Fifty-seven Years Of Magic
Dave a collector of vintage Disneyland photos wrote on his website about Carnation Plaza,
When the Bandstand was moved from Central Plaza over to Adventureland and Magnolia Park, the Carnation Plaza Gardens were constructed and opened on August 18, 1956. A plethora of talent has performed under the tent of this area, including Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Harry James, The Osmond Brothers, Lionel Hampton, Tex Benecke, Cab Calloway, and Stan Kenton.
For those of you not so lucky to be from California, in Disneyland there was this place known as Carnation Plaza, which has been referred to as “The Longest Running Swing Dance Venue”. A notable part of the Southern California swing dance scene for years, case in point you can see California swing dance legend Hal Takier dancing to the song Avalon there in 1987.
For a more comprehensive view, there is a small documentary on the topic of Carnation Plaza called “A Stage that Walt Built”.
However, here is my personal attempt to give you a glimpse of what Carnation Plaza was and still means to Southern California.
Beginning in 1957, Date Nights were a staple of Disneyland culture continuing almost until the 70s. Advertised in local newspapers they were claimed as a way to become a BMOD (Big Man On Dates). In 1967 for $6.50 in the United State one could get 10 rides and full admission to the park which included dancing.
In an article on Mouse Club House, the author Scott Wolf wrote,
Music has always been an important part of the Disneyland experience, with the traditional Disneyland Band performing there since opening day. And while that band remains an essential element of the overall ambience of the park today, on June 28, 1957 things really got swinging! For the first time Disneyland would extend its operating hours until 1am on Friday and Saturday nights for Date Nite, in an attempt to attract young couples as a dating hot spot. Couples could purchase Date Nite discounted tickets which permitted admission only after 5pm. Carnation Plaza Gardens became the chosen central Date Nite location and the local Elliott Brothers band were brought in as the Date Niters who had the ability to perform everything from the slow dances to rock ‘n’ roll to the “La Raspa,” which became a Date Nite tradition.
On Stage Magazine
To give a better picture of what Carnation Plaza was about, here is an article from On Stage magazine, which features an interview with Stan Freese who booked professional swing bands for several years at Disneyland.
The Stage that Walt Built
At Disneyland’s Carnation Plaza Gardens, performers can stand in the footsteps of giants.
Stan Freese calls the Carnation Plaza Gardens Stage his “home away from home.” That’s not too much of a stretch.
Freese has been helping put on shows at the historic Disneyland venue since 1974. Today, he books the professional swing bands that fill the stage every Saturday night. The job never gets old, thanks in large part to Freese’s appreciation of the star-studded history of the stage, which opened in 1956.
“This is the longest-running big band stage in the world,” he says, rattling off a list of the stars who have graced the venue over the years. The roster includes Cab Calloway, Bob Crosby, Jimmy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Lionel Hampton, Les Brown, Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Harry James, Eartha Kitt, and Benny Goodman–whose orchestra was the first big-name group to perform on the stage, back in 1961.
Freese, now 66, enthusiastically hops around the large stage, recreating how things looked when big bands performed there seven nights a week. “Right here is where Louis Armstrong sang ‘Hello, Dolly!’” he says. Stepping to his left, he continues: “Over here is where Count Basie and Duke Ellington played the piano. Right on this stage, looking out at the castle.”
The “castle,” of course, is the famous Sleeping Beauty Castle–the ultimate symbol of Disneyland fun and fantasy–and located “just a stone’s throw” from Carnation Plaza Gardens, as Freese puts it. The stage itself is about 20 feet wide and can accommodate 35 to 40 musicians; larger groups spread out onto the terrazzo dance floor. They perform for audiences of up to 150 people under a canopy of gold and burgundy, which adds to the festive atmosphere.
The history and the surroundings only enrich the experience for the student bands, orchestras and choruses that perform on the Carnation Plaza Gardens Stage. “They are walking on hallowed ground, playing in this hallowed venue,” says Freese. “They should all know when they come here how exciting this stage really is.”
Jim Hahn, director of instrumental music at Tuffree Middle School in Placentia, Calif., has been bringing bands to Disneyland for more than 20 years and understands the importance of sharing the Carnation Plaza Gardens Stage legacy. “Every time we go,” says Hahn, “I explain the history of that stage to the kids.”
Hahn, a saxophone and clarinet player, performed on the stage himself in 1981 with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. It was the first visit ever to Disneyland for the Philadelphia native. “I was in awe, knowing all the bands that had played that stage,” he says. “It was mind-blowing.”
Every spring Hahn brings two jazz ensembles to play at Carnation Plaza Gardens; in the fall, he brings a marching band to perform in the Disneyland parade. It’s more than history and fond memories that keep him coming back. In Hahn’s opinion, everything about the experience is top-notch. “It’s nothing short of the Disney standard,” he declares.
Hahn has particular praise for the sound quality and the location of the Carnation Plaza Gardens Stage in the bustling heart of Disneyland. “It’s a loud stage,” says Hahn. “It attracts a lot of people.”
The effect never wears off on Hahn. “As many times as I’ve taken the kids there, it’s still–as corny as it sounds—it’s still a thrill.”
Wendy Shepherd, choral director at Wilson High School in Tacoma, Wash., says the experience of playing Disneyland can be “life-changing” for students. She has been bringing her Scintillation Show Choir to perform on the Carnation Plaza Gardens Stage for 10 years. “As a child, to dream of the magic of Disneyland, and then as a young adult to achieve the goal of performing there and working with the Disney choreographers, is immeasurable,” Shepherd says. “I have students who are in their late 20s who Facebook me now, and to this day, recall their experiences, the joy, the achievement of their dream, the way it moved their lives positively.”
The thrill has never worn off for Stan Freese, either. Born and raised in Minneapolis, he made his first trip to Disneyland at age 12, when he marched in the parade with his school band. “It was just great,” he recalls. “I had no clue I was going to work there.” A tuba player, he performed as a soloist in the Soviet Union in 1969. That led to his Disney job interview and his role as leader of the original Disneyland Band, starting in 1971.
In Freese’s early days at Disneyland, the Carnation Plaza Gardens Stage was still bringing in national talent for its night-time big-band series. There also was a period in the 1970s and ’80s when pop acts like the Osmonds, the 5th Dimension and the Pointer Sisters played there. These days, the evening shows are performed mostly by swing bands that Freese books from Los Angeles, Orange County and as far away as San Francisco.
Whether the performers are professionals or students, they enjoy first-class treatment. Buses come straight off the Santa Ana Freeway into the Disneyland back lot, where students and gear are unloaded. On the back lot, the students can avail themselves of the dressing and rehearsal facilities as they prepare for their big moment on the Carnation Plaza Gardens Stage.
“The whole thing is magic,” Freese concludes. “Now it’s just up to the kids to have fun and make great music to become part of that heritage.”
A little known fact about Walt Disney is that he was a fan of jazz. In fact in 1935, he produced an animated Disney short named Music Land, which attempted to bridge the gap between classical music and jazz.
As a matter of fact, Walt himself was a patron of Carnation Plaza as well.
Besides supporting Jazz in different ways such as recordings, Disney was friends with many of the musicians who played at his park including Louis Armstrong.
A Sweet Note
While it looks different these days due to recent changes, dancing in Disneyland is still a notable part of the culture of swing dancing in Southern California and of Disneyland itself. I would like to leave you with a quote from the parks founder, Walt Disney,
To all who come to this happy place; welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past …. and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America … with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world. – Walt Disney
Not too long ago there was a tumblr post on Ambidancetrous advocating the idea of teaching beginner classes where you have students try out both roles. In addition on the blog The Lindy Affair there was an interview with Anne, a member of Yale’s ambidancetrous scene where she describes her community.
Positive Results from this Community Discussion
What I enjoyed about these posts is that they encouraged discussion in person, on tumblr, on facebook, and even most recently on the Yehoodi talk show. I took the time to talk to several of my students, dance instructors I am friends with, fellow dancers I know, and even a few non-dancers as to how they would feel about the advantages and disadvantages of teaching in this manner. We also explored the tangental conversations that sprung up from exploring this line of conversation.
What I enjoyed the most is that it seriously challenged my views and methods of how I teach dance, which as an instructor I am always trying to test and improve.
My Views As A Student and Participant in the Swing Dance Community
In a previous post I wrote that a few months after I started dancing as a lead, I took several classes as a follow after being thrust suddenly into a teaching role. Until recently, I had forgotten an important fact: that when I enrolled in these classes, I asked the instructors’ permission to take the classes as a male follow. Nothing on the website stated that this was forbidden and neither of the instructors indicated in their speech that I had to choose the role of a lead. Regardless I thought it was the polite thing to do to run it by them first.
When I was learning how to follow, my classmates were generally polite. Once in awhile I would get a question like, “So why are you learning how to follow?” One thing I really appreciated was that I had a few instructors actually point me out in classes and mention what I was doing was a great idea for improving as a dancer. However, there were some notable negative experiences: once I had the unpleasant experience of having a guy outright refuse to dance with me in a workshop class because I was in the rotation as a male follow. Another incident that left a particularly bad taste in my mouth was I when was asked to compete as a lead instead of a follow in a competition because “we don’t have enough leads”.
Based on my personal experiences I do have to agree that there are definitely social pressures to choose the gendered stereotypes for partnered dancing within classes. There are still a significant amount of instructors, for example, who use gendered language for roles in classes. It is a tad odd for me, a male follow, to be referred to as a lady during class.
As a student or participant in a community, I will fully admit I have a bias. I’m a natural extrovert and it makes me not as empathetic to others as I should be at times. However, I have had to learn as a teacher, that not everyone is as comfortable in an unfamiliar social situation. Most newbies when they are taking their first dance class already have enough apprehensions to deal with; adding onto the heap the idea that people might see them as the odd one in the group could steer them from a role they were curious about in order to fit in with their class and appease anxieties they may have.
I Like My Vegetarian/Vegan Friends
On a tangent I am addressing this post “Why a lead who doesn’t follow is like a vegan making barbecue.” The author writes about the idea that instructors should know both roles in order to be effective at their job. I agree with this point, please no more classes where I have leads telling me “you just follow” as advice on how to understand that role.
However where I disagree with this blog post is that it implies that you need to pick up the other role to be a better dancer. Learning the other role in swing dancing competently is not the only avenue nor a necessity to becoming a better dancer. I have many
vegetarian/vegan friends and peers who are amazing dancers, as in they compete and place at the big name competitions like ILHC and such. However in spite of being fairly experienced dancers, when they dance in their non-primary role some of them are absolute rubbish.
I’m not going to disagree that learning the other role does provide some advantages, especially in terms of being considerate to individuals in dancing. However I disagree with the tone this post takes where it implies that one is at a serious disadvantage if they do not learn both roles.
My Views As A Teacher in the Swing Dance Community
To give a short background of my teaching experience I have been teaching swing dance for about 3+ years on the East Coast of the United States. Usually local drop-in classes, monthly series, and the occasional one-day workshop out of my local area. As just a general dancer I travel a lot and tend to go to larger national/international competition events and nearby smaller regional events.
