Thoughts on swing dancing and Lindy Hop, one word at a time…

Lindy Hop

Aut Inveniam Viam Aut Faciam

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

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


Keep it Casual or Bring the Fire? Teaching A Higher Level Class

ILHC describes it as,

You have been dancing long enough with a sufficient level and quality of dancing that you are actually hoping every class will be devoted to taking your swing-out, tearing it apart, and putting it back together again. “Tricks, schmicks, teach me how to dance.”

Jammin’ on the James describes it as,

Dancers taking these workshops should be comfortable picking up new moves and steps fairly quickly, understand how swing music is structured and the concept of creating your dance to the changes in the music. In addition, dancers in the advanced workshop should incorporate good frame and connection in their everyday dancing.

Lindy Focus,

Well to be honest Lindy Focus had so many people acting all uppity about auditions and there is a ton of people at that event. In result they have Levels 3-9 which represent experienced dancers. (Probably the smartest way of handling it to be honest)

It’s the track that everyone tries to get in then complains about anything possible related to it if they don’t make it in, the Higher Level/Advanced class!

We’ve all met and/or have been this guy.

How Fierce Are You To Your Advanced Class?

I was pondering over how in the past I witnessed instructors teach differently or in some cases the same upon changing conditions such as; class size, class level, type of event, and et cetera. One thing that came to mind was the idea of how do instructors change their approach for a class that is advertised to higher level dancers. My search on Yehoodi first rewarded me with this thread from 2004 “How fierce are you to your advanced class?”

The original poster Holiday writes,

I was told by one of my students last week that I’m really scary in my advanced class and she was surprised because I’m so friendly and easy going in my lower level classes. I told her I meant to do that because I really mean business when it comes to who gets into my advanced class. I won’t throw people out, but I won’t make it easy for them to stay either. I don’t teach particularly hard stuff and mostly just mechanics that makes sense. This doesn’t mean that it’s going to be a cake walk or a “just wing it” course either.

Another poster Wexie writes,

I agree with you: Beginner and intermediate classes are supposed to be fun. However, once you get to the advanced level, you can begin to expect more from your students and push them a little bit.

There is a difference between a fun hobby, and a craft. As you begin to get to an advanced level, you are starting to approach what you are doing as a craft. It requires a tad more seriousness, hard work, and discipline to start to take things to the next level. People will never improve unless they are open to criticism. Also, I think it is smart that you are encouraging peer criticism. And there is nothing wrong with saying: When you come to my class, you better bring your game. If you don’t, I’m going to call you out on it.

Lastly Beckto comments,

BUT, having taught dance classes and privates, I have to say there is a difference. Most people who take dance classes (especially beginners) are not pre professional or aspiring professional. They just want to have a little fun and learn something new — a new hobby. I think in that case, it’s good not to take the class or yourself too seriously. Fun is the 1 goal, and dancing is the 2 goal when I teach. As the level of dancer increases, I get more serious. With that said though, I always leave the drive to get better up to the student. So, I don’t demand they practice, for instance (although I will notice if they have and compliment them). With advanced dancers, (I haven’t had the privilege of teaching many truly advanced dancers), I’m very much to the point, and fun is not part of the focus. The fun is more innate.

The common theme I noticed in nearly every post in the thread was the idea of for classes targeted toward newer dancers fun and entertainment should be more of a priority. Whereas in a more advanced class the idea of students should be expected and prepared to be pushed hard in terms of seriousness of the class.

How to have a good Advanced Class …?

Another thread from 2004 titled Spinoff Class Thread: How to have a good Advanced Class…? by a local NYC organizer proposed the question what is an effective way to conduct an advanced class, in which the event the Harlem Jazz Dance Festival advanced class was quoted a few times.

Gardenia writes on the second page,

Basically I reiterate what I’ve said earlier: if you want to improve the advanced dancers in a scene, they have to interact with each other, grow together, and create, invent, and share information in a non-hierarchical way. Information would not be disseminated from one all-knowing source, but shared.

