Category Archives: Classes and Teaching

Keeping The Rhythm Querque

In a few weeks (actually the weekend of 505 Stomp) will be the 1 year anniversary of Rhythm. In addition to it being 1 year since Albuquerque lindyhoppers found a permanent home, it will also be 1 year since we decided to  do a complete overhaul of the scene; we started consistent, progressive classes with The Rhythm Project, and within The Rhythm Project we gave our weekly swing dance a face lift. Our dances have more than doubled in size over the past year, our classes are growing, and we’re retaining students. We have more dancers involved in running the dance, teaching the drop-in lesson and DJing. We’ve made a point to either have a snowball or a jam every week, even if the jams aren’t always created in an organic way, and we encourage and cheer on newbies who go into the jam. We spend more time investing in individual newbies, inviting them out for food after the dances or to go to parties with us. For the first time, I feel like I can honestly say that not only is our scene really growing, but it’s progressing and becoming more than just the infant stages of a dance scene. It’s legit.

We don’t have the best dancers, or the biggest scene, or even quazi-decent live music to dance to, but we don’t care about that, because that’s not what makes a dance scene great. It’s the people, the attitude and the personality of the scene. We have each other to learn and grow from. We don’t care about winning competitions or being the best. It’s not about fame or glory or money. It’s about fun, about finding a sanctuary to be ourselves, to give our all to something wonderful. It’s about changing your bad day around, bonding together as a community and having a great time. We do it because we have to it. We’re obsessed. There’s nothing else any of us could even begin to think of doing instead of Lindy Hop. And, in all honesty, why would we?

We dance because we love it. And we love it because of each other. I couldn’t ask to be in a better dance scene than this.

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The Lindy Hop Mating Call: The Story Behind The Silly Sound

So, I’ll just go ahead and make my shameless plug now to get it out of the way. If you haven’t signed up 505 Stomp yet, you should. Seriously, it’s going to be really awesome. I’m super excited about it, I know the instructors are really excited about it, and you should be too.

Today I’m telling you the story that led up to this:

It all started about a year ago when I was hanging out with some friends, when Dani Easley and I created this noise randomly to annoy Kevin Clark. It succeeded gloriously. It rapidly began to be used for other situations too, like cheering Brett Dahlenburg up when he was being a grouchy pants, or making each other laugh by seeing how loud we could make the noise.

It wasn’t until we had a lindy bomb in the early spring and made the noise that someone said that it sounds like a mating call for lindyhoppers. And so that’s what we called it. The point of the mating call is to make the noise when you don’t have anyone to dance with, and someone will be attracted to you and immediately run up and start dancing with you. In non-dancing environments, it can also be used as a call of distress or to find others in large crowds. We swore at that moment we’d make a video of it. Someday. Somehow.

Fast forward to July, we’re at The Rhythm Is Jumpin’, and after a few people hear this noise, I promise them I’d do it during the finals of a contest. And thus I did at about 1:09:

I’m pretty sure one of the judges broke his clipboard from pounding it on the ground from laughing so hard.

Fast forward to September. I had no idea about this until yesterday, actually, but Sarah Carney created this in inspiration of TRIJ 2011.

It’s spreading. And before you know you’ll be making the noise too. It’ll start in your home, by yourself as to not embarass yourself. You’ll tell your friends about it, make the noise for them. They’ll make it too. See how fast it spreads? It’ll be a thing. Just wait.

Oh, and don’t forget. 505 Stomp. The whole reason that video was made.


The Plight Of The Lindy Hop Follower

When you’re first learning Lindy Hop, there’s definitely a learning curve. Lindy Hop is probably one of the hardest partner dances out there, since not only is the swing out your basic and arguably the most difficult move in Lindy Hop at the same time, but there aren’t really any hard and fast rules to the dance. So much of it can’t be shown or explained fully, it just has to experienced.

