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Posts tagged “swing dancing

Attending Bar Dances: A Guide For Swing Dancers

Meshiya Lake at the Spotted Cat

Whiskey and swingouts go together like peanut butter and jelly. It’s no surprise that many dancers love the idea of having a dance at a bar. However the reality of the situation is many of these bar dances are short-lived, often because bars don’t make money on dance nights. I’d like to see more bar dances flourish, so I have written this guide targeted toward dancers who plan to attending them.

Meshiya Lake at the Spotted Cat

Meshiya Lake performing at the Spotted Cat in New Orleans

1. Spend as much as you would on non-dancing night out at a bar

Typically if you go to a bar or club it will cost you between $0-$10 dollars depending upon how posh it is for cover. On top of that you will be likely to have one to three drinks which will probably cost you $5-$10 each if you don’t go for anything particularly fancy. If there is no cover often there will be a tip jar or bucket for the DJ or band.

I would recommending bringing enough cash to buy a few drinks or food. In addition if there is not a cover fee, I would bring some extra cash on top of that to tip the DJ or band. Cash means you can tip the people providing music and all the money you spend goes to the bar. Credit/Debit is a no go because it means you can’t tip the people providing you music and the bar is losing part of the money to transaction fees.

Bar making a profit = you having a fun bar you can dance at.

2. Be even more conscious about floorcraft than usual

As mentioned in an earlier post, while individuals may be more understanding at swing dances in studios and ballrooms. In bars non-dancers are likely to be less understanding if you run into them, especially if you knock over their beer.

To again quote Peter Loggins from his blog post Back in New Orleans,

If you want to learn how to be an exhibition dancer, that’s good for you, but don’t be surprised when a big Jarhead beats the shit out you after you accidentally kick him. It might be fine to kick each other at dances, studio’s and festivals but in the real world all bets are off….

Err on the side of caution when you are dancing in a public space.

Example of Public Space: Happy Feet Monday at (Joe’s Bar & Grill, Burbank, CA) featuring John Reynolds’ N. Hollywood 4 and friends

3. Remember you are going to a bar not a dance studio. Act accordingly.

When was the last time your non-dancing friends said you were going to a bar and you brought along a water bottle and dance bag? That’s right you didn’t (unless if you were attending a dance after).

Things to bring:

  • Yourself
  • Your wallet with identification and cash inside

Things not to bring:

  • Water bottle
  • 3+ pairs of shoes
  • Dance bag
  • Raggity looking t-shirt from that exchange you attended
  • Floor wax (seriously don’t do this, venues get pissed if you do this without permission)

Anything Else?

I’ve written a previous post on what to do when attending an event with a live band, which is useful information if the bar has a band playing for you. A slight tangent but if you are at a bar with live music which hasn’t been advertised as a dance it is always polite to ask the band if it is okay to dance. Some musicians find it disrespectful and intrusive to non-dancers who are trying to listen to the band if you are blocking their view with dancing.

Lastly, common sense in normal life applies at bar dances as well. Know your limits drinking, if you are the type of person that your floorcraft becomes rubbish after 3 drinks, perhaps 2 is the right option. If you plan to dance a lot and drink, make sure to get some water so you don’t get dehydrated.  If you plan to drink have a safe way to get home.

If there are any nuggets of knowledge you would like to share or questions about dancing in bars you may have, feel free to leave a comment in the box below!


Teaching Dance In Five Minutes Or Less

Yesterday I was taking a teacher training class ran at Blues Union by Amanda Gruhl and Shawn Hershey in Boston where I faced an interesting challenge. I had do something I have only done once before, which was teach an idea or a concept in five minutes or less. Oh, did I mention it was in the context of Blues dancing which I feel completely unqualified to teach?

Anyways in spite of me having 2+ years of teaching experience in Lindy Hop/Balboa/Collegiate Shag at Penn State and the Central Pennsylvania area this was a definite challenge for myself because;

  1. This class was almost improvised on the spot, we maybe had ten minutes max to brainstorm a lesson plan.
  2. I was teaching Blues, a dance that I am not confident of my abilities in. To add to the difficulty this was in front of a crowd of individuals who knew the dance arguably much better than myself.
  3. The time constraint made the choice of class material a more pertinent issue than usual.

