I caught the Glenn Miller Orchestra in concert on one of my last days in the Philippines. Glenn may no longer be with us, but the band bearing his name has been an ongoing concern in one form or another since his disappearance in 1944. This stop of their tour was their first appearance in the Philippines, a two-day stint that first had them in Cebu and then in Manila at the Philippine International Convention Center.
They played to a pretty full house and put on an excellent show, performing a set that included In the Mood, Pennsylvania 6-5000, A String of Pearls, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and Chatanooga Choo-Choo. The Philippine Daily Inquirer has a write-up of the concert.
This post isn’t really about the show, as fun as it was to watch. Instead, it’s about what happened beforehand.
We arrived at the concert with a fair bit of time to spare. Some people had already made their way to their seats, but a good number were still in the lobby outside having cocktails and chatting.
An announcement came over the P.A. reminding the audience that the event was a dance concert, with two dance floors set up on either side of the stage; anyone was welcome to dance to the band at any point. As a bonus, anyone who wanted to learn how to swing dance was welcome to come up to the dance floor by stage left to take a free quick swing dancing lesson.
Anitra is a swing dancer, and I’m not. I’d been meaning to take some lessons, so I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity like this. My aunts and uncle, as well as my mom, sister and brother-in-law were amused (but probably not surprised) that I made my way to the stage area.
In the end, the dance instructor, a young woman named Ada, managed to round up four men and five women for a quick lesson. My brother-in-law took my iPhone and snapped photos as she walked us through some basic steps.
There’s only so much you can teach in a half-hour, so she walked us through a simplified version of east coast swing dancing.
She had the guys and gals form two lines facing each other and then walked us through the footwork.
In the meantime, the audience continued to be seated, and the people on the right side of he auditorium had an unobstructed view of our lesson.
Once we’d learned the footwork to Ada’s satisfaction, it was time to try dancing with partners.
“Introduce yourself to your partner,” Ada said as she hooked herself up with our first dance partners. “Be social.”
My “American” accent clearly marks me as a balikbayan – a Filipino who lives abroad but is coming back for a visit. It always turned the introduction into a series of questions: Where do I live? What do I do? When was the last time I was in the Philippines?
Ada seemed to understand — she herself had an American accent and lives in the U.S. at some point — but she wasn’t going to have her instructing derailed by my schmoozing. “You are listening, right, Joey?” she asked pointedly (but with a smile), and suddenly I felt like a student in third grade who’d been caught passing notes in class. Some of the audience in the front rows got a chuckle out of this. That’s fine by me — the class clown needs an audience, after all.
“Five by five, Ada,” I replied. I then whispered to my partner “We’d better dance. I don’t want to miss the concert because she put me in detention.”
We continued with the lesson, adding a couple of extra moves, and by the end of the half-hour, we’d learned a half-decent approximation of a basic swing dance move. Ada handed out business cards, and at least a couple of us had decided to book her for some additional lessons. Had I been based in Manila, I’d have signed up myself.
I’m not going to win any dance-offs anytime soon, but at the very least, I’ve had my first swing dance lesson.