1. Having the ability in dancing to perform both roles of lead and follow competently.
Earlier this week I made a post in my new tumblr account about my experiences as competing in both roles as a lead and follow at the Boston Tea Party this past weekend. It got a decent amount of feedback so I figured I would expand a bit on the topic.
So You Are a Lead, Why Follow?
About a year after I started dancing I was told that they wanted me to teach at my college scene after the summer. To prepare for it back home in California I took introduction to Lindy Hop classes as a follow for twofold reasons; first to learn how to teach swing dance lessons and second to understand the role of a follow. The second reason mainly came from annoyance of having lead instructors responding with “I don’t know, you just follow” to class questions from follows.
I have a few reasons these days why I follow. One of them is because it is a different experience, that presents a unique set of challenges that I don’t find in leading. As a follow how do I insert my own styling and personality within the framework that my lead provides for myself? My lead gives me some free time to improvise, what do I do with this time? The questions could go on. Another big reason is it helps me immensely in learning how to be a considerate lead. When you follow a decent amount you learn what pisses follows off. Ideally what follows is not fricken doing those things. This translates to my teaching because I can break down to newbie dancers from personal experience how not to piss off people on the social dance floor.
Isn’t It Awkward?
Last but not Least
Recently Southern California lost a dance legend, Hal Takier. Words cannot even begin to describe the debt that the swing dance community owes this man, or how much he was cherished by his community, especially by those in Southern California.
Marcelo from yehoodi gave me permission to edit and re-post something he originally wrote on Yehoodi for Hal 90th birthday, that I think is a well-put tribute.
Hal Takier, is a man whom many (including myself) call the greatest swing dancer who ever lived.
Hal is an incredible man, full of life, insight, and wit. With his wife Marge at his side, Hal has helped those of us who have sought to learn about Los Angeles’s local history and the invention of Balboa come to discover and appreciate this amazing dance and its unique contribution to American history.
Hal’s dancing is now the foundation for hundreds upon hundreds of young dancers (including myself). We are all shameless imitators of Hal’s innovative dancing style, which combined pure Balboa with the rollicking moves of Swing:
Along with the drop seen here, Hal also invented the infamous “Merry-go-round,” several drops, and his singular three-wall flying lindy basic is now known as a “flying Hal.” Hal was one of the dancers in the famous “beach clip,” showing off his insanely fast Balboa style.
Hal was never a professional dancer like Dean Collins. He worked all his life in a rubber factory down in the southern part of LA, driving up to Hollywood to compete in the weekly cutting contests, which he won regularly (much to Dean Collins’s dismay). He belonged for a time to the group the “Ray Rand Dancers,” known for their Balboa and swing combinations. At one point he was considered so good that contests tried to keep him off the floor! That inspired him and his friends to protest the contests that would try to keep them out:
In addition to tons of feature film appearances, Hal’s most famous appearance in movies was in The Maharaja Soundie short from 1943. It’s available on YouTube here:
Hal is also credited with inventing this classic swing pose, in this legendary photo which has appeared in magazines, album covers, and posters:
I had the absolute pleasure to interview Hal and Marge for a documentary I made in film school about his contribution to swing dancing.
I will never forget the one thing he said that is to this day the single most important piece of advice I’ve ever heard from anyone about dancing:
“Enjoy the music. It’s all about the music. When that music gets going….boom. I’m gone.” -Hal Takier
Clips of Hal:
On the same thread Marcelo talks about a few clips of Hal.
Hal dancing with his partner at the time, Betty in the famous “beach clip.” Hal’s the one in the black pants. Randomly: The girl in white who dances with the guy in white before Hal and Betty appear, she’s Vanna White’s mom
Scroll to the two minute mark and you’ll see Hal dancing with Alice “Scotty” Scott, doing among other things an absolutely dynamite Merry-go-round. Scottie’s drop dancing thing is still super popular. Hal’s in the horizontal striped shirt:
Hal and Betty Takier dancing at Bobby Mc’Gees, an old school venue in Southern California.
Hal and Marge dancing to the song ‘Avalon’ at the Disneyland Carnation Plaza in 1987. Check out those quick successive spins at 1:23.
Through the generosity of the scholarship program Balboa Rendezvous had at the time, I had the privilege of meeting Hal and his wife Marge at the Balboa Pavilion two years ago. A role model and a master of his craft, I always saw Hal as the quintessence of what it meant to be a Southern California dancer, a jitterbug. A quote from Marcelo’s documentary gives one of the many reasons I sincerely believe that,
“He’s the best swing dancer of all time ever. 84 okay, and up to last year he was whopping all of us. Everytime he went out, he would dance longer and harder then all of us.”