The learning curve is also different for leads and follows. Initially, I think it’s a lot more difficult for leads. They have to think about the footwork, the beat, which move they’re doing next and leading their follow at the same time. It’s enough for anyone’s head to pretty much explode all over the dance floor. Eventually, things ease up a lot for leads as all of those different aspects begin to work for the leads instead of against them.

As far as the followers go, I think the process can sometimes be a little more painful to endure. The beginning stages of learning to dance seem to come to followers more easily, but it’s once their leads start to improve more that their learning curve punches them in the face. Suddenly, after dancing for 6 months or a year, followers realize that  they’re pretty much relearning how to do everything in order to dance with well with others. And not only is it a complete mind bend, but it’s also a blow to their ego. It’s almost like they’ve been tricked. All this time they’re feeling like they’re improving, until they crash right into this brick wall and they realize that they don’t know anything about dancing. Ouch.

At least for leads, they can get a lot of that out of the way early on when they’re still brand new to dancing.

There are a couple of followers in our scene who are going through this right now, which is what made me decide to write about it. They’ve both been dancing for about a year or so now. They’re trying hard in classes, obviously concentrating a lot on the social dance floor, and not only look so lost in thought that they aren’t having that much fun, but they’re frustrated with themselves at the same time. I think for anyone, lead or follow, who’s going through this stage, can feel really disheartened, often times more so than you feel it should (as most of us just do this for fun). But don’t let it get you down. It’ll pass with time as long as you persevere through it.

Here are perhaps a few things to remember:

-Anything that you want to be good at, requires practice. And just because you want to be good at something, doesn’t mean that you will be right away. Besides, compared to the rest of the world, you’re probably pretty good at dancing.

-Being positive about your dancing is the best thing you can do for yourself. There’s a difference between understanding what you need to work on and being too critical of yourself. There will always be something that you’re working on in your dancing, so if something doesn’t come to you right away, don’t sweat it.

-There’s definitely an aspect of Lindy Hop that makes it more fun as you gain more skill, and let’s face it, it’s a competitve world out there, but skill isn’t everything. Having a great attitude and a smile on your face goes a long way in the social dance world.

 

 


Lovin’ The Lindy Hop

When people ask me to describe what Lindy hop is, I always tell them that it’s a dance of celebration. Obviously, that can be interpreted in a lot of different ways, and I think it should be.

Honestly though, I haven’t been feeling very celebretory lately. My dancing has felt like absolute crap, I haven’t been feeling inspired at any of the dances lately, and overall I’ve been in a dance slump. I’ve rarely felt eager to go out dancing, I’ve been feeling lazy and haven’t wanted to focus on improving my dancing, and I haven’t been going to any of my dance classes lately. And just the fact that I haven’t been feeling celebretory has made me feel yucky.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been in a funk over my dancing, but somehow it doesn’t seem to get any easier to deal with. Lately, I’ve just been desperately searching for that single moment that changes everything: a great dance, an inspirational student or class, an awesome event (which is hard to come by when you don’t have any money to travel). But between those middle school classes we were teaching (which, just as a quick aside, we spoke with the teacher not long ago when she came to our dance, and she said she transferred schools because those kids were making her hair fall out she was so miserable) and having a rough and perhaps somewhat embarassing weekend dance-wise at ILHC, things just haven’t been super exciting in my personal dance world.

I wrote everything above over a month ago. As you can see, with a lack of inspiration also came a complete inability to write anything worthwhile reading. I didn’t know how to conclude what I was saying, and it was largely because I wasn’t done feeling crappy. But something happened at our Saturday dance that changed everything.

I received a card from a few students who are in The Rhythm Project. There’s 3 or 4 of them that are always hanging out together, they come to every class religiously, even the drop-in class on Saturday (which is the exact same lesson every week). Every Saturday they go across the street to the gas station and get one of those giant slushies. They’re really adorable. And they’re all in their mid 30’s or older.

