Tumblr and Swing Dance

Tumblr

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.

Relevance

I will say after months of sorting through posts I can tell you that most Tumblr posts are just:

  1. Their views on what they liked or didn’t like about a particular event/dance.
  2. Re-posting of a popular youtube video of swing dance.
  3. Thoughts on the journey to improving their dancing.
  4. Comments on advanced dancers/dancers that inspire them.
  5. Links to online swing dance media they enjoyed.
My issue with most Tumblr posts is they fall into the description in this quote from Wandering and Pondering’s blog post on The State of the Online Lindy Disunion,
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.

Going Down The Rabbit Hole: How I Fell Into Swing Dancing

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.

Curiosity

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.
Anyways, after witnessing this spectacle I asked around about what they were doing and they guided me to the club president at the time that was currently sprawled out drunk on the couch.  In spite of his condition he assured me that I didn’t need any previous experience, I didn’t need to bring a partner, lessons from the club were free and yes no matter how uncoordinated I was they would be able to help me.

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.

The Penn State Swing Dance Club - 2008

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.

Fast Forward

 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…

Penn State Swing Dance Club Members & Alumni at DCLX 2011

Event Review: (ILHC) International Lindy Hop Championships 2011

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.

Baltiquerque Party

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.

Mayhem delivered.

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.

Lennart Westerlund's Talk on Lindy Hopping in the late 80's-Early 90's

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.

Impromptu Jams

6:00 AM after the Saturday Night Dance

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.

General Highlights

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 Emily Jo 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”
Your Turn
I’ve been doing the usual stalking browsing of Tumblr/Facebook and the rest of the internet for other perspectives on ILHC. But oddly its mostly just people watching videos of the event and their reactions to it. The rest of you folks that attended (I know there are at least 799 of you) either in the comment section or elsewhere, share your experiences of what ILHC was like. I’m curious.

Event Review: Lindy 500 & Baltimore Lindy Open

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….

"Andrew Thigpen at Lindy 500" taken by Dorry Segev

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.

Classes

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.

Mr. Infallible or Captain Obvious, unsure which at this moment. Photo by Dorry Segev

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.

Contests

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.

Invitational J&J, Photo by Dorry Segev

The results I have for the competitions are posted below, if you can fill in the blanks please email me at apache.danse@gmail.com 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

Strictly Lindy

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.

Courtesy the ILHC Newsletter.

LA: Back In The Day

A few days ago I wrote a post about a flier which was handed out as part of the efforts to quell the tensions during the “Style Wars” in the late 90’s/early 2000’s.

However without context it is a far reach to not see the people getting involved in this debate without seeming a bit loony. So to help put you in the shoes of a late 90’s LA swing dancer I have this article written by John Cooper for Swivel Magazine [1].

I Did Derby

I DID DERBY
by John Cooper
As it appeared in Swivel Magazine

“Derby.” “Derby.” “Derby.” If you live anywhere near the United States and you like Swing, you’ve heard of The Derby, right? And if you live near Los Angeles and like Swing, you’ve been to The Derby, right? Wrong! Some of us just have never made it over. I mean, come on! I live seven entire miles from the place! Yet I can’t just zoom over there in five minutes! It’s gotta be a fifteen minutes drive easy. So, anyway… every swing lover/swing dancer of legal age I know has been to the Derby… EXCEPT ME!!! That is until this past Monday night when I became Derby de-virginized. It went something like this…

Mora’s Modern Rhythmists, the Monday night house band at The Derby was having their new CD release party that evening. Since I wrote the liner notes to Dean Mora’s new CD, I wanted to be there for the big occasion.Yes, I’d meant to go numerous times in the past, but stuff happens. I mean we all know stuff happens.

So… I announce to my friends that I’m going, really going this time, and I go. Monday is always a zonky day for me and I almost skipped it, but when I got home, I had an e-mail from Peter Loggins that said simply, “Monday.Mora.Derby.Be There.” So I go.

I motor over. I know where it is. No mystery. I cruise on down Los Feliz Blvd. I make a left on Hillhurst. WOW! Better than a pretty woman: two beautiful parking spaces right on the street! And I maneuver my land yacht right into the loading zone. I knew it was too good to be true because I’ve lived in Los Angeles to long to believe in the power of positive parking. I cruise out of the Fool’s Paradise and just guide my machine into the parking lot.

