Category Archives: Scene Building

Lindy Hop & Blues: The Upward Battle In Harmonious Dancing

Blues dancing is definitely a hot topic these days. There’s a lot of heat brewing between lindy hoppers and blues dancers in regards to respecting each other’s dance forms, not to mention the contention of what blues dancing even is amongst blues dancers.

For the sake of argument here, when I refer to blues dancing, I’m referring to what blues dancers call “pureists”. I’m not even going to touch fusion dancing with a 10-foot pole.

Overall, I’ve found that most lindy hoppers don’t really care about blues dancing or blues dancers. There’s little respect to be had, and they don’t pay much attention to what blues dancers are even doing. When I first started dancing though, all of the lindy hoppers in Albuquerque also went blues dancing.  There was no harsh distinction between the two like there is now. We would regularly drive to Santa Fe for Juke, a bimonthly dance that was billed as lindy and blues, and it was my favorite dance. They consistently oscillated between swing music, soul and funk and traditional 12 bar blues from the 30’s and 40’s. It was  the only dance like it at the time, and it was so much fun.

That was over 5 years ago now. Today, there’s a entire blues scene in Albuquerque, with dancing every week, and none of the lindy hoppers go anymore. And the blues dancers don’t come to our dances.

We all have our own reasons for why we don’t go to each other’s dances now, and we all know what those reasons are, so there’s no point in me spelling it out for everyone. Besides, I don’t really care to get daggers thrown at me for a point I’m not trying to argue. Needless to say, the scenes are very separated, and following the national trend, there’s some tension between the two scenes every now and again.

Back in January, I began a monthly Swing, Soul & Blues dance. I created it for a few reasons. I wanted there to be more dancing in Albuquerque, I wanted to revive Juke in some fashion, and I wanted to bring the two scenes back together. Just for 3 hours a month, I wanted for everyone to throw away any misconception, any judgement or animosity or whatever it is that keeps the two scenes from typically integrating to come together and have some fun.

For me, it was easy to get lindy hoppers on board for the dance. They were all over it. The former DJ’s and facilitators of Juke were eager to drive down from Santa Fe to come as well (which, as a quick side note, it can take a LOT to get people from Santa Fe to make the 1 hour drive here). And while the dance hasn’t always been packed, it’s been a ton of fun and the music is varied enough for any kind of dancer to come and enjoy themselves. However, the blues dancers have yet to really make an appearance at the dance. I’ve advertised to them, I regularly hire some of their DJ’s (who are really good). This past month I finally got 1 regular blues dancer who doesn’t do any lindy hop. But that was it. And he hardly danced at all. I actually don’t know if I even saw him dance once.

I would not consider myself to be a part of the blues scene, but I would say that I’m a supporter and advocator of it. The main blues organizer in town, Aaron Cabral, and I go way back, and I’ve got his back no matter what. While I don’t always dance, I usually go to the blues dances every week, to support them, to talk with my friends who are blues dancers, and to kill my non-travelling Friday nights (Seriously, what do regular people do on a Friday night? If I’m not travelling, I usually sit around the house looking like this):

What is it going to take to get the blues dancers to the SS&B dance? Is it the day or time of the dance? Are they intimated of dancing with lindy hoppers? Do they not want to attend a dance that’s organized by a lindy hopper? Do they just not care?

Am I fighting a losing battle here? Should I just throw in the towel with the blues dancers, stop caring about what they’re doing and just continue having fun with the people who are actually showing up? I mean, what’s not to love here: Swing music? Check. Soul and funk? Check. Blues? Check. Awesome amounts of fun? Check.

As someone who is an organizer in Albuquerque, I feel responsible for keeping everyone as cohesive as possible, and personally, I think it’s stupid that the lindy hop scene and blues scene, locally and nationally, are so separate. I understand if some people don’t like blues music or blues dancing, or if people don’t see the magic in swing music. Lots of people don’t, and that’s cool. I just feel like there should be some crossover. By someone. Even just a brown M&M’s worth of crossover. Even if that one blues dancer who had come to our SS&B dance had danced all night long, that would’ve been something.

Are there any dance scenes out there who’ve successfully integrated both their lindy hop and blues scenes without just constantly smushing the two together in every dance? If so, tell me your secret to how you did it. I’m dying to know.