Yehoodi user karaboo writes,

How did the HJDF class go last year? I’ve no idea since I was running around like a maniac the whole time. Is there a way we could make a model like that work for us? With a few pairs of “instructors” guiding the process. They would come in with a few ideas for things to work on and let things evolve from there. It wouldn’t be so much a class about moving fast but about refining and helping one another and asking questions. This might end up being more like a guided practice session and might not require such selectivity as long as it was made clear it was supposed to be for advanced dancers.

Gardenia on the third page writes,

I think it’s way too complicated. Advanced classes should simply be for people who aren’t afraid of getting shredded to pieces. If you’re that serious about the dance, you have to be prepared and accepting of some ego-bruising. I think that may be the mark of a truly advanced dancer. One who can take real criticism and still be standing afterwards.

One of the things that happened in Jenn and Justin’s Master class in Ithaca (which happened almost 2 years ago) was they had people dance, one couple at a time, in front of everyone, and then they criticized what they were doing. There was no sugar-coating. It was brutal at times, but the students took it in stride. And I think, at some point, instructors should be able to be free to take the kid gloves off and say what they really think without getting into trouble. I think at some point, a dancer needs this kind of honesty in order to grow. But we have to give them permission to be so honest, and not punish them when we don’t like what they say.

Lastly Marcelo with some noteworthy insights on the fourth page,

What you need to ensure this is a decent selection process. I like having a preliminary “sorting round” to determine placement. Run the class for a few minutes with everyone, and pay attention to see who’s cutting it and who isn’t. Then just make a cut. The people who don’t get cut are free to sit around and keep watching if they really want to, but you’re going to have to ask them not to rotate. And you’re going to have to deal with the consequences of that decision.

This, I think, may be the crux of your dilemma. You want to have a rigorous selection process, but you don’t want people to hate you or call you an elitist because you didn’t pick them. Unfortunately, you can’t control whether people will hate you. If they do, that’s their problem.

People are ultimately responsible for their own feelings and actions, and if they’re going to get in a tizzy because Nicole didn’t validate their dancing skill and put them in the top class, that’s their damn fault. You didn’t do anything to them – you’re just trying to construct an advanced class – hell, if you let them watch but not rotate you’re not denying them ANYTHING – they still have access, but now the responsibility is on THEM to grok it and keep up, not on YOU to make sure that they’re keeping up.

The two things argued in this thread were if the class should be more of a guided practice session versus a traditional teacher/teachers and students setting and if the class should be auditioned/people should be cut. I noticed a trend however of individuals noting that being able to take harsh criticism was a skill people should have if they want to start taking lessons at an advanced level. Contrasting that were posters who were concerned about not coming off as elitist and bruising egos.

Perspective from Teachers

I had the opportunity to ask some individuals who regularly teach in the swing dance community about this topic and posed this exact question to them,

When teaching advanced classes or classes targeted toward higher level dancers do you change your attitude/methods compared to a beginner level class and if so, how?

Daniel Repsch Lindy/Blues Instructor & DJ,

It’s hard to say exactly because each group is different and so teaching changes from class to class. But I think there is a general difference between the levels.

With beginners most of them aren’t addicted to the dance yet and so I emphasize the fun in the dance and not taking things seriously. With advanced dancers I feel free to push them a little harder and give them things that they’ll struggle more with. This is because I expect them to practice it on the dance floor and eventually be rewarded for the effort.

In terms of methods, I like to make all levels try whatever we’re teaching before I talk about it. I like exercising students’ visual learning and a lot of times they figure out more stuff on their own than I thought they would. In result that cuts down on unnecessary explanation

But for advanced dancers I have a hope that they’ll have a grasp on important modular pieces of the dance. For example; a good tuck, or how to kick step through a turn, or a forward rock, or even different kinds of stretching. I think at the beginner level the goal is more about teaching things that mostly exemplify those modular pieces (and are fun to do besides), rather than the advanced level of applying them in unexpected ways. Otherwise methods of explaining in as few words as possible while hitting visual, audio, and kinesthetic learners is the same.