What this background means is that as a teacher, skill acquisition and/or improvement for my students is a high priority. For other instructors, creating an inclusive environment where students feel welcome or ensuring their students have fun may be more of a priority. Now I am not saying that I do not factor those other two things in when I teach; in beginner classes making sure my students have fun and are comfortable is my main priority. Beginner classes are the equivalent of sticking your foot in the pool to see if the water is okay, and I know the majority of people taking their first swing dance class aren’t there to throw down in a competition the next month. However, making sure that I provide the base fundamentals of the dance I am teaching and allowing my students the opportunity to succeed is something I am not willing to compromise on.
I think that teaching a beginner class with students learning both roles in a 45 min to 1 hour time frame (typical for swing dancing) is not an optimal idea. This is based on my experience as someone who has danced and competed in both lead and follow roles in the last few years, taught beginner classes where people learn both roles, and has been teaching for a few years. This has been further reinforced by discussions I have had with other instructors.Interestingly enough though, for Blues it seems to work perfectly fine.
The main reason why I think it works for Blues and not so much for Lindy Hop is while both dances take a considerable amount of skill to do well, as a new dancer Blues has a lower barrier of entry. Certain dances are easier to social dance at the beginning of one’s dance education. In my beginner 6-count swing drop-in dance classes a noticeable portion of my class struggles to do one role barely competently. While there is overlap between the two roles of lead and follow, it is a fact that each role does inherently pose unique challenges. When I have had students trying to tackle all of the challenges of the roles of both lead and follow in a 45 min to 1 hour time span for a typical 6-count swing beginner class, often a notable portion of my class did not get to the level of competency that I am satisfied with as an instructor.
Am I completely against the idea of an ambidancetrous newbie class for Lindy Hop? Nope. I think a beginner 6-count class for Lindy Hop can be taught ambidancetrous if you have more time, such as 1h and 30 minutes and/or if the class has a considerable amount of already experienced dancers in rotation. Another option is teaching a weekly series instead of a drop-in class, because you will have more time to work with students.
Overall while I think exploring the idea of teaching both roles to students in a class is an interesting concept with a potential for positive results such as allowing one to be an effective instructor, gives insight to dancers about the challenges faced by both roles, and addresses issues of gender equality within the swing dance community. However based on my experience an instructor and a dancer who dances both roles I do not believe this should be at the expense of possibly leaving new students not receiving a basic amount of knowledge in their beginner classes.
I have always wondered if other people in the Hammond Building found it strange to hear the sound of desks sliding and screeching across the floor for over an hour.
About four years ago in State College, Pennsylvania I was a new lead and frustrated that follows I danced with couldn’t feel me lead a rock step. The result of that was I decided to take the matter into my own hands. An immobile object wouldn’t compensate for my shitty leading, so I drilled leading rock steps on classroom disks at the top floor of the engineering building in an attempt to get my body to understand the feeling of using my body to create a stretch during a rock step.
The Benefits of an Isolated Scene
The running joke in State College was “we were four hours from everything” and with Washington D.C., Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia in that range it wasn’t far from the truth. As a scene we had 1 hour classes followed by a usually 2 hour dance twice a week and one monthly large dance. Our big deal event was our semester workshop which had international instructors for absurdly low prices such as $20 dollars for a weekend workshop of 8 classes. While it wasn’t the worst situation in the world, it still was no L.A. or Washington D.C. where you have a large community of dancers and regular instruction from nationally recognized instructors.
What it did give us is the gift of forcing those of us who wanted to improve to take ownership of our dancing improvement. We would do stupid things to get in dancing with advanced dancers like leave after colleges classes at like 5pm and drive four hours to Washington D.C. to dance at the Jam Cellar (which at the time as a newbie I was convinced was like the Mecca of dance), stay to the bitter end, and then take shifts driving back to make it home in time for 8 AM classes the next day. I believe I visited Washington D.C. about three different times before I actually saw what it looked like in the daylight.
One memory that stands out in my mind was feeling left out after attending a workshop weekend that during the shim sham I had no idea what it was or how to do it. That became the catalyst which caused me the following week to use the video below and teach myself the entire routine.
The important concept I got from living in a somewhat small/isolated scene is it was not my communities’ responsibility or whatever instructors’ responsibility to help me to improve, it was mine. If I watched a video and thought I looked like shit there was always a mirror to remind myself of whose fault it is.
The problem I have noticed in swing dance communities in general is a sizable portion of dancers are not proactive. What I mean by that is they expect to be spoon-fed and given the answers from instructors. Yes, you can learn that way but it is a slow route and not conducive to getting past intermediate at best. Even worse I would argue you are likely to end up more looking like a poor imitation of another dancer instead of developing your own voice or personality in movement.
I’m not saying to completely abandon teachers or classes, obviously those have value. What I am saying is there is a definite value being able to develop yourself as a dancer outside of formal swing dance class and many of those skills such as being able to visually learn and recreate movement have multifaceted applications. When you have classes as your only source of learning then the material your teacher’s present and possibly the social dance floor are your only source of input. However when you choose to attempt to learn something anything you can grasp is a source of inspiration; Frankie Manning, Dean Collins, Willa Mae Ricker, or Jewel McGowan. Even non Lindy Hop sources are game, one dancer I have personally have pulled from is Maurice Mouvet.
Over the years I’ve had requests for me to teach people some things like swingout variations or solo jazz routines and often my thoughts are, “It’s on youtube, you could learn it tonight instead of waiting around for me to show you.”
An interesting trend is a lot of amazing dancers (including a few from State College) have always had this attitude in dance and in many cases they actively seek out opportunities to work and collaborate with others outside of a traditional workshop and classroom setting whether that is locally or involves travel. Jon Tigert wrote in his blog about his experience when he was in a tiny remote town in Italy for two and a half months and out of the dance loop. Did he use that as an excuse to rest on his laurels and complain about how there was no one to dance with? Hell no, instead he worked his ass off at improving his quality of movement through solo jazz.
Don’t Dream It Be It
Here is my challenge to you dear readers. Take something you have always wanted to learn (within reason, please don’t crack skulls learning aerials off of youtube) and do it. No partner? Post a facebook status, ask people in your classes, or worst case scenario work on solo quality of movement. Tranky Doo, Big Apple, or California Routine? There are videos for all of those online. If you actually take me up on my challenge write in the comments about it or even better show me on video or in person. I’ll leave you with this quote from Mr. Tigert,
So you are wondering how you can become a better dancer, even if you don’t have a partner, or you can’t afford classes. Get off your butt, stop reading blogs and watching videos, put in your earbuds and just dance. – Jon Tigert
Yesterday I was taking a teacher training class ran at Blues Union by Amanda Gruhl and Shawn Hershey in Boston where I faced an interesting challenge. I had do something I have only done once before, which was teach an idea or a concept in five minutes or less. Oh, did I mention it was in the context of Blues dancing which I feel completely unqualified to teach?
Anyways in spite of me having 2+ years of teaching experience in Lindy Hop/Balboa/Collegiate Shag at Penn State and the Central Pennsylvania area this was a definite challenge for myself because;
- This class was almost improvised on the spot, we maybe had ten minutes max to brainstorm a lesson plan.
- I was teaching Blues, a dance that I am not confident of my abilities in. To add to the difficulty this was in front of a crowd of individuals who knew the dance arguably much better than myself.
- The time constraint made the choice of class material a more pertinent issue than usual.
Anyways in the interest of giving you guys some of the insight I received from the class, I want to list a few things I learned from the experience.
Teach What You Know
In the past my most successful classes were ones I had taught literally a dozen times before and knew the material, common mistakes people make, and analogizes that would convey concepts to dancers like the back of my hand. One of the important things that comes from teaching what you know you exude confidence. This is important because students can clearly tell when a teacher is hesitant or unsure about their material.
What you know also does not just entail knowing how to lead or follow a move or concept. It is more along the lines of understanding how the move or concept works and being able to break it down to another person. Understanding why a person will struggle with certain technique aspects of a move or concept and knowing multiple ways to convey the knowledge they need to them mentally and physically are all part of this idea of “knowing” something.
During the teacher training class I saw some people have issues teaching their mini-lessons because they did not predict how people would struggle with the material they chose. One mini-class the teacher had the issue that he was unaware he was doing different variations of the move he was teaching without realizing it until it was pointed out. Unfortunately a lot of learning how individuals struggle with moves or concepts is simply through experience of teaching them and troubleshooting.
Realize and Incorporate Class Constraints
With five minutes as a limit choosing class material which is normally a priority for classes became essential due to the need to convey a concept to a group of students quick and dirty. Candidly I admit that a good portion of teachers (yes even professional international instructors) will ride the struggle-bus when attempting to stay on time for classes. How I usually cheat is by putting an alarm in my phone on silent mode that will go off 5 minutes before class is over.
The time limit is not the only constraint you have to deal with though. Are there mirrors available? Does your class consist of newbies, or advanced dancers, or a mix of mainly newbies with a ringer or two? Have these students had classes with you before? All of these are small details which one can use to slightly tweak their class to better tailor it to students’ needs. One mini-class I saw that had an issue was the fact that the teacher while doing a great job of teaching, she chose class material that simply could not be covered in five minutes.
Less is More
One of the mistakes I made in my mini-lesson was when starting the class off with a monkey-see monkey-do exercise I said several things such as “Focus on your arms”, “Think about what lines you are making”, “Watch yourself in the mirror”, and et cetera. However for some of the students that level of information was a lot to process at once and was perceived as overwhelming.
Treating each word you use as a valuable resource, being conscientious of the analogies you use, and limiting the amount of information you provide to your students during each portion of class are essential to being a good teacher. My least favorite classes are when what is supposed to be a dance class turns into a lecture and it was not advertised as a lecture class. The mini-lessons I liked the most during the teacher training class were the ones that gave ample time and rotations to try out and troubleshoot class material.
Never Stop Improving
Last but not least an important part of being a teacher is not getting complacent in your own dancing or teaching abilities. There’s always an analogy that you haven’t used that can better convey an idea to students. Improving your own dancing provides a better visual example for students to copy. An unfortunate truth is every technical deficiency you have as a dancer your students are visually picking up as well. Another thing I would recommend is talking to other teachers and talking shop, at least for myself I get fun and creative ideas of how to approach teaching that I would never think of.
I would like to hear from all you guys though. Any important ideas/lessons/concepts you’ve learned about teaching either through being a student or on the battlefield teaching a class yourself?
I used to say with a smile one of the advantages I had being constantly between California and Pennsylvania is the second I started to get involved in any local swing dancing drama I would be boarding a plane and saying goodbye to people for a few months. Now that I am (for now) settled in as a resident of Boston, I can’t sing the same tune.
Scene drama is one of those topics that is normally discussed over Skype chat, carpool rides to events, at a host’s place after a dance, or over meals. How to handle it though is not something I think that is discussed enough and unchecked it can cause major problems for individuals involved. This is an essential skill if one wants to be a successful organizer, teacher, and et cetera within the swing dance community. However for a dancer in an non-organizational role, I believe this is important as well just to be a positive member of the community.