– 2001 L.A. dancer named Christian on Hal Takier
At the end of August at ILHC Lennart Westerlund gave a LED Talk about the involvement of Sweden (in turn himself) of the swing dance revival back in the 80s and 90s. During the talk Lennart showed a clip of one of the first instructors they invited to Herrang, John Clancy.
The detail that caught my eye during the clip was during this video clip of him dancing he did the same Lindy Circle that I learned from Mike Faltesek awhile back, that in my eyes is rarely lead on the social floor these days. Due to time limitations Lennart only got to briefly mention John and didn’t get into much detail. My curiosity got the best of me and I shot him an email asking about John Clancy, this is the response I received.
Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of information concerning John Clancy but please find the below small infos:
At the time when we got in touch with him he lived in Hell’s Kitchen on Manhattan in New York. He was around 70-75 at the time (1982) and was married to Kicki (she also visited Herräng in 1982). He had been a dance teacher somewhere in New York in the 40s, 50s and 60s. During the World War II he spent time with the U.S. Military Air Force (did he say that he was a pilot?) and in the 60s and 70s he was a salesman of light bulbs. I guess that he had retired at the time when he was invited to Sweden. His dance style had a white and kind of ballroomish flavour. Everything he tought us was in strict patterns (short choreographys) – it wasn’t much about lead/follow. I can’t remember what kind of music he used – I even believe that most of the classes were more or less without music. Many of the things he showed had defined names. I don’t think that anything that we spent time with had a connection to how to improvise – it was very strict structures all the time. I remember that someone asked him something about the Savoy and he told that he had never been there. He also pronounced it strange – SA-VOY instead of SA-VOY. He is the only one I’ve heard pronounce it that way. Later on, when we read Jazzdance by Marshall Stearns, Stearns indicated that such pronunciation of Savoy was typical for white downtown people with not too much of an experience of the lindy hop …
Well, what do I know. However, John (and Kicki) became very appreciated during their visit to Herräng but unfortunately (I don’t remember the exact reason) we never had the opportunity to invite them to come back. I did call John a couple of times when I was visiting New York in the 80s and we met and had lunch together. Gradually we lost contact and I assume that they both have passed away by now.
Unfortunately my attempts to find more information about John and his wife Kicki online were met with no results found. However I hope you all enjoy the information Lennart was kind enough to provide.
To quote wikipedia,
Tumblr is a blogging platform that allows users to post text, images, videos, links, quotes and audio to their tumblelog, a short-form blog. Users can follow other users, or choose to make their tumblelog private. The service emphasizes ease of use.
My first impression was it existed as a place to make “livejournalesque” types of posts with pictures, collect tons of pictures one likes in a single place, or like many people on facebook just spend all day
liking reposting things. However the last few months I have been following the #lindyhop and #swingdance tags on Tumblr to see its relevance to the swing dancing community.
I will say after months of sorting through posts I can tell you that most Tumblr posts are just:
- Their views on what they liked or didn’t like about a particular event/dance.
- Re-posting of a popular youtube video of swing dance.
- Thoughts on the journey to improving their dancing.
- Comments on advanced dancers/dancers that inspire them.
- Links to online swing dance media they enjoyed.
I’ve found that very few people are interested or willing to write about larger issues in our scene with any kind of depth. It all seems geared towards newer dancers, even blogs written by the more experienced dancers. There’s a lot of: “here’s a video I like” or “this is an event I went to.” There isn’t that much writing about the dynamics of the scene outside of why the good dancers seem like snobs or the occasional technical dance geekery.
In spite of this, one can stumble across the occasional insightful pieces of writing like this post. In the Tumblr post, the author is critical of a competition description due to implications of a leader being described as masculine and a follower described as feminine.
The advantage a Tumblr account has over a typical blog or facebook is through the hashtags someone on day one can write something relevant to the Lindy Hop community and it can be noticed and re-posted, and eventually through word of mouth/facebook make it to the community as a whole. A post like this, which could be lost and unnoticed on a wordpress blog or a facebook note has more of a chance of hitting a wider audience. To get to the point where it wouldn’t be unnoticed on a blog one would have to build up a decent readership with influential members of the community as part of it or have an article of high caliber(or drama inciting).
However this can also backfire as well, a personal post that has descriptions of (or in some cases names) certain dancers can get spread around quickly. I’ve stumbled across posts about my friends (in multiple states) or myself that were probably unintended for our eyes. As a warning to Tumblr users if your account isn’t private, it is a good fact to remember that the swing dance community is tight knit and word travels fast.
