On How I Am Still Fairly Surprised This Blog Is Around
Since last March I have had a lot of life changes, especially as of late. I am no longer a student and I have a full time job. In result this means I am not between coasts in the United States anymore but in one stable location. However this has not changed my wanderlust problem and I still find time to run off to places like Cleveland, Rochester, or Sweden for dancing.
These past 12 months I have been getting more serious about improving my dancing, unfortunately the consequence of that is my posting on this blog is less frequent then it used to be. One thing I have found interesting is I have gotten more negative feedback this year, which I find a step in the right direction. I remember when I first started writing I was timid in fully stating my opinons at times because I was a newer dancer and didn’t feel I have the credibility to be talking about some of the topics I wanted to in a venue open to the public. While it could be interpreted as a sign that i’m just opinionated arrogant blogger, I take the negative feedback as a sign that I am making people think and challenging their opinions on things within the swing dance community.
For the individuals who may not follow my blog as regularly or perhaps regulars who feel like now they want to comment on old posts I have picked a few personal favorite posts that I have written during year three of my blog:
The Life of an Amibdancetrous Dancer: Being a swing dancer who both leads and follows I briefly cover how I became a person who dances both roles and why I did (and continue to) do that.
10 Things To Know About Herräng: This past summer I had the privilege of volunteering Herräng for a little over two weeks. I share some general information to hopefully make future camp attendees visits go smoothly.
Dance Education Through Social Feedback Experiment: I had a crazy idea to put public videos of myself dancing on Yehoodi to let any swing dancer on that website openly criticize my dancing. It was a great learning experience and I wrote the difficulties and benefits from trying out this little experiment.
Creating Life Long Dancers and/or Better Dancers: Giving your students the tools they need to improve their dancing and having good retention rates for venues is a difficulty organizers and instructors have to deal with. One of my most commented posts of this past year, it brings up the problem not being able to make improving students as a priority even in those higher level classes.
Keep it Casual or Bring the Fire? Teaching A Higher Level Class: What makes a good “advanced” level class and how should it be run in comparison to a “beginner” or “intermediate” level class? This post addressed that topic with quotes from the past and opinions from different instructors.
I think in this upcoming fourth year for my blog one of my goals is to write more posts that challenge the opinions and beliefs that people have about swing dancing and the swing dance community.
Anyways once again thank you to everyone who reads this blog, I still find it hilarious that what I started as a way to just vent my urge to talk about swing dancing and not drive my friends crazy has kept going for this long. If you would like me to write about any particular topics, send me hate mail, or just feel like being random my email address is still email@example.com
Otherwise, like I have said before as long as I am still dancing I intend to keep writing!
Over the last two or more years I have had the privilege to DJ at different weekend events and weekly venues mainly along the East Coast here in the United States. It’s an activity I love doing and the majority of the time I have a blast sharing my collection of music with dancers.
However once in awhile when I am DJing at a swing dance and people say to me or do things that make me just question things such as “Why are you at this dance?” or “Have you been drinking?”. Without further ado…
1. Asking For Free Music
Once in awhile someone will come up to me and asked me what song I played, which I don’t mind at all. If I have the time I might go into detail what different musicians are in that band and a good place to find the song to purchase. However occasionally as a followup I will have people ask me for the song, or even worse a bunch of music. Manu Smith on Yehoodi’s Swing Nation actually mentioned almost the exact same reasons why this really irks me as a DJ.
The main reason this annoys me is the majority of the time the requests are for newer bands like Gordon Webster. These guys work hard and spend a lot of time to create this amazing music. In many cases I personally have met some of these musicians and actually attended the live recordings of the CDs they produce. For them it is a full time job that creates so much value for our community. For a person to not throw a dollar or two to just download the song online somewhere for all the effort they put in? Not cool.
2. Bad Requests
The running joke that I have for myself as a DJ is that my slogan is, “Requests will be met with loathing and disdain”. While I fully admit I sometimes have borderline pretentiousness in relation to music that rivals the record shop employees from the movie High Fidelity, sometimes I get requests that would make even the most open minded swing dancer go “What…?”.
There are definitely tiers of bad requests, with the the worst tier being music that is completely inappropriate for any kind of partnered dancing. I have had requests for electronica music, hip hop, and believe it or not Mambo No. 5 by Lou Bega. Followed by that is music that are for dances that are not swing dancing such as Salsa, Waltz, and et cetera. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against other dances but if you pay to attend an event advertised as a swing dance and I was hired or requested to DJ at a swing dance… it shouldn’t be too surprising that I am only going to play swing dance music. Lastly is your typical neo-swing requests such as “Zoot Suit Riot”, cliche requests such as “Sing Sing Sing”, or the new electro-swing craze that has been going around.
