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Jenny Lyons

LyonsJenny Lyons is a 2013 graduate of the Literary Journalism Program at the University of California, Irvine. Jenny thoroughly enjoyed her time exploring creative nonfiction as an undergraduate, as well as her time as a staff writer for the New University. She is particularly enamored of archival research and historical reconstruction and hopes to pursue this path in her future writing career. Immersed in her post-graduate life, Jenny is currently looking into internships, graduate school, and opportunities to establish herself as a writer.

When Jenny is not writing, she is pursuing her other passion as a performer with the Santa Clara Vanguard in Santa Clara, California, as well as teaching dance and colorguard at several high schools in the Orange County area.

The Story Behind the Story:

My journey into reconstructive journalism began in a fall session of the Art of Reconstruction Workshop. However, “How Long Can They Last?” was not the fruit of this first workshop. Instead I spent a whole quarter kicking myself for choosing a story from recent history while listening to my classmates detail their archival explorations into long-past eras.

Fortunately, I had the opportunity to enroll in an independent study on reconstruction during the winter. As the quarter began, I pored over old KCET archives for ideas. I stumbled on a short article about the revival of an old beachfront ballroom for a 1920’s style dance derby. The '20s is an era with which I have become quite captivated. The changing world, flashy trends, music brimming with life, and pride before the fall of the 1930s lend themselves so well to narrative. Also, dance plays such a large role in my life, and so this “Dance Derby” headline caught my attention. It sounded fun and playful, full of that 1920’s spark.

As I delved into old L.A Times articles, I quickly found that the seemingly spunky dance derbies, or marathons, were in fact spectacles of desperation rife with exploitation of the poor. I loved this dualityof the dance marathons, but I struggled to find a solid story within the news clippings. Eventually, I found a string of sources that followed a particularly dramatic dance marathon in 1928. As I read further, I found that the site of this derby, the La Monica Ballroom which once graced the Santa Monica Pier, had an intriguing story of its own.

I ended up grounding the story of the marathon, which follows several competitors, within the story of the ballroom. In my eyes, the stories came to epitomize the desperation which followed society's plunge from the gossamer '20s into the grim Great Depression of the 1930s. The way this story grew and evolved over the quarter was so rewarding and absolutely sealed my love for reconstructive writing. I am so grateful that this piece was the last I wrote as an undergraduate, and it gives me great drive for my future path as a writer.

On a last note, I would like to thank Barry Siegel for all of his wisdom and patience, with this piece and beyond.

Editor's note: Lyons's story, "How Long Can They Last?," reprinted in this issue, won the 2013
UC Irvine Literary Journalism Writing Award for the best archival or reported narrative written in the program between 2012-13.