Thoughts on swing dancing and Lindy Hop, one word at a time…

Posts tagged “Swing Dance

Carnation Plaza

Fifty-seven Years Of Magic

Dave a collector of vintage Disneyland photos wrote on his website about Carnation Plaza,

 When the Bandstand was moved from Central Plaza over to Adventureland and Magnolia Park, the Carnation Plaza Gardens were constructed and opened on August 18, 1956. A plethora of talent has performed under the tent of this area, including Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Harry James, The Osmond Brothers, Lionel Hampton, Tex Benecke, Cab Calloway, and Stan Kenton.

Photo of Carnation Plaza pre-renovations by  Gregg L Coope

Photo of Carnation Plaza pre-renovations by Gregg L Coope

For those of you not so lucky to be from California, in Disneyland  there was this place known as Carnation Plaza, which has been referred to as “The Longest Running Swing Dance Venue”.  A notable part of the Southern California swing dance scene for years, case in point you can see California swing dance legend Hal Takier dancing to the song Avalon there in 1987.

For a more comprehensive view, there is a small documentary on the topic of Carnation Plaza called “A Stage that Walt Built”.

However, here is my personal attempt to give you a glimpse of what Carnation Plaza was and still means to Southern California.

Date Night

Beginning in 1957, Date Nights were a staple of Disneyland culture continuing almost until the 70s. Advertised in local newspapers they were claimed as a way to become a BMOD (Big Man On Dates). In 1967 for $6.50 in the United State one could get 10 rides and full admission to the park which included dancing.

Source: http://www.buzzfeed.com/leonoraepstein/disneylands-date-nite-of-the-50s-will-make-you-wish-you-had

Entrance of Disneyland looks great, attendees not so dapper these days.

datenight2

As seen by the school yells, this was when the collegiate school spirit was part of Southern Californian culture.

In an article on Mouse Club House, the author Scott Wolf wrote,

Music has always been an important part of the Disneyland experience, with the traditional Disneyland Band performing there since opening day. And while that band remains an essential element of the overall ambience of the park today, on June 28, 1957 things really got swinging! For the first time Disneyland would extend its operating hours until 1am on Friday and Saturday nights for Date Nite, in an attempt to attract young couples as a dating hot spot. Couples could purchase Date Nite discounted tickets which permitted admission only after 5pm. Carnation Plaza Gardens became the chosen central Date Nite location and the local Elliott Brothers band were brought in as the Date Niters who had the ability to perform everything from the slow dances to rock ‘n’ roll to the “La Raspa,” which became a Date Nite tradition.

datenight4

On Stage Magazine

To give a better picture of what Carnation Plaza was about, here is an article from On Stage magazine, which features an interview with Stan Freese who booked professional swing bands for several years at Disneyland.

The Stage that Walt Built
At Disneyland’s Carnation Plaza Gardens, performers can stand in the footsteps of giants.

Stan Freese calls the Carnation Plaza Gardens Stage his “home away from home.” That’s not too much of a stretch.

Freese has been helping put on shows at the historic Disneyland venue since 1974. Today, he books the professional swing bands that fill the stage every Saturday night. The job never gets old, thanks in large part to Freese’s appreciation of the star-studded history of the stage, which opened in 1956.

“This is the longest-running big band stage in the world,” he says, rattling off a list of the stars who have graced the venue over the years. The roster includes Cab Calloway, Bob Crosby, Jimmy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Lionel Hampton, Les Brown, Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Harry James, Eartha Kitt, and Benny Goodman–whose orchestra was the first big-name group to perform on the stage, back in 1961.

Freese, now 66, enthusiastically hops around the large stage, recreating how things looked when big bands performed there seven nights a week. “Right here is where Louis Armstrong sang ‘Hello, Dolly!'” he says. Stepping to his left, he continues: “Over here is where Count Basie and Duke Ellington played the piano. Right on this stage, looking out at the castle.”

The “castle,” of course, is the famous Sleeping Beauty Castle–the ultimate symbol of Disneyland fun and fantasy–and located “just a stone’s throw” from Carnation Plaza Gardens, as Freese puts it. The stage itself is about 20 feet wide and can accommodate 35 to 40 musicians; larger groups spread out onto the terrazzo dance floor. They perform for audiences of up to 150 people under a canopy of gold and burgundy, which adds to the festive atmosphere.