Regardless this is often how I feel in response to some of the particularly bad requests:
3. Telling Me I Haven’t Been Playing X Type Of Music… And Being Completely Wrong
I’ve luckily only had this happen maybe two or three times. Fun fact, when I DJ my laptop keeps track of which songs I played so far. Typically the conversation goes like this:
Random Dancer: “Hey you haven’t played any songs in the medium tempo range.”
Me: “Medium is a subjective term, what do you mean? Like what BPM (Beats Per Minute) or can you give me an example of a song that you’d define as medium tempo?”
Random Dancer: “You know like that one song about cake.”
Me: “I actually DJed ‘I Like Pie I Like Cake’ by the Four Clefs about an hour ago, you can see it right here.”
Random Dance: “Yeah… can you play more stuff like that.”
The lesson here is if you haven’t been listening to the music in a DJs set… giving them advice on it is probably not the best idea.
I’d like to reiterate that DJing is awesome fun and 99% of the time I am having a blast and feeding off the energy of a crowd. Just once in awhile I have those moments of, “Seriously?”. Other DJs or event attendees, I would love to hear your horror stories as well.
On How This Blog Has Survived In Spite of my Gypsy Travelling Ways
From Montreal, Canada to New Orleans, Louisiana I have been traveling all over North America due to my wanderlust tendencies and dancing where I can. While trying to balance that, a part time job, and being a student I have attempted to regularly updating this blog. A times it has been often and well-written to my satisfaction, other days it has not.
For those of you who may be newer to the blog (or seasoned readers that feel in particular procrastinating), here are a few articles that I think stood out in my writing this past year:
- A Tidbit Of History: Penn State Dance Cards: In this post I shared images and slight back stories to my personal research I did in the special collections library of dancing at Penn State in the 1920′s – 1940′s.
- Learning to Teach Swing Dance 101: A guide written for the intention of my home scene that gives some tips for instructors who are teaching for their first time, especially those who are thrust into the situation.
- Level Jumping in Lindy Hop: A Metacognative Deficiency Problem: One of my most heavily commented posts of the year. Where I explored the Dunning-Kruger effect and how it may cause people to inappropriate assess their own skill levels.
- Warm-Up Songs: A Worthy Investment for Competition: This particular post dealt with the issue of some competitions having warm up songs vanish and how different competitors in the scene felt about this issue.
- The Puzzle Piece of Practice: Approaching the idea of practice and how it fits in the Lindy Hop community.
When I intentionally created this blog it was due to having an outlet to dance-nerd about things that would bore most people in my local scene to death. If you ever have any suggestions on topics you would like to hear about or even just to shoot me a comment, the comment box is below and my email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
As long as I am still dancing I intend to keep writing. Thanks to all you readers out there!
The last few months attending swing dance events as a Penn State student has been awkward and downright frustrating at times. I’ve had people literally in the middle of dances try to bring up the topics such as the Sandusky scandal or my opinion on the former coach Joe Paterno. It got to the point that when deciding what shirts I wanted to wear to dances, time would be spent pondering not wearing one of my Penn State Swing Dance club t-shirts just to avoid the potential hassling that came along with it.
At least for myself, swing dancing is at times an escapist activity for me where I can free my stresses of my daily life whether that be bugs while programming or a tragedy that has befallen my beloved town of State College and many innocent victims. Underclassmen who I teach dance lessons to on a regular basis travel with us to large events, where we are recognized as a group from Penn State. I loathe the idea of them having to deal with this at an event such as Boston Tea Party. With Paterno’s recent death, I fear that this pestering that has quieted down recently may intensify again. The last thing I want, even more then being hassled myself, is my students who to go to an event to have fun and learn from the international Lindy Hop community… to be reminded of the troubles from home.
I apologize if this comes off as a bit of a soapbox rant, but all I can ask is take some consideration before you bring up things in conversation, this goes especially for in the middle of a dance. This just doesn’t apply to just talking to Penn State students and alumni, but anyone who is dealing with unpleasant circumstances.
Thanks for reading.
As the new year approaches I can’t help but reflect upon common themes of what has consisted my experiences of being a member of the swing dance community in years past. One I want to touch on in particular is the concept of paying it forward.
To quote wikipedia, paying it forward is defined as:
The concept of asking that a good turn be repaid by having it done to others instead.
When I first started dancing Southern California I went to a venue called Rock Harbor, which was a free venue that the instructors were local dancers who generously donated their time. One day I noticed two of the instructors there dancing Collegiate Shag, a dance I had seen previously and was intrigued by. Alas, my struggle though was like many people who want to learn Balboa, I had difficulty finding lessons. Those two instructors Alan and Amantha were nice enough to change the lesson the next week to teach Shag so I could learn the basic step and set me on the path to delving into the dance.
Last night when I was out dancing and I noticed a girl off on the side trying to figure out a Shag double rhythm basic and struggling with it. I offered to help and a few minutes later she was doing okay enough to follow a basic in open and closed position and seemed thrilled. It was only maybe five to ten minutes tops of my time at most.