I eyeball the place from the outside. I walk around the building looking for the entrance. Not that door, that’s a restaurant. Not that door, that’s an exit. How do I gain entrance? I do 360 degrees around the building. Look! Up that flight of stairs! People! I walk up the steps that have measured a million swing feet. I announce myself. I am in!

Now… I had no notion of how the place would look. I just knew that the dance floor in the main room was considered small and the back room was off to the left as I would enter. I went to the right to the main room. Oooohhh! Pretty nice! A big circular bar dominating the room. A vaulted ceiling. The band stand at the opposite end of the room. Nice. I head out to take a look at the back room where the Lindy lesson is already in progress. Erik and Sylvia are at it again. The room is packed with ‘progressing’ Lindy Hoppers. Even as I lean against the wall, I am in the way of several rock steps and the humidity is killer in there, like a night in the tropics. I exit back to the main room and stake out a choice seat at the bar. I order a delicious Mai Tai. I see Dean Mora setting up his men. I saunter over and say “Hi.” Friends and people I know are beginning to arrive. They either see me or I see them.Handshakes, hugs and dropped jaws are the order of the evening. “You’ve never BEEN here before?” No. “I’ve never SEEN you here before!” First time. And on and on.

Soooo many people I know are there tonight for Dean’s CD party. We meet and greet. Peter and Lisa. Debbie and Darren. Rusty Frank. Chuck Cecil. Lisa Johnson. Tip and Holly. Hilary Alexander. Jeff Beauregard. Nicole and Bill. Hey! There’s Chekov from “Star Trek” out there! There’s famed movie swing dancer John Mills milling around! Then… an announcement by Dean Mora, and his Modern Rhythmists tear into a track from their new CD and the party is underway!

The dance floor holds a dozen or so couples comfortably. Most every one is doing Hollywood style Lindy and/or Shag. Dean’s snappy band and attire make the room glow almost as much as the perspiration on the foreheads of the pounding feeted patrons.Very few posers here on Mondays, it seems. Just people into the dancing and into the music. Real music! ‘Quality Shout.’ Oh, yeah!

After an hour, the second set begins with more (A) great music and dancing. More people I know have arrived. There’s an Australian TV crew wandering about and shooting Erik and Sylvia on the dance floor, while Dean Mora jovially suggests to the camera crew that they would do well to get him in the shot, too.

Soon, Dean is giving away CDs to patrons who can answer Swing history questions. If you don’t know Duke Ellington’s first name, you lose. If you know where the Palomar Ballroom was in Los Angeles, you win. If you don’t know what band was playing there the night in 1939 when the Palomar burned to the ground, you lose. (By the way, in order: Edward, between 2nd and 3rd on Vermont, and Charlie Barnet.)

Another hour passes into Derby memory. Peter Loggins and I exchange money for Jan Savitt and Charlie Barnet records. I eye a stack of “Swivel” magazines to take back to my store. Mora’s Modern Rhythmists are cracking like a whip. The Swing and the good feelings engulf the room.There’s Rory. There’s Adrian. There’s Minh. There’s Shawn and Cassandra. There’s Morris. All real people doing real dancing, not posing, to real music. You saw “Swingers?” Forget it! It’s a hoax! It’s not ‘money’ (What a fake-a-roo phrase that was.) This is the real Derby, at least on Monday nights. Men and women who take the time, trouble and expense to dress ‘vintage’ and to learn an established form of dance properly and devote themselves to it, not obsessively or stupidly, but out of love and a sense of sheer joy.

I stayed until the end, but even the ‘end’ was not the ‘end,’ for the dancing continued even after the Dean and his men had packed up and left. Moves were practiced, stories told, dances danced. Plans and partings until tomorrow or the next time. Hugs, kisses, hand shakes and promises of more visits. “See? I TOLD you you’d like it!” The dude was right, I did.

Unfortunately I never had the privilege of dancing of dancing at the Derby in Los Angeles. However you ask any dancer of 5+ years in California about the Derby (or Old Memories/Monsters of Swing) they will have a gleam in their eye as they spin a few yarns.