And it was just a card that completely changed my attitude. All they did was thank me for introducing them to Lindy Hop. They said it’s changed their lives and now they’re happier people. It was so touching that I had a glistening tear.

And that’s when I realized that they’re the reason why I do what I do. I think it’s pretty safe to say that everyone who’s been dancing consistently for while has felt that Lindy hop has changed their lives in one way or another. How can it not? The addiction of fun, the excitement of watching a jam, a competition, dancing late into the night and eating breakfast even later at diners with friends from all over the world that you’ve just met. It makes everyone feel young, no matter how old you are. It’s refreshing and invigorating.

This group of new Lindy hoppers are the kind of people that make going out dancing worthwhile. They’re the content of the scene, the new bread and butter that goes with every meal. They’re crazy obsessed, energetic, and essential. They’re the reason why every dance scene in this world exists. They’re all the things that I love about Lindy hop.

Since I started organizing and scene building, the one thing that I wanted more than anything was for people to be absolutely insane about Lindy hop. Well, here they are. Crazier and more dedicated than ever.

 


The Worst Swing Dance Class I’ve Ever Taught

Since I started teaching swing dancing in 2006, I’ve really only had a couple of classes where I taught anyone under the age of 18. The first time was at a private school in town, which, word on the street is that it’s the richest private school in the country (seriously, it looks like it should be a university on the east coast). There were about 150 6th and 7th graders in the class, and even though we spent half the time just getting them to shut up (we didn’t have microphones of any kind, so there was lots of yelling), they learned how to do a 6-count basic, a send out and a minnie dip. And out of all the chaos, noise and confusion, it was somehow really fun.

Last Monday I taught my second swing dance class to kids, and it was by far, the worst class I’ve ever taught in my life. Let me preface that a teacher hired Brett and me to teach once a week for an hour to her 8th grade American History class for 6 weeks as they were learning about the first half of the 20th century (go teacher!). The school is in a not-so-great part of town and is one of the worst performing schools in the city. The art program had been taken out of the school entirely because instead of making pots with their clay, the students threw it at other students and teachers in the hallways, and instead of putting their clay pots into the kiln, they put a dead mouse in there. All students must wear uniforms, cannot use the lockers in the school, and are not allowed to wear hoodies. She even told me that she swears half of the students there are illegal immigrants or are children of illegal immigrants.

After sending several emails back and forth with the teacher, we’d decided it would be best to start them off with the Shim Sham and gradually work into partner dancing so we could get them used to dancing before having to touch other cootie-infected humans. She also quickly glossed over the fact that several of the kids have learning disorders of some sort, which I wasn’t really sure what that meant, though she didn’t make it sound like it would be a serious issue.

It’s been a long time since I’ve really taught kids. I taught Taekwondo to kids for 6 years up until I was about 20 or 21 and was used to interacting with them, teaching them and disciplining them. I also taught swimming to kids one summer and was a teacher at a daycare for a little while. So even though it’s been several years since I’ve really interacted with kids, I’ve had plenty of experience doing it and have a good grasp on knowing how to control kids. But quite frankly, I was really nervous about teaching this swing dance class. I knew the school was low performing, with poverty-stricken families and high violence rates, not to mention that the Albquerque Public School system is notorious for being a god-awful education. (I would know, I’m a product of it!) (If you haven’t seen the documentary “Waiting For Superman”, I highly suggest it. It’s very eye opening to the US public school system.)

We get to the school where the teacher has reserved a special classroom for us to teach in (I believe what used to be the art room). There were about 12-15 kids there, and no one looked ready to dance. They were  roudy, out of control and full of excuses as to why they shouldn’t be dancing. And to be fair, it was pretty typical behavior of most middle school kids. There just wasn’t any cohesive discipline to keep them under control.