Raldoph Waldo Emerson once wrote,
”In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody.”
For myself my best way of repaying the gift that Amantha and Alan gave me is to render the same gift they gave to me onto others. I encourage those of you who have experience in the dance community to do the same. It is a simple act that fosters growth in our community and invaluable to the individuals that it assists.
This past weekend I attended Camp Hollywood XIV, while I could talk about what I got out of the classes I took or how awesome the music was, there is a theme from this weekend that still resonates soundly with me. That theme is the idea of sincerity in ones dancing.
Oscar Wilde wrote in De Profundus,
Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.
I have not just seen this in Camp Hollywood, but in competitions across the United States cliches such as; pointing at the judges, non musical or worse badly executed aerials for the sake of flash, and using other people’s material in a non-homage sense.
Can this sadly sometimes pay off and get people awards? Yes. However if all one wants out of dancing is some golden plastic and an ego boost, I can’t help but feel pity for them. Because in a few years no one remembers (or probably cares) who got X place, in Y comp. They remember those moments that took them on a journey and evoked an emotional response.
What inspired me this weekend was in a lot of the competitions this year at Camp Hollywood there were people who carried this spirit of being themselves and sincerity in their dancing. In many cases I was happy to see they were rewarded for it.
While there were many moments that made me smile and inspired me this past weekend, I want to talk about two performances in particular, both from the showcase division.
Camp Hollywood 2011 NJC – Morgan Day & Emily Wigger – Showcase
Even before I get to the routine I just want to add that these two handled pressure with grace. They had not one, but two technical difficulties with their performance. First the contest staff on stage could not get the music to run for around five minutes before the routine. After that first problem the DJ mistook a pause in music as the end of the routine, in result he stopped the music prematurely. The DJ then had to rewind the music to slightly before the pause and they had to start again mid-routine. In spite of those setbacks they both performed admirably.
Morgan and Emily’s routine was not extremely technically difficult nor had mind blowing musicality/moves. What made it special and a moment never to be forgotten in Camp Hollywood history was it was two people who had an original creative idea and sold it on the performance floor.
When the performance was over they received a standing ovation by the entire crowd. In addition when they received 4th place at the award ceremony the crowd booed and started chanting first place. However I think everyones’ indignation was satiated when Morgan and Emily earned the well deserved Golden Budgie award.
The Golden Bugie: An award which is given out by Hilary Alexander, who runs the National Jitterbug Championships and Camp Hollywood, awards to the person or persons who best exemplified the spirit of Jitterbug for the entire National Jitterbug Championships/Camp Hollywood.
Camp Hollywood 2011 NJC – Alice Pye & Peter Kertzner – Showcase
What I loved about this routine is the entire time I was smiling, giggling, or laughing. They took the idea of the older mentor and young newbie and let their personalities shine in those roles. I saw the routine in person, but even re watching the video online I can say with confidence the second they got out on the floor they owned that routine by not showing a second of indecision or nervousness.
On a personal note as someone who used to dance to electronica music at
raves “electronic musical recitals” it made me reflect on my own journey changing from the electronic music subculture to the subculture of swing dancing. I think many other people who when they were younger and used to be involved with other subcultures, but fell into the world of swing dance can relate on a personal level to this theme.
In not just the two showcases I mentioned above but from also different competitors that inspired me this weekend, what stuck out was a sincerity in their dancing. They were not out there for validation from others, but the joy of dance. I think that stands the test of time more then any placement or plastic
drinking mug trophy can provide.
I would like to thank Patrick Szmidt & Natasha Ouimet for putting up the videos for Camp Hollywood and other previous events they have attended so quickly. They do a great service for the community posting high quality videos of competitions at events for no charge and after hearing them talk briefly in a group discussion I am assured they are good people as well. Even if its only a few dollars, consider throwing them a donation at: buildingthecommunity.patrickandnatasha.com
So last Wednesday I received what the doctor told me was a mild acromioclavicular joint separation injury, or commonly known more by its street name as “Shoulder Separation“‘.
Luckily when I made an appointment at Penn State’s student medical center they had a doctor who specialized in sports injuries and had handled dancers before. The bad news was I had to keep my left arm in a sling for 1-3 weeks to rest my shoulder. The good news is as long as I kept it in moderation and carefully monitored my shoulder I could still dance!
Dancing With Only One Arm
After coming to the realization that I would dancing one armed for 1-3 weeks, I couldn’t help but think of Jimmy Valentine. If you don’t know his story, Peter Loggins writes a great article about him on his blog the Jassdancer. Jimmy was an amazing one-legged swing dancer who threw down in competitions like the Harvest Moon Ball and in jam circles, a legendary dancer in spite of his injury.