The Derby was simply legendary at the time, even “Swingers” director Doug Liman wrote in an LA Times interview [2],

Though no film could ever do the Derby justice, I am proud to have been part of a film that will continue to invite people into that magical world frozen in time. – Doug Liman”

Socalswing

An amusing tripod site, http://socalswing.tripod.com/ was the precursor to the forum JiveJunction which for awhile existed as Yehoodi’s rival forum until mysteriously disappearing becoming Ruben Browns personal homepage.

The site has some interesting sub-pages that offer insight into the culture of the late 90’s/early 2000’s Southern California swing dance scene. One that caught my attention was a page (http://socalswing.tripod.com/youmightbe.html) listing offshoots of a popular joke “You might by a (insert noun) here if….” modified for the So Cal swing dance scene. My personal favorite was, “You might be a Hollywood style Lindy Hopper if….”.

Some of the winning ones in my mind were,

  • the faster the song, the better.
  • you can’t hear the “clang clang clang” section of a certain Andrews Sisters song without picturing Jewel McGowan swiveling.
  • you become convinced that someone requesting “Zoot Suit Riot” at a Bill Elliot show is one of the seven signs of the coming apocalypse.
  • you can walk into a club full of 400 people and say, “There’s no one to dance with.”
  • you have come to realize you will never win a contest again as long as Josh & Theresa, Minn and Corina, and Jeremy and Debbie are in it.
Another unique page was The First Church of Lindy Hop – Los Angeles Congregation. I could try to explain it as part insight to the obession with Hollywood style Lindy Hop, part inside jokes, and part good old fashioned So Cal craziness. However I recommend you take a look at it yourself (http://socalswing.tripod.com/church.html). The fact that there are links to two other defunct congregations in Orange County and Riverside, delights and scares me at the same time. A sample of the fun collections of writing on this page is as follows,

Matthew 7:15, Beware of false prophets, who come to you in vintage clothing but inwardly are flaming West Coasters.
-Guru Reuben

Even though I have given you a small taste of what it was like back then my advice if you want the whole picture is talk to someone who danced there. I promise you most of them will be more then happy to talk your ear off with stories about Monsters of Swing, The Catalina Jazz Dance Festival, Old Memories, and et cetera. I’ve just given you a small glimpse into a much larger picture.
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy at the Derby

Footnotes:
[1]. Originally posted at swingorama.com the San Diego swing dance forum. http://www.swingorama.com/sd/viewtopic.php?p=38063&sid=79d204e314e25d54ddd202a31c1fd2d0 

[2] L.A. times article written 2009 The Derby in Los Feliz likely to close soon http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/music_blog/2009/01/the-derby-closi.html

Hollywood Style Swing Flier

“What style are you?” was a popular question that was asked instead of “Would you like to dance?” back in late 90’s. Ask any old-school dancer about “The Style Wars” here in the United States and you will probably elicit a groan that will reach Herrang Dance Camp in Sweden.

I won’t rehash the details here, but Jerry Almonte has a nice article in his Artistry in Rhythm series, in his blog Wandering and Pondering that touches the issue. Yehoodi like always, has a post about the style wars.  Bobby White even lampooned it in a Jam Cellar email, coining the term Savollywood.

Savollywood: (SUH-vol-lee-wood) (ProperNoun): A failed late-90s amusement park where all the men were given baggy cargo pants and newsboy hats, and women went on rides that took them through twelve-count side-passes and half-assed whips. – Bobby White

For the longest time I was looking for a picture of a flier handed out at some workshops in the early 2000s which had a great explanation of what Hollywood Style was all about, but to much avail could not find it. Recently I stumbled upon and I am putting it up so, hopefully it will not be lost again.

A key point that Jerry noted about Hollywood Style, is it was not just a dance style but to some people a life style. Hence why for some people, emotions ran high over people who may have criticized it. Katy Perry who is not as well known for her teenage hobby, swing dancing writes in this interview,

“I used to go swing dancing, Lindy Hop style at the Santa Barbara Rec Hall and I would be taught by seasoned dancers, involved in the scene. They were like rockabilly but not as annoying. These girls would get out of vintage Cadillacs, wearing pencil skirts, bullet bras and cardigans. “

This flier, among other things were an attempt to get people to spend less time debating about how to dance and more time actually dancing.

However as usual  the community moved onto arguing about newer topics such as should follows wear or not wear heels? the merits of Wiggly Hop Groove style Lindy Hop.

