In step with the Jazz Age: 'Gatsby' creates a flap in Westport
When Westport Public Library officials chose the classic American novel, "The Great Gatsby," as the theme book for this year's WestportREADS program, no one envisioned the "flap" it would cause.
Plenty of that flapping -- the sort with high kicks and crossed knees -- was in evidence Friday night as the library hosted its own 1920s-style jazz dance.
Led by Ed and Robin Poska of Ballroom Magic, the program attracted more than two dozen people on an otherwise rainy evening for hot steps, sparkling cider and jazzy tunes. No experience was required and Jazz Age finery was favored by a number of the dancers.
"This is the 10th year for WestportREADS, which grew out of the `One Book/One Town' movement," Mary Parmelee, associate children's librarian, said of the annual community reading project. "We always schedule a variety of programming around our book choice, over the course of January.
"Dancing is a fun element we've integrated and because of this year's Gatsby book pick, it's very appropriate," she added. "You can't talk about this novel without talking about jazz, which leads to the dancing."
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote "The Great Gatsby" at the height of the 1920s Jazz Age, writing about the American Dream, the rise of capitalism and money's effect on character. Free-spirited dances like the Charleston, Black Bottom and Peabody defined the era's care-free spirit.
"This night is really just for fun," said Parmelee, "while our other related programs are more focused on the book and time, including intergenerational discussions."
In the summer of 1920, Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda rented a house on Compo Road South. "The current owners have generously offered to let the library have an event at the home," said Parmelee, "so for every WestportREADS event someone attends, they get a chance to attend the event. We will pull 20 winning names at the end of January and those 20 will get to hear (former Staples High School teacher) Gerry Kuroghlian speak about the Fitzgeralds' time in Westport."
Robin Poska, who has been teaching ballroom dance for 25 years, said of the Friday dance program, "We were excited to expose this style of dancing to new faces.
"These dances came in with Prohibition and went out with the Depression," she added. "They were done with such abandon."
Westporter Connie Ippolito, dressed in a black flapper dress, said, "I love dancing and there were a couple dances being taught I didn't know about.
"It's a happy thing to dance and I loved the way people of that time dressed -- it was a very different look."
For Kevin Higgins, an English teacher at Ridgefield High School, the evening was an opportunity to see an aspect of a favorite novel come alive. "Every year, Gatsby is one of my favorite books to teach, so it's exciting to come here and get the flavor of the 1920s," he said.