James Bianco Lindy Hop instructor,

My approach, overall, I try to keep it fun, yet focused. I leave room for rabbit trails, but won’t go down them too far, unless the path is a really good one. That allows for a lively and interactive class. But as far as what I actually teach it’s more like this:

  • Beginner – Here is a cake, and this is how might consider eating it.
  • Intermediate – This is chocolate cake, and there is a cherry on top,  So it might be rich.
  • Advanced – This is, in fact, a chocolate cheesecake, with a toffee – chocolate wafer crust. On top is a light mousse, shavings of dark chocolate, and indeed, a cherry. It will be rich, so you’ll definitely want to consider how you will be eating it and the company you choose to eat it with.

My Two Cents

I’ve mentioned before one of the things I like about the Lindy Hop community is for the most part accepting and welcoming to people. I would argue that it is a major strength of our community. However I would argue one of the problems our community has is we fall into the fallacy this article lists as number one, ostracisers are evil.

Many tests I have been involved with as a participant or even one time as one of the teachers/organizers in charge I have run into comments like this:

  • Those people got in because they were friends with X.
  • I didn’t get in because I danced with X and Y, they made me look bad.

There are countless weekly classes and workshops that cater to beginner and intermediate level dancers. In result I think advanced classes should be for individuals who meet criteria determined by the organizer of the class and it should be a far more serious environment when compared to lower level classes. I actually agree with the sentiment Marcelo posted on the second Yehoodi thread listed above,

Your goal is to teach a -real- advanced class where you have some sort of control over who participates. Your goal is not to make everyone happy and comfortable with themselves. While that’s certainly a good thing to want to do, it is literally a tradeoff. You can’t preserve the integrity of an “advanced” class unless you break some hearts.

There is no real “right” answer to this question over all, each choice will definitely have some ramifications good and bad. While the way I suggest might be great for a bigger scene with a decent portion of solid dancers… for a small scene just starting out this could cause some serious problems.

What are your experiences with good or bad advanced level classes? If you could make an ideal advanced level class how would you have it run? What are some apprehensions of the social ramifications of having an auditioned or invitational only advanced level class? Feel free to leave anything related to this in the comment sections below.


Necessity as a Teacher

Floorcraft, a word that teachers often drop in their intro level lessons and dancers all around the world wish many dancers practiced.

“World of Floorcraft, a mandatory remedial course for those who run into other dancers more then twice in one night due to their own carelessness.”

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!


Dance Education Through Social Feedback Experiment

This past Feburary I had a crazy idea.

Many swing dancers go through this period of desperately wanting to improve, in result many suggestions get thrown their way. One of the more painful suggestions is to videotape and review ones own dancing. At least for myself, even in competitions I have won, watching video of myself is one of the most grating things to do because I am the ultimate “negative nancy” and only see my flaws.

Regardless of the mental anguish watching my own dancing on film caused, I considered it a necessary evil to improving my own dancing abilities. In result, I started filming myself dancing;  afterwards I would review those notes and use it as a tool to decide what in my dancing I needed to practice my focus time on. However I realized some serious drawbacks; I was limited to my own experience of judging visually the quality of a dance and I was limited in my ability to provide suggestions to correct/improve upon problems discovered.

Based on those perceived problems my next idea was to add more people to the process. What resulted was using crowdsourcing to obtain constructive feedback for my dancing. An assortment of opinions from varied members of the swing dance community was more likely to yield effective material to work on then just myself. Just like many other questions I have had related for the swing dance community, I took it to the swing dance messageboard/website Yehoodi in a topic labeled, “Dance Education Through Social Feedback Experiment

Yehoodi is a community of folks from around the world that are passionate about lindy hop, swing dancing and swing jazz.

The Experiment

Framework for the experiment was simple. I would post a video of myself social dancing with a partner; after the video was posted I would open the floor for commentary/suggestions to be posted about that week’s dancing. After the allotted time had passed, I would post goals based on what people had posted and then after a period of time post another video of myself social dancing to show the progress I had made. After that the cycle would begin anew.

Unfortunately due to some circumstances I only got to run the experiment for four weeks. However, I think I had amazing results in the small amount of time it ran for. After the experiment I felt much more confident in my dancing and managed to make finals and be in the top five of the intermediate J&J at Boston Tea Party.

While I did gain a lot from this experiment, there were some difficulties.

