Tabby the Cat

A jazz step I like because of its kooky name and look is known as a “Tabby the Cat”. I was casually chatting about it with my friend Annabel the other day and she mentioned its rather popular in the swing dance community these days, apparently due to Sharron Davis.  I do not know the exact origins of this move (besides it coming from the song “Tabby the Cat”  Edit: See Peter Loggins comment below for details.), however I do have a feeling it has something to do with Dean Collins.

They are still working on getting the move down.

Dean Collins: The Cat’s Meow

First reason is Dean seen doing the move with fellow dancers Johnny Duncan,  Jenny Duncan, Jack Arkin, and Irene Thomas in a 1945[1] soundie Tabby the Cat, which also featured comedian/pianist Eppy Pearson.

The move is first shown at 0:36, then Dean strolls in and does it with the gang at 1:05

Second is it is a featured move in his shim sham, the Dean Collin’s Shim Sham. You can him do it himself below in a 1983 impromptu performance at about 1:25.

A more modern demo of the Dean Collin’s Shim Sham is below with our friends at the London Swing Dance Society. They do the move at about 1:28.

Modern Uses:

The move Tabby the Cat is great for partnered, solo dancing and a necessity if you want to learn Dean Collin’s Shim Sham. One of my favorite examples of it used in partnered dancing is below by Juan Villafane with Carla Heiney at this past year’s Lindy Focus. He hits it perfectly at 0:33, BAM.

Sharon Davis seems to have adapted it for the blues ascetic.

How to Learn It?

A skim notes version for you fast learners, check out this video from the Houston Swing Dance society.

Footnotes:

[1] The interesting thing about the Tabby the Cat soundie when I was attempting to do research for it was IMDb has 1945 as the year of the clip and only lists the pianist and vocalist. Whereas whoswhoinswingdance.com lists the full cast of dancers but has the year listed at 1939??. I chose IMDb’s date, because the song is listed in wikipedia coming out 1944 {Tabby The Cat (Arr. Dave Matthews) Broadcasat Hollywood Paladium, Hollywood, Ca.}

Event Review: SparX

This past weekend was CWRU (Case Western Reserve University) Swing Club’s annual Lindy workshop weekend. As their promotional website promised, SparX did fly at the event.

SparX 2011

For a college workshop weekend, SparX delivered three tracks (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced), two bands (Baby Soda & Gene’s Jazz Hot), and two competitions (Jack & Jill and Solo Jazz).

Most college events where one is lucky if there is more than one track or live band.  Case Western pulled off an impressive feat by having an event this big and well run.

Classes

After probably the roughest audition I have ever encountered (about 30-40 minutes of straight social dancing, one song after the other), I got placed in the Intermediate track. Generally I thought most of the classes were a good balance of technique & moves to keep everybody interested.

However what stuck out to my was Mike Faltesek and Casey Schneider’s classes. I have taken several of their classes, multiple times in the past. What I really enjoy about their classes is, no matter how many times I have taken a class they have offered before, I always get something new out of it.

Competitions:

The finals were to live music provided by Baby Soda, the results were..

1st ~ John Holmstrom & Annabel Truesdell
2nd ~ Daniel Repsch & Corinne Shafer
3rd ~ Mark Muthersbaugh & Beth Hartzel
4th ~ Yosseff Mendlesohn & Jesse Hanus
5th ~ Sam Copeland & Ellie Hanus

Some highlights from the J&J were:

  • 1:56  Daniel Repsch & Corrine Shafer throwing down some peckin’
  • 2:18 Mark Mauthersburgh backing it up with Beth Hartzel in tow.
  • 4:25 Jesse Hanus showing some serious sass.
  • 5:48 Annabel Truesdell shimmying it up.
  • 5:56 Yosseff Mendlesohn & Jesse Hanus hamming it up.

The PSU Peanut Gallery

Slight Back story to the Jack & Jill: Some of you might wonder why some of the competitors entering the spotlights got extra loud cheering then the others. People actually at SparX were probably wondering who all the crazy people with blue and white pom-poms were. Well one of the Penn State students, (not going to say names) happened to be a season football ticket holder his Sophomore year and saved pom-poms from every game, thought it would be a fun idea to bring the student section to cheer on any Penn State students or alumni competing at SparX. Needless to say, it was a blast for all parties involved.