So feeling inspired the last week I have been dancing only using my right arm as a lead. Only having my right hand means all my swingouts have to either start from closed, cross-hand, or right hand to right hand. All visual cues that I could possibly give my left hand were now non-existent. I have had to rely on the free-spin version of many turns such as the tuck-turn or inside-turn.
One of the big things I have learned from being only lead swingouts right handed is many follows often use the letting go of the left hand as a signal for a free spin on a swingout. In result I have been leading a lot of forward swingouts. When not the forward swingouts, I have been having to lead crystal clear swingouts to not be misinterpreted. What is also interesting to see is how follows handle the left hand not being there, sometimes when I am going for her left hand my follow will present the right hand or vice versa. Lastly I have been dealing with the struggle of tensing up because I still mentally out of habit am trying to use the left hand for things before I stop myself.
It’s been a good learning experience. For myself I have learned what moves I know for my cross-hand and right-to-right hand repertoire. I’ve learned for teaching and for social dance what visual/physical cues some follows rely on from the left hand for certain moves. Lastly its a limitation that forces me to be creative with my dancing, I have noticed I have been focusing more on footwork lately since the number of moves I can lead consistently have been cut down.
In about a week or two I can start using my left arm again to dance, but for now I am enjoying the unintended benefits I am getting from the situation.
On How I am Surprised I Didn’t Abandon This Blog
I discovered that I accidentally forgot yesterday was the one year anniversary of my blog. To be candid I am surprised this has gone on this long, like many things in my life I figured I would find it amusing for awhile then move onto some other distraction like bonsai trees.
Fortunately I somehow persevered in spite of my easily distracted and flighty nature. I originally started this blog because I was reading Rantings of a Lindy Hopper and thought, “Hey I am a college student and have the unique position of being in an organizational position and dancing on both sides of the coasts of the United States. Maybe someone will find this interesting.”
In this year I have written and published 68 different articles (One of them being a repost). Out of all of them though there are a few I am particularly proud of and for those of you who may be newer to the blog I recommend you check them out.
- Selection of Shim Shams: In this post I made a list (with videos) of the different Shim Sham’s performed in the swing dance community.
- But All The Cats Like to Shag: This article contains a list of different videos all with instruction on the dance Collegiate Shag.
- Tabby The Cat: In here I go over the background of the Tabby the Cat step and how it has influenced the modern swing dance community.
- Nostalgia from Songs: The Caricoa: The Artie Shaw song, The Caricoa is one of my favorite songs and influences me in several ways. I explain why here.
- Late Night Dancing:In the swing dance community, different venues across the world have their own way of DJing music once it gets to the midnight hours. I discuss that and add in my own personal views on the issue.
Lastly, to all of you who read and especially to all of you who comment I appreciate you
procrastinating from what you really should be doing spending your valuable time here on my blog.
This past weekend I received a free pass from awesome follow Beth Hartzel, to go to an event at Oberlin called Swing Out Under Stars.
This visit was particularly nostalgic for me because my first out of town swing dance experience was at the Oberlin Jazz Dance Festival several years ago where I first saw awesome dancers like Nina Gilkenson and Andy Reid. In result I was motivated to take my dancing more seriously and start traveling to events on a regular basis.
Being a Follow
One thing I am going to give Oberlin kudos for is as a male who was following in some of the classes this weekend I have never felt more comfortable being a follow then anywhere else in the world. Normally when I take classes as a follow, I usually get a vibe from people in the rotation of “Oh… its a guy following, there is something weird about him.” and odd looks.
However everyone was friendly and encouraging to me. I even got asked to dance as a follow a few times during the dance to the Boilermaker Jazz Band on Saturday!
Staying in a Co-Op
During the weekend I was hosted by a lovely girl named Shane in Oberlin’s Tank Hall Co-Op, affectionately referred to as “The Tank”. To quote wikipedia,
“The Oberlin Student Cooperative Association (OSCA) is a $2.4 million dollar non-profit corporation that feeds 630 and houses 175 Oberlin College students. It is located in the town of Oberlin, Ohio, and is independent from but closely tied to Oberlin College.”
It is hard to explain what it is like to stay in an Oberlin Co-Op but my best description is imagine several people living in the same house with each of them having equal responsibility of maintaining the home. While I was there I was invited to have meals with the house which were all hand-cooked by the students. The food was vegetarian, different then what I was used to, and most importantly delicious.
In addition I got to meet other people who were also visiting the house like two French guys who are doing a country tour of the United States and was visiting Oberlin as one of their stops.
The Boilermaker Jazz Band
For the Saturday night dance, they had the Boilermaker Jazz Band who played a fun set and featured a vocalist I hadn’t seen personally before by the name of Erin Kufel. Even though it was a smaller crowd, I thought the Boilermaker’s did a great job of bringing energy to the room and playing some good tunes.