  • The first was being able to determine which suggestions/constructive criticism had a solid basis. The beauty and difficulty of dealing with Yehoodi is anyone can post on there. This means the individuals offering me this advice could be anyone from an international instructor to joe-schmo who only dances East Coast Swing to rockabilly music. My method of dealing with was keeping an open mind and using what I knew about each poster to determine how trustworthy of a source they were.
  • Second was simply recording myself at a social dance on a near weekly basis. Having another person available to dance with at a certain day every week, remembering the camera, getting someone to give up social dance time to film, and said camera having batteries that were not dead. Having that all add up perfectly was surprisingly difficult at times.
  • Lastly was getting comfortable with the idea of posting my dancing on an internet forum for people to judge. I consider myself to be quite like a honey badger and I have had videos of myself in competitions posted on youtube in the past. However, the idea of only myself on video that people I knew and strangers were going to pick apart still took a bit to warm up to.

Observations

If a reader of this article was wondering if an experiment like this would be beneficial to them, I think it would produce great returns given that they have a thick skin and they have been dancing a decent amount of time.  If a person doesn’t take criticism well or is very sensitive about their dancing a private lesson or feedback from trusted friends would probably be a more appropriate avenue to take. Newer dancers are likely to lack the context to determine if advice is well founded or completely off the wall.

The one way this experiment could be  improved is by limiting the individuals who give feedback to dancers who are respected “experts” in the field. Which in my opinion is currently being done by Dax & Sarah’s Swing 90x program. From what I have read on the blog posts required for the program and from talking to someone who is in it, they are getting at minimum quadruple results of my little experiment.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank:

  • Yehoodi posters; Capt Morgan, Glen, NoNameJive, Toon Town Dave, Brooksie, Hounddog, Zenin, alexcloutier, Random, bryn for providing feedback on the Yehoodi thread.
  • The Yehoodi Talk Show for mentioning the topic and giving some great advice.
  • The follow who wishes to be unnamed that let me dance with her on film.

Building The Local Community in Spite of Travel

I have a bit of a confession to make. The last six months I have barely danced in what is considered my “local” scene compared to my dancing weekends on the road. I may pop in and teach a lesson, but most of the social dance portion I end up practicing things in front of a mirror or chatting with friends.

Part of it is I fall into the trap of comparing my scene to other scenes, I can even provide a small list of thoughts that sometimes go through my head:

 I wish (my local scene)…

  • is competitive like Southern California.
  • is crazy and fun-loving like Baltimore.
  • encouraged solo dancing (and is conveniently located next to an amazing BBQ restaurant) like Rochester, New York.

What Changed?

Three things I came across online challenged my dance lifestyle and way I viewed things:

1. Michael Seguin’s post on the Mobtown Blog titled, “Competitions, Events, The Cult of the Amateur, and a Coda on the Slow Dance Smackdown“.

The quote that relates the most of the topic at hand is,

The best and most committed dancers in a particular scene sometimes aspire to national rather than local glory. Instead of building their own community, recruiting students, and making the sexiest dance scene possible, they join the ranks of the regular event-hoppers. There is nothing wrong with this in principle, but the trend isn’t sustainable. Events feed off of the legions of dancers who cut their teeth in small scenes and are looking for a special experience. If no one is developing and maintaining local and regional dancing, events have no pool of dancers from which to draw. – Michael Seguin

2. Hamfats.ca video interview titled “Words for Lindy Hoppers” featuring Kelly Porter

3. Jamin Jackson’s blog post titled “Scene Drama: “Un”Divide and Conquer” which goes over improving the relationships between local scene leadership and traveling dancers.

Common Theme

While there were small similarities in each of the three things brought up, the one unifying theme is while traveling is important it is also equally if not more important to foster growth in ones’ local scene.

Personally I have resolved to try to help out my local scene/area and foster growth. However it isn’t as easy as pie, there are definitely days where I get bogged down by what Jamin refers to as “event blues”. But have gotten better at handling it by having the rationalization that carrying the attitude of comparing my weekly dances to what happened the previous weekend is a determent to my local scene and myself because it creates a negative atmosphere for individuals who interact with me and for myself.

One thing that has helped carry out this “fostering local community growth” attitude is like with my personal development with dancing I set concrete goals for myself. It can be a little thing such as having a goal of giving one sincere compliment to someone I have not danced with before to as big as agreeing to help judge a local competition or set up for a dance.

