Richard Badu and the Triangle Swing Dance Society: A Swingin’ Legacy

If it’s the right Saturday night, you can follow the unmistakable sounds of live swing music to the Durham Armory, where you’ll find a spectacular room full of dancers: first-timers, regulars and, well, addicts. For over a decade, the Triangle Swing Dance Society (TSDS) has brought the joy of participatory dance and live music to a crowd which has, over the years, grown into a community. Baby Boomers, GenXers and Nexters alike mark the first and third Saturdays on their calendars to share in their appreciation for live music and rythmic movement.

The TSDS has created an enthusiasm around swing that surpasses the goal of preservation of the dance form. Long before khaki-clad dancers in Gap commercials renewed an interest in swing–a dance form that was born in Harlem’s African-American communities in the 1920s and ’30s–TSDS was getting people “hooked.” When Richard Badu, a trained musician, started teaching swing dance lessons in the ’80s, he quickly found that his love of dance began to equal his love of music. Inevitably, Badu began teaching dance full-time, and his early students formed TSDS.

The organization began reaching out into the community to offer free lessons to those who’d never danced. Recent outreach efforts took volunteers to Triangle high schools to spread their swing dance fever to a new generation of converts. And through the dance, newcomers learn about the live jazz that accompanies it–forming a symbiotic artistic appreciation that grows in both directions. TSDS has continued to grow, adding a second Saturday dance at the Carrboro Century Center.

For the countless hours of dedication shown by Richard Badu and the many other TSDS volunteers, and for the countless hours of joy they’ve brought to Triangle residents, the Indy recognizes the Triangle Swing Dance Society for its contribution to social life, community dance and live music in the Triangle. –Surabhi Shah

Melody and Jeffery Zentner: Music Makers
When Melody and Jeffery Zentner decided to move to North Carolina from upstate New York, they had their eye on the Triangle for its tradition of supporting of the arts. As trained musicians and experienced music educators, the husband-and-wife team were delighted when they both landed jobs teaching music at Durham Academy, and soon put their passion for teaching into their new jobs. Outside the classroom, Melody and Jeffery had both been immersed in community arts while in New York and lost no time in doing the same in their new home in Durham: Melody, a chorus teacher, started singing with the Choral Society of Durham, helping with her church’s youth choir and conducting the Durham Chorale, while Jeffery helped to start and now conducts the New Horizons Band for Duke Institute for Learning in Retirement (DILR).

One notion that underlies the Zentner’s work is the belief that our love of music doesn’t have to stop at the end of high school. “While the Triangle has many opportunities for accomplished musicians,” the Zentners say, “we wanted to expand the musical opportunities for non-professional and even beginner adults.” About the New Horizon’s Band, in particular, Jeffery points out: “It’s a thrill to see a retiree fulfill a lifelong dream, picking up an instrument, in some cases, for the first time.” This view has led the Zentners to some creative class-meets-community collaborations with Melody’s Durham Academy middle school chorus and band performing with the Durham Chorale, and the New Horizon’s Band. “It’s been exciting for the adults and the kids,” Melody says. “We tend to forget what it was like to be young.”

Along with the Zentners, we salute the Triangle’s music teachers and schools who bring students and music into our communities, enriching us all as they do so! –Surabhi Shah

Peter Kramer: Citizen for the Arts
Drive beyond the Triangle to Hillsborough and you’ll find an engaged community that comes out on the final Friday of every warm-weather month–rain or shine–to enjoy local music, arts and each other. Hillsborough’s “Last Friday” events and their annual “Festival of the Autumn Moon” reflect the growing cultural and musical diversity of Orange County and the Triangle. You’re as likely to hear Latin, world music and rap acts, as teenage garage bands, gospel, folk and bluegrass Every month from May to September, it’s a community party: dancers, a jump rope team and cheerleading squad are all featured on the Hillsborough courthouse lawn.

Events like this help local businesses that, in turn, feel moved to support the arts. And while a multitude of volunteers make these events happen, Peter Kramer stands out as a long-standing supporter, pulling together the community’s artistic events, and encouraging artists of every ilk. A volunteer for the Hillsborough Arts Council, Kramer’s efforts extend beyond community events: He also supports local writers by offering space at a writer’s cabin on his farm, rent-free. The farm’s musical building is also a practice space for local bands and a meeting place for local groups. A musician himself, Kramer and his band, the Green River Band, has for the past six years, helped to organize AIDS benefit, “An Evening With Friends.” And in his work as president of the Education Foundation for the Orange County Schools, a local nonprofit, Kramer works to raise funds to support art and music projects in local schools.

Outside his day job as a mental health social worker, Kramer embraces the full-time labor of love and artistic citizenship that it takes to help the arts and local artists, continue to grow and thrive. –Surabhi Shah

Ms. Films Festival: Femme Divas
Like a lot of women-organized events, the second annual Ms. Films Festival started with a potluck. Early in the fall of 2002, an all-volunteer, all-ages crew of women gathered at the home of festival organizer Niku Arbabi. The group began a process that would end in February’s sold-out screening at the Durham Arts Council, a day’s worth of engaging and useful workshops, and perhaps most importantly, more people telling their stories using film and video. “We got so much positive response to the strong programming,” says Arbabi. “People really wanted to see films made by women–Ms. Films obviously fills a need. And since the festival, a lot of people have come up to me and told me that they started making films and that Ms. Films is where they got their start.”

For a mere 12 bucks (which included the sold-out night-time screening of women’s films) thrilled Ms. Film-goers attended workshops on Super 8 filmmaking, animation and sound, and a panel discussion with women documentary filmmakers, including Oscar winner Barbara Trent and this year’s Indie award winner, Cynthia Hill. In addition, the how-to component of the festival includes The Down-and-Dirty, Do-It-Yourself Moviemaking Guide for Film Girls and Video Vixens (find your copy and more information on the fest at

“The thing is, how-to information is really important, because it gives us the ability to be in charge of telling our own stories,” says Jen Ashlock, Flicker organizer and Ms. Films volunteer. “I gave a friend of mine the Ms. Films manual, and she immediately said, ‘All right. I’m going to find a camera.’ You can just pull the trigger and go. It’s exhilarating.” Ms. Films will be back at the Durham Arts Council next winter, with a little money in the kitty and the exhilaration of film girls and video vixens ready to propel the festival into the future. –Dawn Dreyer