What helped them out was the class sizes were ridiculously small. I’m talking like 12-14 couples for the last two classes of the day on Saturday & Sunday, with such an intimate environment I felt everyone got more out of the workshop then most workshops I have attended. In result the instructors were able to give individual feedback a lot of the times. Also Carla was in the rotation in some of the classes as well, which many of the other leads at the event agreed to me was a great help.
Something I would like to note is both Carla and Falty (who described himself in the lesson as a post-modern feminist) put a decent effort at remaining gender neutral when addressing follows and leads. For the male follows and the female leads in the classes, it was much appreciated.
I’m not going to say that Oberlin’s swing dance event was the biggest event ever or had the highest quality of dancing. However what they did well is provide a unique experience that was fun for all parties involved. I’d dare you to find another workshop in the United States that features intimate class settings, unique housing opportunities, a safe environment to be a lead or follow, a quality band, and two great instructors. I will leave you with a quote about Oberlin that I thought they really lived up to this weekend,
“Oberlin is peculiar in that which is good.”
Can’t read my, can’t read my, can’t read my judging face. (I’ve got to judge everybody)
- Song running through my head this Saturday before the Jack and Jill I had to Judge
This past weekend I popped my judging cherry by judging for a local Jack & Jill at my college. It was a low pressure competition, that the rules barred anyone who has placed 1st in a regional Jack & Jill or who has competed at big competitions like Camp Hollywood, ILHC, and et cetera.
Bobby White’s post at Swungover’s about judging questions segement hit the nail on the head of some of the questions that swam through my head as I was judging:
How much time do I spend on each person? That person is dancing technically great but looking down and not energetic, do I rate them over an individual who is the exact opposite? That follow is having salsa arms, do I penalize for that? How do I make absolutely sure my previous knowledge of some competitors does not make me positively or negatively biased against them? Oh god, that guy led a drape, do I let the extremely negative connotations of that move completely discount him from the finals? These people have the exact same scores on my prelims sheet, how do I choose which one goes to finals? That person’s number is flapping do I wait until they stop rotating so I can read it, or move on and come back?
When I was first starting to compete, one of the important things I wanted to find out was how competitions were judged. Up to the point of this past weekend information I had to work with was:
- Two Camp Hollywood: So You Want to Compete Classes. Year 1 by Ben and Sheri Yau, Year 2 by David Frutos & Kim Clever. These were helpful in they went over how they judged competitions and gave tips especially for first time competitors.
- Private on Judging/Competing with Nick Williams: Amazing lesson, most of it was fixing technical issues that people are marked off for in competitions. But part of it was he went down the three T’s (Timing, Technique, Teamwork) and really broke down what he looks for in each category, immensely useful in not just competition but judging as well.
- Reading a yehoodi thread on judging and two essays found inside: Unfortunately I was unable to find the yehoodi thread, but these two articles by both nationally recognized and experience judges were useful:
- Nicole Frydman (On Judging): https://docs.google.com/View?docid=dhkhj8sz_14dt5c26hn
- Tena Morales (On Judging): https://docs.google.com/View?docid=dhkhj8sz_15dcv6ndd3
- Sylvia Sykes LED Talk at ILHC on Judging: Really informative talk where she went over the ideal situation for judging, dealing with possible biases and just funny things she has seen in competitions.
- Watching competitions and judging them, then later seeing how they compared to actual scores: This is something I do once awhile when watching competitions as a game, but its great practice to do it. So when the pressure is on when you actually judge, there are less things you can worry about. You can even do this online with youtube if you want.
Actually Judging the Competition
For the prelims we had two heats with 10 leads and follows in heat one, then slightly less then that in heat two. Two of the judges got leads, two of the judges got follows, I was the unlucky one who had to judge both. You know how judges say they only get five seconds to look at you in prelims in Jack and Jills? They are not kidding. What was a bummer as a judge, is I saw some people who normally lead/follow decently at bad moments and had to mark them down. Because I had to go through 30-40 people in the equivalent of 4-5 minutes of music, I literally did not have time to give people a second glance. Sylvia Sykes said during her LED talk something similar to these words, “Part of being a judge is sometimes awarding people you hate 1st place and keeping your best friends out of the finals.” it really came to mind in this situation.
For judging I used the system Kim mentioned in her Camp Hollywood talk in which I awarded pluses or minuses next to numbers and at the end of the heats tallied it up and the individuals with the most points went to finals. First thing I did the second any song started was scanned the room and saw which leads started on time after the intro, any leads who were off instantly got one minus off the bat. Then I looked at each individual one by one and awarded or subtracted points based on different criteria (on time, paying attention to partner, et cetera).
At the end though there were still some ties which required some thought to break. Ultimately what was the tie breaker for me was I chose individuals who I thought would make for an entertaining final. It was looking down or having the “thinking dancer” look that lost some people a chance to get in the finals.
