Keeping in Contract

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

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

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

Advice for Organizers

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

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

Clear definitions.
Clear expectations.

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

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

Advice for Instructors/Performers

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

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

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

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

Unnecessary Risks… Don’t Take Them

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

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

Addendum

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

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

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

The Life of an Amibdancetrous Dancer

am·bi·dance·trous

adjective

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?

Yep, there have been some awkward moments taking classes as a male follow. Mainly only in intro to Lindy Hop classes, I have gotten odd looks and male leads looking fairly uncomfortable having me in closed position. Largely though I have gotten nothing but positive encouragement and support. While I usually have to do the asking from leads if I want to follow, I was pleasantly surprised that at Boston Tea Party I was asked to dance as a follow a few times. One thing I always give kudos to the Oberlin, Ohio swing dance scene is the fact that I frequently get to asked to dance as a follow there and I associate them with being a role-model for an open and accepting community.

Competition?

Speaking candidly my biggest apprehension about competing as a male follow is people interpreting me as mocking that dancing role. While it presents a different set of challenges, I consider it an equally difficult role as leading and the last thing I would want is people interpreting my dancing as looking down upon it. I’ve always wondered if I get somewhat of an unfair advantage of being a male follow because I tend to stick out more in the prelims in a J&J for obvious reasons. In addition I have wondered how judges deal with that situation.

Last but not Least

To quote my tumblr post, my personal opinion on the whole matter is frankly I don’t give a damn what gender what my follows or leads are, just if they can dance. However I would be happy to hear your experiences or opinions on the matter, feel free to shoot me an email or post in the comment box below.

Starcraft II and Swing Dance

Contrary to popular belief I do have other hobbies besides swing dancing. At the great peril of forever shattering a potential image of myself as a hip guy, one of those hobbies is the occasional playing of Starcraft II an online Real Time Strategy game.

Now many of you are probably thinking, “Great, its cool you are a dork that plays video games. What the hell does this have to do with swing dancing though?”

Starcraft II and Swing Dancing both…

  1. Have a competitive aspect in which there are level tiers of competition (Bronze, Silver, Gold, and et cetera for Starcraft/ Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, and et cetera for Swing Dance).
  2. Has regular events where participants match their skill against each other and top participants are rewarded with prizes.
  3. Is the catalyst for a large sub-culture that if one is not a participant they can be completely ignorant to the fact that it exists.
Now I know some of you may think,  “But swing dance is an art, how can people take this ‘game’ so seriously.” I would like to list the fact that many of the top Starcraft II players charge just as much if not more for private lessons then what the top dancers in the Swing Dance world do.
Parallel Worlds 

Finding the parallels through these at first seemingly unrelated areas brings to mind an article written at Joy In Motion titled, “Social Dance as Game“.  They write,

“Every dancer must begin with the basic rules and structure of the dance before they can progress to intermediate and advanced concepts. Even through the advanced level, however, there is a basic structure that must be maintained in order to make communication on the dance floor possible. This structure, instead of stifling the creative flow, actually provides greater opportunity for expression and creativity in the dance.”

Starcraft II holds these same requirements as well. Many inexperienced players will look for quick strategies to ensure victory to ensure a win (6 pool/cannon rush for you gamers out there, non-gamers this is the equivalent of a drape or pretzel), when their macro-management (macro) or as swing dancers call it “technique” is what is holding them back. I’m betting there are a few people out there in the past who have asked a more experienced dancer why is move X or Y not working to find out its because of a technique issue that you learned in your first swing dance lesson. I know that happened to myself when I was learning how to lead an eagle slide socially.

All out war in Starcraft II

The interesting thing is if you read a well-established guide on how to improve at Starcraft II, like Randy Gaul’s article on Team Liquid “How to Improve at Starcraft II 1v1 Efficiently” a lot of the material can easily be applied on good advice on how to improve at swing dancing.