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.

Nob Hill in the 1940’s

Nob Hill in the 1940's

The tall Motel sign on the right with the flower shape at the top is where Rhythm is today

Flash Mobbing Albuquerque

About a month and a half ago, I was contacted in regards to putting together a flash mob for a wedding proposal. When they first contacted me, all the oragnizers knew was that they wanted 20 dancers and they wanted to do it at the airport, so that after Keegan proposed to Ellie (both are non dancers and had been recommended to me by some random person), they would hop on a plane to San Francisco to celebrate their engagement for the weekend. They were scrambling to nail down a date, and when they finally did, I had about 2 weeks notice to get 20 dancers together (which isn’t easy in Albuquerque), create a 4 song mash up and teach and rehearse the dancers the choreography.

In the end, I was only able to scrounge up 16 dancers, with 2 girls leading, and of which most had never performed before. We had a total of 8 hours of teaching and practicing before the big day.

So here’s what the plan looked like. Ellie thought they were coming to the airport to pick up one of Keegan’s friends. As they get onto the escalator, Bittersweet Symphony by the Verve begins to play. It’s a very etheral song if you’ve never heard it. Then, once they get to the top, the dancers start dancing, and for the grand finale, we surround them to The Big Apple and The California Routine. The dancing ends, he proposes, he hopes she’ll say yes, they go back outside to get their bags, which Keegan has already discreetly packed for Ellie, and they go on their marry way.

We arrived at the airport at 9am on Saturday (I know! Right? So early to be dancing.) with Ellie’s entire family waiting anxiously for them to come. Kevin Clark waited at the bottom of the escalator with my phone and waited for a text from Keegan that they were inside the airport. He called me on his phone (it was a whole confusing phone trading fiasco that’s not really worth getting into) to count down when the music should start, I cued Brett Dahlenburg, he pressed play, and away we went. Here’s the video:

As Dani Easley is frolicking around, Keegan and Ellie are riding up the escalator. Ellie was really confused by what was happening, so we had to kind of push them here and there to keep them out of the line of kicks and death. Once we surrounded them with The Big Apple, some of the dancers heard Ellie say, “What the hell is going on?” and Keegan replied with, “I have no idea. This is really weird!”

Despite how little time we had to work it out, everyone did a really good job! They were super quick to pick up The Big Apple, and everyone seemed to have had a really great time rehearsing and performing.

Congrats to Keegan and Ellie!

I Went Salsa Dancing?

Last Friday I went to my first social Salsa dance. For those who’ve never ventured into a social dance of a different dance besides Lindy hop, everything is different. The vibe, the etiquette, the typical age and background of the dancers. Our Lindy hop scene is very young, vibrant, and inexperienced. People usually come dressed pretty casually, there’s no alcohol at our events (I know, surprised?) and the scene is really small. The salsa scene in Albuquerque seems more geared towards young professionals, who dress like they’re going out to a nightclub, and alcohol is indeed, in hand.

Let me actually back up a bit. I don’t really know about other cities, but in Albuquerque, salsa is THE partner dance to know here. Everyone wants to learn it, and honestly, who doesn’t? It’s energetic, it’s sexy, and it’s a huge part of the culture and heritage here.

Personally, I’ve never been super interested in learning salsa. I mean, I learned the basic and a basic turn in a PE elective dance class my freshman year of college, but I didn’t really learn it. And it wasn’t the dancing itself that drew me to going on Friday, either. It was to analyze the dance scene.

The salsa instructor who rents Rhythm regularly has begun a bimonthly social salsa dance, but so far, it’s totally been tanking. He and I sat down last Friday afternoon to talk about how to make the dance more successful. He’s a pretty introverted kind of guy, really soft spoken and tends to be pretty private, so advertising and promoting isn’t really his thing. He has, however, ordered some flyers and posters to be made to advertise the dance more. But I promised him that I’d help him get more people to his dance. So I did some investigating.

He told me that the hardest thing about the salsa dance scene is that there’s no cohesion amongst the instructors and organizers of the scene to create a single working unit. People talk crap about one another, they don’t support other organizers’ dances and don’t care about bringing new dancers into the scene. He said he hates the elitism that goes on in the scene, especially because no one isn’t even that good at dancing. So, I had to go see for myself.