I thought it would be easier judging finals because there was less people, boy I was wrong. With more time to pick apart a couples dancing, more questions were raised.
For the finals there was just four judges including myself deciding the placement of 5 couples. It was phrase battle style, with a warm-up (not judged) followed by an all-skate. It was a different animal to deal with because I was judging people as a couple and not as individuals. Which was killer because in some cases there was one person doing awesome but their partner was having issues keeping up.
For the finals I went with Camp Hollywood judging criteria of 50% Three T’s and 50% showmanship. I would watch each couple during the spot light and write down notes of positive and negative things I saw. The main question I struggled with was do I award more a couple who danced mostly clean but did not do anything amazing, to a couple who made some technical errors but got the audience cheering. What really made my final decisions were which couples took me along for a ride, made it difficult to not look at them.
I think it was a great learning experience and as a competitor it will help me be much more understanding in competitions I enter. It has also made me not envious at all of people like Sylvia who have to judge events like ILHC.
To quote Don Draper from the television series Mad Men,
Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.
There are songs that to individuals, that once they are played, bring back strong emotions and memories. T’aint What You Do by Jimmy Lunceford and Love Me or Leave Me by Nina Simone are examples of that in our swing dance community.
Today I am going to share a song that has that effect on me.
To quote wikipedia, the Carioca is a word that refers to inhabitants of Rio De Janerio. It was originally made popular in a recording featuring by Vincent Youmans and lyrics by Edward Eliscu and Gus Kahn.
Flying Down to Rio (1933):
Our first stop down memory lane is a 1933 musical film known as Flying Down to Rio. Even though this is not their best dancing, this film is noted for being the first on screen dance of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
The Carioca is also the name of the dance Fred and Ginger performed in the film, which was a combination of Samba, Maxixe, Foxtrot and Rumba. It was supposed to be promoted as a ballroom dance, that did not have much success.
When I hear any versions of the song the Carioca, I can’t help but be reminded of the superb technicality and the finesse possessed in Astaire’s dancing.
Artie Shaw and His Orchestra (1939) & Buddy Rich (1982):
I won’t be shy about it, music by Artie Shaw is some of my favorite music to dance to. But this is especially true when Shaw had Buddy Rich on board, as a drummer, for his orchestra. For those of you who do not know swing era drummers, Rich is a beast. Check out this 1982 performance of him at the Montreal Jazz Festival:
One of the myriad of reasons I like Jonathan Stout and His Campus Five is the fact that they really kill Shaw’s charts. A big factor in that is Josh Callazo who is an amazing drummer himself and captures Rich’s spirit when he plays. Check out Man From Mars from Jonathan Stout Orchestra’s performance at Lincoln Center (2006).
The Carioca reminds me of what past and present, it really means to have a band that ‘swings’ and that doesn’t just play swing dance music.
NADC (2003) [Kevin and Carla]:
In 2003 at the North Atlantic Dance Championships, Kevin St. Laurent and Carla Heiney competed with this routine to two songs. ‘Deacon’s Hop’ by Big Jay McNeely and to an edited version of The Carioca by Artie Shaw.
What strikes me is just the flow and musicality of the routine, while still maintaining the high energy of the song. I am reminded when I hear it of how some can rise to the occasion of interpreting music through motion.
Camp Hollywood Underground Jitterbug Championship (2009)
Camp Hollywood 2009 was my first ‘big’ Lindy Hop event and was a drastic change from usual cozy and smaller workshops/exchanges I was used to back East. I was confused when I saw posters all over the walls Saturday night with cryptic messages suggesting something was going on at the blues room of all places at 2:00 AM in the morning. Then this happened….
Tiffany Wine & Kenny Nelson versus Dax Hock & Max Pittrezella. It was raw, vicious, and amazing to watch. As someone who was starting to see what the national scene was like it was an amazing first impression.
What this added to the song for me was how the intensity of the song could be visually represented and the whole idea of “laying it all out on the floor”.
The Fly Rights: Camp Hollywood Showcase Division (2010)
To quote the poster who uploaded the following video on youtube,
What you are about to witness is a video whose sheer magnitude of awesome will shatter your eye sockets. This is the beginning of the end of an epic saga of a lone choreographer and a ragtag gang of misfits whose only goal was to perform at Camp Hollywood’s 2010 Team Division competition.
I could probably write a separate blog post about this performance, how awesome they all are, and how I don’t still have my Fly Rights flag from Camp Hollywood decorating my room.
But what this added to the song for me, is the idea of how hard work and dedication truly pays off.
The Carioca is such song loaded with nostalgia for me because ultimately it reminds me what it means to be a dancer and a “swing” dancer. They are two questions I struggle to answer everyday, but feel I get slightly closer to the more experience I get.