Anyways in the interest of giving you guys some of the insight I received from the class, I want to list a few things I learned from the experience.

Teach-New-Concepts

Teach What You Know

In the past my most successful classes were ones I had taught literally a dozen times before and knew the material, common mistakes people make, and analogizes that would convey concepts to dancers like the back of my hand. One of the important things that comes from teaching what you know you exude confidence.  This is important because students can clearly tell when a teacher is hesitant or unsure about their material.

What you know also does not just entail knowing how to lead or follow a move or concept. It is more along the lines of understanding how the move or concept works and being able to break it down to another person. Understanding why a person will struggle with certain technique aspects of a move or concept and knowing multiple ways to convey the knowledge they need to them mentally and physically are all part of this idea of “knowing” something.

During the teacher training class I saw some people have issues teaching their mini-lessons because they did not predict how people would struggle with the material they chose. One mini-class the teacher had the issue that he was unaware he was doing different variations of the move he was teaching without realizing it until it was pointed out. Unfortunately a lot of learning how individuals struggle with moves or concepts is simply through experience of teaching them and troubleshooting.

Realize and Incorporate Class Constraints

With five minutes as a limit choosing class material which is normally a priority for classes became essential due to the need to convey a concept to a group of students quick and dirty. Candidly I admit that a good portion of teachers (yes even professional international instructors) will ride the struggle-bus when attempting to stay on time for classes. How I usually cheat is by putting an alarm in my phone on silent mode that will go off 5 minutes before class is over.

The time limit is not the only constraint you have to deal with though. Are there mirrors available? Does your class consist of newbies, or advanced dancers, or a mix of mainly newbies with a ringer or two? Have these students had classes with you before? All of these are small details which one can use to slightly tweak their class to better tailor it to students’ needs. One mini-class I saw that had an issue was the fact that the teacher while doing a great job of teaching, she chose class material that simply could not be covered in five minutes.

Less is More

One of the mistakes I made in my mini-lesson was when starting the class off with a monkey-see monkey-do exercise I said several things such as “Focus on your arms”, “Think about what lines you are making”, “Watch yourself in the mirror”, and et cetera. However for some of the students that level of information was a lot to process at once and was perceived as overwhelming.

Treating each word you use as a valuable resource, being conscientious of the analogies you use, and limiting the amount of information you provide to your students during each portion of class are essential to being a good teacher. My least favorite classes are when what is supposed to be a dance class turns into a lecture and it was not advertised as a lecture class. The mini-lessons I liked the most during the teacher training class were the ones that gave ample time and rotations to try out and troubleshoot class material.

Never Stop Improving

Last but not least an important part of being a teacher is not getting complacent in your own dancing or teaching abilities. There’s always an analogy that you haven’t used that can better convey an idea to students. Improving your own dancing provides a better visual example for students to copy. An unfortunate truth is every technical deficiency you have as a dancer your students are visually picking up as well. Another thing I would recommend is talking to other teachers and talking shop, at least for myself I get fun and creative ideas of how to approach teaching that I would never think of.

I would like to hear from all you guys though. Any important ideas/lessons/concepts you’ve learned about teaching either through being a student or on the battlefield teaching a class yourself?


Handling Drama In Your Swing Dance Community

I used to say with a smile one of the advantages I had being constantly between California and Pennsylvania is the second I started to get involved in any local swing dancing drama I would be boarding a plane and saying goodbye to people for a few months. Now that I am (for now) settled in as a resident of Boston, I can’t sing the same tune.

If an actual llama appeared during drama situations, my quality of life would be drastically improved.

If an actual llama appeared during drama situations, my quality of life would be drastically improved.

Scene drama is one of those topics that is normally discussed over Skype chat, carpool rides to events, at a host’s place after a dance, or over meals. How to handle it though is not something I think that is discussed enough and unchecked it can cause major problems for individuals involved. This is an essential skill if one wants to be a successful organizer, teacher, and et cetera within the swing dance community. However for a dancer in an non-organizational role, I believe this is important as well just to be a positive member of the community.