As an organizer in the past I have had to deal with unpleasant things such as:
- Having the police forcibly remove someone from a venue after the individual was told to not to attend any future events due to inappropriate behavior, followed by mountains of paperwork after.
- Telling a dancer who attended a workshop I was helping run to not play with the lights or attempt to climb out the window to play on a rooftop.
- People not doing their assigned jobs and scrambling to find people to cover it (often myself) to make sure everything ran smoothly.
One of the hardest things is dealing with any of those situations and on top of that maintaining a pleasant disposition during the venues or events I am helping to run. Often I have to request things nicely when my preferred method of conversation would be a litany of swear words and crass language.
The one thing that has helped me to remain civil and keep calm in those situations is remembering one important fact, that my actions do not just represent myself but an entire organization. Do I want X dancer thinking that Y swing dance organization is a welcoming, professional, and friendly organization? Yes. In result I shut my trap and later privately vent my frustrations through (ideally) healthy methods.
Always ADD rather than SUBTRACT.
The idea is that in general, you shouldn’t seek to replace what’s already in the scene–that is, to take people away from the dances, events or classes they’re already attending–but rather to fill in the gaps. Obviously there can be exceptions, rare cases such as unqualified instructors teaching dangerous aerials. But it’s too easy to get seduced into thinking that whatever you want to offer the community invalidates what other people are doing.
I would like to add that this is an important concept in not just choosing dates for an event or creating one , but even in general actions as an organizer. Unless if someone is clearly crossing the line in a matter that needs to be dealt with professionally or in worse cases legally, the better route for dealing things is in a discreet and constructive manner that if criticism has to be given it’s toward individuals actions and not towards them as a person.
As with any community or even a small circle of friends, a person invested in a dance scene long enough will eventually come across some drama ranging from frustration over competition results to romantic interests gone wrong . I can confidently say nearly every dancer has had the moment of, “Well shit, is now my local dance scene going to be uber awkward for me because of X” where X can be a bad breakup, one got in a major fight with a friend due to a bad housing situation at a swing dance event, and the list could go on.
I can’t go into every specific situation due to time constraints but I think (with exceptions) most drama issues can be solved by; discretion, empathy, and respect.
Discretion: By discretion I mean unnecessarily involving people into the problem at hand and/or airing dirty laundry to the point it becomes common gossip . The latter may give one a sense of immediate gratification due to venting, however the opportunity cost of the long term consequences 99% of the time outweigh the short term benefits.
Empathy: This is the ability understand and relate to the feelings of another, but in terms of dealing with drama this means incorporating your actions to deal and account for that. People will occasionally do off the wall and crazy things, however often there is a reason for it and having the patience and understanding to handle it to the best of one’s own abilities is not the easiest thing. I will fully admit as a person who likes being frank and dealing with things on the spot a big weakness of mine is having difficulty to empathize with non-confrontational individuals.
Respect: It’s fairly easy to get in the mindset of vilifying individuals and thinking “Because they are doing this, my life is sucks”. An important fact to remember is that this person or people are human beings and they have reasons for those actions. Even if you feel the actions they have done to you are irreconcilable at the very least you should ideally take the higher route and be civil at least out of respect for the individuals who everyone involved has to interact on a routine basis with.
While handling drama as an organizer has an added difficulty of being a representative for an organization I still believe for any dancers in the swing dance community the importance to dealing with it is respect for anyone involved and respect for the local community.
I’d like to add on a more personal note that if you struggle with this, don’t feel alone. I am not a saint by any stretch and I have made my fair share of mistakes as an organizer and a regular dancer dealing with these type of matters. What I try to do to reconcile that though is look back on decisions or mistakes I have made in the past and use them as learning experiences to better myself as a person.
While I would love to go into detail and share personal stories that I have learned things from one of the downsides of losing anonymity is one of the people in those stories might stumble across it. General advice I can give is if you really need to vocalize negativity about someone having a close friend who you know is a trusted confidant that you can vent to or writing (in a private document/book, not a public blog) are excellent sources of stress relief.
Lastly, if you have any stories of dealing with difficult drama situations in your local swing dance community and had a valuable learning experience you would think benefit others I encourage you to share it here in the comment section or even with friends in your local community just to give friends perspective.
: If I had to list one of the bigger mistakes I made as an organizer when I was at Penn State it would be arrogantly assuming taking away things and adding new things to that local scene would automatically work. Due to inexperience I had the mentality of, “This is how they did things in southern California and because that area produced awesome dancers, this is how it should be done.”
: A good addition to the running joke of “You know you are a swing dancer when…” list would be if you have ever had the conversation about the issue that if you date a non dancer they are unlikely to understand your crazy dance lifestyle, but if you date a dancer and it doesn’t work out then your local scene can potentially become own your personal hell.
: Side Soapbox Rant: Guys, if you and a girl in a scene don’t work out attempting to refer to your ex in public as “crazy” or slut shaming her makes you look like an utter asshole to not just any women in the scene, but to many of us guys as well. Women, this is not cool as well however in my experience i’ve noticed this behavior unfortunately more as a pattern of people from my own gender.
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.
In my last post Market Segmentation for Swing Dancing I promised I would write a future post going into a few venues and events that I think are good examples of businesses that have properly segmented their market.
Located in Southern California, Atomic Ballroom clearly defines it’s market segment in it’s mission statement on their website,
ATOMIC Ballroom’s mission is to create a dance community of all ages in Orange County by providing affordable, high-quality social dance instruction and events, where people will feel welcome and safe to learn the skill of dancing and to socialize with others who also value that skill.
It’s easy to infer from that statement that they have created a segment of individuals who prefer a family friendly and welcoming atmosphere in the Orange County area. This is important because they have zeroed in on a reasonable geographic location to draw their customer base for a local venue. In addition they have appealed to the type of customer that wants a safe place that they can bring their entire family along whether that be their children or mother/father.
Located in the lovely town known as Charm City a.k.a. Baltimore, Mobtown Ballroom takes a decidedly different approach in defining it’s market segment. Here is a snippet of their manifesto from their website,
WE LIKE OUR FUN TO BE ADULT.
This isn’t as dirty as it sounds. People spend most of their time in censorious environments (like work or school), trying to appear well-mannered and bland. That’s what the day is for. Come to our evening programming and you can hoot and hollar at sexy performances, dance dirtier than Patrick Swayze, have an incredibly strong drink at the Calypso Cafe down the road, or contemplate our stained-glass windows and pray. It’s grown up time, and a dash of benign anarchy helps take the edge off the work week.
In contrast to the previous business takes the contrasting approach of segmenting their market to target individuals who want to let loose and have fun in a non-judgmental environment. A dash of excitement from the monotony of normal life is what they are trying to provide. In addition they write,
We don’t care about your politics, your race, your sexual orientation, your religion, or anything else, and we don’t tolerate any kind of harassment. Whoever you are or wherever you’re from, if you want to dance, you’re in the right place.
Mobtown also segments their market by promoting they are a safe and welcome environment for all walks of life and will not tolerate any individuals who attempt to endanger that. As an aside, kudos for doing this Baltimore and I wish more venues would make this information public and crystal clear.
Located in Rochester, New York the event known as Stompology segments their market by providing a service that addresses a niche part of the swing dancing community. As their website has listed,
Stompology, approaching its eighth year, is the first dance weekend devoted entirely to authentic jazz, Charleston, and solo movement.
Back in 2006, Groove Juice Swing saw that many workshops and camps were beginning to add solo-style material to their curriculum, and figured a weekend dedicated to just that type of thing would be right up the alleys of Lindy Hoppers and any students of historical jazz dance.
And we were right… eight years later, Stompology is still going strong! We’re more excited than ever about this year’s event and we’re looking forward to having you join us.
They saw a need that was not addressed in the swing dance community and created an event to provide a service to address it. If this isn’t an example of segmenting within the swing dance community, I don’t know what is.
In addition while they may not officially promote this but Stompology has a reputation for being a fun event. This allows the event to attract customers in the swing dance community who are looking for a fun time. As this video by Alain Wong shows, they do indeed deliver on that.
NOLA Girl Jam
Based out of New Orleans, Louisiana the event NOLA Girl Jam in a similar vein to Stompology segments their market by targeting a certain portion of the swing dancing community. As written on the event website,
Girl Jam celebrates women’s artistic achievements in traditional jazz music and dance with the intention of inspiring today’s jazz-loving female artists in a supportive, collective learning environment.
The focus on communication between jazz musicians and jazz dancers is a fundamental aspect of the jazz tradition, and this is what Girl Jam aims to foster in a welcoming, communal atmosphere for women of all ages and ability levels.
The 3 day festival is packed full of community activities for both men and women to explore the the history of the female voice in American jazz culture and to interact with and be entertained by those continuing the traditions today.
While I personally believe in the last four years the way teachers approach classes have been getting more toward giving follows better guidance besides “simply follow”, I would argue that many classes are taught with a lead-centric view. This event like other Girl Jam events provides the service of offering follow-centric classes which are a rarity in the swing dance community.
In short good market segmentation is finding a need within the community (in this case swing dancing) is not being addressed and figure out a feasible way to be the business that provides it. All the scenes and events above I believe do an excellent job at this. If you know any scenes or events who fit this bill, I encourage you to post about it in the comments below!
One of the biggest mistakes I read about, hear about, or personally witness is swing dance events and venues attempting to target the entire market of possible customers who would attend their business or even worse not having a target audience at all.
I can confidently say that there is no organizer/venue/event in the swing dance community has the resources to supply the demand for the entire market. Even the events with massive amount of dancers such as Lindy Focus or Herräng targets a segment of the market.
What I define as the term market for the swing dance community is; every person who currently has swing dancing as a hobby/profession or is physically/mentally able to have swing dancing as a hobby/profession but does not.
What this means for you as an organizer of an event is you need to segment your market or find a niche of target customers that you can provide value to as a business. For a more technical business world definition of market segmenting you can find it here. If you look online, talk to marketing professionals, talk to marketing professors, or read books on marketing there are a variety of ways to how to go about segmenting a market. What I am going to do here is give a simple layout that is applicable for an individual who is running a weekly venue or hosting a one time/yearly recurring swing dance event.
1. Decide A Target Geographic Location
The first thing is to decide upon target geographic location. If you are running a swing dance venue for a college town your potential customers are going to be considerably different then if you lived in a big city or a rural area. A recurring weekly dance is going to have a smaller target geographic location in comparison to an international camp such as Herräng where the entire world is fair game. Speaking of distance, the further away you attempt to attract dancers you will need to have match that with increased value such as; quality instructors, dancers, DJs or live bands.
2. Decide The Type Of Customer
The second thing is to decide upon the type of customer you are trying to attract to your business in terms of dance experience, dance background, and lifestyle.
Dance experience is simply how long have your target customers been dancing. This is important because a random person off the street who has never danced in their life has fairly different needs then a seasoned dancer who is a regular on the competition circuit. It is a reality that when you start to cater to one end of the spectrum you will likely alienate the other and it is a choice as an organizer you have to make.