I invite you to share any thoughts or comments you have about this topic. I have had friends from all over the United States talk about it, but it is always in online or private conversations that are out of the eyes of their respective local organizers.

Otherwise I leave you with this insightful quote from Jamin,

Recognize that many people you do not know played a critical part in leading you throughout all the various scenarios and odds into the swing dance community.  If there is ever a point where you are angry at someone in your scene, know that the feeling of anger is not necessarily bad.  In fact it is an opportunity if mixed with love to create powerful solutions that can benefit your scene.  However, when you do something bad with that feeling, it hurts everyone.  Instead of taking a brick and throwing it through a window, use it to build something that will last. – Jamin Jackson


Motivations to Lindy Hop

Recently there have been some notable posts that cover the main motivations why people swing dance.

Reasons For Moi: The Spark and Challenge

For myself I have a primary reason why I dance and a secondary reason that helps to allow the primary to happen.  I think a lot of individuals are in the same boat of myself that while there may be a primary reason, there are a variety of secondary reasons as well. An example of this is why I like dancing in Montreal. My primary reason is because they have a great dance scene that is fun to visit. However my secondary reasons are because I like the opportunity to practice my French and they have delicious food.

“The Spark” is my nickname for those moments in dance that just blow your mind and are indescribable. At the risk of coming off completely insane, it is this feeling that you can’t tell who or what is in control but one is almost possessed and have this feeling of invulnerability that causes you to just own whatever you are doing or click with another person on this almost ethereal level. When Greek mythology spoke of the concept of a genius, this is the closest I can think of what they were talking about.  “Owning it”, “Killin it”, “Being on Fire”, and the other names for what people refer to this as… this is the primary reason why I dance. Those moments are rare, but I am constantly seeking them out.

Blatantly stolen from wikipedia: "Winged genius facing a woman with a tambourine and mirror, from southern Italy, about 320 BC."

Challenge is my secondary reason because they make the possibility of “The Spark” happening. Having clean basics allows me have a clear line of communication with the lead or follow I am dancing with. Constantly tackling new material or refining what I have allows me to have more tools in my toolbox to match whatever the music and my partner is giving me in a dance. I have days when I don’t feel like practicing my triple steps and would rather instead watch television or eat ice cream, but my primary motivation to dance works to feed my secondary one.

Tapestry

I’m glad that discussion is arising from these blog posts about the motivations behind why people Lindy Hop. The comment sections of these posts are also filled with opinions that provide insight behind reasons why people travel miles to dance with strangers or even just go out to their local venue every week. The most relevant comment to myself was one Cari posted herself in her move(me)nt post,

Actually, if you’re going to say that Community is not very hidden, I don’t think you can say that the Challenge is very hidden either: while I was writing this post, I was discussing it with a friend; she disagreed with me in that she started dancing because of the challenge it posed, and only found the Community later. Now, I would say she probably loves both aspects of the dance – but the Challenge was still one of her first motivating factors. – Cari from move(me)ent

I first joined Lindy Hop because at a house party I saw people swinging out and I wanted to learn that. As a natural extrovert,  meeting people and making new friends has never been that difficult of a thing for me. I started traveling because I realized to get better I had to visit areas with opportunity to learn from experts. Only after awhile in the travel circuit did I make bonds with some folks and community became an influence in why I danced. I have always felt odd that I didn’t start because of a friendly gesture or a pretty girl like many other leads.

If I have learned anything from all these posts it is two things.

  1. Why individuals dance Lindy Hop is not a simple thing that can be defined by one reason, it is a tapestry that encompasses multiple motivations which vary from person to person.
  2. No person is an island. While many of us have different motivations, you can almost certainly find someone with similar ones to your own.

 


Keeping in Contract

Expectations
Contracts, an essential article that organizers and instructors have to deal with alike before a swing dance event. In the ideal world all expectations are explicitly stated and agreed to in these documents before an event. However as shown in Bobby White’s article Implied in the Contract over at Swungover this is proven to frequently not be the case. Usually though this only results in possible annoyance of the instructors and/or organizers.