Organizer Woes

As an organizer in the past I have had to deal with unpleasant things such as:

  • Having the police forcibly remove someone from a venue after the individual was told to not to attend any future events due to inappropriate behavior, followed by mountains of paperwork after. 
  • Telling a dancer who attended a workshop I was helping run to not play with the lights or attempt to climb out the window to play on a rooftop.
  • People not doing their assigned jobs and scrambling to find people to cover it (often myself) to make sure everything ran smoothly.

One of the hardest things is dealing with any of those situations and on top of that maintaining a pleasant disposition during the venues or events I am helping to run. Often I have to request things nicely when my preferred method of conversation would be a litany of swear words and crass language.

The one thing that has helped me to remain civil and keep calm in those situations is remembering one important fact, that my actions do not just represent myself but an entire organization. Do I want X dancer thinking that Y swing dance organization is a welcoming, professional, and friendly organization? Yes. In result I shut my trap and later privately vent my frustrations through (ideally) healthy methods.

Byron Alley from swingdynamite out in Ottawa, Canada makes an excellent point which he referred to as the “Rule of Contribution” in a blog post which he wrote,

Always ADD rather than SUBTRACT.

The idea is that in general, you shouldn’t seek to replace what’s already in the scene–that is, to take people away from the dances, events or classes they’re already attending–but rather to fill in the gaps. Obviously there can be exceptions, rare cases such as unqualified instructors teaching dangerous aerials. But it’s too easy to get seduced into thinking that whatever you want to offer the community invalidates what other people are doing.

I would like to add that this is an important concept in not just choosing dates for an event or creating one [1], but even in general actions as an organizer. Unless if someone is clearly crossing the line in a matter that needs to be dealt with professionally or in worse cases legally, the better route for dealing things is in a discreet and constructive manner that if criticism has to be given it’s toward individuals actions and not towards them as a person.

Personal Woes

As with any community or even a small circle of friends, a person invested in a dance scene long enough will eventually come across some drama ranging from frustration over competition results to romantic interests gone wrong [2]. I can confidently say nearly every dancer has had the moment of, “Well shit, is now my local dance scene going to be uber awkward for me because of X” where X can be a bad breakup, one got in a major fight with a friend due to a bad housing situation at a swing dance event, and the list could go on.

I can’t go into every specific situation due to time constraints but I think (with exceptions) most drama issues can be solved by; discretion, empathy, and respect.

DiscretionBy discretion I mean unnecessarily involving people into the problem at hand and/or airing dirty laundry to the point it becomes common gossip [3]. The latter may give one a sense of immediate gratification due to venting, however the opportunity cost of the long term consequences 99% of the time outweigh the short term benefits.

EmpathyThis is the ability understand and relate to the feelings of another, but in terms of dealing with drama this means incorporating your actions to deal and account for that. People will occasionally do off the wall and crazy things, however often there is a reason for it and having the patience and understanding to handle it to the best of one’s own abilities is not the easiest thing. I will fully admit as a person who likes being frank and dealing with things on the spot a big weakness of mine is having difficulty to empathize with non-confrontational individuals.

Respect: It’s fairly easy to get in the mindset of vilifying individuals and thinking “Because they are doing this, my life is sucks”. An important fact to remember is that this person or people are human beings and they have reasons for those actions. Even if you feel the actions they have done to you are irreconcilable at the very least you should ideally take the higher route and be civil at least out of respect for the individuals who everyone involved has to interact on a routine basis with.

Closing Thoughts

While handling drama as an organizer has an added difficulty of being a representative for an organization I still believe for any dancers in the swing dance community the importance to dealing with it is respect for anyone involved and respect for the local community.

I’d like to add on a more personal note that if you struggle with this, don’t feel alone. I am not a saint by any stretch and I have made my fair share of mistakes as an organizer and a regular dancer dealing with these type of matters. What I try to do to reconcile that though is look back on decisions or mistakes I have made in the past and use them as learning experiences to better myself as a person.