We probably spent about 10 minutes teaching them before the teacher came up to us and told us that teaching them the Shim sham wasn’t working, and half an hour into the class suggested that we move on to something else, as she didn’t feel they were learning anything and were getting antsy. They seemed to be picking it up, sort of, so deciding that we needed to move on just felt defeating, especially when a few of the kids were clearly wanting to learn. By this point, however, any cohesion or attention that Brett and I had from the kids had completely  disintegrated between all of the stopping we had to do for side conversations with the teacher, trying to get the kids’ attention, fighting with them on resisting us, and having to contiunously move tables and change directions that we were facing in the room due to the strange shape it was and the lack of space we had.

Half of the kids in there wouldn’t even move or listen to us when we tried teaching them a step or even when we tried to get them to stand in two lines. I told one kid to stand in line with everyone else and he replied, “I’m not doing nothing you say.” and just stood there. He clearly thought he was super cool, with his hoodie on over his head (which apparently is against school regulations). If someone had said that to me while I was teaching a Taekwondo class, I would’ve just yelled at them and made them do push ups or a tripod in the corner for 5 minutes (A tripod is when you spread your legs with your hands behind your back and put your forehead on the ground, thus making a tripod with your body). But not only did I not feel like I had the authority to discipline this kid being only a guest instructor, but I don’t want to discipline people while teaching swing dancing. It just seemed against everything that swing dancing stands for, so I just abandoned ship and walked away.

The worst part about this kid was that he totally looked like the kind of kid who’s going to end up being in trouble his whole life because of gang or drug related activity, who’s having family trouble at home and who clearly doesn’t get the kind of attention or guidance that he really needs. And him saying that one thing to me was the breaking point of the class for me, because I knew that this class needed so much more than a guest swing dance instructor.

We only had a few minutes left in class, so we showed them what the Shim sham looked like in its entirety to music, which they actually seemed really impressed by, and then got them walking in a circle to music, and then eventually kick stepping. Of course, the boys were all trying to kick each other, so much so that I had to separate them because the teacher wasn’t even paying attention. The kid that told me off was picking on one of the girls who was actually trying to learn, and as soon as the bell rang they all literally ran out of the room. It was a little sad.

The teacher decided we wouldn’t come to this class again and that the next week we’d come to her 7th grade class an hour later. Her class was coming in as we were leaving, and as she announced that we’d be there next week to teach them to dance, they all groaned and said they didn’t want to learn how to dance. What a perfect way to start off the next class.

It doesn’t bother me that the kids were roudy; I can handle roudiness just fine. It’s when the kids are outright defiant and are ungrateful that makes it so hard. The worst part of it was that not only did I feel like the teacher didn’t do anything to control them, but she even encouraged their behavior by constantly interrupting us while we were teaching to say something about what we were saying, or by constantly telling us that they weren’t learning. I felt completely inadequate for teaching such an unsuccessful class. Only 6 more weeks to go.


I’ve Got Passion, Who Could Ask For Anything More?

Something I’ve been thinking a lot about in the past 24 hours or so is passion, specifically for Lindy Hop and people taking the dance seriously.

I loved the dance the moment I laid eyes on it and wanted to be the very best that I could, but I never thought it would go anywhere serious. And obviously not everyone falls in love with their first sight of Lindy Hop. I think a lot people become frustrated easily with the dance. Lindy Hop is hard to get a comfortable grasp on, and interest in East Coast swing or Jitterbug can often die out from boredom.

And the truth is that 99% of the swing dancers out there won’t ever aspire to do anything more with the dance other than doing it as a casual hobby. Most people find their calling elsewhere in the world. That’s awesome.

For me, it was really hard to accept that I wanted to be a dance instructor, especially a swing dance instructor. I felt so useless, so unproductive. Why didn’t I want to be a doctor or an elementary school teacher or the director for some non-profit organization that saves the whales? I mean, sure, it was my most favorite thing ever, and yes, I loved it more than anything and perhaps anyone, and okay, maybe I would day dream about swing dancing while at my decent paying writing job instead of writing, but it’s just swing dancing, right? It’s not even a real dance like ballet or modern.