The history and the surroundings only enrich the experience for the student bands, orchestras and choruses that perform on the Carnation Plaza Gardens Stage. “They are walking on hallowed ground, playing in this hallowed venue,” says Freese. “They should all know when they come here how exciting this stage really is.”

Jim Hahn, director of instrumental music at Tuffree Middle School in Placentia, Calif., has been bringing bands to Disneyland for more than 20 years and understands the importance of sharing the Carnation Plaza Gardens Stage legacy. “Every time we go,” says Hahn, “I explain the history of that stage to the kids.”
Hahn, a saxophone and clarinet player, performed on the stage himself in 1981 with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. It was the first visit ever to Disneyland for the Philadelphia native. “I was in awe, knowing all the bands that had played that stage,” he says. “It was mind-blowing.”

Every spring Hahn brings two jazz ensembles to play at Carnation Plaza Gardens; in the fall, he brings a marching band to perform in the Disneyland parade. It’s more than history and fond memories that keep him coming back. In Hahn’s opinion, everything about the experience is top-notch. “It’s nothing short of the Disney standard,” he declares.

Hahn has particular praise for the sound quality and the location of the Carnation Plaza Gardens Stage in the bustling heart of Disneyland. “It’s a loud stage,” says Hahn. “It attracts a lot of people.”

The effect never wears off on Hahn. “As many times as I’ve taken the kids there, it’s still–as corny as it sounds—it’s still a thrill.”

Wendy Shepherd, choral director at Wilson High School in Tacoma, Wash., says the experience of playing Disneyland can be “life-changing” for students. She has been bringing her Scintillation Show Choir to perform on the Carnation Plaza Gardens Stage for 10 years. “As a child, to dream of the magic of Disneyland, and then as a young adult to achieve the goal of performing there and working with the Disney choreographers, is immeasurable,” Shepherd says. “I have students who are in their late 20s who Facebook me now, and to this day, recall their experiences, the joy, the achievement of their dream, the way it moved their lives positively.”

The thrill has never worn off for Stan Freese, either. Born and raised in Minneapolis, he made his first trip to Disneyland at age 12, when he marched in the parade with his school band. “It was just great,” he recalls. “I had no clue I was going to work there.” A tuba player, he performed as a soloist in the Soviet Union in 1969. That led to his Disney job interview and his role as leader of the original Disneyland Band, starting in 1971.

In Freese’s early days at Disneyland, the Carnation Plaza Gardens Stage was still bringing in national talent for its night-time big-band series. There also was a period in the 1970s and ’80s when pop acts like the Osmonds, the 5th Dimension and the Pointer Sisters played there. These days, the evening shows are performed mostly by swing bands that Freese books from Los Angeles, Orange County and as far away as San Francisco.

Whether the performers are professionals or students, they enjoy first-class treatment. Buses come straight off the Santa Ana Freeway into the Disneyland back lot, where students and gear are unloaded. On the back lot, the students can avail themselves of the dressing and rehearsal facilities as they prepare for their big moment on the Carnation Plaza Gardens Stage.

“The whole thing is magic,” Freese concludes. “Now it’s just up to the kids to have fun and make great music to become part of that heritage.”

Walt Disney

A little known fact about Walt Disney is that he was a fan of jazz. In fact in 1935, he produced an animated Disney short named Music Land, which attempted to bridge the gap between classical music and jazz.

As a matter of fact, Walt himself was a patron of Carnation Plaza as well.

1958 Walt Disney enjoys a dance at Carnation Plaza

1958 Walt Disney enjoys a dance at Carnation Plaza

Besides supporting Jazz in different ways such as recordings, Disney was friends with many of the musicians who played at his park including Louis Armstrong.

Louis Armstrong and Walt Disney

Louis Armstrong and Walt Disney

A Sweet Note

While it looks different these days due to recent changes, dancing in Disneyland is still a notable part of the culture of swing dancing in Southern California and of Disneyland itself. I would like to leave you with a quote from the parks founder, Walt Disney,

To all who come to this happy place; welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past …. and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America … with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world. – Walt Disney


A Few Thoughts on Recent Ambidancetrous Discussions

Not too long ago there was a tumblr post on Ambidancetrous advocating the idea of teaching beginner classes where you have students try out both roles. In addition on the blog The Lindy Affair there was an interview with Anne, a member of Yale’s ambidancetrous scene where she describes her community.