One of the most common sentences I hear from mainly intermediate level dancers is,
I wish I could get better at dancing but, x…
Variable x can fall anywhere in the list of; I don’t have enough time, I am in an isolated scene, I don’t have someone to mentor me, I didn’t start young enough, and et cetera.
Newsflash, for the majority of dancers there are only two situations here:
- You have other priorities in life that overshadow dancing, which is perfectly understandable.
- You are just lazy and making excuses to cover up your lack of motivation.
Soapbox Rant (Don’t say I didn’t warn you)
To get on my soapbox for a bit, there are many dancers out there who I respect and they have a borderline, if not obsessive conviction that they will improve their dancing. In result they dedicate massive amounts of time and effort toward that goal.
One of my huge pet peeves is when people complain about how they don’t have enough time to improve or make other similar excuses. For the majority of them its not, they don’t have the time. Its they would rather watch House on their couch or Skype with friends then practice their triple steps and swing-outs.
When people make excuses, at least to me they cheapen the dedication and sacrifices those dancers I respect made, I find it insulting. [/end_rant]
About a little over a year and a half ago, I first came across the clip Jammin’ The Blues, which featured amazing dancing by Archie Savage and Marie Bryant.
I immediately got infatuated with the crazy switches he does at 1:05, in which he is almost touching the ground. After I went through a phase that I tried to lead them constantly on the social dance floor.
One night when I was dancing at a venue in California, I accidentally lost my balance and fell to the floor on one knee while trying to do Archie’s switches. Like most men when lost and confused, I pretended nothing was awry and kept going with the move. To my astonishment I found out it worked perfectly on one knee and my follow seemed to have a blast with it.
One quote that really strikes me for these type of situations is from the television series The Joy of Painting,
“We don’t have mistakes here, we just have happy accidents.” – Bob Ross
Who knows, maybe one day your “happy accident” will come in handy…
The other night while googling my club (Penn State Swing Dance Club) for fun, I found out we recently had a sister club pop into existence. This club was Penn State Altoona Swing Dance club, formed at one of Penn State’s branch campuses, about fourty minutes south-west of State College.
I was having a stressful week so I decided to take a mini vacation. So I grabbed three other members from my own club and made the trek down to Altoona. As expected it was a smaller club, with a lesson in East Coast Swing, and mostly neo-swing DJ’ed during the social dance. But I had a great time! Most of the people there absolutely new dancers that had a lot of positive energy, were excited to dance, and seemed happy to be there.
It brought me back to the actual lecture part from Mark Kihara’s LED talk (before the karaoke shannagins) at ILHC in which he talked about the importance of remembering its not how good/bad you or the other person is, how great the music is, but most importantly having fun during the dance. Often when I come back from big events like ILHC or even return from California, I unfortunately get this sense of snobbish bitterness because the music or type of dancing isn’t my preference. This trip was a great reminder to me of why I dance, to have fun and to share the joy of dancing with other people.
This story starts out back about a year ago when I was just finished teaching a lesson for my college swing dance club and I noticed a girl standing by the doorway of the room looking in inquisitively. I walked over and gave her the usual spiel about swing dance club but she mentioned that she was just looking in after her PSIDE practice. Being curious I asked her what it was and she explained it was the Penn State International Dance Ensemble, a performance group that does dances from around the world. I had seen one of their performances before on campus, not knowing who they were when they performed Tinikling. I was impressed being that it was the first time I had seen people of non-Fillippino descent perform it and on top of that they did a great job. One thing lead to another and she brought the director over who told me to come out to their spring audition because they had the opposite problem of the swing dance club, lack of leads.
Its amusing even though I was a seasoned swing dancer of a year and half at the time, the audition process into PSIDE still intimidated me. Besides the Shim-Sham and the Gangbusters Routine I had no real experience with choreography and they were in dances, which in some cases I never heard of such as Bhangra.
In addition once one got past the auditions just to become a performing member, one had to individually audition for each dance they were interested in for the performances. How the auditions worked was for the majority of the dances you had an about an hour to an hour and a half to learn a routine, then you auditioned it immediately after. I remember asking the girl in charge of Tinikling, Kim, for advice before the audition started because it was the dance that originally got me interested in PSIDE and I wanted to be a part of it badly. However the auditions were not as cut-throat as I imagined them to be, everyone encouraged each other and the people who ran the auditions put in a considerable effort to try to prepare everyone for the tryouts.
How Performance Is A Different Animal
The thing about partner dancing is there is this idea of connection between the music and the other person one is dancing with. However that changed with my experiences in PSIDE where I learned performance is this connection between the music and the other people you are performing with, then sharing that with the crowd watching you. While it’s good having technique of the respective dance, one has to remember most of the people watching do not have extensive dancing backgrounds in the dance you are performing (or dance backgrounds in general). They are not going to notice bad technique, they are going to notice who looks tired, looking at the floor or doing something different when everyone is trying to do the same thing.