The results of the Solo Jazz competition were…

1st ~ Jesse Hanus
2nd ~ Dani Dowler
3rd ~ Mark Muthersbaugh

Some highlights from the Solo Jazz comp for were:

  • 00:52: Mark’s grand entrance. I am not sure what made the outfit more, the longhorn bull belt buckle or the blue sequin jacket.
  • 9:53: As commented on youtube, Ross Hopkins fall hits a cymbal crash perfectly. Coincidence or crazy musicality? I’ll let you guys decide.
  • 10:20: It’s a shame there isn’t a video from another angle. Jessie Hanus does an amazing Josephine Baker impression here and sells it with her facial expressions.

Room For Improvement?

The only negative things I can say about this event would be to trouble shoot the sound equipment with the Friday band a little more and perhaps more food for the late nights. But they were things that paled in comparison to how much ridiculous fun I have been hearing other people claim they had and the marvelous time I had myself.

Dax Hock & Sarah Breck in “Live To Dance” Semi-Finals

If you haven’t heard over facebook, yehoodi, or word of mouth recently, Dax Hock and Sarah Breck were on national television representing Lindy Hop in Paula Abdul’s show, “Live To Dance“.

The song they perform to is “We No Speak Americano” by Yolanda Be Cool. Which, while not traditional swing dance music I can understand the choice because they are trying to appeal to the general public.

 

Dax and Sarah... and a Plane

What I do admire though, is Dax rising to the occasion in spite of his injury. They both put on a performance to be proud of.

In my opinion they have earned the “Spirit of Lindy” title they have listed on their website.

Update: Here’s an interview with them.

Killin’ the Floor

I was listening to the yehoodi talk show today and it featured an interview with Minn Vo, a Lindy Hopper (among other dance styles) from Los Angeles. If you haven’t listened to it, I would catch it on this following link: Yehoodi Talk Show 6×17

During the interview Minn Vo mentions how the Killer Dillers were in town and he invited them what the facebook group of the event describes as a,

“A Rhythm Improv Night. A place of freedom & expression for musicians and dancers”

I could attempt to explain what goes on here, but I think Minn’s interview and the videos below do more justice.

Judging: A First Time Judge’s Experience

Can’t read my, can’t read my, can’t read my judging face. (I’ve got to judge everybody)

– Song running through my head this Saturday before the Jack and Jill I had to Judge

This past weekend I popped my judging cherry by judging for a  local Jack & Jill at my college. It was a low pressure competition, that the rules barred anyone who has placed 1st in a regional Jack & Jill or who has competed at big competitions like Camp Hollywood, ILHC, and et cetera.

‘to the victor belong the spoils

Questions…

Bobby White’s post at Swungover’s about judging questions segement hit the nail on the head of some of the questions that swam through my head as I was judging:

How much time do I spend on each person? That person is dancing technically great but looking down and not energetic, do I rate them over an individual who is the exact opposite? That follow is having salsa arms, do I penalize for that? How do I make absolutely sure my previous knowledge of some competitors does not make me positively or negatively biased against them? Oh god, that guy led a drape, do I let the extremely negative connotations of that move completely discount him from the finals? These people have the exact same scores on my prelims sheet, how do I choose which one goes to finals? That person’s number is flapping do I wait until they stop rotating so I can read it, or move on and come back?

Preparation

When I was first starting to compete, one of the important things I wanted to find out was how competitions were judged. Up to the point of this past weekend information I had to work with was:

