A Year In Posting

On How I am Surprised I Didn’t Abandon This Blog

I discovered that I accidentally forgot yesterday was the one year anniversary of my blog. To be candid I am surprised this has gone on this long, like many things in my life I figured I would find it amusing for awhile then move onto some other distraction like bonsai trees.

 

So pretty....

Fortunately I somehow persevered in spite of my easily distracted and flighty nature. I originally started this blog because I was reading Rantings of a Lindy Hopper and thought, “Hey I am a college student and have the unique position of being in an organizational position and dancing on both sides of the coasts of the United States. Maybe someone will find this interesting.”

Refresher

In this year I have written and published 68 different articles (One of them being a repost). Out of all of them though there are a few I am particularly proud of and for those of you who may be newer to the blog I recommend you check them out.

  • Selection of Shim Shams: In this post I made a list (with videos) of the different Shim Sham’s performed in the swing dance community.
  • But All The Cats Like to Shag: This article contains a list of different videos all with instruction on the dance Collegiate Shag.
  • Tabby The Cat: In here I go over the background of the Tabby the Cat step and how it has influenced the modern swing dance community.
  • Nostalgia from Songs: The Caricoa: The Artie Shaw song, The Caricoa is one of my favorite songs and influences me in several ways. I explain why here.
  • Late Night Dancing:In the swing dance community, different venues across the world have their own way of DJing music once it gets to the midnight hours. I discuss that and add in my own personal views on the issue.

Readers

Lastly, to all of you who read and especially to all of you who comment I appreciate you procrastinating from what you really should be doing spending your valuable time here on my blog.


 

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.”

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.

Nostalgia from Songs: The Carioca

To quote Don Draper from the television series Mad Men,

Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.

There are songs that to individuals, that once they are played, bring back strong emotions and memories. T’aint What You Do by Jimmy Lunceford and Love Me or Leave Me by Nina Simone are examples of that in our swing dance community.

Today I am going to share a song that has that effect on me.

The Carioca

Introduction:

To quote wikipedia, the Carioca is a word that refers to inhabitants of Rio De Janerio. It was originally made popular in a recording featuring by Vincent Youmans and lyrics by Edward Eliscu and Gus Kahn.

Flying Down to Rio (1933):

Our first stop down memory lane is a 1933 musical film known as Flying Down to Rio. Even though this is not their best dancing, this film is noted for being the first on screen dance of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

The Carioca is also the name of the dance Fred and Ginger performed in the film, which was a combination of Samba, Maxixe, Foxtrot and Rumba. It was supposed to be promoted as a ballroom dance, that did not have much success.

When I hear any versions of the song the Carioca, I can’t help but be reminded of the superb technicality and the finesse possessed in Astaire’s dancing.

Artie Shaw and His Orchestra (1939) & Buddy Rich (1982):

I won’t be shy about it, music by Artie Shaw is some of my favorite music to dance to. But this is especially true when Shaw had Buddy Rich on board, as a drummer, for his orchestra. For those of you who do not know swing era drummers, Rich is a beast.  Check out this 1982 performance of him at the Montreal Jazz Festival:

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xajrpn_buddy-rich-the-carioca_music#from=embed&start=7

One of the myriad of reasons I like Jonathan Stout and His Campus Five is the fact that they really kill Shaw’s charts. A big factor in that is Josh Callazo who is an amazing drummer himself and captures Rich’s spirit when he plays. Check out Man From Mars from Jonathan Stout Orchestra’s performance at Lincoln Center (2006).

The Carioca reminds me of what past and present, it really means to have a band that ‘swings’ and that doesn’t just play swing dance music.

NADC (2003) [Kevin and Carla]:

In 2003 at the North Atlantic Dance Championships, Kevin St. Laurent and Carla Heiney competed with this routine to two songs. ‘Deacon’s Hop’ by Big Jay McNeely and to an edited version of The Carioca by Artie Shaw.

What strikes me is just the flow and musicality of the routine, while still maintaining the high energy of the song. I am reminded when I hear it of how some can rise to the occasion of interpreting music through motion.

Camp Hollywood Underground Jitterbug Championship (2009)

Camp Hollywood 2009 was my first ‘big’ Lindy Hop event and was a drastic change from usual cozy and smaller workshops/exchanges I was used to back East.  I was confused when I saw posters all over the walls Saturday night with cryptic messages suggesting something was going on at the blues room of all places at 2:00 AM in the morning. Then this happened….

Tiffany Wine & Kenny Nelson versus Dax Hock & Max Pittrezella. It was raw, vicious, and amazing to watch.  As someone who was starting to see what the national scene was like it was an amazing first impression.

What this added to the song for me was how the intensity of the song could be visually represented and the whole idea of “laying it all out on the floor”.

The Fly Rights: Camp Hollywood Showcase Division (2010)

To quote the poster who uploaded the following video on youtube,

What you are about to witness is a video whose sheer magnitude of awesome will shatter your eye sockets. This is the beginning of the end of an epic saga of a lone choreographer and a ragtag gang of misfits whose only goal was to perform at Camp Hollywood’s 2010 Team Division competition.

