The Hollywood Canteen (1942–1945) was the most famous of the USO and USO-like patriotic nightclubs where civilian hostesses jitterbugged with enlisted men of the Allied Nations during World War II. It is also the subject of much U.S. national nostalgia about the “Good War” and “Greatest Generation.” Drawing from oral histories with civilian volunteers and military guests who danced at the Hollywood Canteen, this article focuses on the ways that interviewees navigated the forceful narrative terrain of national nostalgia, sometimes supporting it, sometimes pulling away from or pushing it in critical ways, and usually a little of each. This article posits a new interpretative method for analyzing struggles over “democracy” for jazz and swing studies through a focus on “torque” that brings together oral history, improvisation studies, and dance studies to bear on engaging interviewees' embodied narratives on ideologically loaded ground, improvising on the past in the present.

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