So Dani Easley and I stroll to downtown to a hotel where the dance is being held. It was super night clubby, with crazy colored lights around the room, a full bar, and lounging furniture everywhere. There were a few people dancing at the time, but no one asked us to dance. So we just talked and listened to the band. And we sat there. And sat there. And then, we finally sat some more. And as we were sitting there and more people were showing up and dancing, I realized that what the salsa instructor said was showing to be true. Even though there were 40 people on the dance floor, no one danced with more than two or three other people. It seemed like everyone had their own clique that they danced with. And we still just sat there. It wasn’t until we saw a fellow lindy hopper there, who apparently does salsa too (and is GREAT at it! Who knew, Luigi?) did we even get asked to dance. And once people finally saw that we could dance, they began to ask us to dance.

I have to say, I’m really grateful that Lindy hop was my first dance. It made figuring out salsa on Friday so easy! It’s just step step step step. Plus, the fact that I don’t know anything about salsa made it easy to just have fun. Now, I’m not saying I’m an expert, especially when I was nearly tripping over myself dancing in heels (there’s a reason why lindy hoppers NEVER see me dancing in heels. It’s embarassing.), but it was so easy to catch on to. The connection is so much easier to understand, and half the time you’re not even connected to your partner.

However, the salsa teacher was right. The skill level wasn’t really too high overall, though I think that’s probably pretty typical of any dance scene. We still had a good time though.

The best part of the night, by far, was the band. They killed it. They totally KILLED it!!! They were so amazing. And the most interesting part about the music (which, for you salsa enthusiasts out there, was Cuban music) was that it was so similar to swing music. It was so complex, and there were so many different levels to each song that you could spend nearly an entire sound just listening to each instrument’s rhythm or melody before you could even hear the entire picture. Plus, some of those band members were pretty good looking. Yum.

I did have one “incident”, shall we call it, during my last dance of the night. This guy came up to me and asked me to dance, and he just was one of those people who I looked at and thought “I bet he’s super good”. First of all, I had to sow my arm back on after the dance because he was so rough with it, which is nothing I haven’t experienced before, so that was fine, but it was the second of all that left me in shock. He led me into a dip, normal, but then he pulled on my hair. I’ll say that again. He pulled on my hair. Like a yank. On my ponytail. You know, like on my head.

I was in so much shock that this had happened that I just, kept on dancing. Looking back, the only thing I feel like he could’ve possibly been doing is trying to pull my hair tie out of my hair so I could shake it out all sexy during the dip, but that wasn’t even close to what happened. And when it happened I was thinking, “Did you just pull my hair? Because I felt a pull. Did you pull it?”

Is this normal? I’ve never experienced anything close to that in Lindy hop. I’ve had someone compliment my hair before, but I don’t think that’s really the same thing.

So, I learned some interesting things about the salsa scene:

1. It seemed a lot of people were there to dance sexy with others, and not so much for the dance itself. There was a lot of hair tossing, legs wrapping around guys bodies and other general ridiculosity.

2. Despite how awesome I thought the band was, they seemed like a non sequitor to most people. There was little, if any, cheering for the band.

3. For it being a social dance, it wasn’t very social. People did not mingle.

4. I only saw a few really advanced dancers there, so either the advanced dancers weren’t out that night (my salsa instructor works Friday evenings so he wasn’t there), or there aren’t any advanced dancers.

5. All of the above seem like symptoms of a larger problem: an apathetic and a slowly dying scene.

It was definitely interesting to see how another dance scene in Albuquerque functions and all the quirks it has. More than anything, it looks as if there’s a lack of general cohesiveness in the scene, either amongst the leaders and organizers or by the regular dancers. I don’t know why that is or what the best way is to change that, but if my salsa instructor could somehow meet up with the other major salsa instructors and organizers around town and figure out a way to work together, it seems that it would only help the scene. Otherwise, the fragmentation could lead to either a massively cirppled scene, or a dead one.

It’s hard helping a dance scene that I’m not a part of. I don’t really know what to tell my salsa instructor to help him. He’s kind of flying solo right now, and I like this guy, so I want to help him. He’s truly passionate about the dance, the scene and rhythm.