Positive Results from this Community Discussion

What I enjoyed about these posts is that they encouraged discussion in person, on tumblr, on facebook, and even most recently on the Yehoodi talk show. I took the time to talk to several of my students, dance instructors I am friends with, fellow dancers I know, and even a few non-dancers as to how they would feel about the advantages and disadvantages of teaching in this manner. We also explored the tangental conversations that sprung up from exploring this line of conversation.

What I enjoyed the most is that it seriously challenged my views and methods of how I teach dance, which as an instructor I am always trying to test and improve.

My Views As A Student and Participant in the Swing Dance Community

In a previous post I wrote that a few months after I started dancing as a lead, I took several classes as a follow after being thrust suddenly into a teaching role. Until recently, I had forgotten an important fact: that when I enrolled in these classes, I asked the instructors’ permission to take the classes as a male follow. Nothing on the website stated that this was forbidden and neither of the instructors indicated in their speech that I had to choose the role of a lead. Regardless I thought it was the polite thing to do to run it by them first.

When I was learning how to follow, my classmates were generally polite. Once in awhile I would get a question like, “So why are you learning how to follow?” One thing I really appreciated was that I had a few instructors actually point me out in classes and mention what I was doing was a great idea for improving as a dancer. However, there were some notable negative experiences: once I had the unpleasant experience of having a guy outright refuse to dance with me in a workshop class because I was in the rotation as a male follow. Another incident that left a particularly bad taste in my mouth was I when was asked to compete as a lead instead of a follow in a competition because “we don’t have enough leads”.

Organizers, if you label your competition result sheets like this you are doing it wrong. They also may be relabeled.

Organizers, might want to consider the chance that a female lead or a male follow might make finals. This will prevent us from having to relabel things.

Based on my personal experiences I do have to agree that there are definitely social pressures to choose the gendered stereotypes for partnered dancing within classes.  There are still a significant amount of instructors, for example, who use gendered language for roles in classes. It is a tad odd for me, a male follow, to be referred to as a lady during class.

As a student or participant in a community, I will fully admit I have a bias. I’m a natural extrovert and it makes me not as empathetic to others as I should be at times. However, I have had to learn as a teacher, that not everyone is as comfortable in an unfamiliar social situation. Most newbies when they are taking their first dance class already have enough apprehensions to deal with; adding onto the heap the idea that people might see them as the odd one in the group could steer them from a role they were curious about in order to fit in with their class and appease anxieties they may have.

I Like My Vegetarian/Vegan Friends

On a tangent I am addressing this post “Why a lead who doesn’t follow is like a vegan making barbecue.” The author writes about the idea that instructors should know both roles in order to be effective at their job. I agree with this point, please no more classes where I have leads telling me “you just follow” as advice on how to understand that role.

However where I disagree with this blog post is that it implies that you need to pick up the other role to be a better dancer. Learning the other role in swing dancing competently is not the only avenue nor a necessity to becoming a better dancer. I have many vegetarian/vegan friends and peers who are amazing dancers, as in they compete and place at the big name competitions like ILHC and such. However in spite of being fairly experienced dancers, when they dance in their non-primary role some of them are absolute rubbish.

I’m not going to disagree that learning the other role does provide some advantages, especially in terms of being considerate to individuals in dancing. However I disagree with the tone this post takes where it implies that one is at a serious disadvantage if they do not learn both roles.

My Views As A Teacher in the Swing Dance Community

To give a short background of my teaching experience I have been teaching swing dance for about 3+ years on the East Coast of the United States. Usually local drop-in classes, monthly series, and the occasional one-day workshop out of my local area. As just a general dancer I travel a lot and tend to go to larger national/international competition events and nearby smaller regional events.

What this background means is that as a teacher, skill acquisition and/or improvement for my students is a high priority. For other instructors, creating an inclusive environment where students feel welcome or ensuring their students have fun may be more of a priority. Now I am not saying that I do not factor those other two things in when I teach; in beginner classes making sure my students have fun and are comfortable is my main priority. Beginner classes are the equivalent of sticking your foot in the pool to see if the water is okay, and I know the majority of people taking their first swing dance class aren’t there to throw down in a competition the next month. However, making sure that I provide the base fundamentals of the dance I am teaching and allowing my students the opportunity to succeed is something I am not willing to compromise on.

I think that teaching a beginner class with students learning both roles in a 45 min to 1 hour time frame (typical for swing dancing) is not an optimal idea. This is based on my experience as someone who has danced and competed in both lead and follow roles in the last few years, taught beginner classes where people learn both roles, and has been teaching for a few years. This has been further reinforced by discussions I have had with other instructors.Interestingly enough though, for Blues it seems to work perfectly fine.

