called the Lindy Autonomous Zone. In its first year people attended from across the US and there were even a handful of international participants. It lasted three days, featured four bands, two contests, and private lessons with three instructors. You can see the music, competitions, and more on the youtube channel. The intention of helping dancers from around the world connect with dancers living in New Orleans was successful.

One of my favorite moments was the impromptu six trombone rendition of Cherokee led by Wes Anderson during the Sunday night Jam at Sunday Swing at Allways Lounge. That was the second highest grossing night Sunday Swing had had up until that point, I hope they continue to grow and sustain as a staple for community dance.

Around this time, French President Macron was in town, and while dancing with some friends, he stopped in to watch us and tip the band. I wrote a blog about how we had the opportunity to be Lindy Hop Ambassadors.

The opportunity to organize a Lindy Hop event was an empowering learning experience. Some of the prizes for LAZ included passes to Lindy Focus and Camp Hollywood which ultmately led me to getting to co-direct the competitions at Lindy Focus in 2022. I am thankful for the support of people that I admire greatly in all the various ways they were able to show up.

Lindy Autonomous Zone will run again this year in about a week. The process of connecting with artists I admire and providing opportunities for people to connect is something I am thankful for.

Thanks for reading.

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