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A Place to Dance - Film screening hosted by Dance Camera West at the Los Angeles Film Festival

by Rachel Levin
June 26, 2006
Los Angeles, CA
Directed by Alan Berg

www.dancecamerawest.org
www.lafilmfest.com

Sat. June 24, 5 p.m., Mann Festival Theatre, 10887 Lindbrook Drive, Los Angeles, 90024
Fri. June 30, 4:45 p.m., Landmark Regent, 1045 Broxton Avenue, Los Angeles, 90024
The majority of musicians in the Pat Barberot Orchestra play with a hearing aid, but that doesn't mean they can't still swing. Even though individual members may be battling lung cancer or Parkinson's, the band plays without fail every Sunday night at the Jefferson Orleans North ballroom in New Orleans, an enduring symbol of community in a post-Katrina reality. Their audience needs them: a faithful group of septuagenarians and octogenarians who come dressed in their best to socialize, flirt, and most of all dance to their favorite tunes by the likes of Glenn Miller. In his touching documentary about the musicians and patrons of the Jefferson Orleans, "A Place to Dance," Alan Berg captures the transcendent power of dance and music in the twilight years.

At the center of the film is Pat Barberot, who first formed his band in 1937 at the age of 14, playing the big band music of the era at New Orleans clubs like the old Walnut Room. When the musical zeitgeist shifted to Elvis and the Beatles, many of the men turned to work in other New Orleans industries - designing rigs in the Gulf, working at the Dixie Beer Co. - but never gave up their passion. Some of the original musicians, including brass player Frank Alessi, also featured in the film, still play with the band today. Amidst the challenges of old age - illness, the death of spouses and close friends, and an awareness of impending death - the orchestra proves a vehicle for these men to connect to the vitality of their youth and maintain close bonds.

But it is the dancers who benefit the most from Pat Barberot & Co.'s musical efforts. For the crowd on the dance floor, "In the Mood" can never be played too many times. The music of their era seems to transport the aging patrons back to their carefree formative years, and they swing with gusto. Many dancers interviewed in the film speak to the relief dance brings them from their everyday woes. Their troubles melt away, and for a few hours they don't have to think about doctors' appointments, the hurricane's destruction, or their own loneliness. Dance may not be the fountain of youth, but, as the film suggests, perhaps it's the closest we can get. Many are widows who are learning in their 70s and 80s to enter the singles world once again. It is endearing to watch these seniors fuss about their appearance and gossip about the opposite sex like school girls and boys. Flirtation, one woman says, only ends when you die!

Death does loom in the film as an undercurrent of sadness. The yearning for partners who've passed on is palpable. The film crew follows one woman to her deceased husband's grave in one of New Orleans' notorious above-ground mausoleums. She'd never had a better dance partner than him, she lamented. Instead of adorning his grave with flowers, she played a cassette of big band music, then danced atop his grave in the honor of his memory. Of course, the Jefferson Orleans' patrons aren't immune to death. Several perished in Katrina, and the images of the hurricane's devastation are sobering. But, as one woman put it, "I may not have a place to live, but I'll be O.K. as long as I have a place to dance."

Photo © & courtesy of Dance Camera West

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