And it seems so many times people think that way. They’re not real dancers; they just swing dance. And when I tell people that I teach swing dancing, most people don’t really know what to say other than something along the lines of, “Ahhh. That’s neato.”

Two things happened Saturday that became a catalyst for these thoughts. The first was the traveling Lindy bomb we scheduled, in which we began at Rhythm and were supposed to dance all through Nob Hill. Brett Dahlenburg and I were the only ones who showed up though, so we stuck in our courtyard in front of the Malt Shop. We were moderately disappointed no one showed up. A bunch of little kids were running around the courtyard, and when we started dancing, they all sat down in a straight line, their heads resting in their hands, watching us intently. And not only that, but they tipped us too! (just a quick aside–I’m sure someone is reading this and thinking, “how could you take money from kids?!” We tried to give it back to the parents and they wouldn’t take it.)

The second was during Rhythm’s grand opening. I had scheduled performances by all of the different instructors renting out Rhythm, and everyone was extremely well received, even the instructor demoing Tai Chi. And not only were they well received, but people were asking about their classes and wanting to sign up for them. They were actually interested.

I finally accepted my dream of being a professional swing dancer after two things. One, I realized that being a dance instructor isn’t useless. You’re giving people tools to understand and celebrate music with their bodies, you’re showing them how to exercise in a fun, easy way, and you’re bringing happiness to people. Swing dancing has helped me through some really hard times, when I wasn’t willing to get out of bed for any other reason than to dance with my friends. Surely someone else out there will have the same experience, and I might be able to help them by finding comfort in the dance.

The second, and the more important, is when I realized that Lindy Hop is a legitimate dance. It’s not some campy, throw-away activity where we wear skirts of wheat and frolic under sunshine and rainbows and everyone’s happy all the time no matter what. It requires skill, technique, athleticism, flexibility. It requires you to understand your body and how to use it. When I realized that, I started branching out in studying more dance forms, and my body movement improved immensely. My appreciation for dance in general became much stronger. And thus my love for Lindy Hop paralleled that. I always thought I was passionate about Lindy Hop. But this was different.

And I’m not just talking about passion in that I was thinking Lindy Hop is more awesome than before or I  would squeal every time I see people doing the Shim Sham, but I  started to put more effort into dancing, performing, organizing and teaching. I wanted to improve the quality of Lindy Hop in all of its forms for myself and for everyone else around me. And I did.

And so as I was sitting at the grand opening, watching the Tai Chi performance and everyone was dead silent, watching with intrigue and interest, it hit me. Maybe this is what inspires people. These amazing non-swing dancers performing, putting themselves on the line and bringing everything they’ve got so that they can make some sort of a living doing what they love and care about, seemed to give people a strong appreciation for the instructors’ talents. Everyone raved about the performances. If you get people to appreciate dance, will their appreciation, love and passion for swing dancing grow too? And not only that, but if you legitimize Lindy Hop as a real dance, will everyone else do the same?

Those little kids watching us dance in the courtyard Saturday probably had no idea what we were doing, but they appreciated it by choosing to sit quietly and to watch us. Kids are magical in that they don’t have the knowledge and skills that adults do, but are smart enough to know what’s awesome and what they want to give their full attention to. Brett and I weren’t doing anything spectacular, but we take our fun seriously, and those kids saw that.

Obviously, not everyone is going to have the passion to teach swing dancing or organize events or even perform. Not everyone is going to want to dance seven days a week, or even four days a week. But to find enough fire in their bellies to learn a swing out, to come to local workshops, to respect the local instructors, that’s the trick.

If you take yourself seriously and take your loves, your hobbies and your passions seriously, then other people will too. I don’t think my thoughts are fully fleshed out yet, but it’s an interesting concept. Passion. How you instill it in others, and how you instill it in yourself.

