Behind the scenes of the 1940s Ball: an interview with Khyentse James

The 1940's Ball is coming up in June and it's going to be a blast.  We sat down with Khyentse James, head organizer of the 1940's Ball, to learn more about the history and success of this event.

If you want to learn to swing dance for the Ball, our weekly classes are a great way to start. Otherwise we are holding a special 3 hour "Learn to Swing" bootcamp on May 28th to get you up to speed. Our friends at Swingin' Denver are also offering swing bootcamps on April 16th and May 21st

Q: Tell us the story of how the 1940's Ball came to be?

I had been organizing concerts and music festivals in Chicago and, since my grandparents were radio performers in the 1940's, I had always wanted to do a 40’s event. While taking flight lessons at the Boulder Airport, I began meeting folks who had WWII 'planes. They introduced me to their friends who had WWII tanks and Jeeps, or were re-enactors. Little by little, all the pieces started coming together and the Ball came to fruition.

Q: How did your event grow to become so large? How long does it take to plan such a large event/What goes into this planning?

It was only meant to be a one-time event, but after we had a great turnout that first year, I decided to keep going. I didn't have a budget at first so it was pretty much all street marketing and whatever free PR I could get. As far as planning, we have entertainment booked out sometimes years in advance, but the bulk of the activities start getting planned about a year in advance.

Q: What are some of the reasons you think so many people identify with the era?

I think in today's society, technology has increased the means and volume of communication, but paradoxically people might be more isolated. Couple that with more independent lifestyles, and the hectic pace of contemporary life, people yearn for that simpler time. When I was young, I’d see my grandparents dance together all the time; they enjoyed themselves so much. Couples dancing is such a simple, fun and classy way for humans to connect.

The Ball is kind of a time capsule event that provides a sense of escapism that is very important in this hectic world; a way to temporarily immerse ourselves in the music, culture, glamour and warmth of that special era. It’s a way to experience that period that is so much more than just reading a book or looking at an old photograph. It’s truly like jumping in a time machine. I think for many folks there’s a vicarious joy to experiencing a time when there was deep sentimentality, romance, national pride, sacrifice and where everyone felt a part of something bigger than themselves. I have a enormous amount of respect for the folks who lived through this era—they were invested in each other and had an attitude to “make do/can do” and enjoy life despite it being a very difficult time.

People attend the Ball for many different reasons, but the music and dance is probably the biggest and most universal. It was like no other time in our history and it really helped bring us together. The Nation as a whole loved the same jazzy, brassy, romantic rhythms that inspired us with hope, promise and prosperity. It’s so wonderful to see how happy folks are out on the dance floor, enjoying the bands, the nostalgia and each other, regardless of their age or skill level.

Q: Do you ever feel like you were born in the wrong era? What do you think would be the best thing about living in the 1940s? What would be the thing you would miss most from 2016?

Sometimes I do! I am such a romantic at heart. I put a high priority on love, integrity and dedication to honor and duty. I deeply believe in family values and the importance of community—that’s something my grandparents taught me through their work and dedication. I also love the class and style of the 40’s. There was such attention to detail. I appreciate that through rationing came stunning hairstyles like victory roles, gorgeous re-purposed clothing, beautiful stitching and embroidery and even drawing lines on your legs for nylons:) I admire the sensibility and creativity that comes from having to make something out of nothing:) That said, I think every era has something about it I would love to experience and I would definitely miss the modern freedoms we have like so easily hopping on an airplane to visit some far away, exotic land:)

Q: Describe some of your favorite moments past balls?

Gosh, so many: Watching B25 Doolittle Raider Bill Bower dance and flirt with all the young girls in front of a B25. Seeing a WWII nurse leave at 1am with a slice of pizza hung over the handle of her walker. Hearing from WWII Veterans in their Nineties, how they felt like rock stars, appreciated and look forward to the Ball all year. Watching the TBM Avenger do a firework display after everyone left on the 3rd year, the marriage proposals each year, going up in the B25 the first year. Meeting attendees and learning all the wonderful stories they have personally or from their parents/grandparents about the era.

Q: What are some of the awesome things people can expect at this years Ball?

This year we will have 2 full stages for the first time and 4 bands. We’ll also have the biggest dance floor we’ve ever had! We have talent coming from all over the States including the Victory Belles (Andrews Sisters) coming all the way from the National WWII Museum in New Orleans! We’ll also have the most renowned Bob Hope impersonator in the world performing a tribute to 1940’s radio stars! To top it off we’re bringing in Polynesian fire dancers to complete our 2016 WWII Tiki theme! It’s our biggest entertainment year yet and we’re very excited to also be bringing back the B25 for the first time since the inaugural event 8 years ago:) The TBM Avenger that folks can climb up onto will be back this year too!

Q: I have some friends from Canada who are planning to fly to Boulder for the Ball this year. What is the farthest place you have heard of someone coming from for this event?

That is awesome! It’s wild and intriguing, but we have a couple who come all the way from GermanyJ This is why we decided to turn the event into a weekender this year. So folks coming from out of town would have more than just one night of 40’s events to attend while they are in Boulder.

Q: If you could hire one performer from the past (i.e the Andrews Sisters, Bob Hope, etc...) for this years Ball, who would it be and why?

Oooo… It would probably be Benny Goodman and Dottie Reid so I could hear their version of my favorite 40’s song, “It’s Only a Paper Moon.” That or Benny’s “Moonglow.” And if the magic genie let me pick a second it would be Jo Stafford, who I would absolutely love to hear sing “Long Ago and Far Away.”

Q: You have some wonderful vintage outfits. What is the best way for someone to get into the styles, fashions, and hair dos from that era?

Our Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest pages! :) There are also some great vintage style blogs out there that offer up some incredible inspiration and the on-site salon is a great place to start. All those ladies are vintage purists and will make you an incredibly authentic 40’s style while answering any questions you may have about the era.

Q: What kinds of animals do you keep as pets? How do you manage all of them :)

I have 4 playful little Pygmy goats, a flock of fluffy Silkie chickens and a couple big teddy bear Leonbergers. The goats and chickens are so easy. It’s so fun to watch them frolic around the yard and do ninja side kicks off the tables lol. The chickens are very sweet and have the funniest and most important sounding conversations with each other every morning. And the Leonbergers…they’re very easy to manage. Mostly they like to watch over their goats and chickens and go for hikes in the mountains.

Q: Do you have any other favorite events outside of Colorado that you like to attend or want to attend?

I’ve always wanted to attend some of the 40’s events in the UK or Tiki Oasis in California.