Tumblr to those who are trying to see what is going on in the swing dance community as a whole though has some advantages. One of big reason is it allows one to clearly notice which showcases and dancers are popular. After Camp Hollywood the #swingdance hashtag was getting flooded with re-postings of Emily Wigger and Morgan Day’s Camp Hollywood 2011 Mario Showcase routine. Likewise, after ILHC many Tumblr users were quick to re-post performances of the dancers they admired in the Pro-Lindy and Showcase divisions.
Another advantage is honest feedback for events/performances. When people are behind the veil of anonymity, they feel not so shy about saying if your event was not worth their money or if they thought a performance didn’t take any risks or was the same old vanilla material. If someone thinks your scene is full of Lindy snobs or that the DJ you had for the exchange last weekend was garbage, where is the first place you find out? Tumblr.
While it would be nice if there was more quality material on Tumblr, I understand that many of the accounts are oriented mainly for the Tumblr users themselves and their Tumblr followers. This contrasts many traditional blogs/websites which the focus is the visitors to the site. Regardless of some of the superficial material I have to wade through, it is a good way to pass the spare time and get occasional insights about the swing dance community. If you have time to kill, i’d recommend the same.
A few weeks back I said i would write my own story of how I joined the swing dance community. I got some fun responses, it is only fair I pay back the favor.
Back in high school I was curious about learning how to dance some form of partnered dancing. A girl from my French class at the time named Katherine shared my same curiosity, unfortunately the one dance studio I contacted for us to take lessons from never returned my call. After that experience I thought my future of knowing how to dance was over and I went onto other things until a few years later when one fateful coincidence happened.
Discoveries During Debauchery
A few years later at Janurary 2008, I had just transferred to the main campus at The Pennsylvania State University, or more commonly known as Penn State. Joining in during the Spring semester, it felt a bit odd because everyone had their set schedules and activities/clubs to be involved with. So for the first week or two I just hung out with my roommates who were coincidentally from the same branch campus that I was from and focused on my school work. One day I was invited by a mutual friend of my roommates and I to an “International Beer Pong Tournament” on the night January 26th at a renown party apartment complex at Penn State called “The Graduate”.
Most guys stories of how they got into swing dancing usually begin with, “Well there was this cute girl..”. Mine begins with, “Well there was this keg and a beer pong tournament”. Anyways I show up this party with a friend ready to represent team Japan in this tournament and I am expecting typical drunken shannagins for Saturday night at Penn State. The tournament went great and everybody was having fun socializing and enjoying their beverages, however then something unusual happened, for one song instead of the usual top 40s music that is constantly blasted over pop stations on the radio, jazz music was played… and people started dancing to it.
My first thought was, “Hey that’s cool people are dancing”. My second thought was, “Wait, some of these folks have had a lot to drink, how the hell are they still dancing well?”. There was two facts I was unaware of at the time:
- First Fact: One of the roommates (who I later found out his nickname was Orange) of my friend who invited me to this party was a member of the Penn State Swing Dance club, so that is why so many PSU Swing Dance members were in attendance.
- Second Fact: The Penn State Swing Dance at the time was a drinking club with a swing dance problem.
Testing the Waters
After finding out their meeting times from the website I convinced my roommates Ben and his girlfriend Jessamyn to come to a lesson with me, because for some reason I felt it would go over better if I had some friends in tow. After some brief introductions my friends and I get sorted into the beginners lesson. I thought the lesson wasn’t going too horrible until half way during the lesson I realized I was rock=stepping with the wrong foot the entire time. I was slightly frustrated as well because this six count stuff they were teaching me was different then cool stuff I saw them doing at the party.
Anyways after the lesson and general announcements my two friends and I like most new dancers hugged the back wall and talked among ourselves. After a song or two Ben and his girlfriend attempted to dance and earned some concerned looks/giggles when he dropped her on the ground during a dip. I guess the embarrassing situation was too traumatic for them because they didn’t want to come back next time. While I didn’t social dance at all that night (a trend that would continue for awhile) I showed up for the lesson next Thursday.
Even though I really didn’t feel that involved with the community at the time, I guess I stuck with it because it gave me something to do on Tuesday & Thursday nights and it was interesting to slowly learn how to partner dance. I would show up, take the lesson, then the second general announcements were over sneak out to catch the bus back home. Anyways, this all changed when one of the follows managed to stop me before I could sneak off and said that she noticed I was attending the lessons consistently but told me to stay and social dance or all the stuff I was learning wouldn’t stick. Even though social dancing was awkward and terrifying for me at first, I listened to her and slowly started staying for the social dancing portion after the lessons.
