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At Lincoln Center, Addicted to Swing and Back on the Dance Floor
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After a pandemic hiatus, dancing under the stars has returned, uniting old friends and acquaintances.
A giant disco ball reigned over the Lincoln Center dance floor this summer, and a miniature one adorned a dancer on Lindy Hop night.Credit…
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By Julia Jacobs and Rachel Sherman
Photographs by Evelyn Freja
Three summers ago, on a mid-July evening, Margaret Batiuchok was teaching the basics of Lindy Hop on an outdoor stage at Lincoln Center when her microphone cut out.
It was the final night of Midsummer Night Swing, a more than 30-year tradition in which New Yorkers obsessed with — or merely curious about — partner dancing have flocked to a vast dance floor on the Upper West Side.
Batiuchok switched to a megaphone, but it soon became clear that the problem went beyond technical difficulties: Part of the West Side of Manhattan had lost power and would not regain it for several hours.
The dancers were asked to scatter before the sun set that night, and some now joke that the blackout of 2019 was a bad omen.
In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic bore down on the city, forcing Lincoln Center to cancel Midsummer Night Swing for the first time since it started in 1989. It was canceled again in 2021.
Lana Turner, 72, a Harlem resident who has been referred to as the doyenne of the Lincoln Center swing dancing community, recalled the days when she and her fellow dancers were without their usual summer haunt.
“There was a lot of pent-up energy,” Turner said.
In June, that energy was set free again: The dance floor returned to Lincoln Center, and regulars reunited with friends and familiar faces. They didn’t necessarily know each other’s last names, but they had long been fixtures in each other’s lives.
“You realize they’re important to you even though they’re semi-strangers,” said Mai Yee, who has been dancing at Midsummer Night Swing for more than 20 years. “It was like ‘Oh my God, you’re here — we survived this!’”
One of the people Yee typically sees only when out dancing is Turner, who started attending Midsummer Night Swing at roughly the same time. Yee remembers Turner, on the floor year after year, always wearing something exquisite. (Turner’s eye-catching fashion used to attract the attention of The New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham.)
On a tango night this summer, Yee and Turner, wearing a floor-length yellow dress with a peacock design, chatted with other longtime attendees, discussing the lengths to which they would go to partner dance during the pandemic. Some would hold one end of a ribbon or a rope, with their partner holding the other, so they could form a connection without touching. Some took classes virtually, and once they could dance with others in person, wore gloves and masks for protection.
“It’s not an addiction; I can stop at any time!” said Anahý Antara, as couples tangoed around her in tight embraces.