Dance background is the dances your customer identifies with. For example when people press for specifics I say I dance Lindy Hop, Balboa, and Collegiate Shag. For every dance under the umbrella term of swing dancing there is a specific culture attached to each dance. These various cultures have values and preferences that are sometimes complimentary and other times conflict with other dance communities. It is essential as an organizer to aware of the specific values and preferences with a particular dance’s community in order to provide a high-value experience for your target audience.
Lifestyle covers a variety of things such as personal values or personality types. Essentially what it comes down to is; where is this person in their life and what preferences do they have because of it. As someone running an event or venue this is important because a college student who participates the usual Lindy/Blues dance exchange circuits is going to have different needs then a married full time professional who occasionally takes time off work a few times a year to compete at Balboa events.
3. Check Feasibility
You now have your target market segment clearly written out and described. Now the thing to check is if you and any collaborators have the resources to make your business feasible for your target market. An excellent article written by Bill Speidel, an experienced event organizer is titled So You Want To Be A Lindy Hop Event Organizer and a great reality check/resource for any person intending to get into the business of running a swing dance event/venue.
What I define as the term resources for the swing dance community is; a commodity service or other asset that is required to run a swing dance venue/event. This is not limited to physical assets such as money but can be; also trained staff, volunteers, an established reputation among traveling dancers, established in the network of neighboring dances/events, positive Yelp reviews, and et cetera.
Throughly checking if these resources are available is important responsibility as an organizer. You can organize an amazing event but if you neglect to check on the resource of availability of date and conflict with an established event in the region you are fighting and uphill battle.
In the case that your target segment is simply unfeasible within your current time frame you have the options of postponing until it is possible or choosing a new segment that is feasible.
4. Apply Your Market Segment
You have your detailed market segment and you have asked the questions and done the research to determine it is feasible, great! The only thing you have to do now is use that knowledge appropriately.
This can be done in a multitude of ways, a common one is advertising. If you are trying to attract customers who have never danced before Groupon and newspaper ads would be an effective marketing campaign compared to Facebook Events and fliers sent to dance venues which is traditionally used for established dancers.
Another one is the choice of staff such as instructors and DJs. Customers who have not danced before or have limited experience will be much less selective in comparison to dancers who have been dancing longer or are at a higher skill level.
The thing to take from all of this the importance of having a clearly defined market segment. The most common mistake I see in newer events is often they try to cater to too large of a market segment. In result their resources get spread thin and they are unable to deliver a quality experience for any of the dancers that attend.
I plan to write a future post going into a few venues and events that I think are great examples businesses that properly segmented their market. However if you have any stories or opinions I would love to hear them in the comment box below!
Welcome to Lindy Hop
When I was a newer dancer who frequently was in different dance scenes such as Irvine, California to Oberlin, Ohio, my biggest difficulty was probably dealing with instructors who would tell me different and sometimes outright contradictory things. When I brought up my frustration one day to a workshop teacher his response was, “Welcome to Lindy Hop”.
After dancing for a few years and teaching regionally for about 2+ years I have to take time and remind myself I was once this new lead who wanted clearly defined rules. I remember my mind being blown when 8-count moves and swingouts were introduced. At the time, in my mind the rule was everything is only 6-counts. It took about a month of solid dancing in California to break me out of a 6-count basic as my default movement.
I remember one of the big things that confused me as a newer lead was where to step on the 5 of a swingout. The fact that depending upon where a lead steps on 5 can create a different line/look/feeling was beyond me. I just wanted one place to step so I could do it “right”.
Most experienced dancers know how one dances is completely dependent on the song that is playing, who one is dancing with, and likely other miscellaneous factors. Bridging the gap between that and newer dancers who may be just trying to figure out where to find the beat or intermediate dancers trying to dance on phrase is a difficulty as an instructor.
Difficulty with “Right” Answers as a Teacher
What caused me to explore this topic is a post from Sam at dogpossum titled a bit of dance nerdery and in particular this quote,
I had to find a way to say ‘that idea of an absolute value for connection isn’t useful. We don’t look for a single muscle ‘tone’ or degree of hardness or softness in the arm. We look for varying muscle recruitment and use – we use what we need for the circumstances and no more.’ But that’s not a helpful response to a student who’s trying really hard to figure out how they and their partners should feel. I can’t remember what I said. I’m fairly sure I said too much, which is my main failing as a teacher. Just. Stop. Talking. It was something I grappled with in tutoring as well.
It amuses me slightly because for myself I think I err on the side of talking too little because I am afraid of going on complete tangents of all the possibilities of what can happen when one tweakes little things with connection or movement. In addition it’s a personal bias that I am largely a visual learner and the instructors I have disliked classes have felt more like a lecture and less of a dance class.
I do like the direction that dogpossum takes in her classes though. I wish I would see it more because I find many instructors on the regional level often settle for absolutes.
Like Obi-Wan, I believe dealing in absolutes is not an optimal choice. Yes as an instructor by giving students absolutes you satisfy their want for hard and fast rules, however this is at a cost. I’ve bet in a swing dance class you have had a fellow classmate raise their hand and say, “Well I learned it X way from Y instructor.” I’ve had it pulled on me as an instructor as well, frequently by individuals who have taken the local ballroom dance courses featured at The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State). This is because when you teach something as an absolute a student is likely to put a mental box around whatever the move/concept you taught and think “This is how it is done” and consider alternatives “wrong”.
What this means for myself as an instructor is I try to encourage students once that they are the level that they have some experience under their belt to understand the importance of context for dancing. Often my favorite classes to teach are taking one movement such as a tuck turn and exploring how it can be altered to match different environments such as different types of songs or if you have a follow who can turn exceptionally well/a lead who pays good attention to their partner.
The difficulty again lies that understanding those different contexts for a move such as a tuck turn or even gaining the level of control over ones personal movement to explore all those possibilities takes practice, time, and patience. I think the following quote sums up a lot of newer dancers including myself when I first started,
“Asked, in the 1980s, about new dancers, he responded: “They’re looking for too much too quick. They want everything like instant coffee. Nothing works like that, not your mind, not your body, nothing.” – Pepsi Bethel, American Jazz Dancer & Lindy Hopper
Typically newer dancers want a lot of moves and to do them “right”. On a slightly related note I was cleaning up my apartment today since I am moving out soon and came across my notes from some of my first Lindy Hop classes in Southern California. I was literally trying to write out every single detail of how to each move and variation on them that was taught to me.
My struggle as an instructor is I think improvisational and experimental nature of Lindy Hop is one of the things I need to teach and emphasize as a swing dance teacher, however I have to balance this out with understanding the mindset of new or even slightly experienced follows and leads. The importance for me is understanding what I am and am not willing to compromise on and teach accordingly.
I originally wrote this article in 2010 for Atomic Ballroom out in Southern California. Recently I have modified it to be appropriate for my blog.
The Privilege of Live Music
Bands provide a great service by playing for dancers. However for dancers who are newer or from a different area where live music is not as prevalent, they may not know the preferred etiquette for a dance with live music. Below is a list of etiquette on a night with a live band for newer dancers, as well a friendly reminder to more experienced dancers.
This guide does not cover the situation of finding a live band and deciding to dance at a venue dancing is not advertised for. A detailed guide could be provided for that situation, but it is hoped that most people could use common sense to access if and how to dance at those venues is appropriate.
1. Applaud After A Song Is Finished
Just like a concert, when a band is finished playing a song it is good etiquette to give the band a round of applause. (Cheering after a particularly good song is also appropriate as well!) Once in awhile dancers get excited about a good dance and while thanking their partner accidentally forget this. So even when you are excited try to keep this tip in mind.
2. Try to Be Quiet When The Bandleader is Speaking
Sometimes before playing songs the bandleader will share a little bit of information about a song. While you may be eager to dance, if you are close to the band/on the dance floor try to keep your voice low to show respect for the person talking. In addition announcements are sometimes made that are relevant to all dancers on the floor such as car lights being left on to registration cutoff times for competitions.
3. Be Cautious if Dancing Near the Band (and Tip Jar)
At venues that the band plays on the dance floor, dancers get a treat by having the ability to dance right up next to the band. However with privilege comes responsibility. Therefore when dancing up close, right next to the band, be extra cautious and maintain a reasonable distance so there is no possibility of accidentally colliding into any of the band members.
If you are in a venue that the band uses a tip jar which is common practice in some areas like New Orleans, be extra cautious around that as well.
4. Thank The Band
If you see band members hanging out during their set breaks or after they are done playing, it is great etiquette to thank them for their performance. What I like to personally do is, if I hear a solo that I find particularly amazing during a dance I try to find that individual band member and thank them for it.
5. At Venues Without Cover Charges Tip The Band/Buy Food or Drink From the Venue
When bands are playing at venues such as bars with no cover charge, often the deciding factor of if they get hired again is how much revenue the place collects by the end of the night. Or in some cases such as busking outdoors, the money the band makes for their performance is mainly based on how much they collect in tips. So when one goes out dance at places that don’t charge cover, it is considered good form to buy food or drinks from a venue and/or tip the band depending upon what type of venue or event you are at.
Like many of the professional dancers in the swing dance community, musicians that play for us often sink countless time and energy in their artistic endeavor. So try to keep this list in mind and everyone can have an amazing night.
If there is any advice that you would give for dancers who are attending a live band please list that in the comments section, thanks!
While I am not a top-tier traveling international instructor, I would say I have done my fair share of competitions in my last few years of dancing. One thing I have noticed is the diversity of the types of competitions in the swing dance community in terms of organization and advertisement.
An example in respect to advertising would be the contrast in these two contest descriptions from ILHC and Lindy 500:
The Second Annual Amateur Champions Invitational Jack & Jill. from Lindy 500 (2012)
The Second Annual Amateur Champions Invitational Jack & Jill. By invitation or request only. If you think you should be in this contest, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. You cannot be a regular instructor or international teacher or any such shit. If you teach some locally, that’s okay. Skye Humphries is specifically barred from entering this contest. $5 entry fee.
Invitational J&J from ILHC (2012)
This will be an Invitational social dance competition open to dancers determined by the organizers. Leaders and followers will be randomly drawn to dance together to several songs of varying styles and tempos and judged as a couple as they compete in spotlight format.
Competitors are not allowed to dance with “regular” partner (one that they dance and/or have competed with in a choreographed routine in the last 4 years, Team routines do not count) Social dance partners are accepted and will be considered “luck of the draw”.
Below is my recommended blueprint or guidelines to setting up a competition:
- Developing an appropriate vision.
- Write appropriate contest rules and descriptions.
- Fill necessary roles.
- Figure out and write down logistics.
- Last minute checkup.
1. Developing an Appropriate Vision
Your have decided to have a competition, great! Now the question is how many swing dance events have you run in the past? If the answer is little to none, having a ULHS or ILHC sized competition is probably a bit too lofty of a goal for your first competition to be organizing. The first part of developing an appropriate vision is:
- Realizing what experience you and potential co-organizers who are putting on the competition have and the resources you have to work with.