I could probably write a separate blog post about this performance, how awesome they all are, and how I don’t still have my Fly Rights flag from Camp Hollywood decorating my room.

But what this added to the song for me, is the idea of how hard work and dedication truly pays off.

In Conclusion

The Carioca is such song loaded with nostalgia for me because ultimately it reminds me what it means to be a dancer and a “swing” dancer. They are two questions I struggle to answer everyday, but feel I get slightly closer to the more experience I get.

Conviction

One of the most common sentences I hear from mainly intermediate level dancers is,

I wish I could get better at dancing but, x…

Variable x can fall anywhere in the list of; I don’t have enough time, I am in an isolated scene, I don’t have someone to mentor me, I didn’t start young enough, and et cetera.

Newsflash, for the majority of dancers there are only two situations here:

  1. You have other priorities in life that overshadow dancing, which is perfectly understandable.
  2. You are just lazy and making excuses to cover up your lack of motivation.

Soapbox Rant (Don’t say I didn’t warn you)

To get on my soapbox for a bit, there are many dancers out there who I respect and they have a borderline, if not obsessive conviction that they will improve their dancing. In result they dedicate massive amounts of time and effort toward that goal.

One of my huge pet peeves is when people complain about how they don’t have enough time to improve or make other similar excuses. For the majority of them its not, they don’t have the time. Its they would rather watch House on their couch or Skype with friends then practice their triple steps and swing-outs.

Lazy Cat
Lazy Cat wants to watch House instead of working on swingouts.

When people make excuses, at least to me they cheapen the dedication and sacrifices those dancers I respect made, I find it insulting. [/end_rant]

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

Rekindling the Spark

The other night while googling my club (Penn State Swing Dance Club) for fun, I found out we recently had a sister club pop into existence. This club was Penn State Altoona Swing Dance club, formed at one of Penn State’s branch campuses, about fourty minutes south-west of State College.

I was having a stressful week so I decided to take a mini vacation. So I grabbed three other members from my own club and made the trek down to Altoona. As expected it was a smaller club, with a lesson in East Coast Swing, and mostly neo-swing DJ’ed during the social dance. But I had a great time! Most of the people there absolutely new dancers that had a lot of positive energy, were excited to dance, and seemed happy to be there.

It  brought me back to the actual lecture part from Mark Kihara’s LED talk (before the karaoke shannagins) at ILHC in which he talked about the importance of remembering its not how good/bad you or the other person is, how great the music is, but most importantly having fun during the dance. Often when I come back from big events like ILHC or even return from California, I unfortunately get this sense of snobbish bitterness because the music or type of dancing isn’t my preference. This trip was a great reminder to me of why I dance, to have fun and to share the joy of dancing with other people.

PSIDE – How Performance Is A Different Animal

Introduction

This story starts out back about a year ago when I was just finished teaching a lesson for my college swing dance club and I noticed a girl standing by the doorway of the room looking in inquisitively. I walked over and gave her the usual spiel about swing dance club but she mentioned that she was just looking in after her PSIDE practice. Being curious I asked her what it was and she explained it was the Penn State International Dance Ensemble, a performance group that does dances from around the world. I had seen one of their performances before on campus, not knowing who they were when they performed Tinikling. I was impressed being that it was the first time I had seen people of non-Fillippino descent perform it and on top of that they did a great job.  One thing lead to another and she brought the director over who told me to come out to their spring audition because they had the opposite problem of the swing dance club, lack of leads.

Auditions

Its amusing even though I was a seasoned swing dancer of a year and half at the time, the audition process into PSIDE still intimidated me. Besides the Shim-Sham and the Gangbusters Routine I had no real experience with choreography and they were in dances, which in some cases I never heard of such as Bhangra.

Shim Sham
Ohio dancers and myself doing the Shim Sham at Get Hep Swing in Cleveland-Town

In addition once one got past the auditions just to become a performing member, one had to individually audition for each dance they were interested in for the performances. How the auditions worked was for the majority of the dances you had an about an hour to an hour and a half to learn a routine, then you auditioned it immediately after. I remember asking the girl in charge of Tinikling, Kim, for advice before the audition started because it was the dance that originally got me interested in PSIDE and I wanted to be a part of it badly. However the auditions were not as cut-throat as I imagined them to be, everyone encouraged each other and the people who ran the auditions put in a considerable effort to try to prepare everyone for the tryouts.

How Performance Is A Different Animal

The thing about partner dancing is there is this idea of connection between the music and the other person one is dancing with.  However that changed with my experiences in PSIDE where I learned performance is this connection between the music and the other people you are performing with, then sharing that with the crowd watching you. While it’s good having technique of the respective dance, one has to remember most of the people watching do not have extensive dancing backgrounds in the dance you are performing (or dance backgrounds in general). They are not going to notice bad technique, they are going to notice who looks tired,  looking at the floor or doing something different when everyone is trying to do the same thing.