The main reason why I think it works for Blues and not so much for Lindy Hop is while both dances take a considerable amount of skill to do well, as a new dancer Blues has a lower barrier of entry. Certain dances are easier to social dance at the beginning of one’s dance education. In my beginner 6-count swing drop-in dance classes a noticeable portion of my class struggles to do one role barely competently. While there is overlap between the two roles of lead and follow, it is a fact that each role does inherently pose unique challenges. When I have had students trying to tackle all of the challenges of the roles of both lead and follow in a 45 min to 1 hour time span for a typical 6-count swing beginner class, often a notable portion of my class did not get to the level of competency that I am satisfied with as an instructor.

Am I completely against the idea of an ambidancetrous newbie class for Lindy Hop? Nope. I think a beginner 6-count class for Lindy Hop can be taught ambidancetrous if you have more time, such as 1h and 30 minutes and/or if the class has a considerable amount of already experienced dancers in rotation. Another option is teaching a weekly series instead of a drop-in class, because you will have more time to work with students.

Closing Thoughts

Overall while I think exploring the idea of teaching both roles to students in a class is an interesting concept with a potential for positive results such as allowing one to be an effective instructor, gives insight to dancers about the challenges faced by both roles, and addresses issues of gender equality within the swing dance community. However based on my experience an instructor and a dancer who dances both roles I do not believe this should be at the expense of possibly leaving new students not receiving a basic amount of knowledge in their beginner classes.


Aut Inveniam Viam Aut Faciam

I have always wondered if other people in the Hammond Building found it strange to hear the sound of desks sliding and screeching across the floor for over an hour.

About four years ago in State College, Pennsylvania I was a new lead and frustrated that follows I danced with couldn’t feel me lead a rock step. The result of that was I decided to take the matter into my own hands. An immobile object wouldn’t compensate for my shitty leading, so I drilled leading rock steps on classroom disks at the top floor of the engineering building in an attempt to get my body to understand the feeling of using my body to create a stretch during a rock step.

The Benefits of an Isolated Scene

The running joke in State College was “we were four hours from everything” and with Washington D.C., Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia in that range it wasn’t far from the truth.  As a scene we had 1 hour classes followed by a usually 2 hour dance twice a week and one monthly large dance. Our big deal event was our semester workshop which had international instructors for absurdly low prices such as $20 dollars for a weekend workshop of 8 classes. While it wasn’t the worst situation in the world, it still was no L.A. or Washington D.C. where you have a large community of dancers and regular instruction from nationally recognized instructors.

What it did give us is the gift of forcing those of us who wanted to improve to take ownership of our dancing improvement. We would do stupid things to get in dancing with advanced dancers like leave after colleges classes at like 5pm and drive four hours to Washington D.C. to dance at the Jam Cellar (which at the time as a newbie I was convinced was like the Mecca of dance), stay to the bitter end, and then take shifts driving back to make it home in time for 8 AM classes the next day. I believe I visited Washington D.C. about three different times before I actually saw what it looked like in the daylight.

One memory that stands out in my mind was feeling left out after attending a workshop weekend that during the shim sham I had no idea what it was or how to do it. That became the catalyst which caused me the following week to use the video below and teach myself the entire routine.

The important concept I got from living in a somewhat small/isolated scene is it was not my communities’ responsibility or whatever instructors’ responsibility to help me to improve, it was mine. If I watched a video and thought I looked like shit there was always a mirror to remind myself of whose fault it is.

The Problem

The problem I have noticed in swing dance communities in general is a sizable portion of dancers are not proactive. What I mean by that is they expect to be spoon-fed and given the answers from instructors. Yes, you can learn that way but it is a slow route and not conducive to getting past intermediate at best. Even worse I would argue you are likely to end up more looking like a poor imitation of another dancer instead of developing your own voice or personality in movement.

I’m not saying to completely abandon teachers or classes, obviously those have value. What I am saying is there is a definite value being able to develop yourself as a dancer outside of formal swing dance class and many of those skills such as being able to visually learn and recreate movement have multifaceted applications. When you have classes as your only source of learning then the material your teacher’s present and possibly the social dance floor are your only source of input. However when you choose to attempt to learn something anything you can grasp is a source of inspiration; Frankie Manning, Dean Collins,  Willa Mae Ricker, or Jewel McGowan. Even non Lindy Hop sources are game, one dancer I have personally have pulled from is Maurice Mouvet.