A great example of this is from the section, “Goals and how to achieve them”. I’m going to first post the part which is directly quoted from the Starcraft II guide.

You’re never going to get anywhere if you don’t know where you’re going. Similarly, you’ll never get to where you’re going if you don’t know how to get there. In order to achieve a goal, you first of all have to have a goal. So now ask yourself what your goals are going to be with StarCraft II. Be both realistic and decisive.

So, once you have your goal in mind you can continue reading the rest of this guide. Until then, you must
stay in this 2.02 section until you can continue. If you are stuck, perhaps the following may help you
brainstorm: […]

  • I want to be promoted into league X.
  • I want to become a high level professional player, worthy of sponsorships so I can play full-time.
  • I want to win a few specific local tournaments so I can enjoy the prize money!
  • I want to get into the top 500 players of the ladder on the server I currently play on.

Now, here is a modified version of the quoted part of the article.

You’re never going to get anywhere if you don’t know where you’re going. Similarly, you’ll never get to where you’re going if you don’t know how to get there. In order to achieve a goal, you first of all have to have a goal. So now ask yourself what your goals are going to be with Swing Dance. Be both realistic and decisive.

So, once you have your goal in mind you can continue reading the rest of this guide. Until then, you must
stay in this section until you can continue. If you are stuck, perhaps the following may help you
brainstorm: […]

  • I want to pass the level test into level X.
  • I want to become a high level competitive dancer, worthy of teaching so I can dance as a full time job.
  • I want to win a few specific local competitions so I can enjoy going to events for free!
  • I want to get into the be considered part of the “advanced” leads/follows in my regional area.

Goals sound eerily familiar huh?

I remember at Lindy 500, last year, during a competition class one of the instructors said something similar to, “Competition is a game, if you want to win you have to learn how to play it.” It is interesting how when I compare Swing Dancing to Starcraft II how much that statement hits home for myself.

If you have time I encourage you to read some more of the Starcraft II guide, it actually has some phenomenal ideas of the mindset for improvement. Until then though, I leave you with this quote from the guide,

So the moral of the story is: be humble and keep an open mind. If you can’t do this you don’t belong sitting where you are reading this; you belong in your lower leagues and deserve to stay there. – Randy Gaul

Hal Takier: The Ultimate Jitterbug (1917-2012)

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

– Marcelo

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:

– Marcelo

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.

In Memorandum

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

Paying It Forward

As the new year approaches I can’t help but reflect upon common themes of what has consisted my experiences of being a member of the swing dance community in years past. One I want to touch on in particular is the concept of paying it forward.

To quote wikipedia, paying it forward is defined as:

The concept of asking that a good turn be repaid by having it done to others instead.

When I first started dancing Southern California I went to a venue called Rock Harbor, which was a free venue that the instructors were local dancers who generously donated their time. One day I noticed two of the instructors there dancing Collegiate Shag, a dance I had seen previously and was intrigued by. Alas, my struggle though was like many people who want to learn Balboa, I had difficulty finding lessons. Those two instructors Alan and Amantha were nice enough to change the lesson the next week to teach Shag so I could learn the basic step and set me on the path to delving into the dance.

Last night when I was out dancing and I noticed a girl off on the side trying to figure out a Shag double rhythm basic and struggling with it. I offered to help and a few minutes later she was doing okay enough to follow a basic in open and closed position and seemed thrilled.  It was only maybe five to ten minutes tops of my time at most.

Raldoph Waldo Emerson once wrote,

 “In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody.”

For myself my best way of repaying the gift that Amantha and Alan gave me is to render the same gift they gave to me onto others. I encourage those of you who have experience in the dance community to do the same. It is a simple act that fosters growth in our community and invaluable to the individuals that it assists.

Getting Past Reframing

Reframing (rē·frāˑ·ming)

In swing dance this is the idea of taking technique from other dances and attempting to apply it in way that is (usually) detrimental to making social dance work.

