This weekend I finished one of my favorite photography projects of the year…the Big Sky Workshop Weekend. Swing dancers from all over the Northwest and beyond travel to little ole Kalispell, Montana for an incredible weekend of dance lessons and dances and late nights that merge into mornings. It one big, no sleep, massive party, family reunion, best friends in town, pure chaos, absolute joy, head wants to explode from so much information, feet hurt, sweaty, smiling, laugh until your sides ache and live on caffeine weekend. I love it. Every year it grows. Every year there are new people to meet. Every year I wish it was longer, or more frequent, and then I remember how sleep-deprived I am by the time it’s over. And every year I relive it as I sort through thousands of photographs.
This year, I decided to do the entire event in Black and White. One of the reasons I love swing dancing is the music. It’s straight out of the 1920s-1940s. If every there was a reason to shoot in monochrome these vintage darlings would be it. But these photos aren’t about the clothes, or the moves, or the music. The photos I’ve narrowed down to share here are all about my favorite part of photographing swing dancing…joy.
Look at their faces…I love their smiles. I had never danced before learning to swing dance. But the reason I was so tempted to learn and the reason I love it so much is the way it makes everyone smile. It is impossible to be angry while dancing (for me at least). I come into this knowing that I am going to be surrounded by the most warm-hearted and kind people. I will be surrounded by leads and follows who know the value of connection, listening to music from a by-gone era and it’s like stepping back in time. Can’t exactly call Big Sky restful, because it’s exhausting. But when I look back, all that matters is the happiness of it all.
And this year I got an added treat out of the event: a letter from a friend who is one of the dancers. In it, she gave me one of the best compliments I have ever received. Kathi wrote: “To honor someone not for their talents, as those usually are easily performed, but for their work is important. When you give that work out of love and kindness, even more so. That is how we build connection and strength. We honor a person when they do something for others that came, not for personal gain, from their heart.” It never fails to amaze me, how empowering and gratifying and uplifting a simple note of thanks can be. I was so touched by her note that I added these words to one of my Big Sky photos from 2013 (the dance outgrew this venue) because this is one compliment I want to hold onto and remember.