Boogie Woogie simply comes alive the longer one gazes at it. How many times before you have witnessed that smile of sheer ecstasy on the face of the gentlemen on the right? How about his partner’s cool—and, indeed, how about that behind? The couple to the left tell it all exactly the way it is. I love the clothes, the movement, the very funk of it all.
By framing his swaying dancers in that archway, Hirschfeld allows us to share his own sense of intimacy, and we are vouchsafed a glimpse of a modern ritual not exactly open to the general public. With the dancers’ postures, Hirschfeld conveys how very long this ritual has been going on, and that these people are in a sense captured in their rapture, unable to stop however exhausted they feel.
Boogie Woogie is a moving metaphor for many Harlemites in this difficult era, the tail end of the Depression. They had little besides their new music and the pleasure derived from their bodies. As exhilarating as all that way, they were still prisoners of their troubles. Through music and the dance they could escape from their everyday hardship for as long as they could keep up with the beat. The end result is a piece of Harlem that will not and cannot be reprised.
North of Central Park in this era attracted my friend Al Hirschfeld as it had countless others, all inspired by the allure of a Harlem where joy was the password and glamour was the order of the day and night.