Another thing to consider is the context of this competition being organized. Is it part of a workshop weekend with a live band? Is it part of a weekly dance with attendance of less then one-hundred people? Is your scene near a lot of big cities with sizable scenes or are you in the middle of no-where and rarely get out of town visitors? Will other local organizers support your event or openly antagonize you and conflict with your event in spite of advance notice? Some of these things are not pleasant truths to deal with but are the reality of organizing any event, let alone a competition. The second part of developing an appropriate vision is:
- Realizing what kind of attendance your event is likely to get.
- Considering if you have local swing dance scenes that will support you.
- Deciding if your event targets out-of-town dancers and if you have the resources to attract them to support you?
Lastly the intent of the competition is something that is important to think about. Is this a competition that is created for new competitors to get their feet wet and has more of a fun community feeling or is this more of a serious competition where it is going to be on youtube later and the prizes are nothing to scoff at? The context of the contest decides everything from entrance fees, if you use in-house judges or hire professional instructors to judge, if the finals are an all-skate versus phrase-battle, and et cetera. The last part of developing an appropriate vision is:
- Realizing the purpose of why you and your co-organizers are putting on the competition and the context you want it to have.
2. Write Appropriate Contest Rules and Descriptions
You now have a vision or outline for what type of event you and your co-organizers want. This can be anything from a small Amateur Jack & Jill that is part of a weekly dance to a competition with a Jack & Jill, Strictly Lindy, and Solo Charleston contest that is part of a workshop weekend with a live band. The next part is to come up with contest rules and descriptions that are appropriate for your event.
I listed the Lindy 500 contest description for their Jack & Jill above because I wanted to illustrate the point that “appropriate” is relative to the dancers which the contest is trying to appeal to. Baltimore’s scene addresses a different audience for their workshop weekend event in comparison to ILHC which is an international competition weekend. With their description one can infer that having fun and taking oneself not too seriously is something the contest organizers are trying to advocate. My general advice is unless if you know your target audience fairly well, err on the side of being too professional versus potentially confusing or alienating potential competitors. This means assume everyone reading your descriptions are first time competitors and do not know the definitions of phrases such as “Strictly Lindy”, “Jack & Jill”, or “Phrase Battle”. The first part of writing contest rules and descriptions is:
- Write rules that are appropriate for the atmosphere of the contest you are trying to create. When in doubt, err on the side of being too explicit and professional.
Another thing important to note is no matter how relaxed and carefree the competition you are about to host is, addressing safety is a highly recommended idea. The last thing you want is the newer dancer who is entering his first competition trying to throw an aerial he or she learned off of youtube in the middle of an amateur Jack & Jill. If you want to reinforce the seriousness of ignoring the rules, listing the penalty of it such as disqualification from the contest is a good idea as well. The second part of writing contest rules and descriptions is:
- Especially for safety, if you don’t want something happening in a competition explicitly write what is not allowed.
Lastly make sure to address the essential questions about a contest in your description such as,
Who is allowed in each division? Where are the competitions being held? What time are the competitions? What kind of competitions are they? How are the competitions being judged? What tempos are going to be played in the competition? Who is judging the competitions? How is preliminary rounds being held? How are finals being held?
It is the prerogative of an event organizer of some of these details if they are publicly listed, perhaps the final format being secret is part of the atmosphere of the event. It is a nice touch though to let people know where and when they should be. On a positive note if you actually post contest rules and descriptions you are already ahead of the game. I have participated in many contests where I simply knew there was going to be a contest at that event and that was the only information I was provided. The last part of writing contest rules and descriptions is:
- Make sure it is written out what type of competitions you are having, where they are, when they are, and other essential information relevant to potential competitors.
3. Fill Necessary Roles
Now that you have the rules and descriptions for your contest, you now need individuals to run your contest under those guidelines. Depending upon the scope of the competition you are attempting to put on you may need a few people to an entire team of people to help you run a competition. If this is just a casual local competition you can probably use volunteers/compensated individuals from your local scene, whereas if you are trying to make it a serious competition you will probably have to hire people experienced at their respective roles.
Below is a short list of roles that should be filled at a minimum.
- Competition DJ or Live Band: For either a DJ or a live band this should preferably be people who have experience doing this or at very least been educated and briefed on what playing for a competition entails.
- Judges: Depending upon the seriousness of your competition this can be randomly chosen people to professional dancers who are regularly hired to judge at events.
- Master of Ceremonies (MC): The job of this individual is to host the contest and this entails introducing competitors, announcing what is happening, making sure the judges are ready before a contest begins, and other miscellaneous activities.
Here are optional roles that may or may not be necessary depending upon the scope of your competition.
- Wrangler/Phrase Battle Counter: The job of this individual is to count people off when they are supposed to enter in a phrase battle. If you are having finals where couples go out one at a time, it is advised to have someone do this.
- Contest Tabulator: If you are having multiple competitions it is advised to have an experienced individual handle contest tabulation. For a smaller event with only one to two competitions, often the head judge can be responsible for this.
- Contest Coordinators: This is only necessary if you are having a competition with a massive amount of dancers. I’m talking like ILHC, Frankie 95, Camp Hollywood, and et cetera sized. The job of this person is to make sure people do things like rotate during Jack & Jills properly and are lined up while waiting to go on the floor.
- Sound Guy: This is only necessary if you are having a large and professional competition and are renting/using a massive room for your event. The job of this person is to make sure your band/DJ’s music is clearly audible to the competitors and the crowd.
Below is the Invitational Strictly Lindy finals from ILHC 2012, notice Falty doing the job of Wrangler/Phrase Battle Counter.
4. Figure Out and Write Down Logistics
At this point you should now have a mission statement or vision for your contest, contest rules and descriptions decided upon, and know which individuals need to be hired/delegated to fill in the necessary roles for your event. Now that you have all the puzzle pieces, you need to fit them all together.
You can have the coolest event in the world with the best instructors, a beautiful venue, and a killer live band… but if nobody knows that your event exists all your efforts are for naught. Advertising is key to having not just a competition but any successful event and the earlier you start the better. An important thing to note is how you advertise your event can also set the tone for it:
With high production value Lindustrial Revolution 2012′s youtube advertisement sets the tone that the organizers are professional. In addition the youtube clip emphases that their steampunk theme is something to dress up for. The ways you can advertise for your event are limited by you own creativity; word of mouth, fliers, free-shirts for traveling dancers to wear with your event logo & date on it, youtube advertisements, and paid advertisements on yehoodi are some of the few different ways I have seen organizers advertise their events. The first part of figuring out and writing down logistics is:
- Develop an effective advertising strategy that sets the tone for your event.
Now that there is a system in place for people to find out about your contest the next thing that needs to be accomplished is how is it actually being set-up, run, then taken down. In simple terms, “Who does what? and where?”. My advice is to create a detailed schedule of events that what individual, is doing what particular task, and at what time. An example is below:
8:00 PM – Jim Jones – Unlock the doors to the venue and set thermostat to coldest possible temperature.
8:10 PM – Kendra Robbins/Robert Jones/Sarah Smith – Start setting up tables and chairs according to the floor diagram.
The important thing this covers is who is responsible for every task. The reason I put emphasis on writing this all down is when you say things verbally it is not as binding and people have a tendency to forget. When things are on paper (and/or google documents) it makes it easy for people to know what they are responsible for and when they need to do it. The second part of figuring out and writing down logistics is:
- Create a schedule of events that lists of tasks need to be completed, what time they need to be completed by, and the individuals responsible for working on them.
Lastly an important detail to cover is what prizes you are providing for the competition. This can be anything from cash, trophies, passes to other events, passes to vintage shops/shoe shops, and et cetera. A piece of an advice though big events like Lindy Focus/Camp Hollywood and such have a billion organizer barking up those respective trees for free passes for competitions, a better and more realistic idea is to probably offer to other organizers you know to trade passes for events. Also it is your choice as an organizer if you want to advertise the prizes for your event beforehand. I have noticed the larger events tend to, whereas smaller events don’t. The last part of figuring out and writing down logistics is:
- Decide upon what prizes will be provided for your event and if needed network to obtain them.
On an aside I have not noted the process to renting a venue, how to hire instructors, and things in a similar vein because those are basics to organizing an event. In the scope of this article I am focusing on mainly how to organize a competition.
5. Last Minute Checkup
You now have everything to set up to run your own competition and haven’t pulled out your hair or killed someone yet, congratulations! The last thing to do is just to oversee your competition, create contingency plans for any possible problems and handle any situations that come up. The last responsibility can often be prevented by effective planning, but sometimes things come up that no one could foresee.
As an organizer what I mean by oversee the competition is just making sure things are at where they should be and people are doing their jobs. Some examples of this could be checking to make sure safety-pins and numbers are available at the registration table or making sure the judges are present a few minutes before the competition starts. The first part of doing a last minute checkup is:
- Making sure everything in your schedule of events is running smoothly.
If you are planning to have a competition outdoors sometimes rain happens or perhaps a ton of people signed up for your competition, but not as many people showed up as you planned for. Contingency plans should be created for factors that are out of your control, especially if you are dealing with as something as fickle as weather. The second part of doing a last minute checkup is:
- Creating contingency plans for conditions that are out of your control.
Lastly no matter how much you prepare, stuff just happens. One event I know literally had one of their headlining instructors stranded because a volcano grounded his flight. Another event I know had their headliner band literally get snowed in so they couldn’t travel to their event. The important thing for you to do as an organizer is not to freak out and instead explore your option and choose the best possible one to deal with the situation. At times unfortunately this may consist of choosing the lesser of two evils. The last part of doing a last minute checkup is:
- Being prepared to make difficult on the spot decisions if something out of your hands goes awry.
While I tried to cover the full scope of how to run a competition, I did not literally cover everything. To do so would be a document far lengthier then this already long blog post. My advice is if you have any doubts or concerns, seek out an organizer who is experienced in running competitions or even season competitors and consult them for their experience. My personal advice on someone who has been in multiple competitions and have helped to run a few myself is:
- Never underestimate the ability for dancers in a Jack & Jill to mess up rotation. Assume they are sheep that need to be herded.
- Safety wavers, have them. If I run an event this is a non-negotiable because it prevents liability issues from occurring.
- Have a strict time schedule and stick to it. My biggest pet peeve as a dancer at a competition that I am not a participant in is competitions taking forever.
If you have any particular advice for individuals putting on competitions or any questions yourself feel free to post in the comments section!
About a week and a half ago Rebecca Brightly on her weekly newsletter “The Pulse” wrote about musicality. One idea she touched in particular is listening to a song a couple of times (only listening to the song and doing nothing else) and then utilizing what you recognized from the song for dancing.
After reading this newletter I thought, “This is a great idea, I think it would also make a great class.” So a few days before I had to teach my weekly Lindy Hop class I instructed my students to listen several times to the song Black Coffee by The Careless Lovers featured below.