Over the years I’ve had requests for me to teach people some things like swingout variations or solo jazz routines and often my thoughts are, “It’s on youtube, you could learn it tonight instead of waiting around for me to show you.”

An interesting trend is a lot of amazing dancers (including a few from State College) have always had this attitude in dance and in many cases they actively seek out opportunities to work and collaborate with others outside of a traditional workshop and classroom setting whether that is locally or involves travel. Jon Tigert wrote in his blog about his experience when he was in a tiny remote town in Italy for two and a half months and out of the dance loop. Did he use that as an excuse to rest on his laurels and complain about how there was no one to dance with? Hell no, instead he worked his ass off at improving his quality of movement through solo jazz.

Don’t Dream It Be It

Here is my challenge to you dear readers. Take something you have always wanted to learn (within reason, please don’t crack skulls learning aerials off of youtube) and do it. No partner? Post a facebook status, ask people in your classes, or worst case scenario work on solo quality of movement. Tranky Doo, Big Apple, or California Routine? There are videos for all of those online. If you actually take me up on my challenge write in the comments about it or even better show me on video or in person. I’ll leave you with this quote from Mr. Tigert,

So you are wondering how you can become a better dancer, even if you don’t have a partner, or you can’t afford classes. Get off your butt, stop reading blogs and watching videos, put in your earbuds and just dance. – Jon Tigert


Three Ways To Annoy Me As A Swing Dance DJ

Over the last two or more years I have had the privilege to DJ at different weekend events and weekly venues mainly along the East Coast here in the United States. It’s an activity I love doing and the majority of the time I have a blast sharing my collection of music with dancers.

However once in awhile when I am DJing at a swing dance and people say to me or do things that make me just question things such as “Why are you at this dance?” or “Have you been drinking?”.  Without further ado…

1. Asking For Free Music

Once in awhile someone will come up to me and asked me what song I played, which I don’t mind at all. If I have the time I might go into detail what different musicians are in that band and a good place to find the song to purchase. However occasionally as a followup I will have people ask me for the song, or even worse a bunch of music. Manu Smith on Yehoodi’s Swing Nation actually mentioned almost the exact same reasons why this really irks me as a DJ.

The main reason this annoys me is the majority of the time the requests are for newer bands like Gordon Webster. These guys work hard and spend a lot of time to create this amazing music. In many cases I personally have met some of these musicians and actually attended the live recordings of the CDs they produce. For them it is a full time job that creates so much value for our community. For a person to not throw a dollar or two to just download the song online somewhere for all the effort they put in? Not cool.

2. Bad Requests

The running joke that I have for myself as a DJ is that my slogan is, “Requests will be met with loathing and disdain”. While I fully admit I sometimes have borderline pretentiousness in relation to music that rivals the record shop employees from the movie High Fidelity, sometimes I get requests that would make even the most open minded swing dancer go “What…?”.

There are definitely tiers of bad requests, with the the worst tier being music that is completely inappropriate for any kind of partnered dancing. I have had requests for electronica music, hip hop, and believe it or not Mambo No. 5 by Lou Bega. Followed by that is music that are for dances that are not swing dancing such as Salsa, Waltz, and et cetera. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against other dances but if you pay to attend an event advertised as a swing dance and I was hired or requested to DJ at a swing dance… it shouldn’t be too surprising that I am only going to play swing dance music. Lastly is your typical neo-swing requests such as “Zoot Suit Riot”, cliche requests such as “Sing Sing Sing”, or the new electro-swing craze that has been going around.

Regardless this is often how I feel in response to some of the particularly bad requests:

music_taste

3. Telling Me I Haven’t Been Playing X Type Of Music… And Being Completely Wrong

I’ve luckily only had this happen maybe two or three times. Fun fact, when I DJ my laptop keeps track of which songs I played so far. Typically the conversation goes like this:

Random Dancer: “Hey you haven’t played any songs in the medium tempo range.”

Me: “Medium is a subjective term, what do you mean? Like what BPM (Beats Per Minute) or can you give me an example of a song that you’d define as medium tempo?”

Random Dancer: “You know like that one song about cake.”

Me: “I actually DJed ‘I Like Pie I Like Cake’ by the Four Clefs about an hour ago, you can see it right here.”

Random Dance: “Yeah… can you play more stuff like that.”

Me: “Sure…”

The lesson here is if you haven’t been listening to the music in a DJs set… giving them advice on it is probably not the best idea.