As a swing dance instructor whenever I get new students who have a background in areas such as ballet or gymnastics I am always excited, yet apprehensive. This is because, while they have a significant advantage over their peers in terms of experience with learning things visually, they have the unique challenges of separating technique (that does not apply well to Lindy Hop) from their past experience and in the cases of being a follow, allowing others to initiate motion versus using leads as a prop.

 

When you have too many frames, sometimes its hard to see the picture.

In the past I struggled how to teach people who went through this problem. I conveniently learned the answer when I took a semester of Ballroom dance. My difficulty in that class lied within the fact that I kept trying to apply Lindy Hop technique to dances that it didn’t make sense to, such as Rumba. What allowed me to get past this mental block was my Ballroom instructor at the time told me to picture dances like outfits such as formal wear or beach appropriate attire. Within those outfits certain characteristics and things worked within the idea portrayed. It sounds silly, but it worked. Whenever I did a different dance a mental switch would flick and I would utilize certain techniques, such as toes would become pointed in Irish step-dance.

For those of you who teach and have students who struggle with the idea of not mixing up technique from other dances with swing dance, give this analogy a shot.  For individuals attempting to learn Swing Dance or perhaps dances outside your comfort zone such as Hip-Hop or Bhangra, the idea of picturing each dance as a separate entity can assist you greatly as well.

Warm-Up Songs: A Worthy Investment for Competition

Let me start off this post with a personal story. In my first Jack & Jill competition that I made finals I was paired with a follow named Josephine who I had never danced with before in my entire life.  The format of the finals was which in phrase battle style which meant for two sets of eight counts of 8 we would have to dance alone in front of a crowd with no idea of how the other person would react. To add onto that a fair amount of the people I was competing with were paired with people they regularly danced with at regional dance events. To say that I was in a slightly intimidating and nerve-wracking situation would be an understatement.

An interesting trend that my friend Annabel Truesdell noticed and I agree exists as well, is competitions in the United States are cutting out warm-up songs before competitions. The main reason I am assuming for this is since more events are creating more divisions, time becomes a pressing issue and those warm-up songs add up.

Opinions

I figured to get a good representation of how competitors in the community feels about the topic, I’ve asked several individuals who regularly compete across the United States for their opinion on the issue with the following question,

What’s your opinion about warm-up songs before competitions? I’ve noticed this trend of some events are cutting them out to save time, but have noticed some competitors complaining about it in result.

These are the responses I received:

Alice Pye who writes for the blog The Rantings of A Lindy Hopper and regular competitor at Lindy Hop events around the United States such as ILHC & Camp Hollywood.

 “I need them definitely. Especially for jack and jills, obviously and also form the promoter/organizer point of view if you take that minute to give everyone a warm up song in the beginning, you’re pretty much guaranteeing a great show for the rest of the competition. I think cutting that warm up cuts a lot more than that one minute, it cuts the fun out of the rest of the comp.” – Alice Pye

David Lee who regularly competes at Balboa, Collegiate Shag, and Lindy Hop events across the United States at events like ILHC, All Balboa Weekend, and Hot Rhythm Holiday.

“Yes, it helps to have a warm-up song. It is a lower pressure environment to get to know your partner’s connection and the warm-up song is usually a little slower.

For example at ILHC this year, we went straight to spotlights. I danced the lindy J&J with a partner I have never danced with before in front of the whole community of lindyhoppers. A warm-up song would have helped me smooth out some of the edges. Generally if you go straight to spotlights, it is going to be fast and faster for the final all-skate.

I think a contest should test all tempos of your abilities. For example, the first year of ILHC used a slow and fast spotlight. Westies test the range of a dancer’s abilities by using a classic and contemporary song. It would be nice to see more contests that show the entire range of tempos that lindyhop is danced to rather than fast and faster.

The tempos of contests is a separate issue, but the warm-up song has been filling the role of the slow song in previous contests. If the trend is to eliminate the warm-up song, then we need another way to show off lindyhop to slower tempos.” – David Lee

Laura Glaess an international instructor who regularly teaches, competes, and judges at competitions from ULHS to the Lonestar Championships.