How The Class Worked
I started off by first playing the song to refresh the song in their minds (also to cover anyone who decided to skip the homework). I followed that by asking the class, “What did you recognize from listening to the song multiple times?” To encourage responses I also mentioned there were no really wrong answers to this question. Some answers I received were:
- Contrast between different parts of the song.
- Song had energy to it versus being a relaxed/chill song.
After collecting responses I took a few of those answers and to the song Black Coffee asked them to represent those ideas in their dancing as leads and follows. Once that was done I gave a few answers I had to the same question and showed examples of how as a lead or follow I would touch on elements I recognized within in the music. I repeated the same exercise as before except with them using my suggestions.
At this point in my class is where I added my own personal twist to this class using one of Bobby White’s blog posts titled “The Old Timer (Part 4: “The Only Count I Know is Basie”)“. I asked my students using the ideas they learned from dancing to Black Coffee by the Carless Lovers to the version of Black Coffee by Nat Gonnella and his Georgians. Which while sharing a lot of similarities also had some differences as well. To quote Bobby’s article,
Imagine you’re a dancer in the 1930s. Dancing for you means going out at several nights a week, and every night to a different big band, each one using different arrangements. When the leader announces he’s going to play “Flying Home,” you don’t know anything about how the song is going to sound except that the melody will roughly go “Bad-da-daaa, da-da-dadadum…Bad-da-daaa, da-da-dadadum…etc.
For my class I wanted to bring to the table of the macro-musical concept of knowing a melody of a song and being able to use that to be musical. After a few rotations of the class we brought up similarities of both versions of the songs, then again I had them dance to the second version of the song with those ideas in mind.
After this we wrapped up the class by listing the ideas that we went over during the course of the class and I encouraged my students to keep listening to music and explore other ideas of how to express musicality on their own.
It was a fun and different class for myself that I think my students enjoyed and learned valuable skills from. If you try this class format yourself or have any fun musicality class ideas you use in your classes, please feel free to post them below.
From former Lindy Hop historian Terry Monaghan’s obituary on Leonard Reed,
The dancer, comedian, songwriter and producer Leonard Reed, who has died aged 97, was one of the choreographers of the “Shim Sham” the anthem of jazz dance. When Nat “King” Cole challenged Mel Tormé to a dance contest on his 1950s TV show, inevitably they danced the Shim Sham. As Norma Miller, the Lindy Hopper remarked: “you’re not a jazz dancer if you don’t know the Shim Sham.”
While many of us swing dancers often do a line dance version of this routine, the original version is often attributed to Leonard Reed and Willie Bryant. Wikipedia has this written on the subject,
The Shim Sham routine created by Leonard Reed and Willie Bryant in 1927 uses four popular steps of the period: the Shim Sham, the Pushbeat and Crossover, the Tackie Annie or Tack Annie, and the Half Break. Originally called “Goofus” and done as a comedic farm dance to the song “Turkey in the Straw,” the dance was performed by Leonard Reed and Willie Bryant around the South while they were touring with the Whitman Sisters Troupe. The dance was then taken to the Shim Sham Club in New York, where the farm theme was dropped and chorus girls were added to the dance. The chorus girls further varied the dance by shaking their shoulders while doing the first step, and soon the dance became known as the Shim Sham Shimmy.
One of Reed’s last notable performances was at the Orpheum Theatre (June 2, 1999) with quite the interesting cast of characters; Erik Robison and Sylvia Skylar famed 90′s LA Dancers which Robert White goes into a bit of detail about in this article and that Jerry Almonte touches in Part 2 of his Artistry in Rhythm series as well, Rusty Frank a noteable dance historian and preservationist in swing dance and tap, Maxwell De’Mille a longstanding personality in the L.A. Art Deco Society and swing dance community. Hilary Alexander; a judge at ILHC for several years, vocalist featured in Jonathan Stout and His Campus 5, and most known for organizing Camp Hollywood one of the longest running swing dance events, Chester Witmore a famed; stuntman, choreographer, tap dancer, and the list goes on, Chandler Smith a former old school L.A. swing dancer, and last but not least Leonard Reed himself.
This second clip, a demo reel for the (now defunct) Hollywood Jitterbugs features many dancers from the first clip in the Shim Sham. Also it provides a look back in time to certain dancers in the earlier stages of their dancing, who are now movers and shakers of our scene.
The reason I picked this particular performance of the Shim Sham is it is an interesting snapshot of time in the history of Lindy Hop. Some of the people from that clip who used to be internationally renown in the Lindy Hop Community now only come out to dance once in awhile in their respective local scenes. At the time some of those individuals were newer dancers, now they are respected leaders in our community. Others were established instructors at the time and can still be found at big events such as Herräng.
This clip shows the natural ebb and flow in our community, however something else is presented as well. One of the main things all these individuals had in common was this man, Leonard Reed. Inspiration is never a force to be underestimated.
I think Rebecca Brightly puts it best in a quote from her article “What’s a Frankie Manning? And Other Questions You Don’t Want to Be Caught Dead Asking“,
Herrang Dance Camp (simply called Herrang after the town it’s hosted in), is lindy hop mecca. This month-long, 24/7 party is the mother of all dance events. Thousands of dancers from all over the world converge on this small Swedish town for one or more weeks in July each year.
Going to Herrang is part of earning your stripes as a lindy hopper. Since it’s an all-dance, all the time atmosphere, it can help your dancing mature very quickly. Plus you come home with an incredible shared experience that can never be matched.
I haven’t been to Herrang, but I’ve learned a lot about it over the years. Most people describe it as “indescribable.”
Wikipedia describes it as,
Herräng Dance Camp (commonly abbreviated HDC, officially Herräng Dance Camp Aktiebolag) is the largest annual dance camp that focuses on African American jazz dances such as Lindy Hop, boogie woogie, tap, authentic jazz, and balboa. It is owned and run by Lorenz Ilg and four members of the Harlem Hot Shots: Frida Segerdahl, Fatima Teffahi, Daniel Heedman, and Lennart Westerlund. Each year, the small town of Herräng, Sweden is transformed into a multi-week dance camp attracting world-famous instructors and dancers alike. With the short Swedish nights, the dancing is pretty much 24-hours.
Similar to many dance camps, the format varies slightly each year but is traditionally held for four to five weeks in late June through late July. For numerous years Herräng Dance Camp has been the largest Lindy Hop dance camp in the world, with a reputation for offering both the highest standard of teaching and attracting the best social dancers from around the world. While the camp holds nightly social dances with music by live bands and DJs from around the world, the main focus of the camp is on dance instruction. In 2007, over seventy instructors were featured during the five weeks, including original dancers from the swing era such as Frankie Manning, Norma Miller, and Dawn Hampton.
With over 1,000 people attending the camp each summer (over twice the official population of the city of Herräng), the camp assembles a significant amount of infrastructure each summer to meet the needs of the large number of dancers. Some of the most noticeable additions to Herräng during Herräng Dance Camp includes several cafes; a full cafeteria serving buffet-style meals; a shop for dance supplies, accessories and daily essentials; bicycle rental; housing of various standards; nightly entertainment; airport limo service; and more.
It’s a Little More Then a Definition
For the uninitiated, the typical puzzling response one gets when asking a friend what was Herräng like is “indescribable” or “you just have to experience it yourself”. The reason for that is one’s experience at the camp is defined by the choices one makes. I cannot over emphasize enough, if you make the voyage to Herräng get involved in something and do not hide out in the internet Igloo the entire time.
A perfect example of this was because I was part of the volunteer crew for Week 3, someone I knew invited me to a beach bonfire birthday party complete with home-made sangria by two Spaniards. At this bonfire I met a bunch of Lithuanians, who I later got into shenanigans with. The last week of camp I met some Czech Republic girls in the basement when a bar mysteriously opened up there, who later on I went rowboating and picking blueberries with. A simple meeting or connection can easily snowball into several different adventures in Herräng, it is very easy if you are social to get stuck in the situation that you are choosing between three different things to do a night.
The best way to give you my dear readers a cursory view of the camp is by presenting you a smorgasbord of ways you could potentially get involved. In addition I am going to use a lot of photographs because I believe they do a better job then my words of painting a picture of what the “Herräng experience” is like.
I will not try to cover the obvious stuff listed on the Herräng website or in most first time to Herräng articles, but instead give insight to the atmosphere of this camp. Covering everything would be a futile effort that would bore you to tears. This quote from Herrang for Dummies sums up my opinion on the matter.
I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on absolutely every aspect of this amazing camp, nor I am able to write a guide that covers it all. There is far too much that goes on, that it is practically impossible to know everything about it all. Unless you are somehow able to divide yourself into 2 or 3 people. – A person who has been to Herräng for 3 more years then myself.
Volunteering/Classes/Housing Accommodations/Bike Rental
These are easily the four biggest things that affect your camp experience. If you are in general accommodations, volunteering, and taking classes it is much more likely you will get to meet a lot of people compared to if you got private accommodations that are a biking distance away from all the action and are only doing dancing at night so you are stuck meeting people through just wandering around.
While with private accommodations or in some cases the caravan choices for housing you get some privacy, but often sacrifice accessibility to the camp (especially if you don’t have a rented bicycle) and opportunities to meet people. However, like I said in a previous post it is better to do what makes you comfortable. There is no use putting yourself in general accommodations to meet people if you are miserable the entire time because you can’t sleep due to noise.
The beach, marina, Hallstavik, and other places all become more accessible with a bicycle rental (which was only 500 SEK this past year). As a person who had a bicycle for one week and then without it the next, I can tell you I did more activities and went on more adventures that involved travel when I had the bicycle. Of course the downside is when you get fatigued at the late night dances, when you have a bicycle it is always tempting to leave early since your bed is only a short bike ride away.
I was in one of the Int/Advanced tracks this year and through it I made a lot of friends who I danced with, ate, and spent time hanging out. However we had some rather proactive people in my class. We organized class practice sessions, even had a meet-up in one of the ballrooms for social dancing, and we have a secret facebook group for class notes/recaps or meetups for the more fortunate members who live close-by in Europe. I also who had a friend that complained her class didn’t do anything besides meet up and go on their own merry way. If you take classes I encourage you to get to know your classmates and try to meet up to practice class material or if you see them wondering while you are out and about, take a moment to say hi and chat.
The last category volunteering is probably one of, if not the easiest way to meet people and get a unique perspective on the camp. After the Harry-Potter-Sorting-Hat-Esque like ceremony on Saturday of camp you get sorted into your respective volunteer crew and then proceed to spend several hours a day with them during that week, with the exceptions of certain crews such as Tech Crew  or Limo Service  (for obvious reasons).
In the mornings and afternoons you will get to mingle and eat with your fellow volunteers at the volunteer kitchen a.k.a. the V-Kitchen. In addition, the staff of the camp tends to set up some fun activities specifically for the volunteers. The beauty of being part of the volunteer crew besides the obvious social benefits is you get to see how the camp is run and the infrastructure behind it. While many people including myself find the chaotic structure of Herräng to be maddening at times, it does have the benefit that it allows for unique things to happen that it would be hard to find somewhere else. An example of that being an entire class being moved to the beach including sound system and floor.
