"Thank God for film archivist Dennis Nyback. If not for his encyclopedic knowledge of rare films and his tenacity for acquiring them, we would never have the privilege to view some astounding works of cinema." Kim Morgan

Dennis Nyback takes his films around the world. Find out how to book a show, what programs are available, how to arrange for custom programming, and just about anything you would like to know about Dennis Nyback.

My Mistake Where Someone Else Suffers


April 13

I spent most the morning at Starbucks writing up the report for April 12. Back at the house John left around two in a taxi taking the projector to the Green Room. In the evening it would be my Lindy Hop show at 6:30 followed by Kino Shorts at 8:30. After John left I stayed and wrote some more until I left at 5:00.


I found John at the Green Room still working on the set up. I talked to the guy setting up chairs in the auditorium about dancing. He was a guy I knew from my shows at the Green Room in the 90’s. He had traveled with dance groups before that, including a group that did an act based on the Nicholas Brothers jaw dropping staircase splits performance from the movie Stormy Weather which would end my show. I told him about my luck in taking classes both from Ruthanna Boris in ballet and Tommy Rall in tap dancing and men’s ballet techniques. I didn’t start dancing until I was in college but any male lug could get into the ballet classes. The woman all had to audition. Even so, all my classes with Ruthana had roughly ten women for every man. It got me into better shape than when I was a wrestler in high school. My favorite class from Tommy Rall was ballet partnering. There were only ten in that class. The best women dancers were in it, and since partnering had to be one to one with men, I was in it too. Most of the dancing was done by the women and all of the lifting was done by the men. It was fun and I was good at it. At the same time I was learning to Lindy Hop.

YouTube Preview Image

A nice crowd came to the show. I was to be introduced by Fiona Ledgard. She was a member of Kino who had a radio show. She was a young woman of slender build and a pleasing appearance. She had promoted the Lindy Hop program on her show. We were on a limited time schedule. John had asked me to shorten the program but I told him if we ran a tight ship we could fit in my short intro, the whole set of films, and a short Q and A afterwards. Everything ran fine and on schedule up to the Q and A. That would be Fiona asking me questions followed by questions from the audience. There was a request I do a, demonstration. I did that by myself, showing the basic six beat step of the Lindy that is counted: one two three four rock step. The one and two are taps with the left foot. The three and four are taps with the right foot. The rock step is a step back with the left leg and when it comes down it is back on count one. It does take a little getting used to, doing a six beat dance to four four music. In the Disco era the Hustle made it easier, but by doing so took out the ability to improvise, by making it one two rock step. The Hustle was a boring dance  and easy to do.

YouTube Preview Image

Then there was a question about doing aerials which in the thirties were called air steps. In my film show many different aerials were done. Those are the flashy steps where the women are lifted and thrown around. To be an aerial someone’s feet have to leave the floor. The clip I showed them from the movie Hellzapoppin had the most of them.

YouTube Preview Image

I told the audience that most aerials were not hard to learn per se but that only very good dancers could do them and keep time with the music and not interrupt the dancing. Lesser dancers would come to stop, do the aerial, and start dancing again, when it was over. Lindy dancing is fun just staying on the ground. Aerials are what people remember from watching it. Someone asked if I could show or teach a simple aerial. That is when I should have said, Gee, I think our time is up here. Instead I offered to teach the first aerial done, which is called an over the back. It was done by Frankie Manning in the Hellzapoppin clip.

The floor was good  for dancing. It had a sort of rubber surface with give in it. Fiona would be the person I would teach. I guess that was because she was handy and no one from the audience stepped forward to volunteer. She was wearing sturdy looking shoes.  I should have known better.

The over the back looks flashy but isn’t complicated. It also uses interlocked elbows instead of hands which makes it safer.  There is no twisting or other mis-direction stuff to complicate it. The way it works is the dancers stand back to back and link arms. The man then bends over which lifts the woman as she kicks up. Her momentum than carries her over the mans back, doing a sort of assisted back flip, and she lands on her feet facing him.

YouTube Preview Image

I linked arms with Fiona. I then bent as she kicked. Since my head was down I couldn’t see what went wrong. She didn’t land square on her feet and eventually landed on her shoulder. I helped her get up and asked if she was all right. I was worried that she’d hit her head. She said she thought she was all right. I told her I was sorry. Since I was the dancer and she wasn’t I I felt both bad and responsible that she’d hit the floor. That was the end of the Q and A.

Then things were changed over for the Kino Shorts show. A full house showed up for that. I took the opportunity to go get dinner. I saw the last short, about a legendary Manchester punk bank the Dust Junkys and their lead singer Nicky. There was a Q and A after with Nicky, the film’s director, and an guy interviewing them. There were a lot of questions.

When that was over a guy came over to me who was very mad. He was Fiona’s boyfriend. He said her chest hurt and they were going to take her to the hospital for an xray. He told me I was to blame.  I told him the I knew that, and  I hoped she was OK and that I was sorry. If he would have decked me I would have  figured I had it coming. I really felt awful. I just hadn’t thought there could be any downside in an aerial like that. It was something I had done many times before without a problem. I guess all those times were with experienced dancers and also when I was younger. I really should have known better. The Green Room got Fiona a cab and off they went.

The next day I found out she had a fractured breast plate. It is now healing. I hope it heals completely and there are no lasting effects. I know that I will never do another aerial with any dancer ever again.