Dancing in Defiance

<<This story appeared in Blank, Wednesday 30 April. Sadly, Elisha Neave passed away the night prior. Our most sincere thoughts are with Elisha’s family and friends and those whose lives she touched.>>

On the surface this is the simple story of Chrissy Keepence, a woman whose infectious love of Lindy Hop / Swing dancing is propelling the next generation of dance enthusiasts on the Gold Coast to giddying highs. A woman who, along with her husband Ray, are on a mission to share their passion for Lindy Hop, Shim Sham, Charleston, the retro look and all things swing with the younger generation. Dance teachers are asking for more young men to sign up so their female students don’t have to swing alone anymore.

Beneath all this, however, is the story of a woman so beset by grief that dancing is an act of defiance to despair.

Chrissy Keepence’s sister, Elisha Neave, is a single mother living on the Gold Coast with a rare form of ovarian cancer. Chrissy’s mother also has cancer. Chrissy’s grandmother, great grandmother and aunt all died as a result of the inherited Bracall gene. Her father died just 11 months ago of liver cancer, two weeks before a fundraising walk in aid of her sister’s treatment.

Chrissy and her other sister Veronica have both had double mastectomyies in order to avoid the same fate – they had tested positive to the dreaded gene which meant a 85-95% chance of getting the cancer. Elisha was planning on doing the same but wanted to have more children first. She didn’t realise how little time she had.

“We’ve been in a little bit of a crisis stage,” said Keepence..

“We’ve run out of funds so we couldn’t afford to send them to Germany where they’re doing some revolutionary treatments that aren’t available in Australia because they’re not yet approved by the FDA; so we’re sending them to China. We were putting them on the plane last week but Elisha got an infection. Mum’s declining as well. They’ve both been four weeks without treatment….we haven’t yet reached the point where we have to sell our house and we are hoping not to have to but we will if it comes to that.”

Chrissy credits swing dancing for helping her keep it together: “It has been my outlet…I can’t fall apart, I have to keep it together. When I’m at my worst I come to class and the music, the energy and the students lift me,” she said.

Ironically it was her mother’s illness that prompted Chrissy’s journey into Lindy Hop in the first place.

“When mum first got cancer I came down to Queensland [from Darwin] to be with her. I took her to Rock’n Roll but I found it too simple,” she said.

She went on to research other dance styles in books and videos – this was pre-google.

Chrissy’s epiphany came when she saw Frankie Manning’s 80th birthday celebrations and knew straight away that’s what she wanted.

Frankie Manning was a very cool cat and choreographer who would be turning 100 on 26 Maythis year, were he still alive. Now crowned World Lindy Hop Day, 26 May is a celebration of Manning’s life and the dance he influenced so much; performing the world’s first aerial with partner Freida Washington in a swing dance competition at New York’s Savoy Ballroom in 1935.

This year his birthday, ‘Frankie 100’ will be huge. Thousands of people from all around the world are flying to New York to celebrate with dancing in Central Park, workshops and performances.

Dance schools across the globe including the Keepence’s will learn a Frankie Manning routine, which will then be edited into one amazing global dance montage.

“For ‘Frankie 99’ people were really creative, one German group danced on beds with things on their heads and some other people danced whilst scuba diving,” said Keepence.

After discovering swing, there were two things on Chrissy’s bucket list. The first was to bring Swedish Dance Troupe, Rhythm Hot Shots out to Australia. The second was to dance with Frankie Manning. She’s done both.

Not only did Chrissy dance with Frankie Manning, but also Manning asked Chrissy and Ray to join his teaching team.

The Keepences went on to start their own dance school called Kat’s Corner, which was a corner of the Savoy Ballroom where all the cool cats, including Manning used to dance. The Lindy Charm School was subsequently born out of Kat’s Corner as Chrissy started teaching and styling girls.

The couple later took a few years break from dancing until just last year when Swing on In was born. The new dance school is booming in Tambourine, Broadbeach, Bangalow and Towoomba but still crying out for more men.

“How do we get more young, hot guys to come to class? Boys who can dance always get the girls, so how can we get them to give it a try?” she said

In addition to Swing on In and the Lindy Charm School, the Keepences are also on the verge of launching the next big craze in fitness – Swing Fit. It’s the new Zumba, only with swing moves and awesome swing dancing tunes. They just hope that Elisha will one day be well enough to join in.

For more information or to donate visit: helpelisha.com.au

<<The above story appeared in Blank on Wednesday 30 April. Sadly Elisha passed away the day prior. Our thoughts are with those who knew Elisha and whose lives she touched.>>


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