Behind the Scenes, Getty Center

How I Learned to Swing Dance (Sort of) at Friday Flights

Intern Rosie Narasaki receives an unusual assignment: twirl madly and step on visitors toes’ in full public view


A very nervous me right before swing dance lessons started. What was I getting myself into?

I learned how to swing dance last Friday. That’s using the term “dancing” lightly—but hey, I was stepping in time (mostly) and spinning (well, in the wrong direction, but still!). As part of my summer internship at the Getty, I helped out at the most recent Friday Flights event, an evening that included a film screening of noir hit Kiss Me Deadly, ‘40s music DJ’d by Guns In The Sun artist Antone Proler, and swing dance lessons with Cynthia Harper and James Zimmer—when my supervisor encouraged me to take the aforementioned dance class.

I took to the “assignment” with enthusiasm. Looking out across the travertine (it’s what the Getty Center is made of), people were clearly excited for the class. I mean, who wouldn’t be? The instructors, Cynthia and James, were even in period getup: she with a rockabilly hairdo, vintage dress, and cat eyeliner, and he in a classic tuxedo and black-and-white wingtips. Some of the students were dressed up too—I saw a lot of flared, knee-length skirts paired with leather pumps, and a notable number of fedoras.

I love dancing, but in the same way I love karaoke: I’m often flat. But this class had a loose, accessible feel to it. At first, I feared there would be a mad scramble for partners (there was,  predictably, a disproportionate number of women). But with expert sharpness and very little hullabaloo, Cynthia and James had everyone neatly paired off. They even had us switching partners, which was a fun way to quickly meet people: think speed dating without the pressure (and a good deal less awkwardness).

My first three partners were all somewhat on the same level as me, so I didn’t feel guilty when I had to stare at my feet and will them to go the right direction. When I told my third partner I couldn’t dance, he said, “Me neither! Awesome!” And when we stumbled our way through a whip spin, he seemed genuinely surprised when he said “We got this! We totally got this.”  That’s part of what I loved about the class: all attendees (with a few exceptions; we’ll touch on that in just a second) were there to have (free!) fun. You could see it in everyone, from the whimsically-dressed laughing undergrads to the older couples demonstrating how it’s done on the dance floor.


I attempted to test the skills I picked up from Friday Flights at the Center the next day…at least I dance with enthusiasm!

But after a string of good luck in (bad) dance partners, I had to dance with someone good, really good—a dapper middle-aged gentleman (sorry if you’re reading this, sir). Oh no. My poor partner asked me if I’d danced before, and I had to tell him no. Undeterred (yet unable to hide his dismay) he informed me that he was actually something of a seasoned dancer. I could tell right away that I was in over my head; I mean, he had a goatee and was wearing a three-piece suit and expensive-looking sunglasses. To give you context, I was wearing a dress from Target and really old sneakers. Even so, I put on a smile, hopeful that his superior dancing skills would be a good influence on my two left feet.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t so. After failing to spin the right direction a good four or five times (I could only get myself to turn right—guess I’m like Zoolander), I started to panic, and found myself floundering more than ever; stepping on my poor partner’s feet, twisting his arm around, and crashing into him. Wow, that sounds even worse when I write it down.

Though ever the gentleman, I could tell my partner’s patience was starting to wear thin. At first, I think he saw me as a project. He tried to cure me of my chronic anti-parallel spinning:  “Don’t worry, it’s actually pretty simple—here, I’ll show you.” But by the end of the song, he was singing a different tune: “No—” (followed by an understandably harried exhale), “No, it’s—” (baffled chuckle) “Nevermind.” He eventually gave up, resigned to having me crash into him. At the end of the song, he all but ran away from me, my profuse apologies trailing behind him. No hard feelings, though. He clearly came to the event to dance with his wife, and by the time I left the dance floor, they were dancing up a storm.

Mismatched dance partner aside, swing dancing was an absolute blast. Even though I’m chronically intimidated by dancing, the relaxed atmosphere made it all seem doable. Looking around, I saw a huge variety of skill levels and investment. After class was over, a young man in a fedora took center stage with some wildly stylized leaps and spins, while a good number of people ditched the choreography and just plain boogied.


July 19 brings us the next Friday Flights, complete with a screening of Blade Runner (love it) and ‘80s-themed dancing. Though I missed that decade by a couple of years, I am ready to take on the dance class. Rumor has it Cynthia and James will be back teaching The Running Man, The Alien (don’t ask), Voguing, and, if James can be convinced, The Moonwalk. I’m excited for the outfits alone—will Cynthia and James go Madonna and Michael Jackson, as their dance moves might suggest? Or will they go full-on Aerobicise neon? I’ll be there on the 19th with voluminous hair and a tutu to find out.

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