Prohibition fever is sweeping the nation with toe-tapping picnics that will have you shimmying all summer long.
“I think with 2020 approaching and the release of the 2013 film The Great Gatsby, people are excited about the Roaring Twenties,” says dance instructor Andrew Selzer of Boston Lindy Hop.
You may have missed Miami’s Jazz Age at Art Deco VIP or Atlanta’s Great Gatsby Lawn Party, but the summer’s still hot. Large-scale events, like the Great Jazz Age Party in New York York City, are so popular they happen twice a year, not just in June but August, too. Spectators dress up and mingle with professional dance teams like New York’s Canarsie Wobblers and the Dreamland Follies. Through the power of social media—Instagram loves costumed dancers with a story—revelers can share the joy online.
“People want to experience that ’20s vibe,” says Courtney Drasner, rehearsal director for the Dreamland Follies.
Whether you go by yourself, with a partner or dance troop, think in “classic images,” suggests Drasner, who has performed with the Follies for six years. The group’s designs range from silver bobbed wigs and long gloves to bright-red bathing suits and canoe paddles. When developing your look and attitude, watch old movies to get a feel for crowd-pleasing dance moments, like kicklines and Busby Berkeley formations.
Live music is ideal, but that may not always be possible.
“As much as I would like to use authentic 1920s music for performances, recording quality wasn’t the best back then,” says Selzer, who will perform with the Boston Lindy Hop at the Roaring Twenties Lawn Party in Ipswich, Massachusetts. “The faux pas I see with many newer performers of 1920s routines is to use scratchy old recordings that don’t go over well, especially for nondancing audiences. Luckily, there are some modern bands that play in the 1920s style, like Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, who have many of the songs from that era, but recorded with good sound quality.”
To enhance flirty expressions, makeup can include defined lips and eyebrows. Anytime dancers appear in large groups, they stand out with dramatic clothing pieces. Think pearls and headdresses for women and vests and suspenders for men. Amazon sells inexpensive, authentic clothing for everyone, but don’t be afraid to come up with your own concept that might include parasols or press passes tucked into the bands of colorful fedoras.
Ladies and gents should also be able to interact with the crowd in unique spaces that include gardens or historic homes. At New York’s Jazz Age Lawn Party, partiers take a ferry to an abandoned military base on Governors Island in New York Harbor. At the celebration in Ipswich, guests mingle on the Crane Estate, making them feel like they’re part of a plot by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Now that your bees knees are knocking with excitement, here are some places to practice your bunny hugs (*indicates ages 21 and over):
July 28, Michigan City, Indiana
Gatsby at the Gardens at the Friendship Botanic Gardens*
This event includes bocce ball, tug of war and traditional dances performed at the 72-year-old property.
August 4–5, Ipswich, Massachusetts
The Roaring Twenties Lawn Party at Castle Hill on the Crane Estate
Pretend to be Lady Mary at the Crane Estate, a National Historic Landmark reminiscent of Downton Abbey. With views of the Atlantic Ocean, this event includes opportunities to picnic, purchase vintage clothes, learn the Charleston and catch live performances.
August 10, Midland, Michigan
Gatsby Party at the Dow Gardens*
Meet 1920s characters at this decadent picnic in Dow Gardens, named after Herbert Dow, founder of The Dow Chemical Company. Fedoras and flapper dresses welcome.
August 11–12, South Lake Tahoe, California
Great Gatsby Living History Festival at Tallac Historic Site
Go back in time to experience vintage cars, music, games and clothing at the Pope and Baldwin Estates.
August 25–26, New York City
The Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island
Now in its 13th year, the Jazz Age Lawn Party is the world’s largest Prohibition era–inspired event. Featuring live music by Drew Nugent & the Midnight Society and Michael Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra, this two-day picnic is family-friendly with magic shows, vintage fashion and plenty of Instagram opps on two dance floors.
September 29, Washington, DC*
Dardanella: The Great Gatsby Lawn Party at the Washington National Cathedral
Polish your Charleston on a huge dance floor beneath the Washington National Cathedral. This event includes vintage orchestras, lawn games and photo booths.