Tahitian Dance
Tahitian Performance, moving as one.

Besides the fact of the different mindset being a performer then a social dancer, another thing I had to get used to was consistent rehearsals and how the lessons were different from the typical lessons I took for swing dancing. In my history of taking swing dance lessons, the majority of them at the beginner and even intermediate lessons were based on more having on fun while learning the dance at hand instead of approaching it as a serious art form and seriously working at it. PSIDE while fun, was not as carefree as my previous experiences with classes.  It was refreshing to be in a room of people who were all trying to seriously work at something. Making a consistent time commitment was a difficult hurdle for myself as well due to my traveling gypsy/vagabond lifestyle of being a swing dancer in an isolated scene in addition to helping to run the PSU Swing Dance Club. Luckily the PSIDE director, Clare was very accommodating of myself missing practices and it worked out for the most part.

How This Changed Me

Before PSIDE I would go to Downtown Disneyland in Anaheim, California when live bands would play, in order to get used to dancing front of a crowd. It helped in the same way that it helped me to be more comfortable with myself in terms of dancing and be fearless in front of a crowd. As odd as it sounds, beforehand I would always feel awkward dancing alone, not just in swing, but in general (ironic considering my dancing origins). Now I can bust out moves with much more confidence regardless of the situation, whether it’s a Solo Charleston jam circle or at a local night-club.

PSIDE also has made me feel more like a “real dancer” and slightly increased my knowledge of what that means. I remember my first few PSIDE practices feeling like the dunce in class during the warm-up stretches because I am not flexible at all, and I could pick out that a lot the people in the class had training in classical dances which I lacked. Through time though I realized everyone in PSIDE had their strengths and weaknesses, what was important is we were using our respective dance backgrounds to help each other as a whole. I got exposed to many different motions outside of my usual range of motion I was used to in Lindy Hop, ranging from hip-shaking and isolations with Tahitian to the extreme body-awareness of Bhangra.

I’ll be candid and admit when I first joined PSIDE it was more to use the organization as a tool to improve my dancing as a whole. But they are a great bunch and I have come to know many of them as my friends. The environment that PSIDE provides allows us to learn from each other and gives a performance outlet for many people who may normally not have the chance. All I can hope is many some of my fellow PSIDE members have learned as much from me as I have from some of them.

PSIDE_Color
PSIDE Being "Professional" Performers As Usual

Melting Pot

It is a warm night night at State College, Pennsylvania. I’m enjoying a cool drink after a long day, watching people dance in in a backroom at a dimly lit underground bar. In front of me are a myriad of styles; one couple doing ochos in Argentine Tango, another couples’ hips snapping at the air with fishtails from Blues dancing, and yet another couple gliding along the floor in what appears to be West Coast Swing.

This is the unofficial Wednesday night venue in State College known as The Rathskeller. Usually DJ’ed by a man known as Rob Jones, it is an fun affair. Often due to my busy schedule I don’t get to show up until midnight, where it gets interesting. Before midnight its usually people only from the Swing Dance club are in attendance and music is catered to that crowd. After midnight though, the salsa club’s weekly venue closes and people from the Penn State Swing Dance Club, Ballroom Dance Club, Argentine Tango Club and Salsa Club all show up to drink, enjoy each others company and dance.

What is amazing though is dancers who you would normally never see in a the same venue, dancing with each other and having a good time. What I love about the place is its not about “who’s style is better” but about working together to make something as a whole. Even just sitting back and watching the couples dance is a joy, during some songs you can see four different types of dance each creating their own work of art with the music as their muse.

It is nice being at an event that unities the local dance community as a whole. I really hope to see this trend continue.

Taking a Deep Breath

This past weekend I was at the Boston Tea Party in Massachusetts, attending in tow with a bunch of my Penn State buddies for all of us to compete in the Jack and Jill under the Newcomer category.

To make a long story short, I didn’t make the finals of the competition. To say I was frustrated afterwords, would be a slight understatement. Starting in November, I decided I would work hard to try to place in the finals in this competition. I followed all the advice that people throw out about “taking your dancing to the next level”; traveling to different events on weekends, dancing frequently, asking for feedback from follows, and even taking one of those expensive privates from a well known international instructor. That one hour after reading the call-back sheets I have never probably felt as worthless as a dancer in the last two years.

After that period of moping, I realized could either; a) Mope around more and be a downer in a room that probably had some of the best dancers from all around North America or b) Suck it up, learn from the experience, move on and dance with some awesome people. I decided to do the smart thing and go back out there, in result I witnessed an awesome jam, had a fun dance with a Canadian friend of mine to Shiny Stockings, and through that remembered the joy of Lindy Hop that I temporarily blinded myself to.  I got so caught up into proving to myself via this past competition that I have “improved” that I lost sight of the reason I wanted to improve, so I could have a better potential to connect with and have fun with dancers of all levels.

I learned from this past weekend was while it is good to have goals for your dancing, you can’t let them define yourself. If things fall short you just have to take a deep breath, step back from the situation and see what you can learn from it and move on.