“Hmm… I feel like I can kind of see both sides. As a competitor, you really want that warmup song. If it’s a Jack and Jill, you need to get an idea of what the other person is like. If it’s a strictly, you want to use it calm down. However, as an organizer, you’re considering all of the people who are sitting there, not dancing. If you’ve got a load of comps, all of those warmups can add up.

I think if the event doesn’t have that many comps, give everyone a warmup song. It’s only a minute. If the event is really stuffed, I think the Jack and Jills should still get one. It’s an investment in the show they’ll be putting on.” – Laura Glaess

Morgan Day a.k.a. Super Mario who  regularly competes in Lindy Hop, Balboa and Collegiate Shag competitions on the West Coast.

“As a competitor I’m for them. Personally, I think 90 seconds isn’t a significant time in the competition when you have a phrase battle that goes on for 6 minutes. Some event organizers might want to cut them so they can jump right into the “show” part of the competition, but a dance competition isn’t a pre-planned show (like what they do at Camp Jitterbug). A warm up songs lets dancers (especially amateur dancers) get into competition mode smoothly. That’s my $0.02.” – Morgan Day

Mary Freitag who writes for the blog Art and Dancing and who regularly competes and teaches at Lindy Hop and Balboa events across the United States.

“I like warm up songs for jack and jills, and I think that they aren’t really necessary for strictlys. Whenever I have done finals of a jack and jill and they don’t have a warm-up, I can never really get in the groove with my partner….even if I have danced with them a bunch before. Warm-ups really do help for jack and jills, even if it is just 1 minute! However, with strictlys you already know your partner and usually are dancing together for the songs right before the strictly anyways, so don’t really think they are needed.” – Mary Freitag

The Cost of Cutting out a Warm-Up Song

I agree from personal experience with the sentiment that most of the dancers who gave me responses wrote which is for Jack & Jill’s (especially in the case of newer dancers) that the warm-up song is an investment that organizers should put in to create a better quality experience for the audience that the competitors are trying to entertain and for the competitors who may be dancing with somebody for the first time in their lives.

Each choice has repercussions, the deciding factor is if the benefits outweigh the costs.

The opportunity cost for cutting out this warm-up means likely some of the competitors will have a case of the jitters and may not dance to their full potential that they would with one. As many of the dancers who responded agreed, that one minute is not a significant cost for the benefit of increased entertainment value for the crowd and a more likely positive experience for the competitors.

However in terms of a Stricly competition I would say like Laura wrote that it is a nice benefit to allow competitors to calm down with their partner. However like Mary wrote most people who compete in Strictly competitions already know their partner and usually dance with them right before the competition anyways. If there are not that many competitions that weekend and time allows for it, I can only see benefits from allowing for warm-up songs, but it is completely understandable if they are cut from the schedule due to time constraints during busy events like ILHC.

Alternative to Traditional Warm-Up

David Lee in my brief chat with him made a suggestion which I think has a lot of merit and has a similar format to what many people who enter Strictly competitions already do,

“One other option for warmups is to gather the competitors beforehand, match, and then give them one song of social dance time before the competition.” – David Lee 

What this does is not cut into social dance time, yet provides competitors a chance to know briefly the individuals they are dancing with. There is a third benefit that I realized the more I thought about this, which is this type of warm-up is also not in front of a crowd making it a much more low pressure environment then a traditional warm-up.

Warm-ups Worthy Investments

When it comes down to it at least for Jack & Jills’ if organizers are forced to cut out warm-up songs I think it would be more efficient to better organize the weekend then cut them because even if in the worst case scenario that there are 5 J&J divisions and each warm-up takes an unrealistic 3 minutes. That is still only 15 minutes out of an entire weekend to provide your attendees with a better quality experience. If that still seems like too much of an investment on part of organizers, implement David’s idea to still provide competitors with that sense of comfort and not cut into your event’s schedule.