While I would love to go into detail and share personal stories that I have learned things from one of the downsides of losing anonymity is one of the people in those stories might stumble across it. General advice I can give is if you really need to vocalize negativity about someone having a close friend who you know is a trusted confidant that you can vent to or writing (in a private document/book, not a public blog) are excellent sources of stress relief.

Lastly, if you have any stories of dealing with difficult drama situations in your local swing dance community and had a valuable learning experience you would think benefit others I encourage you to share it here in the comment section or even with friends in your local community just to give friends perspective.

Footnotes

[1]: If I had to list one of the bigger mistakes I made as an organizer when I was at Penn State it would be arrogantly assuming taking away things and adding new things to that local scene would automatically work. Due to inexperience I had the mentality of, “This is how they did things in southern California and because that area produced awesome dancers, this is how it should be done.”

[2]: A good addition to the running joke of “You know you are a swing dancer when…” list would be if you have ever had the conversation about the issue that if you date a non dancer they are unlikely to understand your crazy dance lifestyle, but if you date a dancer and it doesn’t work out then your local scene can potentially become own your personal hell.

[3]: Side Soapbox Rant: Guys, if you and a girl in a scene don’t work out attempting to refer to your ex in public as “crazy” or slut shaming her makes you look like an utter asshole to not just any women in the scene, but to many of us guys as well. Women, this is not cool as well however in my experience i’ve noticed this behavior unfortunately more as a pattern of people from my own gender.


Musicality Teaching Experiment

About a week and a half ago Rebecca Brightly on her weekly newsletter “The Pulse” wrote about musicality. One idea she touched in particular is listening to a song a couple of times (only listening to the song and doing nothing else) and then utilizing what you recognized from the song for dancing.

After reading this newletter I thought, “This is a great idea, I think it would also make a great class.” So a few days before I had to teach my weekly Lindy Hop class I instructed my students to listen several times to the song Black Coffee by The Careless Lovers featured below.

How The Class Worked

I started off by first playing the song to refresh the song in their minds (also to cover anyone who decided to skip the homework). I followed that by asking the class, “What did you recognize from listening to the song multiple times?” To encourage responses I also mentioned there were no really wrong answers to this question. Some answers I received were:

  • Contrast between different parts of the song.
  • Song had energy to it versus being a relaxed/chill song.

After collecting responses I took a few of those answers and to the song Black Coffee asked them to represent those ideas in their dancing as leads and follows.  Once that was done I gave a few answers I had to the same question and showed examples of how as a lead or follow I would touch on elements I recognized within in the music. I repeated the same exercise as before except with them using my suggestions.

At this point in my class is where I added my own personal twist to this class using one of Bobby White’s blog posts titled “The Old Timer (Part 4: “The Only Count I Know is Basie”)“.  I asked my students using the ideas they learned from dancing to Black Coffee by the Carless Lovers to the version of Black Coffee by Nat Gonnella and his Georgians. Which while sharing a lot of similarities also had some differences as well.  To quote Bobby’s article,

Imagine you’re a dancer in the 1930s. Dancing for you means going out at several nights a week, and every night to a different big band, each one using different arrangements. When the leader announces he’s going to play “Flying Home,” you don’t know anything about how the song is going to sound except that the melody will roughly go “Bad-da-daaa, da-da-dadadum…Bad-da-daaa, da-da-dadadum…etc.

For my class I wanted to bring to the table of the macro-musical concept of knowing a melody of a song and being able to use that to be musical. After a few rotations of the class we brought up similarities of both versions of the songs, then again I had them dance to the second version of the song with those ideas in mind.

After this we wrapped up the class by listing the ideas that we went over during the course of the class and I encouraged my students to keep listening to music and explore other ideas of how to express musicality on their own.

In Retrospect

It was a fun and different class for myself that I think my students enjoyed and learned valuable skills from.  If you try this class format yourself or have any fun musicality class ideas you use in your classes, please feel free to post them below.