The Harlem Swing Dance Society will dance through the Harlem reading of D.C. Copeland's "Once Upon A Time in Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance." — Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance , The Harlem Swing Dance Society — AAPEX

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Harlem Swing Dance Society will dance through the Harlem reading of D.C. Copeland's "Once Upon A Time in Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance."

Jihad Qasim & Barbara Jones
Photo by Louis Boone
Story by Eugene Melendez

Ballroom dancing was the center of activities in Harlem and the heart and soul of the Harlem Renaissance, from the mid 1920’s and up. The ballrooms of Harlem were (and should still be) the re-socialization place where people learned the customs and norms of decency and respect from their elders.

The men learned how to lead women masterfully, without sexual connotations… being compelled with discipline and good judgment. And the woman learned how to trust respectable guidance from a man… and follow gracefully.

In Harlem the art of ballroom dancing is experiencing a phenomenal revival, and two individuals, Barbara Jones and Jihad Qasim, are making their mark as guides in a movement for Harlem’s multiple dance legacies to be cultivated in Harlem for future generations.

Barbara Jones is Executive Officer of The Harlem Swing Dance Society (THSDS), a new Harlem nonprofit organization whose mission is to:

  • Formalize and preserve Lindy Hop and Swing Dance culture in its Harlem home
  • Reintroduce the historic dance art of Lindy/Swing to the Harlem Community
  • Teach Harlem’s youth that Harlem’s cultural dance is revered the world over
  • Have Harlem’s famed dance of Lindy Hop return as a intergenerational activity

THSDS also aims to clarify that Swing dancing was originally called Lindy Hop, as in when Lindbergh flew or "hopped" across the Atlantic (legend has it that people started joyfully hopping around the Savoy ballroom). When the word finally reached downtown it was said that “they’re swinging uptown”. Thus the term “Lindy Hop” was in time nicknamed Swing dancing, and this phrase became more popular in years to come.

Jihad Qasim is President of the non-profit organization Consolidated Block Association. Its principal fundraising arm is "The Committee to Preserve Ballroom Dancing.” Its mission is to appeal to the music industry and other corporate sponsors for resources to open venues and teach the ballroom arts to Harlem children and the masses. He jokingly quips “Learning to dance in private studios is too expensive for most of us…”

As a promoter of ballroom dance, Jihad is following the footsteps of his grandfather William (Willie) Teachy, who promoted ballroom dance before and during the Harlem Renaissance (and was also president of the famous 98th/99th Street Association). Jihad is proficient in the dance styles of Lindy Hop/Swing; Mambo, Son, Merengue and teaches these. Also noteworthy is "The Harlem Walk": This is a slow, suave drag-walk across the dance floor done to smooth R&B tunes reminiscent of the Doo Wop music of the '50s. This is one of Jihad’s specialties that he wants to revive.

Jihad also advocates that the benefits of ballroom dancing:

  • Bring people of all ages together for mutual intergenerational communication
  • Helps combat Youth violence and teaches life skills
  • Promotes good hygiene habits and a healthy/modest dress code
  • People learn to appreciate live music
  • Encourages our youth to keep the dance cultures alive
  • Good fun exercise, and helps fight obesity

Both Jihad and Barbara frequently work together to restore this respectable art form. Since Winter 2011 they, along with dedicated dance instructors, have made available Swing dance classes and workshops. These have been free or of modest cost in the Harlem area to encourage the ballroom arts. Recently they teamed up to present “A Harlem Week Swing Dance and More” during the 2011 Harlem Week celebration to reintroduce the glory of the famed ballrooms of Harlem and their dance influences.

Quite a number of community organizations have lovingly assisted with the cause of promoting and preserving Harlem's cultural dance art contributions - these include:

Wadleigh High School for the Performing Arts


New York City’s Mission Society

NYC Public Library: Hamilton Grange Branch

Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Community Center

New Song Community Corporation

Abyssinian Development Corporation

New Canaan Senior Center

Morris-Jumel Mansion

Harlem Arts Alliance

Harlem One Stop

The Harlem Children’s Zone

Keeping the art of Ballroom dancing alive and thriving in Harlem is both The Harlem Swing Dance Society's and The Committee to Preserve Ballroom Dancing's contribution to the much anticipated Second Renaissance of Harlem. Fall classes are to begin in early October, and later on in the month a Swing Dance Social welcoming all will be featured with an event at Morris - Jumel mansion.

For more information, Barbara and Jihad can be reached here and updates can be found at, Facebook under The Harlem Swing Dance Society and Twitter under “HarlemSwingBack.”

"Once Upon A Time In Harlem: A Jitterbug Romance" is raising funds for the reading through IndieGoGo. You can learn more by clicking the post's title.

1 comment:

  1. great article!!

    mr. qasim and ms. jones have built deep and long-lasting relationships in harlem and throughout all of new york city.

    they both possess a sincere love and passion for their mission to instill a sense of pride and decency in our youth.. just spend a few minutes talking with either of them and you will see what i mean.

    i encourage as many organization as possible to support them in achieving these worthy goals and i wish them much success with their endeavors.

    robin hunt - harlem, ny