  • Two Camp Hollywood: So You Want to Compete Classes. Year 1 by Ben and Sheri Yau, Year 2 by David Frutos & Kim Clever. These were helpful in they went over how they judged competitions and gave tips especially for first time competitors.
  • Private on Judging/Competing with Nick Williams: Amazing lesson, most of it was fixing technical issues that people are marked off for in competitions. But part of it was he went down the three T’s (Timing, Technique, Teamwork) and really broke down what he looks for in each category, immensely useful in not just competition but judging as well.
  • Reading a yehoodi thread on judging and two essays found inside: Unfortunately I was unable to find the yehoodi thread, but these two articles by both nationally recognized and experience judges were useful:
  1. Nicole Frydman (On Judging): https://docs.google.com/View?docid=dhkhj8sz_14dt5c26hn
  2. Tena Morales (On Judging): https://docs.google.com/View?docid=dhkhj8sz_15dcv6ndd3
  • Sylvia Sykes LED Talk at ILHC on Judging: Really informative talk where she went over the ideal situation for judging, dealing with possible biases and just funny things she has seen in competitions.
  • Watching competitions and judging them, then later seeing how they compared to actual scores: This is something I do once awhile when watching competitions as a game, but its great practice to do it. So when the pressure is on when you actually judge, there are less things you can worry about. You can even do this online with youtube if you want.

Actually Judging the Competition

Prelims

For the prelims we had two heats with 10 leads and follows in heat one, then slightly less then that in heat two. Two of the judges got leads, two of the judges got follows, I was the unlucky one who had to judge both. You know how judges say they only get five seconds to look at you in prelims in Jack and Jills? They are not kidding. What was a bummer as a judge, is I saw some people who normally lead/follow decently at bad moments and had to mark them down. Because I had to go through 30-40 people in the equivalent of 4-5 minutes of music, I literally did not have time to give people a second glance.  Sylvia Sykes said during her LED talk something similar to these words, “Part of being a judge is sometimes awarding people you hate 1st place and keeping your best friends out of the finals.” it really came to mind in this situation.

For judging I used the system Kim mentioned in her Camp Hollywood talk in which I awarded pluses or minuses next to numbers and at the end of the heats tallied it up and the individuals with the most points went to finals. First thing I did the second any song started was scanned the room and saw which leads started on time after the intro, any leads who were off instantly got one minus off the bat. Then I looked at each individual one by one and awarded or subtracted points based on different criteria (on time, paying attention to partner, et cetera).

At the end though there were still some ties which required some thought to break. Ultimately what was the tie breaker for me was I chose individuals who I thought would make for an entertaining final. It was looking down or having the “thinking dancer” look that lost some people a chance to get in the finals.

Finals

I thought it would be easier judging finals because there was less people, boy I was wrong. With more time to pick apart a couples dancing, more questions were raised.

For the finals there was just four judges including myself deciding the placement of 5 couples. It was phrase battle style, with a warm-up (not judged) followed by an all-skate. It was a different animal to deal with because I was judging people as a couple and not as individuals. Which was killer because in some cases there was one person doing awesome but their partner was having issues keeping up.

For the finals I went with Camp Hollywood judging criteria of 50% Three T’s and 50% showmanship. I would watch each couple during the spot light and write down notes of positive and negative things I saw. The main question I struggled with was do I award more a couple who danced mostly clean but did not do anything amazing, to a couple who made some technical errors but got the audience cheering. What really made my final decisions were which couples took me along for a ride, made it difficult to not look at them.

Overall

I think it was a great learning experience and as a competitor it will help me be much more understanding in competitions I enter. It has also made me not envious at all of people like Sylvia who have to judge events like ILHC.

Event Review: Steven and Virginie in Rochester (Rochacha)

This past weekend Rochacha had for their 13th year their event Steven and Virginie in Rochester. As someone who attended the past year, I may be slightly biased when I say it was awesome and I am still wondering why I left (or didn’t hitch a ride to Montreal instead of Pennsylvania).

Classes

The cool thing about the Steven and Virginie in Rochester workshop is the class labeled as “Musicality with Gordon Webster and his Band“. It is an unique opportunity to learn material, then actually practice it to a live band. Especially since this band is fricken Gordon Webster, with Jesse Selengut in the lineup.

While that particular class made the weekend amazing, the other classes taught by Steven and Virginie were nothing to scoff at either. What I liked is each class seemed to offer something to individuals of every level of dancing from the experienced veteran to the green newbie. In particular Virginie was consistently offering styling options to follows, so it didn’t become all about the leads.

The soul dancing class on Friday was also a nice change of pace. I arrived late so I didn’t want to jump in the class, but I watched from the side and picked stuff up. I’m still uncomfortable dancing to Soul music, but it always seems like a big party when its played and everyone has fun.