Besides the fact of the different mindset being a performer then a social dancer, another thing I had to get used to was consistent rehearsals and how the lessons were different from the typical lessons I took for swing dancing. In my history of taking swing dance lessons, the majority of them at the beginner and even intermediate lessons were based on more having on fun while learning the dance at hand instead of approaching it as a serious art form and seriously working at it. PSIDE while fun, was not as carefree as my previous experiences with classes. It was refreshing to be in a room of people who were all trying to seriously work at something. Making a consistent time commitment was a difficult hurdle for myself as well due to my traveling gypsy/vagabond lifestyle of being a swing dancer in an isolated scene in addition to helping to run the PSU Swing Dance Club. Luckily the PSIDE director, Clare was very accommodating of myself missing practices and it worked out for the most part.
How This Changed Me
Before PSIDE I would go to Downtown Disneyland in Anaheim, California when live bands would play, in order to get used to dancing front of a crowd. It helped in the same way that it helped me to be more comfortable with myself in terms of dancing and be fearless in front of a crowd. As odd as it sounds, beforehand I would always feel awkward dancing alone, not just in swing, but in general (ironic considering my dancing origins). Now I can bust out moves with much more confidence regardless of the situation, whether it’s a Solo Charleston jam circle or at a local night-club.
PSIDE also has made me feel more like a “real dancer” and slightly increased my knowledge of what that means. I remember my first few PSIDE practices feeling like the dunce in class during the warm-up stretches because I am not flexible at all, and I could pick out that a lot the people in the class had training in classical dances which I lacked. Through time though I realized everyone in PSIDE had their strengths and weaknesses, what was important is we were using our respective dance backgrounds to help each other as a whole. I got exposed to many different motions outside of my usual range of motion I was used to in Lindy Hop, ranging from hip-shaking and isolations with Tahitian to the extreme body-awareness of Bhangra.
I’ll be candid and admit when I first joined PSIDE it was more to use the organization as a tool to improve my dancing as a whole. But they are a great bunch and I have come to know many of them as my friends. The environment that PSIDE provides allows us to learn from each other and gives a performance outlet for many people who may normally not have the chance. All I can hope is many some of my fellow PSIDE members have learned as much from me as I have from some of them.
It is a warm night night at State College, Pennsylvania. I’m enjoying a cool drink after a long day, watching people dance in in a backroom at a dimly lit underground bar. In front of me are a myriad of styles; one couple doing ochos in Argentine Tango, another couples’ hips snapping at the air with fishtails from Blues dancing, and yet another couple gliding along the floor in what appears to be West Coast Swing.
This is the unofficial Wednesday night venue in State College known as The Rathskeller. Usually DJ’ed by a man known as Rob Jones, it is an fun affair. Often due to my busy schedule I don’t get to show up until midnight, where it gets interesting. Before midnight its usually people only from the Swing Dance club are in attendance and music is catered to that crowd. After midnight though, the salsa club’s weekly venue closes and people from the Penn State Swing Dance Club, Ballroom Dance Club, Argentine Tango Club and Salsa Club all show up to drink, enjoy each others company and dance.
What is amazing though is dancers who you would normally never see in a the same venue, dancing with each other and having a good time. What I love about the place is its not about “who’s style is better” but about working together to make something as a whole. Even just sitting back and watching the couples dance is a joy, during some songs you can see four different types of dance each creating their own work of art with the music as their muse.
It is nice being at an event that unities the local dance community as a whole. I really hope to see this trend continue.
This past weekend I was at the Boston Tea Party in Massachusetts, attending in tow with a bunch of my Penn State buddies for all of us to compete in the Jack and Jill under the Newcomer category.
To make a long story short, I didn’t make the finals of the competition. To say I was frustrated afterwords, would be a slight understatement. Starting in November, I decided I would work hard to try to place in the finals in this competition. I followed all the advice that people throw out about “taking your dancing to the next level”; traveling to different events on weekends, dancing frequently, asking for feedback from follows, and even taking one of those expensive privates from a well known international instructor. That one hour after reading the call-back sheets I have never probably felt as worthless as a dancer in the last two years.
After that period of moping, I realized could either; a) Mope around more and be a downer in a room that probably had some of the best dancers from all around North America or b) Suck it up, learn from the experience, move on and dance with some awesome people. I decided to do the smart thing and go back out there, in result I witnessed an awesome jam, had a fun dance with a Canadian friend of mine to Shiny Stockings, and through that remembered the joy of Lindy Hop that I temporarily blinded myself to. I got so caught up into proving to myself via this past competition that I have “improved” that I lost sight of the reason I wanted to improve, so I could have a better potential to connect with and have fun with dancers of all levels.
I learned from this past weekend was while it is good to have goals for your dancing, you can’t let them define yourself. If things fall short you just have to take a deep breath, step back from the situation and see what you can learn from it and move on.