I think a quote from my conversation with Alice best sums up my sentiment on the matter,

“You really have to choose the right corners to cut ’cause sometimes you think you’re cutting something out, but it’s actually holding a lot of other things in place…” – Alice Pye


C’est Quoi Cat’s Corner?

This past Friday night/Vendredi soir I had the privilege of visiting Cat’s Corner located in Montreal, Canada. For those of you unfamiliar with Cat’s I am reluctant to say it is just a swing dance venue because it had a community atmosphere when I visited.

Community

Options for everyday of the week.

One thing that Cat’s especially does to help out with the community feel is that it caters to the unique co-exisiting Anglophone and Francophone cultures within the city.

Within my visit to Cat’s I noticed the instructors for the classes would ask at the beginning their learning language preferences and would teach in either English, French or both depending upon the results. For those aspiring to learn French or students more comfortable learning in their native tongue, the lessons at Cat’s create a welcoming atmosphere.

Events within driving distance & Swing Cats!

Another thing Cat’s does to foster this sense of community is networking with not just other swing dance venues in the city but with surrounding communities as far as Rochester. When I was hanging out the following Saturday with some Cat’s organizers in the studio office, they were actively looking for events in the surrounding area to promote while munching on some Fairmount bagels.

This contrasts some of the horror stories I have heard in the U.S. of venues almost bitterly competing against each other.  Which ultimately in the end just hurts the local dance community because of the pyrrhic victories.

Options

As in most places they featured in their spacious and beautiful main studio, not one but two DJs that went until around 2 AM. However in the other studio they had a blues room open as well around 11 PM. As shown in the first picture they offer not just multiple levels of Lindy Hop, but classes in Collegiate Shag and Blues as well. Not listed in that picture, but I am fairly sure they have instruction in Balboa as well. The best thing is the classes are free with dance admission. What this does is encourages new dancers to find their own personal niche in the Cat’s community by taking classes tailored to their pace and preferences.

What is Cat’s Corner?

This is my view as a visiting American, so take what I say with a grain of salt. Talking with local organizers and dancing at the places I get the sense that Cat’s Corner is not just a dance venue but a place to be involved or be a part of. The staff (offical and volunteer) seems endeared toward the idea of maintaining and improving Cat’s and the classes are situated to cater toward the preferences of the dancers.

Nearby awesome food is an acceptable answer.

I know it sounds slightly cheesy, but I think it is what great events in the swing dance community do. People go to ILHC or Herrang because they want to be part of that experience, there is a distinct attitude and personality that is associated with those events that attracts people.

So if you are in Montreal on a Friday, pay a visit to their fun community. If possible grab a Schwartz sandwich beforehand and some poutine after.

 

Bridging the Gap: Jazz Music & Dance

This past weekend during Steven and Virginie, a workshop weekend in Rochester I had the privilege being in attendance at the live recording of a new CD “Live in Rochester” by The Gordon Webster Swingtet  featuring vocalist Naomi Uyama. While the experience was amazing and Naomi’s vocals on “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” sent a wave of nostalgia through me, in hindsight it put an interesting thought in my head.

Many people in the swing dance community know Naomi as a one of the dancers in the international instructors circuit, but my first experience with her was as a featured vocalist with The Boilermaker Jazz Band.  To me for several months she was “Naomi, the vocalist” not “Naomi, the International Lindy Hop Instructor”.

Mike Faltesek is another example of someone who fulfills these double roles. Around the world from Seoul, Korea to Philadelphia, United States dancers know him as a widely recognized swing dance instructor. Yet he also has an identity as a musician for the Careless Lovers having played recently at such events like Camp Hollywood or the Albuquerque Lindy Exchange.

Steven Mitchell is a shining example in this category for having been this duel role for quite some time. He regularly travels around the world as a swing dance instructor with his dance partner Virginie. However he also known to sing with Gordon Webster and occasionally other bands.