Summary

I’d like to reiterate that DJing is awesome fun and 99% of the time I am having a blast and feeding off the energy of a crowd. Just once in awhile I have those moments of, “Seriously?”. Other DJs or event attendees, I would love to hear your horror stories as well.

 


Events & Scenes That Have Great Market Segementation

In my last post Market Segmentation for Swing Dancing I promised I would write a future post going into a few venues and events that I think are good examples of businesses that have properly segmented their market.

Atomic Ballroom

Located in Southern California, Atomic Ballroom clearly defines it’s market segment in it’s mission statement on their website,

ATOMIC Ballroom’s mission is to create a dance community of all ages in Orange County by providing affordable, high-quality social dance instruction and events, where people will feel welcome and safe to learn the skill of dancing and to socialize with others who also value that skill.

It’s easy to infer from that statement that they have created a segment of individuals who prefer a family friendly and welcoming atmosphere in the Orange County area. This is important because they have zeroed in on a reasonable geographic location to draw their customer base for a local venue. In addition they have appealed to the type of customer that wants a safe place that they can bring their entire family along whether that be their children or mother/father.

Mobtown Ballroom

Located in the lovely town known as Charm City a.k.a. Baltimore, Mobtown Ballroom takes a decidedly different approach in defining it’s market segment. Here is a snippet of their manifesto from their website,

WE LIKE OUR FUN TO BE ADULT.

This isn’t as dirty as it sounds. People spend most of their time in censorious environments (like work or school), trying to appear well-mannered and bland. That’s what the day is for. Come to our evening programming and you can hoot and hollar at sexy performances, dance dirtier than Patrick Swayze, have an incredibly strong drink at the Calypso Cafe down the road, or contemplate our stained-glass windows and pray. It’s grown up time, and a dash of benign anarchy helps take the edge off the work week.

In contrast to the previous business takes the contrasting approach of segmenting their market to target individuals who want to let loose and have fun in a non-judgmental environment. A dash of excitement from the monotony of normal life is what they are trying to provide. In addition they write,

We don’t care about your politics, your race, your sexual orientation, your religion, or anything else, and we don’t tolerate any kind of harassment. Whoever you are or wherever you’re from, if you want to dance, you’re in the right place.

Mobtown also segments their market by promoting they are a safe and welcome environment for all walks of life and will not tolerate any individuals who attempt to endanger that. As an aside, kudos for doing this Baltimore and I wish more venues would make this information public and crystal clear.

Stompology

Located in Rochester, New York the event known as Stompology segments their market by providing a service that addresses a niche part of the swing dancing community. As their website has listed,

Stompology, approaching its eighth year, is the first dance weekend devoted entirely to authentic jazz, Charleston, and solo movement.

Back in 2006, Groove Juice Swing saw that many workshops and camps were beginning to add solo-style material to their curriculum, and figured a weekend dedicated to just that type of thing would be right up the alleys of Lindy Hoppers and any students of historical jazz dance.

And we were right… eight years later, Stompology is still going strong! We’re more excited than ever about this year’s event and we’re looking forward to having you join us.

They saw a need that was not addressed in the swing dance community and created an event to provide a service to address it. If this isn’t an example of segmenting within the swing dance community, I don’t know what is.

In addition while they may not officially promote this but Stompology has a reputation for being a fun event. This allows the event to attract customers in the swing dance community who are looking for a fun time. As this video by Alain Wong shows, they do indeed deliver on that.

NOLA Girl Jam

Based out of New Orleans, Louisiana the event NOLA Girl Jam in a similar vein to Stompology segments their market by targeting a certain portion of the swing dancing community. As written on the event website,

Girl Jam celebrates women’s artistic achievements in traditional jazz music and dance with the intention of inspiring today’s jazz-loving female artists in a supportive, collective learning environment.

The focus on communication between jazz musicians and jazz dancers is a fundamental aspect of the jazz tradition, and this is what Girl Jam aims to foster in a welcoming, communal atmosphere for women of all ages and ability levels.

The 3 day festival is packed full of community activities for both men and women to explore the the history of the female voice in American jazz culture and to interact with and be entertained by those continuing the traditions today.

While I personally believe in the last four years the way teachers approach classes have been getting more toward giving follows better guidance besides “simply follow”, I would argue that many classes are taught with a lead-centric view. This event like other Girl Jam events provides the service of offering follow-centric classes which are a rarity in the swing dance community.