Dances

The Swing and Soul Party on Friday was a blast. To be honest it felt more like a dance party then a typical swing dance, complete with a soul train. Like I said before the music pushed me out of my comfort zone, but in a positive way. It was a great atmosphere to get acquainted with people at the event.

The Saturday dance with Gordon Webster and Friends was a splendid affair. They played a variety of tempos that kept the nimble-footed Balboa dancer to the sensual Blues dancer happy. Unfortunately Steven Mitchell was sick this year, so he didn’t step in for a few songs. But Brianna Thomas, the featured vocalist of the night did a superb job. Her and Gordon closed the house with an encore performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.

Lindy Compound

Probably one of, if not the most infamous late night venues in the United States is the Lindy Compound. The walls are all decorated with references from the jazz era or in one case a framed photo from a recent Lone Star Championship moment.

After most Rochester event’s dance, everyone stops by the nearby Wegmans (similar to Whole Foods if you are unfamiliar with it) and picks up some kind of food or drink for the event before showing up to the late night venue. To the right of the doorway there is a kitchen/dinning room where there is a large variety of food ranging from various types of humus, fruits, cheeses to marshmallows. In the center of the house is a room with danceable floor. On the left side of the house is a lounging area with this custom video game setup that has I think 2000+ games on it ranging from pac-man to street fighter.

Sorry if the description was long but I wanted to try to accurately portray how awesome this late night venue is. To reinforce it, here is an informative list:

Things I Have Witnessed at the Lindy Compound:

  • Two women jousting, outside in the snow, riding piggy-back on two very tall men.
  • Mad Libs, dancer version in which nouns like Wayne Gretsky were used.
  • Canadian women making me feel ashamed of my abilities to consume alcohol.
  • A rap performance.

Here is a video if you still aren’t convinced.

I could go keep going on about this place, but what is special and I think adds immensely to Rochester events is this venue allows people to genuinely socialize and get to know each other well. I would care to bet more so, then most events I attend. It is probably due to this place that half the time I can’t understand my facebook feed due to my poor French abilities.

Overall

Rochacha, once again I had a blast.  Even though I will be based out in California next year (instead of a four hour drive away), I am going to fight to make it to my third Steven and Virginie in Rochester.

Performance: Making a Routine Your Own

The two videos below are two separate performances by Mark Muthersbaugh and Ellen Huffman in the showcase division first at ILHC in August, then later at Rocktober in October. If you have not had the privilege of meeting Mark on the east coast, besides being awesome and friendly, he is quite the ham and his personality shines through in these showcase performances.  (Note: Ellen seems awesome as well, unfortunately I have not got to somewhat know her like I have with Mark [1]).

Clip 1: ILHC 2010

Clip 2: Rocktober 2010

Highlights of Both Showcases:

  • At 0:22 in clip 1 and 0:14 in clip 2, the mess around after the flip. Very beginning of the routine Mark and Ellen sets the tone for how this is going down.
  • At 1:54 in clip 1 and 1:46 in clip 2, the call and response bit into the (Frankie/Lamppost/Lindy Flip) aerial.
  • At 2:12 in clip 1 and 2:05 in clip 2…. SQUIRREL!
  • At 2:25 in clip 1 and 2:24 in clip 2 , the scratches contrast perfectly after that nice line beforehand.
  • At 2:44 in clip 1 and 2:37 in clip 2, slow motion into one of the most creative endings in a showcase I have ever seen.

