THE DERBY CLOSES SUDDENLY: THE END OF AN ERA

Last night at the Derby

Last Sunday, the manager of the Derby informed patrons that the Derby is closing its doors on January 31st. Next Sunday will be the last night of swing dancing at the world famous nightclub. Even he had only been told about it just the day before.

Apparently, Louse’s restaurant next door will remain open, so that means the building will still be there (of course it’s a protected architectural landmark now also). No one could say what would move into the space next.

The prevailing theory for the closing is that there was a shooting during a hip hop night which gave the landlord an excuse to yank the lease. Apparently there is a lack of interest by the building owner to have a club there. Also, on more than a few swing nights this year, I’ve noticed that they couldn’t possibly be breaking even based on the number of people there, however, I hear they are packed on other nights, so the reason might not have been financial.

All of the veteran swing dancers there on Sunday were shocked and saddened at the thought of losing this great venue, arguably the birthplace of the neo swing movement. For all of its shortcomings, the Derby holds tons of special memories. We took our first swing lessons there, made new friends there, and danced till the wee hours of the night. It was also a place where you could bring your non-swing dancer friends. In its heydey, it was the hippest place to go swing dancing, with its beautiful bar, spacious back room, and of course, live swing bands every night including Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Royal Crown Revue, Steve Lucky, Jumpin’ Jimes, Mora’s Modern Rhythmists, and Jonathan Stout..

Next Sunday probably will be the last night of Swing dancing at the Derby as we know it. Jonathan Stout and His Campus Five are signed up to play this final swing gig there. If you’re a regular, you should go. If you’ve never been there before, you should go. I anticipate a huge crowd to say farewell. I for one will miss the Derby greatly! This was a special place. Here are my photos of that night. – Brian


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  • John

    You forgot these other bands, that played there
    James Intveld, Lavay Smith and her red hot skillet lickers, Jive Aces, Flat Top Tom and his Jump Cats, Big Time Operator (from San Diego), Eddie Reed.

    I remember when people did aerials and the girls legs hit lights above, leaving the lights swaying the band putting up the hands and arms to protect themselves. Soon after the Derby would post a sign” No Aerials”.
    I wish I had that sign.

    I gave the owner a VHS tape that she played on the big screen, in the back room, showing vintage clips.
    Everyone stopped dancing to watch.

  • Sven Eklund

    Brian,
    Your article is right on the spot!
    And by the way, I live in Sweden where there is an identical problem with swing-venue-death due to lack of appreciative customers. It’s a strange phenomenon really. I don’t see why Swing Dancers should be different from any random group of the public?
    /Sven

    • Hi Sven,

      Thanks, agreed!

      Brian

  • Sven Eklund

    I love Swing, and I love Swing Dancers. But unfortunately, the reason many swing dancing clubs don’t last is that most Swing Dancers are stingy. They get to know the staff to avoid paying cover charge. They very rarely order anything to eat. Buying drinks is out of the question since they need to be able to dance properly. So even if Swing Dancers are great creative and fun people, you can’t expect a club to stay open just to serve water.
    You get what you pay for…

    • Hi Sven,

      I agree with you. Check out this controversial article I wrote a while ago on this topic:
      http://swingdance.la/the-biggest-threat-to-swing-dancing-today/

      Thanks,
      Brian

      • Sven Eklund

        Brian,
        Your article is right on the spot!
        And by the way, I live in Sweden where there is an identical problem with swing-venue-death due to lack of appreciative customers. It’s a strange phenomenon really. I don’t see why Swing Dancers should be different from any random group of the public?
        /Sven