We had the good fortune of connecting with Rachel Pitner and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Rachel, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
The interesting thing is that I did not start Hot Jam. My partner Christopher Cohen and I took over Hot Jam when the original owners moved out of state and transitioned to the next stage of their lives. Hot Jam was already a weekly swing era dance night that had existed for fourteen years, and Christopher and I had been serving that dance as volunteers and teachers for many years. Throughout that time, we had been quietly and independently dreaming of ways to make this dance grow. So, when the opportunity came, we gladly took on this chance to serve our community more, and we asked ourselves what we could build and what is the world that we want to make.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
At Hot Jam, we are Lindy Hoppers and swing era dancers. These are dance forms that were created by African Americans during the 20s, 30s, and 40s, and they are rooted in African culture. They are dynamic partner dances that defy and manipulate physics, and they are fun!
The other day someone asked me to describe in three words why I love this dance, and I said, “It is fun. It is true, and it lives.”
You don’t have to explain fun too much, but this dance is a celebration of partnership and individuality.
It is true because it is asking you to be yourself and to be bold enough to share that. To be a good partner, you need to be clear about who you are and where you are in time and space. You get to own your actions and realize that mistakes are opportunities and that being true to yourself is the most beautiful thing you could ever be.
It lives because this dance is a historical art form, but it wants you to invest yourself and not just replicate the past.
Hot Jam understands the importance of our history and culture of our dance so that we can provide context along with structure while inspiring people to explore the dance. As we do this, we get to see people grow in confidence in the dance but also in their regular lives. And, we get to see this community grow and support each other.
Each and every person who supports Hot Jam as a teacher, volunteer, or advisor has come from a dance community that has either praised them to success or has nearly made them want to quit. We have highlighted what we love and what we want to discard from those communities to create something that we feel is really special. Something that feels like home.
This was not an easy thing to maintain, let alone grow, during a pandemic. Christopher and I were only being our second year of ownership when the pandemic caused us to cease in person gatherings, so we gathered via Zoom. We hired international instructors whose entire livelihoods depended on teaching this dance to teach us over the internet. We sponsored musicians, and we had community time through our computers for a dance that is meant to touch. We worried that we weren’t able to do enough because of the distance between us, but over time, I heard that seeing me dance on Mondays helped people get through the pandemic. I heard that the newsletters that Alice Sudlow created for Hot Jam made people feel less lonely, and I heard that the conversation that Hot Jam hosted in the wake of George Floyd where my brother, Barrett Holmes Pitner author of “The Crime without a Name: Ethnocide and the Erasure of Culture in America,” changed how people saw the world.
In all of this, Hot Jam continued to reach out to love and support its community, and to allow people to shine in their talents, and to let those talents support the community. As Hot Jam returned to in-person gatherings, we had some hard times, and our community rose up to meet us so that we can continue to shine.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
The first of first things is that I would make sure that they had Hot Jam on their schedule for some swing dancing (Lindy Hop) on Monday night. And, we always end this with a group of people going to Fellini’s on Howell Mill for some nice chats, dancing in the parking lot, and good people.
The next first thing is that I would encourage them to walk between the concourses in order to see the artwork at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The “Plane Train” is nice, but the art is lovely!
Then, I would take them to The Painted Pin to unwind and have some fun after dealing with flying and Atlanta traffic. The Painted Pin is full of wonderful free games, a very cool bathroom, great food, a full bar, and occasionally some live music.
The next day I would take them on a morning hike at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (Paces Mill) followed by a brunch at La Douceur de France in Marietta. They have the most amazing croissants in the Metro area, and you really can’t go wrong with anything that you order. Then we could finish out the day by either going to the High Museum, the Alliance Theatre, or the Hertz Stage along with some good food at nearby Politan Row.
Mainly, the week-long visit would consist of a pattern of outdoor exploration, some good food with cool people, and something cultural. Here is a list of some places that I love, and one that I am really curious about (so, it would be great to explore with a friend!)
Rodney Cook Sr. Park (Magnolia Ballroom Wall) – This is a gorgeous park in historic Vine City. It has beautiful views of downtown Atlanta, and it has a beautiful wall commemorating the Magnolia Ballroom. This ballroom hosted all of the major jazz artists as well as social dancing.
Beltline Eastside Trail – I love taking people on a walk from Krog Street Market to Ponce City Market. Sometimes, they are willing to continue walking all the way to Piedmont Park. This path is full of art, history, and it is just full of the energy of Atlanta. You can also get some really great food along the way.
Southern Peachtree Creek Greenway – This is such a beautiful boardwalk path that can make you forget that you are in a city. You just get to walk among the treetops and see turtles and river otters. It is a lovely space.
Piedmont Park – This is a beautiful park that is so alive with activity and the sense of community.
Grant Park – I enjoy walking around this neighborhood, the park, and the zoo. It feels really special with its historic homes and grandiose trees. It is absolutely enchanting. Also, there is good food, especially in nearby Summerhill.
Cafe Agora – This Atlanta restaurant chain has delightful Turkish, Greek, and Mediterranean food!
Blind Willie’s – A wonderful venue for live Blues music, and on Wednesdays, you will probably see some dancers.
Dish Korean Cuisine – A delicious and homey feeling restaurant
Lan Zhou Ramen – Amazing place for dumplings!
Java Saga – Delectable Taiwanese fried chicken! (And, the fried chicken is gluten-free!)
Cafe Vendome – Nice French style (Moroccan-owned) Bakery
Truva Turkish Cuisine – Really good food!
Chattahoochee Food Works – A wonderful food hall with excellent food options and vibrant energy
Krog Street Market – I love this food hall so much, just everything about it!
The Shakespeare Tavern – Excellent plays and food! This is really a dynamic group.
Ponce City Market Roof – This rooftop makes you feel like you’re a kid, again.
Cascade Roller-skating Rink – There is so much culture and beauty in the roller-skating here. It’s really fantastic!
Jeju Spa – I have heard such phenomenal things about Jeju Spa! I first heard about it from someone who doesn’t even live in Georgia, and he does a twice-yearly pilgrimage to Jeju Spa. This spa sounds like something really special and worthy of exploration.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I am the product of my family and community who have shaped me and loved me into being. They’ve taught me that even my mistakes are opportunities for learning and that life is really about what you do next. They’ve built me so that I can stand tall, love more, and fear less because I know who I am, and I know that I will be okay. So, I walk through this life ready to connect and not withdraw.
Thank you to our parents (the Pitner family and the Cohen family).
Thank you to our chief volunteers, Valerie Young and Alice Sudlow, who continuously pour love into our organization and inspire us to dream big and love more.
Thank you to our advisors, Jesse Gearhardt and Terrace Eillis, who have been Hot Jam’s steadfast guides over the years and who continue to ensure that we continue to provide a high-quality experience.
Thank you to our teachers, Dave Barry, Erica DeBlasio, Erin Reed, and Jamica Zion, who continue to expand their knowledge and skill of our dance form, Lindy Hop and the swing era dances. They pour their passion and love into the dance and into our students and change lives and build community. Christopher and I are so proud to teach and work alongside you!
There are so many people who have touched our lives who are and are not part of the dance community, and we are thankful to all of you!
Lastly, we want to thank the people who began this weekly dance in Atlanta over seventeen years ago, Bobby White, Michelle Chaff, and Nima Farsinejad. You have changed our lives for the better and you’ve shaped a dynamic community whose impact cannot be measured.
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Images by Conway Li