Oh, and by the way, for those wondering how the grand opening went for Rhythm, here’s a little peek. Performances by Groove Juice Special and Jive O’Five’s new routine. Yeah!


BAM!! You’ve Just Been Rhythm Project’ed!

So, after having perhaps too much fun of tormenting everyone for weeks about mentions of the Rhythm Project, it’s finally been announced.

One of the Albuquerque scene’s biggest problems since I’ve started dancing is the lack of organization, which can be seen in all sorts of ways. Unpopulated dances, dances that die, confusion about where and when classes are, few people progressing and little growth. Since my group of friends and I made it point to change those things as we began filling the organizing and teaching roles of our predecessors, they’ve gotten a little better here and there. But the scene has never really grown quite how we imagined it to, and between school, work, life and trying to teach ourselves to dance, it was a huge endeavor.

One of the advantages of having closed Rhythm for a few months was it gave me a lot of time to think about the swing dance classes that I wanted to teach. I had thought before about creating some sort of system where we’d have continuous class series for all levels going on, but at the time we were renting out a hideous black box theatre in a not-so-great part of town, I was trying to run the project on my own, and the scene didn’t seem like it could support something so huge. This time around though, I would have my own space to teach in, I have three great instructors and organizers ready to work with me, Brett Dahlenburg, Dani Easley and Kevin Clark, and we decided to not focus on the existing dancers but rather to search for new people in Albuquerque who had never heard of Lindy Hop before. We’ve talked for hours now on formulating and creating The Rhythm Project, which we’re naming and formulating after The Lindy Project in Austin, who have been a huge inspiration to us. We’re basically creating classes from brand spankin’ new to very advanced dancers, who can attend classes for months or years until they’ve become certified masters of the Lindy Hop. (that last part I used a foreboding narrating voice to say it. It just sounds fancier that way). Every level will have a standardized curriculum, day and time, and unlike before, we’re actually teaching our classes on days and times that we can teach consistently on.

Here’s a few ways we like to describe what The Rhythm Project is. Here was my interpretation to a friend:

“Holly, do you like Rhythm? Then you’ll love the Rhythm Project!
Can you eat the Rhythm Project? You bet!
Can you sleep with the Rhythm Project? Sure can!
You can Rhythm Project anything really!
You, Holly, definitely need to be more Rhythm Project! It’s everywhere, it’s everything, and it’s in you!”

Here’s how Kevin Clark describes The Rhythm Project:

“It’s like Lindy hop University.
You’re walking down the street and all of a sudden….

BAM!!! You’ve just been Rhythm Project ‘ed!! You’re eating an ice cream sandwich then without warning BAM!! Rhythm Project right in the kisser!! You don’t know who, or what or when, but you LIKE IT!!!”

And that’s pretty much the gist of it.

The biggest part of The Rhythm Project is going to be reaching out to new people by going to places like the mall, the movie theatre, and other populated areas to hand out flyers and possibly Lindy bomb to get people interested. And because of the new project, we have to retool our other lessons and dances because of it, which I think will end up coming out for the better. For the Saturday dance, we would always teach the lesson at the highest level possible, but more often than not it would become problematic for a number of reasons. Now, we’re going to shorten the lesson between 15-30 minutes and we’re going to start getting younger dancers who are interested in teaching to teach those classes. And not only that, but they’re going to DJ more, sit at the table more and just be more involved in general.

I know a lot of other scenes have been running their dances and scenes like this for years and so it may sound like a no brainer to do it this way, but up until very recently, Albuquerque was an extremely isolated dance scene with no leaders who knew how to make any of this happen. The organizers have been racking their brains for the past four years or so to try to improve our scene in a professional manner, and through a lot of trial and error and slowly meeting more dancers around the country, we’re finally beginning to see what works and what doesn’t. And who knows, maybe The Rhythm Project will just end up flopping, but at least we’ll have tried.