Jerry also noted in his blog post, Poke Alex probably sums up the aftermath of the whole “Style Wars” best in this post on yehoodi,

Yeah, if I remember correctly nobody “won.” I think for the most part people realized that not only was the battle stupid, it was really about nothing.

Erik & Sylvia originally coined the “Hollywood” term as a buzzwordish way to identify the style that they taught and pay homage to the fact that they borrowed a lot more from Dean Collins and his gang than from Frankie Manning and his.

Then a bunch of idiots (read: Lindy Hoppers) decided that “Hollywood” equaled “Dean Collins”, and therefore “Savoy” equaled “Frankie Manning”. Furthermore they inexplicably decided that not only were the styles completely 180-degrees different from each other, each with its own technique and feel, not just in the movement but in the lead and follow. The real kicker was when everybody decided one was inherently better than the other.

How it all got to that point is a mystery along the lines of Stonehenge or crop circles.

Anyway, a couple of years later it all finally wound down. Justin and Jenn in particular were instrumental in that, by carrying around to their workshops a video they made that showed both Frankie & Dean, side-by-side, in the same position relative to the camera, doing swingouts at the same speed. They were able to demonstrate the lack of difference in their technique sufficiently for some people to quiet down about it. Eventually the whole debate just cooled off and vanished.

Nobody could win because there was no real argument in the first place. – Poke Alex

Ball O’ Energy

So a few days ago I did a post on Boston Tea party that I mentioned a couple Maéva Truntzer and William Mauvais which I can only describe as high-energy, fun to watch, and zany. After witnessing their dancing for the first time in person, my curiosity was piqued so I decided to poke around a bit on youtube. Below I will share with you two performances from different events that were entertaining to watch.

William and Maéva at Swinging in the Rain 2011

Here are two videos of the same performance at Swinging in the Rain 2011 in Belgium, using the song “Six Feet Under” by Tuba Skinny.

In this particular version what I like is I feel like I am part of the crowd and it really captures the high energy that these two are putting out. However the lights are slightly overbearing and I think take away partially from the lines they are trying to create.

This version is well shot, i’m assuming by someone who knows how to use a camera by how the two were always in frame and the zooms were timed and not rushed. In this clip I feel like I am getting the whole experience and seeing everything they are trying to convey with the performance.

William and Maéva at Lindy Shock 2010

If you’ve ever wanted to see a couple dance to a song from the Muppet’s Show cast album, your day is about to drastically improve. Below I again have two clips of the same performance, this time at Lindy Shock 2010 which was in Budapest, Hungry. I think this showcase really shows off their background as Boogie-Woogie dancers and their zany side.

This clip of the performance is HD, which is nice. What I also really like about it is you can see the reactions of the crowd to the flashy/zany stuff they do and an excellent view of the floor slide William does at 1:29 under Maéva.

Again like the first clip from the Swinging in the Rain performance, the reason I like this clip is you are right behind the instructors of the event and feel like you are part of the crowd. In addition you get the full gambit of facial expressions both of them throw at you.

William and Maéva at least for myself bring something very different to the table then I am used to, its why lately they have kind of garnered my interest. If any of you readers have opinions or views on their dancing, feel free to post, I am interested in hearing them.

C’est Si Bon

I was stumbling around youtube looking for some examples of swing dance in public media and discovered this on Patrick Szmidt’s youtube channel:

The description translated to english says,

Patrick Szmidt & Natasha Ouimet in the transmission “La Culture Pour ou Contre” broadcast on ARTV in August 2009 to Canada.

Its a fun clip with two Lindy Hoppers, dancing on live television, to a gyspy jazz band covering Django’s Minor Swing.  Enjoy!

Event Review: Swing Out Under the Stars (Oberlin)

Oh Nostalgia…

This past weekend I received a free pass from awesome follow Beth Hartzel, to go to an event at Oberlin called Swing Out Under Stars.

This visit was particularly nostalgic for me because my first out of town swing dance experience was at the Oberlin Jazz Dance Festival  several years ago where I first saw awesome dancers like Nina Gilkenson and Andy Reid. In result I was motivated to take my dancing more seriously and start traveling to events on a regular basis.

Oberlin has been doing this swing dance thing for awhile.