Summary

In short good market segmentation is finding a need within the community (in this case swing dancing) is not being addressed and figure out a feasible way to be the business that provides it. All the scenes and events above I believe do an excellent job at this. If you know any scenes or events who fit this bill, I encourage you to post about it in the comments below!

 


Marketing Segmentation for Swing Dancing

One of the biggest mistakes I read about, hear about, or personally witness is swing dance events and venues attempting to target the entire market of possible customers who would attend their business or even worse not having a target audience at all.

Image

I can confidently say that there is no organizer/venue/event in the swing dance community has the resources to supply the demand for the entire market. Even the events with massive amount of dancers such as Lindy Focus or Herräng targets a segment of the market.

What I define as the term market for the swing dance community is; every person who currently has swing dancing as a hobby/profession or is physically/mentally able to have swing dancing as a hobby/profession but does not. 

What this means for you as an organizer of an event is you need to segment your market or find a niche of target customers that you can provide value to as a business. For a more technical business world definition of market segmenting you can find it here. If you look online, talk to marketing professionals, talk to marketing professors, or read books on marketing there are a variety of ways to how to go about segmenting a market. What I am going to do here is give a simple layout that is applicable for an individual who is running a weekly venue or hosting a one time/yearly recurring swing dance event.

1. Decide A Target Geographic Location

The first thing is to decide upon target geographic location. If you are running a swing dance venue for a college town your potential customers are going to be considerably different then if you lived in a big city or a rural area. A recurring weekly dance is going to have a smaller target geographic location in comparison to an international camp such as Herräng where the entire world is fair game. Speaking of distance, the further away you attempt to attract dancers you will need to have match that with increased value such as; quality instructors, dancers, DJs or live bands.

2. Decide The Type Of Customer

The second thing is to decide upon the type of customer you are trying to attract to your business in terms of dance experience, dance background, and lifestyle.

Dance experience is simply how long have your target customers been dancing. This is important because a random person off the street who has never danced in their life has fairly different needs then a seasoned dancer who is a regular on the competition circuit. It is a reality that when you start to cater to one end of the spectrum you will likely alienate the other and it is a choice as an organizer you have to make.

Dance background is the dances your customer identifies with. For example when people press for specifics I say I dance Lindy Hop, Balboa, and Collegiate Shag. For every dance under the umbrella term of swing dancing there is a specific culture attached to each dance. These various cultures have values and preferences that are sometimes complimentary and other times conflict with other dance communities. It is essential as an organizer to aware of the specific values and preferences with a particular dance’s community in order to provide a high-value experience for your target audience.

Lifestyle covers a variety of things such as personal values or personality types. Essentially what it comes down to is; where is this person in their life and what preferences do they have because of it. As someone running an event or venue this is important because a college student who participates the usual Lindy/Blues dance exchange circuits is going to have different needs then a married full time professional who occasionally takes time off work a few times a year to compete at Balboa events.

3. Check Feasibility 

You now have your target market segment clearly written out and described. Now the thing to check is if you and any collaborators have the resources to make your business feasible for your target market. An excellent article written by Bill Speidel, an experienced event organizer is titled So You Want To Be A Lindy Hop Event Organizer and a great reality check/resource for any person intending to get into the business of running a swing dance event/venue.

What I define as the term resources for the swing dance community is; a commodity  service or other asset that is required to run a swing dance venue/event. This is not limited to physical assets such as money but can be; also trained staff, volunteers, an established reputation among traveling dancers, established in the network of neighboring dances/events, positive Yelp reviews, and et cetera.

Throughly checking if these resources are available is important responsibility as an organizer. You can organize an amazing event but if you neglect to check on the resource of availability of date and conflict with an established event in the region you are fighting and uphill battle.

In the case that your target segment is simply unfeasible within your current time frame you have the options of postponing until it is possible or choosing a new segment that is feasible.

4. Apply Your Market Segment

You have your detailed market segment and you have asked the questions and done the research to determine it is feasible, great! The only thing you have to do now is use that knowledge appropriately.

This can be done in a multitude of ways, a common one is advertising. If you are trying to attract customers who have never danced before Groupon and newspaper ads would be an effective marketing campaign compared to Facebook Events and fliers sent to dance venues which is traditionally used for established dancers.

Another one is the choice of staff such as instructors and DJs. Customers who have not danced before or have limited experience will be much less selective in comparison to dancers who have been dancing longer or are at a higher skill level.

In Summary

The thing to take from all of this the importance of having a clearly defined market segment. The most common mistake I see in newer events is often they try to cater to too large of a market segment. In result their resources get spread thin and they are unable to deliver a quality experience for any of the dancers that attend.

