Living History: Sylvia Sykes

During today’s Rhythm Relief fundraiser, we aired an informational spot about PSDF and the Pacific Swing Dance Archive.

You can support this effort right now by contributing to the Pacific Swing Dance Archive Living History project:

In the past two years, we’ve collected oral history interviews from original swing dancer Roy Damron, second generation dancer and font of information, original dancer Izzy Hignett, Dwight Lupardis, second generation dancer Tise Chao. Today we announce our most ambitious project: recording a complete oral history with Sylvia Sykes.

Sylvia not only learned extensively from original dancers like Maxie Dorf and Dean Collins, she knew many other original dancers socially, was instrumental in the resurgence of swing dancing in the 80s and 90s, and blazed her own trail in Swing, Balboa, and West Coast Swing.

Our interviewer and historian, Bobby White, has already conducted about six hours of preliminary interviews with Sylvia, but we expect the project to take 20, 50, or even 200 hours. Although Bobby will lead the project, we want to involve other dancers and experts to focus on particular topics.

Particularly when instructors like Bobby, Sylvia, and others have lost their income, the Archive is determined to pay them for their work preserving this history. Getting paid to collect and preserve swing dance history is virtually unprecedented and it’s a big reason why swing dance history is concentrated among private collectors and why it has sometimes been lost due to disaster.

To thoroughly interview Sylvia will take something like 150-400 person-hours—that means paying Sylvia and her interviewers for their time. To perform additional research, fact checking, administration, cataloging, editing, and permanently placing these interviews into an online archive may double that quantity of time. So we estimate the budget for this project to be $20,000–$50,000. What happens if we raise more than we need? There is a nearly limitless supply of subjects suitable for the “living history” project including still-living original dancers and 1st generation contemporary dancers like Sylvia who began dancing in the 80s and 90s. Money earmarked for “Living History” will be used to fund such projects.

But the Rhythm Relief fundraisers demonstrates that this community of swing dancers have the financial resources and wherewithal to fund projects of this scope and importance. If you can, please help us collect and preserve these important historical records of a unique art form.

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Although our 501(c)(3) status is pending, you can still make a financial donation. Your donation will go into our general fund to help defray operational expenses and fund new projects such as collecting additional oral histories from original dancers, acquiring collections and memorabilia, and preserving and making items in the existing collection available to the public through digitization. Donors who provide their e-mail addresses will receive quarterly updates on new and ongoing projects.