Other Ways To Get Involved
One of the lovely or overwhelming (depending upon your perspective) things about Herräng is the variety of ways one can find adventures to embark on or activities to get involved with. Here I will post a small sample of some of the different things that can be found at the camp that one can get involved in.
Slightly up the road from the camp you can follow signs that will bring you to the beach at Herräng. It is beautiful during the day and breath taking at night. Great place to celebrate birthdays with bonfires, go swimming, or just simply lay out and enjoy the scenery.
The Friday night parties at Herräng are big productions that they go all out for converting the main building for the camp, the Folkets Hus into whatever theme chosen for that week. I had the privilege of attending three of the parties which the themes were; the 70′s, Night at The Savoy, and Pirates & Parrots.
However these parties are entirely volunteer ran and while they do have part of the volunteer staff dedicated to producing them, I have always found they need more help decorating or even people to run booths/services during the party. If you want to contribute to the camp, I encourage you to help out for at least one party.
I was an agent for Mission Impossible and the most frequent question I probably received was, “What does Mission Impossible do exactly?”. The official answer is we attempt to fill a gap and help people where the camp has not officially created volunteer resources for. An example of that is during Week 4 there was a bedding crisis and we were attempting to find people places to sleep.
However many unofficial services are provided as well such as creating a Dennys or Hooters restaurant from scratch or helping the Swing Kids program have a lemonade stand for the Frankie Manning Foundation. If you are looking for a unique group to join, just keep an eye out for the Mission Impossible sign.
This year Herräng offered circus classes at most times in the day and as part of the night classes. Ever wanted to learn how to juggle or perhaps pantomime? Sergio and Pao were there to teach you those, among other circus skills.
While most of the dances have DJs that Herräng has hand-chosen previously, there are volunteer spots open for DJing. This past year Mark Khiara from Seattle was the DJ Coordinator. Ever want to find out if an international crowd would enjoy your DJing skills? Go to one of the DJ interest meetings on the weekend to hopefully get put in a DJ slot.
The week before the camp begins is known as setup week and the week after the camp ends is known as take-down week. From what I have heard it is hard work, but a great way to meet people and a wonderful bonding experience. In addition you get to experience Herräng as a town without the horde of dancers running around everywhere.
As I have emphasized before, it is a difficult task to try to put into words what Herräng is actually like. People who have been there for multiple years or have even run the gauntlet of all five weeks of the camp and setup/take-down week struggle with it. I hope to give you a small glimpse of what the camp is like for those of you who are curious, or perhaps bring some nostalgia back to those who have been. I’ll leave you with this small quote from the 2012 Herräng Handbook,
And what else is there to pay attention to besides following the schedule and being attentive in your classes? A lot, but at the same time not much. Herräng has never been known for a lot of rules or regulations. Instead, within the abstract frame of good taste and proper behavior, feel free to add, change or improvise. We don’t necessarily want Herräng to be a copy of our daily life with only dance classes as an addition. Instead our ambition is to provide a rhythmical playground and a melting-pot for ideas, innovations and lost dreams. Please feel who heartedly welcome to add your piece to this kaleidoscopial picture!”
- Ewa Burak, Åsa heedman, Frida Segerdahal, Fatima Teffahi, Daniel Heedman, Lorenz Ilg and Lennart Westerlund
Footnotes & Acknowledgement
. The Tech Crew volunteers are responsible for anything at the camp involving sound equipment or visual presentation. Every sound system used for the classes all around the camp and by them and the camp meetings involve them and the official tech staff members.
. Limo Service volunteers are responsible for the pickup and drop-off of teachers and special guests. They deal with the coordination of the buses that pick-up and drop off people from the Arlanda airport. In addition they also sometimes provide unique services (ask any 2012 attendees about the love-mobile).
ALC Fotografía (Photography)
I’d like to thank Ana Luz Crespi from Argentina for giving me permission to use these beautiful photos for this article. My words pale in comparison to what these photographs can show you about Herräng. I encourage you to visit her personal website or her photography facebook page. Leaving comments in the article about the photographs is also encouraged as well!
Floorcraft, a word that teachers often drop in their intro level lessons and dancers all around the world wish many dancers practiced.
As a teacher you can explain to leads the “look before you leap” analogy, explain to follows how if they see an incoming collision back-lead the lead to stop, and explain to everybody the social ramifications of being the one lead that throws their follow everywhere/the one follow that throws herself everywhere. Once you are past that, you can make slight suggestions but it is usually up to each person to figure out for themselves how to be polite social dancers and not run themselves or their partners into objects/other people.
The interesting thing I have noticed though is in scenes where dance space is a premium such as New Orleans; floorcraft is much higher on average (among dancers, not
muggles non dancing people).
In a post titled “Back in New Orleans” written by Peter Loggins in his blog the Jassdancer he writes about the excitement or peril (depending upon your perspective) of dancing in an average venue on Frenchman St. in NOLA.
“however, the Spotted Cat or DBA , now those are places to learn! Cramped, all tempo’s, mixed rhythms, obnoxious people in the way…yeah! Now we talking!” – Peter Loggins
While I recommend you give the entire post a read, this quote really drills home the point of floorcraft being a necessity this particular scene,
“If you want to learn how to be an exhibition dancer, that’s good for you, but don’t be surprised when a big Jarhead beats the shit out you after you accidentaly kick him. It might be fine to kick each other at dances, studio’s and festivals but in the real world all bets are off….” - Peter Loggins
At an average dance if you have bad floorcraft someone the worst that usually ever happens is someone bad mouths you that night and most people forget it quickly, unless if you make it a habit. On Frenchmen Street the potential costs of bad floorcraft can range from; accidentally kicking a drunk tourist, hitting the trombonist’s slide and likely injuring him, to knocking over the tip jar of a band. These can earn one the penalties of getting the shit beat out of them to being thrown out and/or banned from a venue. A tad more dangerous then the average Lindy Hop event.
What To Do?
At least for myself it seems an obvious conclusion that when there are more costs at hand for making a poor decision, it is something people will be more aware of and spend additional time developing the skills to avoid those penalties. However to cultivate a good swing dance scene, threatening ones’ students with violence for bad floorcraft is probably not the best idea for retention rates.
As an organizer I attempted to deal with the problem of poor floorcraft mainly when it mattered the most; before our dances with live bands and workshop weekends where we would have large attendance. I would do this by in my own lessons choosing moves that required good floorcraft to pull them off or teaching moves that required minimal room and worked great with little room to dance. I’d also put a notice in announcements that good floorcraft was a good way to be polite to our out-of-town guests.
If your local scene has any particular ways they teach or deal with floorcraft, feel free to post it here!
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: email@example.com
As long as I am still dancing I intend to keep writing. Thanks to all you readers out there!
A few weeks ago I read reading Glenn Crytzer’s blog post about being bombarded with music in which one of the things he mentions is a challenge for instructors to hire a pianist to play for their lessons.
Lo and behold two days ago I walked into The Spotted Cat in New Orleans to find Giselle Anguizola teaching a beginner swing dance lesson with Brett Richardson on Piano and Paul Tenderloin on Washtub Bass playing music for her students to practice to.
One thing I found interesting is half-way through the class they took a break to grab a drink from the bar or practice what they learned to live music. For a newbie lesson this is great because it lets them socialize with other students and apply what they learned in a realistic environment.
Anyways below is a short summary of what I perceived as advantages and disadvantages of teaching this way:
- Adds energy to the class and makes students excited.
- Great marketing tool. Intro swing dance class with live music, sounds a bit more enticing then just intro swing dance class.
- Prepares students for dancing to live music. (In New Orleans, if you dance downtown this is the norm 7 days a week. So it is especially relevant for their scene.)
- For instructors it can be difficult to give feedback because you are essentially trying to talk over an instrument/instruments several feet away.
- For most dance instructors hiring musicians consistently for lessons is not an affordable expense.
Contrary to popular belief I do have other hobbies besides swing dancing. At the great peril of forever shattering a potential image of myself as a hip guy, one of those hobbies is the occasional playing of Starcraft II an online Real Time Strategy game.
Now many of you are probably thinking, “Great, its cool you are a dork that plays video games. What the hell does this have to do with swing dancing though?”
Starcraft II and Swing Dancing both…
- Have a competitive aspect in which there are level tiers of competition (Bronze, Silver, Gold, and et cetera for Starcraft/ Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, and et cetera for Swing Dance).
- Has regular events where participants match their skill against each other and top participants are rewarded with prizes.
- Is the catalyst for a large sub-culture that if one is not a participant they can be completely ignorant to the fact that it exists.
Finding the parallels through these at first seemingly unrelated areas brings to mind an article written at Joy In Motion titled, “Social Dance as Game“. They write,
“Every dancer must begin with the basic rules and structure of the dance before they can progress to intermediate and advanced concepts. Even through the advanced level, however, there is a basic structure that must be maintained in order to make communication on the dance floor possible. This structure, instead of stifling the creative flow, actually provides greater opportunity for expression and creativity in the dance.”
Starcraft II holds these same requirements as well. Many inexperienced players will look for quick strategies to ensure victory to ensure a win (6 pool/cannon rush for you gamers out there, non-gamers this is the equivalent of a drape or pretzel), when their macro-management (macro) or as swing dancers call it “technique” is what is holding them back. I’m betting there are a few people out there in the past who have asked a more experienced dancer why is move X or Y not working to find out its because of a technique issue that you learned in your first swing dance lesson. I know that happened to myself when I was learning how to lead an eagle slide socially.
The interesting thing is if you read a well-established guide on how to improve at Starcraft II, like Randy Gaul’s article on Team Liquid “How to Improve at Starcraft II 1v1 Efficiently” a lot of the material can easily be applied on good advice on how to improve at swing dancing.
A great example of this is from the section, “Goals and how to achieve them”. I’m going to first post the part which is directly quoted from the Starcraft II guide.
You’re never going to get anywhere if you don’t know where you’re going. Similarly, you’ll never get to where you’re going if you don’t know how to get there. In order to achieve a goal, you first of all have to have a goal. So now ask yourself what your goals are going to be with StarCraft II. Be both realistic and decisive.
So, once you have your goal in mind you can continue reading the rest of this guide. Until then, you must
stay in this 2.02 section until you can continue. If you are stuck, perhaps the following may help you
- I want to be promoted into league X.
- I want to become a high level professional player, worthy of sponsorships so I can play full-time.
- I want to win a few specific local tournaments so I can enjoy the prize money!
- I want to get into the top 500 players of the ladder on the server I currently play on.
Now, here is a modified version of the quoted part of the article.
You’re never going to get anywhere if you don’t know where you’re going. Similarly, you’ll never get to where you’re going if you don’t know how to get there. In order to achieve a goal, you first of all have to have a goal. So now ask yourself what your goals are going to be with Swing Dance. Be both realistic and decisive.
So, once you have your goal in mind you can continue reading the rest of this guide. Until then, you must
stay in this section until you can continue. If you are stuck, perhaps the following may help you
- I want to pass the level test into level X.