I slowly got to meet the regulars in the club at the time and got involved in all the popular post and pre-swing dance activities they liked to do, which often involved; watching movies, themed parties, and drinking. It was fun being part of a small tight knit community that shared a similar interest and I was slowly getting to the point that social dance wasn’t horribly awkward but went somewhat okay. During this time I also finally got to learn the cool stuff they were doing at the party (Lindy Hop) and a dance from my hometown area (Balboa) thanks to a PHD graduate student there named Issac.
Hitting the Road to Oberlin, Ohio
One of the things I always heard mentioned but never took seriously at swing dance club was the importance of travel. It seemed like something the good dancers in the club did and not necessary for me a lowly newbie. However a bunch of members from our club were going to this event named the Oberlin Jazz Dance Festival and it featured Andy Reid and Nina Gilkenson, two instructors they had a
borderline obsession with. After some peer pressure I finally committed to traveling outside my little dance bubble and going to a place I never heard of 4 hours away called Oberlin, Ohio.
I later found out that there were five instructors in total, the other three were; Bobby White, Kate Hedin, and Todd Yannacone. Over Saturday and Sunday of that weekend they taught eight lessons in total ranging from Lindy Hop, Balboa, and Solo Jazz. While I found a lot of the material in the intermediate track challenging at times, I had a blast.
However whole experience was a lot to take in for my first time on the swing dance travel circuit. I danced to my first live band, The Boilermaker Jazz Band which was more up-tempo then what I was used to but a ton of fun. I came to the realization of how large the community really was with people from all over Pennsylvania, Ohio, and a few other states in attendance. I also had my first housing experience with our lovely and gracious host Brandi Ferrebee, who took great care of us and set a high standard for future hosts/hostesses to match.
My foray into Oberlin planted a seed which germinated the next few months. When I returned home in California I started dancing there and becoming into their culture which is a completely different animal from most of the East coast. The following year I became an officer of the Penn State swing dance club and started changing the format of the club using things I learned from my travels that worked for other scenes.
Its awkward reminiscing about the Penn State Swing Dance club these days, it has changed a lot since when I joined. The college now pays for us to travel to three swing dance events a year, in result more of our members are involved in the traveling circuit and the State College scene is less of a bubble. The club has a higher level of dancing, but those who can hold their own in a drinking game has dwindled considerably.
These days I have friends ranging from California to Australia in the scene. I’ve danced all over the United States and have danced as far away as Paris, France. I teach classes Pennsylvania and have had people refer to me as their dance instructor. If you told the high school version of myself this is what learning partner dance would lead to, I probably would have laughed you off.
While it is fun to remember my beginnings, I want to end this post because it just goes into details that are probably better found out just meeting and asking me about it. The last three years of swing dancing have been quite the journey, however I am curious to see what the future holds…
In spite of a hurricane and an earthquake, ILHC 2011 pressed on this past weekend in Alexandria, Virginia. With attendees from over 20+ different countries this year such as Lithuania and South Korea, ILHC lived up to its name as an international competition.
There were mind-blowing competitions, talks that had delightful stories about the history of our dance in the 80’s & 90’s, and a social dance experience that one would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the world besides possibly Herräng.
Instead of my traditional breaking down of events by usual categories, I am instead going to post about a few of the highlights of the weekend accompanied by photos.
I think Baltimore’s motto should be, “There will be mayhem!” because they always deliver. I got a text this past Saturday night from a Baltimore friend listing a room number and the time of 7:00 PM. I show up, this is what I stumble into.
During the party was impromptu group singing, people being crowd surfed, and fun times for all. More importantly though not just during the party but the entire weekend during the competitions Baltimore seemed to carry this high energy attitude. It was contiguous and seemed motivated people in other scenes to cheer hard for their local dancers as well.
LED (Lindy Enlightenment Dialogue) Talks
I had the opportunity to attend eight LED talks this year and thoroughly enjoyed each one of them for different reasons.
The two talks that stuck out in my mind though were Steven Mitchell and Lennart Westerlaund’s talks on their experiences of discovering and learning Lindy Hop in the 80’s and 90’s. They went into detail about of their separate discoveries of Al Minns and later Frankie Manning. They both also gave insight to how the culture and education of the dance at their respective time was worlds apart from how Lindy Hop is today. I can only glaze the surface of how awesome these talks were, but I hope to have time to go into further detail about of them in a future post.
Just because the DJed music stops at ILHC, doesn’t mean all the music has to stop. What I loved is seeing Saturday night an impromptu band break out. In addition the next morning two violinists and a cellist were playing some tunes and entertaining those of us not taking classes before the competitions. I’ve been noticing this trend of more dancers bringing their instruments to events, or in some cases learning how to play with others and I hope this continues.