Changes

  • Overall in the Rocktober performance it seemed there was a lot less loss of energy between some of the transitions and both of them looked much more confident, especially in the solo movement. I believe though its probably a combination of being in their home-state it being a less intimidating crowd then ILHC, in addition to having more time to perform/perfect the routine.
  • At 0:27 in clip 1 and 0:21 in clip 2, Ellen changes to a back up motion instead of a to side motion which adds more energy to her solo bit. After Mark answers with that additional energy by changing from swooping gaze movement to a full on body roll.
  • At 1:12 in clip 1 and 1:05 in clip 2, originally they had these slightly twisty back walks. However they create these great lines and add more energy to the routine by switching them out for cakewalk kicks for the Rocktober performance.
  • At 1:19 in clip 1 and 1:13 in clip 2, there is a slight change that on the third stomp off Ellen switches it out for a swivel and accents the change in the piano in the song. Small detail, but adds greatly to the musicality of the routine.
  • At 1:22 in clip 1 and 1:17 in clip 2, there is this spin and then a walk back. For the rocktober performance they add in a spin for Ellen, while Mark walks sideways, followed by two small call and response hops. Like many of the changes before adds some additional energy to routine, and hits the musicality better then the previous choreography.
  • At 1:27  in clip 1 and 1:19 in clip 2, they switch from Ellen shimmying to Mark and a flip for Ellen.
  • At 1:33 in clip 1 and 1:26 in clip 2, Mark changes his hand placement to reinforce the tone he set for the showcase after that first mess around.
  • At 2:04 in clip 1 and 1:57 in clip 2, they change from a standard swingout to a cute modified swingout that adds to the energy and tone set for the performance.
  • At 2:24 in clip 1 and 2:26 in clip 2, in the ILHC performance they play a game of Pat-a-cake. They change this to Mark continuing his Charleston sidekicks while doing a fake slap on the rear, which still has the humor factor they are going for while maintaining the energy of the previous moves/flow the choreography.

Overall

Mark and Ellen continued performances/practices of their routine have made it so they have made some serious steps to owning it. What separates amazing performances for me from just fun or okay ones, is when people have made a routine their own.  What I mean by that, is when it is performed it looks almost as natural as breathing to them and it is difficult to not want to come along on the journey the performers are trying to take you on.

Footnotes

[1] I originally met Mark at the Oberlin Jazz dance festival 08′. It is amazing to see how much he has improved since then.

Happy Accidents

About a little over a year and a half ago, I first came across the clip Jammin’ The Blues, which featured amazing dancing by Archie Savage and Marie Bryant.

I immediately got infatuated with the crazy switches he does at 1:05, in which he is almost touching the ground. After I went through a phase that I tried to lead them constantly on the social dance floor.

One night when I was dancing at a venue in California, I accidentally lost my balance and fell to the floor on one knee while trying to do Archie’s switches. Like most men when lost and confused, I pretended nothing was awry and kept going with the move. To my astonishment I found out it worked perfectly on one knee and my follow seemed to have a blast with it.

One quote that really strikes me for these type of situations is from the television series The Joy of Painting,

“We don’t have mistakes here, we just have happy accidents.” – Bob Ross

Who knows, maybe one day your “happy accident” will come in handy…

lindustrial
Knee switches at the Lindustrial Revolution

ILHC: Aftermath

It feels almost odd going back into the usual routine of sleeping at regular hours and attending classes after the awesomeness known as ILHC (International Lindy Hop Championships).

ILHC
ILHC

Several other people such as Rik from The Click Heard Round the World and Robert E. Lee the III Bobby White from Swungover have wrote about their experiences during or after the event. But I will give you my view, as my one friend put it, from a “bi-coastal” college swing dancer’s perspective.

Competitions

Like Rik wrote in his blog, each competition was a blast to watch. Unlike some other events where going to hang out at the jacuzzi may seem like a better idea then some of the competitions,  I wanted to have a good view for every single competition that weekend.

I also pitied the judges, it seemed for the most part everybody were throwing down their best in each competition. Even Sylvia Sykes was complaining of how difficult it was to judge the Strictly Balboa finals during her LED talk on Saturday.

The biggest moment for me, which has been the buzz of the internet Lindy world was the “The History of Lindy Hop” performance by Andrew Thigpen and Karen Turman. Besides being amazing, receiving a standing ovation, and causing Steven Mitchell to peel over in laughter, one of the more important effects I have noticed not just in my local scene, but on a national level is people are researching dance clips due their performance.  To have a routine have such a profound effect on the community is more important then any piece of plastic in my book.

I also ended up participating in the Open Jack & Jill, due to the deal I got with my registration. From an organizational standpoint  I thought it was well run. They made sure everyone in my heat was in the right order, with the right number while the previous heat was out on the floor, and had multiple points of check-ins to ensure a minimum of no shows. I had a blast drawing a follow from New York, and two follows from Canada (It seems I can never run away from Canadians).