- I want to become a high level competitive dancer, worthy of teaching so I can dance as a full time job.
- I want to win a few specific local competitions so I can enjoy going to events for free!
- I want to get into the be considered part of the “advanced” leads/follows in my regional area.
Goals sound eerily familiar huh?
I remember at Lindy 500, last year, during a competition class one of the instructors said something similar to, “Competition is a game, if you want to win you have to learn how to play it.” It is interesting how when I compare Swing Dancing to Starcraft II how much that statement hits home for myself.
If you have time I encourage you to read some more of the Starcraft II guide, it actually has some phenomenal ideas of the mindset for improvement. Until then though, I leave you with this quote from the guide,
So the moral of the story is: be humble and keep an open mind. If you can’t do this you don’t belong sitting where you are reading this; you belong in your lower leagues and deserve to stay there. – Randy Gaul
A few weeks back at ILHC they had as an alternative to traditional workshop classes featured at most swing dance events. These were LED talks, short lectures that were entertaining and educational about swing dancing. (If you are unfamilar with the background format of the ILHC LED talks, you can find a description at this link.) One talk I want to go into detail about was Dorry Segev’s talk on building a scene and his experiences as one of the main organizers for the Baltimore scene.
Dorry first started by going into how Baltimore was several years back when there were only mainly three serious dancers in the area and they drove to D.C. to dance. Five people, three years prior to when Charm City Swing was founded attempts to start a swing dance scene failed because they tried to start a scene for dancers.
Charm City Swing & Baltimore
He then explained the idea Charm City Swing had when it was founded was to focus on non dancers instead of dancers and to have a framework designed on keeping new dancers happy. One quote in particular that is vital knowledge to anyone who is an organizer for any dance scene or event from this part of the talk was,
“A beginners worst fear is being in an empty room and everyone is watching.” – Dorry Segev
Several things Dorry mentioned that Charm City Swing did to grow their scene were:
- Took full-page ads in the newspaper with such promotional messages as: “Swing dance – Fuck Yeah”, “Hot Girls Swing Dance”, or “Your wife wants you to do it. Charm City Swing”.
- Be approachable as possible and the organizers made a serious effort at some point of the night to dance with beginners.
- Have Lindy Hop demos because they give beginners context of what Lindy Hop is like and where their dancing could go down the row.
- Have jams because they congregate energy, bring people in and make them feel like they are part of the dance culture, exposes the dance to people, and inspires people to dance better/raises the bar of dancing across the scene. Dorry had a phrase for scenes that don’t have jams, “future ex-scenes”.
- Have booze because it attracts newbies, makes people feel less apprehensive about dance, and it creates a social atmosphere.
- Keeping the floor full, its important so newbies do not feel self-conscious.
Creating an inclusive social environment is the main theme I got from Dorry’s talk. The method the Baltimore scene seemed to employ was get people in the door and get them to feel like they are part of the community and part of the swing dance culture as fast as possible. Why I think their strategy works so well it touches on the fact that most people join swing dancing mainly for social reasons and they stick around because they feel like they belong to something.
I am reminded myself every time I take a lesson in a new dance style is that it is intimidating being a new dancer. The more of those barriers of apprehension a scene can remove, the more likely a scene is to gain a dedicated new dancer. Often it is the little details as well that help do this: having a late meal with other dancers after a dance, an instructor going up and asking a newbie to dance or just chatting with them, being put in the middle of a jam for a birthday celebration, and et cetera.
If you have stories about things that helped a scene grow or revitalize itself, please feel free to share in the comment section. I’ve shared Baltimore’s strategies with you today, because it has clearly worked for them: http://swingkicksass.com/
Friendliness of the instructor, its a phrase that comes up constantly when people talk about why they liked a certain instructor or even hired a certain instructor. I am myself am guilty of that. As an organizer for a college club, after the quality of teaching abilities, usually one of the big factor of why I hire instructors is if they are good fit for my demographic a.k.a. college students.
However personally when it comes to instruction for myself, I could care less how friendly an instructor is. Maybe it is because of my grandfather raised me on too many kung fu movies where a good portion of the instructors believed in hard-work, fundamentals and the school of hard knocks.
There is a topic on yehoodi “Meanest things a dance instructor has ever said” that the topic of how mean or nice an instructor should be comes up. Two quotes in this yehoodi topic from Damon Stone really stand out to me, the first one is.
“I’d rather someone be direct and even mean and brutal to drive home the point. I hate being coddled. I’m an adult, if I can’t take your honest opinion I don’t deserve to have you as a teacher and probably shouldn’t be taking lessons.”
I was actually talking to my roommate who teaches violin this past weekend and seeing the overlap in musical and dance instruction. He went into anecdote about when he used to take lessons in his younger years, from an instructor who had him play what he was instructed to practice the previous week at the beginning of each lesson. If he didn’t perform up to his instructor’s standards, his instructor would tell him to get the hell out and stop wasting his time.
I chuckled and responded if I I did that in any of my classes, I would probably get the reputation as the worst swing dance instructor on the East coast. His response to that statement struck a note with me though. He commented that; the weeks he earned his teachers ire, he worked harder then ever to improve.
The second quote by Damon that stuck out to me was,
“I’m not sure I’ll ever quite get why intermediate dancers and above are sensitive about their dancing. I mean beginners are just that they want to learn enough to get out on the floor and have fun. By the time you are intermediate you should know everything you need to do that.
If you are taking lessons after that point I’d assume it is because you really want to improve, you want to be a kick-ass dancer. I can’t imagine going into a jazz or ballet, or contemporary, hell even Hip-Hop class and expect the teacher to be all sunshine and rainbows.”
Now, I think the issue at hand is differing opinions. I have had friends in my international dance performance troupe with backgrounds in ballet, jazz, and et cetera go into horror stories about how strict and demanding their instructors were that would send most people I know reeling.
But those are all instructors who see the material they are teaching as a serious art form and if you use their time, they demand respect for their experience and the material they are teaching. However, I would say for the most part not out of disrespect but being truthful, that the swing dance community as a whole are hobbyists.
In result it is often difficult to offer a class with the same serious framework like ballet or music without potentially touching some nerves or hurting feelings. Even often when I hear people talking about other dancers within the community, its usually a long list of their strengths and they are loathe to point out weaknesses.
Personally, I want someone to tell me my dancing is garbage. I want someone to point out my weaknesses and criticize me harshly about them. For me, its not the words of encouragement but these harsh criticisms that drive me more then anything to work harder on my dancing. I want knowledge, not a self-esteem boost.
Slightly Related Clip (For those of you just using my blog to procrastinate):
At 7:30 is the type of instructor I would want..
One of the biggest problem I had when I taught my first larger classes (like 50ish people) was at times getting all of their attention so they could hear what my partner and myself had to say and demonstrate.
Over the last few years, I have witnessed some instructors creatively deal with this problem in their classes which I will list below.
Teaching Tricks to get Students to Pay Attention
- Shave and a Haircut: Described on the wikipedia page as a “7-note musical couplet popularly used at the end of a musical performance, usually for comic effect.” The way to use it is teach it at the beginning of the class, then you clap out the rhythm whenever you want the students attention and they respond with either a stomp-off or clapping back the “two bits” (Ba-Ba) part. Repeat as necessary.
- One, Two, Three, All Eyes on Me: Many of you may be familiar with this from grade school, where teachers sometimes employ this. It is a simple rhyme that grabs attention. The way to use it is at the beginning of class go over the rhyme, then during class employ it as necessary. I remember my grade-school teacher would just say the part and have us students reply “All Eyes on Me”.
- Side By Side: I actually witnessed this for the first time when taking a class from Erik Robison in California. He explains at the beginning of class when he says the phrase “Side By Side” he wants follows to get to the right of their leads and for everyone to remain quiet and watch whatever he is demonstrating. Its great because the phrase initiates movement, so people who might be zoning out catches on they should pay attention and it gets people in a position to immediately start dancing afterward.
- Observation Goggles: I got this from watching part of one of Mike Faltesek and Casey Schneider’s classes at Jammin’ on the James last year. At the beginning of their classes they explain the importance of paying attention to the body movement (they or other people you are trying to learn from)and translating it to yourself, they refer to it as putting your observation goggles on and demonstrate what they mean. I can only explain what this looks like with this picture:
Its goofy but it works like a charm, especially among a younger crowd.
What I Do Personally
Well I have liked everything, so I combine a little of it all. At the beginning of classes that it is students I am unfamiliar with, I explain I have this thing called “Side By Side”. When I say that phrase to make it easier on both parts for myself teaching and students learning I ask them to:
- Follows stand to the right of the lead.
- Please remain quiet so other students can hear what I am saying.
- Put on your “Observation Goggles” and not just pay attention to what my footwork is doing, but my full body movement.
I’ve found combining both of them works extremely well, at least for myself.
If you have any tricks you use in your classes or noticed other instructors using that works well, please feel free to comment about them.
“Rock-Step, Triple-Step, Triple-Step”
Most people when starting to learn swing dance can remember a certain pattern they were taught in their introductory class, usually the “Rock-Step, Triple-Step, Triple-Step” pattern.Often there is this solid framework because an issue that John White writes about in his blog post Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition.
In the post he comments how many novice level dances will often look for hard and fast rules for swing dancing. However as many people learn quickly (especially follows) if you try to dance within only patterns, you are only getting a small subset of the dance known as the Lindy Hop.
Positives and Pitfalls of Patterns
Don’t get me wrong though, I am not saying that patterns are rubbish and should not be utilized in instruction or on the social dance floor. They are great at providing a simple model of dance where dancers can work on fundamental technique and isolate external variables that they would normally have to deal with and could crowd out their understanding of the issue.
However the important thing to convey is in fact that patterns are simple models that are not completely representative of the actual social dance floor. Groovy Movie actually lampoons the idea that you can completely learn swing dance through step patterns here at 3:00:
As a follow if all you try to do anticipate the patterns in class, if you dance with anyone outside of that class it can easily become a difficult dance as many new follows quickly learn. For leads if you just lead patterns you learned in a class, often one can technically be on time but still be completely ignoring the music.
The difficult thing for me as an instructor in beginner classes is still providing newer dancers patterns that provide them an isolated environment for them to get down steps to at least survive one social dance, yet still attempting to provide them with instruction technique and give them perspective of where to use these steps. It is a difficult compromise that I am always attempting to fine-tune each lesson.
The struggle for an dancer who moves on beyond the novice stage is often breaking free from this framework. I remember out in California one of my biggest struggles the first summer I was out there was not defaulting to the six-count footwork from open. I had to have several nights where I completely forbid it from my repertoire and forced myself to do other things.
I could ramble on about this topic for awhile, but I’m curious to hear the rest of your thoughts. But before that I will leave you with this quote.
“All fixed set patterns are incapable of adaptability or pliability. The truth is outside of all fixed patterns.” – Bruce Lee 
 Mainly known for his prowess in the Martial Arts world, it is actually a not as well known fact that Bruce Lee was an excellent dancer as well and won the Crown Colony Cha-Cha Championship in China at the age of 18.