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Penny Lecture: What is this thing called Swing? Jazz Dance to Jitterbug

Welcome to this Penny Lecture, curated by Morley College London…London’s largest institute of adult learning, with sites both north and south of the river.

Penny Lectures were founded by the founder of the college, Emma Cons and first delivered at the Old Vic in September 1882 – so last year we marked 140 years of lectures! – beginning with “The Telephone or how to talk to a man a hundred miles away”…also ‘Why is the Sea Salty?’, ‘Curiosities of Insect Life’ and ‘Microscopic wonders of the sea.’

Join us for a Penny Lecture with Authentic Jazz Dance tutor, Nikki Santilli as she speaks on, What is this thing call Swing? Jazz Dance to Jitterbug. An umbrella term for the numerous social dance styles performed to swing music, such as the Lindy Hop, the Shag and the Big Apple, “swing” is also the thrilling quality of the dance. In this lecture I will be considering how understanding the history of the dances, and in particular their African American roots, can lead us to a deeper understanding of what we are participating in and  something all social swing dancers seek – a path to developing our own, personal style.  

Nikki Santilli is Authentic Jazz Dance tutor at Morley College London. Her research into the history of these dances inform her practice as a teacher and a performer. Nikki holds a doctorate in English Literature and is the author of a book on prose poetry. During lockdown, Nikki curated “Rhythm & Book” a series of online lectures delivered by vintage-era specialists on various aspects of the jazz and swing eras, such as music, dance, fashion and travel. She runs Paper Moon, a jazz club for dancers in Archway, London. 

Credit: Photograph by Gjon Mili.  Dancers, Willa Mae Ricker & Leon James for LIFE magazine 1943