Being a Follow

One thing I am going to give Oberlin kudos for is as a male who was following in some of the classes this weekend I have never felt more comfortable being a follow then anywhere else in the world. Normally when I take classes as a follow, I usually get a vibe from people in the rotation of “Oh… its a guy following, there is something weird about him.” and odd looks.

However everyone was friendly and encouraging to me. I even got asked to dance as a follow a few times during the dance to the Boilermaker Jazz Band on Saturday!

 

Staying in a Co-Op

During the weekend I was hosted by a lovely girl named Shane in Oberlin’s Tank Hall Co-Op, affectionately referred to as “The Tank”. To quote wikipedia,

“The Oberlin Student Cooperative Association (OSCA) is a $2.4 million dollar non-profit corporation that feeds 630 and houses 175 Oberlin College students.[1] It is located in the town of Oberlin, Ohio, and is independent from but closely tied to Oberlin College.”

The Tank Co-Op. Amazingly friendly people there.

It is hard to explain what it is like to stay in an Oberlin Co-Op but my best description is imagine several people living in the same house with each of them having equal responsibility of maintaining the home. While I was there I was invited to have meals with the house which were all hand-cooked by the students. The food was vegetarian, different then what I was used to, and most importantly delicious.

Tank food, vegetarian and declicious.

In addition I got to meet other people who were also visiting the house like two French guys who are doing a country tour of the United States and was visiting Oberlin as one of their stops.

The Boilermaker Jazz Band

For the Saturday night dance, they had the Boilermaker Jazz Band who played a fun set and featured a vocalist I hadn’t seen personally before by the name of Erin Kufel. Even though it was a smaller crowd, I thought the Boilermaker’s did a great job of bringing energy to the room and playing some good tunes.

The Classes

The instructors were Falty (Michael Faltesek) and Carla Heiney who were a good fit for Oberlin, especially since Falty as apparently taught there several times in the past.

What  helped them out was the class sizes were ridiculously small. I’m talking like 12-14 couples for the last two classes of the day on Saturday & Sunday, with such an intimate environment I felt everyone got more out of the workshop then most workshops I have attended. In result the instructors were able to give individual feedback a lot of the times. Also Carla was in the rotation in some of the classes as well, which many of the other leads at the event agreed to me was a great help.

Something I would like to note is both Carla and Falty (who described himself in the lesson as a post-modern feminist) put a decent effort at remaining gender neutral when addressing follows and leads.  For the male follows and the female leads in the classes, it was much appreciated.

Overall

I’m not going to say that Oberlin’s swing dance event was the biggest event ever or had the highest quality of dancing. However what they did well is provide a unique experience that was fun for all parties involved. I’d dare you to find another workshop in the United States that features intimate class settings, unique housing opportunities, a safe environment to be a lead or follow, a quality band, and two great instructors. I will leave you with a quote about Oberlin that I thought they really lived up to this weekend,

“Oberlin is peculiar in that which is good.”

Outside Perspective

Outside Perspective: Documentary on Swing and Jitterbug

My friend Morgan Day, posted on yehoodi awhile back a link to a documentary by David Wittkower on Swing and Jitterbug which was filmed during Camp Hollywood 2006.

What is interesting though, is David Wittkower when deciding to make this documentary was someone who was from outside of the swing dance community.

When I asked his permission on youtube to use his video for my blog post he gave me the response,

“The back ground was this. I was youtube surfing and came across this clip which I really loved watching:


because I love the music and the dancing. Not really a dancer myself, I used to Cajun dance many years ago and I grew up listening to the big bands because my parents were in WW2.
After watching this video (above) I thought it would be great to make a short film about swing dancing. It hasn’t been in any festivals, I made it a few years ago and now decided to put it up on Youtube, along with some of my other films.

I’ve been making films for over 30 years, mostly documentaries, and constantly looking for projects that I either get hired to make or I make them because the subject interests me.”

What I liked about this documentary is it allowed me to get a great quality view of 23 Skidoo!’s team performance that year, allowed for some interesting perspective from Hilary Alexander the event director, interesting interviews with Jack Carey and international dancers from Italy and Sweden, and last but not least Jean Veloz and Ray Hirsch dancing at the very end.

If you have a spare moment I would recommend checking out this documentary besides some great footage of Camp Hollywood, it also offers some insightful messages as well.