I plan to write a future post going into a few venues and events that I think are great examples businesses that properly segmented their market. However if you have any stories or opinions I would love to hear them in the comment box below!


Dealing In Absolutes

Welcome to Lindy Hop

When I was a newer dancer who frequently was in different dance scenes such as Irvine, California to Oberlin, Ohio, my biggest difficulty was probably dealing with instructors who would tell me different and sometimes outright contradictory things. When I brought up my frustration one day to a workshop teacher his response was, “Welcome to Lindy Hop”.

After dancing for a few years and teaching regionally for about 2+ years I have to take time and remind myself I was once this new lead who wanted clearly defined rules. I remember my mind being blown when 8-count moves and swingouts were introduced. At the time, in my mind the rule was everything is only 6-counts. It took about a month of solid dancing in California to break me out of a 6-count basic as my default movement.

I remember one of the big things that confused me as a newer lead was where to step on the 5 of a swingout. The fact that depending upon where a lead steps on 5 can create a different line/look/feeling was beyond me. I just wanted one place to step so I could do it “right”.

Most experienced dancers know how one dances is completely dependent on the song that is playing, who one is dancing with, and likely other miscellaneous factors. Bridging the gap between that and newer dancers who may be just trying to figure out where to find the beat or intermediate dancers trying to dance on phrase is a difficulty as an instructor.

Difficulty with “Right” Answers as a Teacher

What caused me to explore this topic is a post from Sam at dogpossum titled a bit of dance nerdery and in particular this quote,

I had to find a way to say ‘that idea of an absolute value for connection isn’t useful. We don’t look for a single muscle ‘tone’ or degree of hardness or softness in the arm. We look for varying muscle recruitment and use – we use what we need for the circumstances and no more.’ But that’s not a helpful response to a student who’s trying really hard to figure out how they and their partners should feel.  I can’t remember what I said. I’m fairly sure I said too much, which is my main failing as a teacher. Just. Stop. Talking. It was something I grappled with in tutoring as well.

It amuses me slightly because for myself I think I err on the side of talking too little because I am afraid of going on complete tangents of all the possibilities of what can happen when one tweakes little things with connection or movement. In addition it’s a personal bias that I am largely a visual learner and the instructors I have disliked classes have felt more like a lecture and less of a dance class.

I do like the direction that dogpossum takes in her classes though.  I wish I would see it more because I find many instructors on the regional level often settle for absolutes.


Like Obi-Wan, I believe dealing in absolutes is not an optimal choice. Yes as an instructor by giving students absolutes you satisfy their want for hard and fast rules, however this is at a cost. I’ve bet in a swing dance class you have had a fellow classmate raise their hand and say, “Well I learned it X way from Y instructor.” I’ve had it pulled on me as an instructor as well, frequently by individuals who have taken the local ballroom dance courses featured at The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State). This is because when you teach something as an absolute a student is likely to put a mental box around whatever the move/concept you taught and think “This is how it is done” and consider alternatives “wrong”.

rules

What this means for myself as an instructor is I try to encourage students once that they are the level that they have some experience under their belt to understand the importance of context for dancing. Often my favorite classes to teach are taking one movement such as a tuck turn and exploring how it can be altered to match different environments such as different types of songs or if you have a follow who can turn exceptionally well/a lead who pays good attention to their partner.

The difficulty again lies that understanding those different contexts for a move such as a tuck turn or even gaining the level of control over ones personal movement to explore all those possibilities takes practice, time, and patience.  I think the following quote sums up a lot of newer dancers including myself when I first started,

“Asked, in the 1980s, about new dancers, he responded: “They’re looking for too much too quick. They want everything like instant coffee. Nothing works like that, not your mind, not your body, nothing.” – Pepsi Bethel, American Jazz Dancer & Lindy Hopper

Typically newer dancers want a lot of moves and to do them “right”. On a slightly related note I was cleaning up my apartment today since I am moving out soon and came across my notes from some of my first Lindy Hop classes in Southern California. I was literally trying to write out every single detail of how to each move and variation on them that was taught to me.

My struggle as an instructor is I think improvisational and experimental nature of Lindy Hop is one of the things I need to teach and emphasize as a swing dance teacher, however I have to balance this out with understanding the mindset of new or even slightly experienced follows and leads. The importance for me is understanding what I am and am not willing to compromise on and teach accordingly.