Classes

In total I ended up attending about six classes at ILHC, and watching two additional ones. Frankly I was surprised because for a competition weekend the classes were amazing. The bar was not lowered for any classes and even the intermediate classes were taught at a level where they expected you to know swingouts, a small repertoire of jazz steps and common moves. Probably having a killer lineup of instructors and the fact that the majority of dancers attending this event were fairly decent helped as well.

LED Talks

The talks were a great alternative to classes for those who wanted a break or preferred not to take them. I plan to do a later blog post about Andrew Thigpen’s talk about Thrifty Hopping a.k.a. how to attend more dance events. While most of it was common sense, was a good reminder of how laziness and last minute or impulsive spending can affect your attendance at swing events in the future.

Another memorable LED of the weekend was Mark Kihara’s talk on trying things in 3 minutes or lesson. This consisted of him giving away free beer and wine, then having open karaoke, which resulted in Nina Gilkenson singing the infamous Dirty Dancing song “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” and Andrew Thigpen and Bobby Bonsey reenacting the lift from the film. Hopefully that will be on the youtubes soon.

I could go on about the rest but it would take too much time, I can only hope they build on the talks next year.

Social Dancing

Having some of the best swing bands in the world (Jonathan Stout and His Campus 5 featuring Hilary Alexander, The Boilermaker Jazz Band featuring Naomi Uyama, and The Rhythm Cats & Gordon Webster helped to create some awesome nights of dance. I also liked how the sets were nestled in between competitions so you could dance your heart out then recover for energy during the comps. What was also awesome was how friendly everyone was at the dances, I had several follows who were at a much higher level of dancing and occasionally from different countries ask me to dance.

The only detraction I would say is the dance floor was smaller then Camp Hollywood, but you can’t have everything I suppose.

Fun Moments and Overall Experience

ILHC was a unique and inspiring event for me. One of the more amusing moments was when I wore my Quebec shirt I got from Benjamin Ricard in D.C. on Saturday, then having several people approach me and starting chatting in French.

For those of you wondering why the ILHC Cabaret division isn’t on youtube yet, i’m guessing its due to another memorable moment of the weekend known as the “Yes Dance”. (Apparently clicking every link in the ILHC newsletter was not a waste of time on my part.)

What was interesting was for all it had to offer, I never felt overwhelmed like I am at many other workshop weekends/exchanges/camps which is a testament to how well organized the event was.

If you missed out this year, I recommend you check it out in 2011.

ILHC: Update During the Madness

So for those of you who have been living in a cave, this weekend is ILHC (International Lindy Hop Championships). Being my first time at this event, it is a blast and I am glad I chose it as my last hurrah before the college semester swallows me whole.  But I will post some quick things that stood out for myself from the event below:

  1. LED (Lindy Enlightment Dialogue) talks have been a nice break from classes. They have ranged from Skye Humphries explaining why Charlie Chaplin inspires him to Mark Kihara giving away free booze and having open mic karaoke.
  2. Hearing people in the crowd cheering/heckling their friends in different languages. My attempts to learn French paid off when I somehow was seated in the middle of the French-Canadian section for the heckling/cheering en Francais during Pro-Am division today.
  3. Dancing to live music from an assortment of musicians/dancers from 2 am – 4 am in the morning. Part of keeping the “street dancers” cred is apparently dancing in carpet next to the elevators instead of the main floor.
  4. Learning a move called “The Bernie” from Stephen and Bethany, who learned it from Minn Vo, which is named after a dancer from San Francisco. How everyone in the scene manages to know each other never ceases to amaze me.
  5. Having everyone in the Open J&J/Advanced J&J/Pro|Am/Balboa J&J for the day competitors meeting attempting to cram into a room intended for only about 70 people.
  6. Hearing Bobby White Robert E. Lee the Third’s from Swungover full name pronounced in every other competition.

Anyways, Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five featuring Hilary Alexander will be playing tonight so I have to go prepped for that. Exciting since Josh Callazo will be in the mix after his hiatus this past summer!