If I was to write a post that covered my entire experience of this weekend, it would probably be
tl;dr far too long. Instead here is a few highlights I had from ILHC 2011
- Seeing Kevin St Laurent and
EmilyJo Hoffburg make good on their promise to Baltimore at this past Lindy 500, that if they made the finals of the Champions Strictly Lindy they would crowd drive their cheering section.
- Watching Skye Humphries and Frida Segerdahl tear it up in the Champions Strictly Lindy with solid dancing and not needing any tricks or flash.
- Actually getting a use out of the four years of French I learned in high school. (Maidmoiselle Delfolie would be so proud of me!)
- Showcase Division – Michael Darigol & Brittany Johnson threw down with badass swingouts and the crowd went insane.
- Seeing friends from my home turf (Southern California) come out in a horde and throw down in the competitions. Special props to the Fly Rghts for performing not once, but twice in the team division.
- The junior division this year was inspiring, it gives me a lot of hope for the future of our dance.
- Learning that the motto of Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five featuring Hilary Alexander during their LED talk is “Fuck ’em”
If you were wondering what time it was this past weekend, the wrong answer would have been Lindy Focus Boom time. That’s because in the words of Andrew Thigpen, it was actually….
Lindy 500 BLO time!
Lindy 500 & The Baltimore Lindy Open
Charm City Swing and Towson University Ballroom Dance Club had a… well to be honest, i’m not sure what it was exactly. Normally I feel comfortable describing a weekend as a workshop weekend, competition weekend, or an exchange. In this case though, I was left at a loss.
The event had a lot of competitions, yet they were laid back and were not the dominating activity of the event. The Sunday night Soul party had a fun exchange feel, but with the Baltimore touch of people running around with sparklers in front of the venue and Nina Gilkenson coming out with a fire extinguisher thinking someone started a fire. While there were two tracks of workshops with Kevin St. Laurent, Jo Hoffberg, Nina Gilkenson, & Michael Seguin, it wasn’t the main focus of weekend for all of the attendees.
The best description I can muster is it was like an all you can dance buffet of things people like at swing dance events. However unlike many events that try this and end up spreading themselves too thin, I felt they provided the organization to make sure all facets of this event ran well.
I ended taking Kevin & Jo’s classes, however what mainly stuck out to me was the musicality class they taught with the Boilermakers & the two aerials classes they featured.
For the aerials class, I enjoyed that they put emphasis on safety as the main priority and would rather risk going into a overly detailed description on technique, than having people rush through things and hurt themselves. There were enough breaks with explanations to ensure people were not getting fatigued as well. One thing I liked in particular is I felt the right amount of being challenged versus being pushed outside my comfort zone.
The musicality class with the Boilermaker Jazz Band was great because (besides the joking comments about Jonathan Stout) it gave some perspective from the musicians’ side of the dance floor. At the beginning of class they played three versions of Honeysuckle Rose. First one was a 20’s version, second one was a 30’s swing era version, and the last one was a 40’s/50’s version. Afterwards they explained what they did to make each version sound from that particular era and what kind of rhythms those songs lent themselves to. One of the details I appreciated was them going into detail about tags and how those could affect a song.
The contests at BLO (Baltimore Lindy Open) consisted of an Invitational Jack & Jill, Open Jack & Jill, Strictly Lindy, and the 30-60 second Cabaret division. When they said anything goes in the Cabaret division, they meant it. A fellow by the name of Ian won in the Cabaret division with a dramatic Bob Dylan reading of a song that involved churning butter.
The results I have for the competitions are posted below, if you can fill in the blanks please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or post in the comment section and i’ll update this.
Invitational Jack & Jill
1st Place: Kerry Genese & Elliot Susel
2nd Place: Beth Hartzel & Charlie Wieprecht
3rd Place: Ranya Ghuma & Jason Neisz
1. Colleen Vernon & Charlie Wieprecht
2. Emily Lancaster & Jason Lancaster
3. Beth Hartzel & Albert Mak
Sunday Night Soul Party
I pity the fools who decided to bail out of the Sunday night dance, to end the event Baltimore had a soul party at the Baltimore Strut. Even a vintage music snob like myself can appreciate a night to just let loose and have fun to some soul music. There were sparklers, drenched people being cheered as they ran through a pouring storm into the dance venue, and
MAYHEM the Open Jack & Jill.
All I can say is Baltimore knows how to throw a party, that’s why they have their own section in the ILHC seating plan.