And You Crossover

It’s no secret that some jazz musicians ranging from back in the early 1900’s like Artie Shaw to today are skeptical of dancers,  thinking we would dance to anything if it had a beat. But a trend I have noticed is the swing dance community putting an honest effort understand the viewpoint of the musicians who perform for our community and to show that we appreciate what they bring to our community.

Perhaps this effort has always existed and I have been largely ignorant to it, but lately it has seemed to come not just from prominent members of our community leading by example (such as dancers listed above), but from scene organizers and average dancers as well. An example of this is found here in a post by Hamphats.ca of how the Montreal swing dance scene went up in arms on Facebook when a promoter was late in the payment of Meshiya Lake and Her Little Big Horns.

The Welbourne Jazz Camp is another example of this integration, creating an environment where one can pursue an education as a dancer, musician or both if you wish.  To quote their webpage,

“The creators of Wellbourne Jazz Camp  (Amy Johnson, dance director, Ben Polcer, music director)  have a vision of further bridging the gap between the inseparable jazz music and jazz dances.”

I think a lot of dancers wonder how can we improve and grow the scene? I think this idea of bridging the gap is a step in a very positive direction.

I’m not saying you have to go out and pick up a musical instrument and join a jazz band. (Though it is totally cool if you do.) But even little things help such buying a band’s CD instead of burning it from a friend or even something as simple as going up and introducing yourself to band members and thanking them if you enjoyed their performance.  Most of them are more then happy to talk to you and you can get some amazing stories in the process.

A Game To Develop Assessment Skills

A critical component for someone if they ever want to judge a swing dance contest or to become a good dancer themselves is the idea of defining ,then being able to assess what is “good dancing”.

Dax Hock explains in this interview,

I think people spend far too little time thinking about dancing. For example, what dancing actually is, what makes good dancing, and what differentiates it from “not as good” dancing? Why other people might be improving faster or having more fun? I guess the point I like to make to those interested in improvement is this….if you don’t really understand what something is you’re not going to be able to get much better at it. This goes for the dance as a whole or a concept as small as rhythm, leading, or a swing out.

However the struggle many people have is how to develop this besides the first obvious solution, which is to dance a lot to gain an experienced background to draw from?

One solution is take a look at events that are centered around the idea of determining good dancing, also known as competitions. Especially at the national/international level it is not unreasonable to expect that most of the judges have reasonable experience in this skill set of determining good dancing. Based on this I created a small game to improve that skill for myself and I am curious to see if it helps you guys out.

Assessment Game:

1. Pick a competition which has a video of good quality (shows all the dancers ) & has results posted online somewhere that you are unaware of.

2. In the time of the video act like a normal judge, if the competition uses relative placement then use it. Preferably only watch the video of the competition once so you get as much time as the judges and during it write notes and then choose your scores.

3. At the end compare your scores with the overall placement and each individual judges placement and ask yourself why your score was the same or different from the judges. (Watching the video again greatly assists with it.)

Notes:

This has been useful for me because I think it has improved by ability to assess quality of movement with dancers. This assists greatly in situations where I am teaching and I need to trouble shoot my students problems or when I am watching video of myself and trying to figure out what I am doing wrong. Most importantly though it has allowed me to to notice subjective biases within my own judging and other judges.

Take a look at the ILHC 2011 scoresheet for the Strictly Lindy Champions Division, along the top of the pack scores are all over the place among the judges. If you watch the video from that event and compare the judges scores, you will notice some judges had preferences toward certain things such as flashy tricks/aerials or classic choreography.

Which leads me to my next point, which I think ultimately is the more important thing learned is what is “good dancing” to oneself as an individual. While it is nice to get explanations from dancers somebody admires whether that be an old timer like Hal Talkier or a modern dancer like Skye Humphries, I believe it is pivotal to a dancers growth at the latter stages to answer this question for themselves.