However in the worst case scenarios this can end up being disastrous and costing individuals thousands of dollars.  This doesn’t even go into the opportunity costs for instructors or organizers. Instructors who lose money on an event could have been at another event which would have paid them or perhaps at a competition that they could have placed and received prizes and possible credibility to earn future teaching jobs.

Below are two links for situations that are arguably worst case scenarios, I won’t go into detail about them here but let you make your own judgments.

Advice for Organizers

  1. My first piece of advice is if you haven’t read Bobby’s article on Swungover, do so.
  2. Second piece of advice is from a video titled, “F$#% you Pay Me”.

At the 8:45 minute mark is great advice is given for anyone dealing with any type of contract.

Clear definitions.
Clear expectations.

… all explicitly stated and agreed to by both parties in A CONTRACT.

Summary: Only expect instructors to do what is stated in the contracts. Showing up for dances, doing demos at the Friday night dance, judging contests, et cetera should all be agreed upon in that beforehand. Otherwise, don’t expect it.

Advice for Instructors/Performers

If you want something, put it in your conditions to work in the contract. Even if it is small details such as being provided water during classes or having the option of getting transportation to leave a dance early. As an organizer myself I want the instructors I hire to be as comfortable and happy as possible, because often they carry that attitude to the classes they teach. I know most good organizers hold this same view as well. If what to do to make that happen is conveniently provided in a list form it makes life easier on myself and the volunteers for my event. In addition it makes life for the instructors easier during that event.

For those of you who teach outside of your local area Richard Halpern’s advice in the comment section of one of the ifsgscrewedus.com posts is spot on,

Yes indeed, folks! You all should have been wise enough to get ALL your travel arrangements either made and paid for by the client, OR to have been completely reimbursed BEFORE you left, as well as receiving your TOTAL PAYMENT IN-FULL, at least 30 days PRIOR to the date of the engagement, if being paid by check, or 7 days prior, if being paid by wire-transfer (as is customary when dealing with gigs that are out of the USA.

[…] I do these kinds of gigs all the time, all year long, and because of my requirements, I don’t have these problems anymore. Some of the bottom-feeding “agents” in the lookalike and event planning industry have complained that I am being a “Diva” or am “Ego-maniacal” because I ask for these things, and they are the ones who always leave themselves open for this type of abuse from disreputable clients, and then expect the talent that they themselves contracted with, stand by them when they don’t get paid. What a crock. Good luck to all of you on this one.

Unnecessary Risks… Don’t Take Them

Contracts exist to protect both parties and remove any ambiguity from a business relationship.  In addition they ideally provide a plan of action if things go awry (instructor’s flight gets delayed/organizer has to cancel event after contracts are signed/et cetera).  In respect to contracts I want to to leave everybody with these finishing remarks:

  1. Know what is necessary criteria for yourself as an organizer and/or instructor for contracts and do not back down on them.
  2. If someone tries to get you to avoid contracts with promises of trust or great rewards, walk the hell away.
  3. If possible/reasonable get a lawyer to draft an initial contract, they are professionals and anticipate things one would not even fathom.

Addendum

In the comment section below there have been some responses posted in relation to the situation in which the organizers are more then willing to pay/hire instructors, but getting contracting to happen is difficult due to the behalf of the instructors. A quote from Michael Gamble from Bobby’s Swungover post I think addresses these situations best,

“On another side (not necessarily “the” other side), I’d like to point out that not all instructors are comfortable, eager, or even ABLE to interact on this professional of a level. There are definitely some who prefer a less formal agreement, who chafe at spelling out their needs, and who, let’s face it, do not like to write emails. (That was not a euphemism for “they aren’t very timely in their responses” — some actually don’t like it and can get surly and/or increase their demands if pressured to respond to a request) This is perhaps doubly true of many musicians.
So with those things in mind, I often find myself trying to figure out “at what level” each staff member operates, and try to meet them there, for practical reasons.”

My advice for future organizers, especially college students is unless if you are dead set on a certain instructor/pair of instructors talk to experienced organizers before you attempt to hire anybody. Ask them in their experience which ones have been professional and easy to work with. Organizing a workshop is hard enough, the larger number of things you can limit as stress factors, the better.