More importantly, it’s a lovely reminder as to why I do what I do and what the goals of the Lindy hop scene here. We want to be inclusive, friendly, fun, and most of all, we want to love what we do. I do think our scene could use more hair yanking. That guy was really on to something there. More hair yanking. Yes.

Lindy Hop’s New Studios

This past Saturday, the Mobtown Ballroom, run by Nina Gilkenson and Michael Seguin, had its grand opening in Baltimore. Even though I personally didn’t get to be there, it looks like it was quite an event from Facebook’s perspective, and I thought about them all night while at the weekly dance that I run on Saturdays in my own venue. I have a lot of respect for Nina and Michael for opening up their own ballroom, which looked like quite a task. They completely renovated a church from the 1870’s that sounded like it had pretty much been condemned because of the condition it was in.

Here’s Baltimore christening the building, classic Baltimore style.

They’re not the only Lindy hoppers around opening their own studio. Joe and Nelle DeMers just opened Overstreet Dance Gallery in April in Littleton, Colorado. They found a great place where they now have West Coast Swing, Salsa, Blues and Lindy Hop all week-long.

It’s a big deal to take that step forward to sign a lease. I signed a 3 year lease and committed myself to paying over $100,000 when I started out with absolutely nothing. Unlike Overstreet and Mobtown, however, I didn’t have to do any build out on my own as my landlord had bigger plans than most landlords, as we’re a part of an entire neighborhood renovation project (You should’ve seen the place before renovation though; crappy tile, missing walls, strange pipes sticking out everywhere, an incomplete ceiling and a very random vintage gas pump). But both studios have poured their hearts, souls and pocketbooks into these studios to, ultimately, create a home for dancers.  It truly shows how much the owners not only care for the dance, but care for the community as well.

I’m actually interested to see if this is a national trend that’s happening, or a small coincidence that 3 Lindy hop studios have opened so far this year (that I know of). Thoughts, anyone?

The great thing about owning your own studio is you get to create a venue that’s exactly what Lindy hoppers want to be dancing in. For Albuquerque, most of the dance venues here are ridiculously small, overpriced, too far away, only have marly on the floor, or have pictures of creepy guys with an eye patch, who I swear follows me wherever I go in there (seriously, it’s scary). And the only vintage ballroom we have in town is a historical building, where carrying insurance for one night of dancing alone is too exorbitant to afford, not to mention dealing with the crazy rules of the city. So when I had the opportunity to open Rhythm, I went for it. A lot of cities, especially those whose historic buildings weren’t constructed of mud, have fabulous vintage ballrooms that they can dance in every week. I don’t know what the dance venue situation is like in Littleton or Baltimore, but if they didn’t have great ballrooms before, they certainly do now.

I just want to give both Nina and Michael and Joe and Nelle a giant high-five for opening up their own businesses, and suggest that they hire someone to clean their studios for them, because even though my studio is much smaller than both of theirs (2000sq ft total for mine as opposed to their 3000sq ft just for the dance floor alone), cleaning is a royal bitch. You’re going to spend the entire rest of your life cleaning. Forever.

Chapter 2: The Worst Swing Dance Class I’ve Ever Taught

Yesterday both Brett and I woke up grouchy and not looking forward to teaching again at the middle school. After last week’s total disaster, we decided with would be better to come to the teacher’s 7th grade class. We felt terrible about our class from last Monday and didn’t feel that yesterday would go any better. For those who didn’t read my last post can catch up on the story here.

We decided to take a new approach and to teach them Jitterbug as opposed to teaching them the Shim sham like we did with the 8th graders last week. It was definitely a task to get them to hold hands with one another, but we were relieved that they were at least paying attention to us, a little. One thing I forgot about middle school is how outwardly rude kids are to the opposite sex, which, in retrospect, I’m sure I would’ve acted no differently if I were one of them. It took most of the class for the kids to finally stop complaining about having to touch one another, though a few refused to touch any of their partners at all, but even those kids were at least up and dancing by themselves, even if they weren’t really doing what we were doing. (Two of them even started out not dancing at all and sitting in their seats, so the fact that they were even up and moving by the end of class felt really good) We were able to get through a basic and a few simple turns and even got them dancing to music. It was 1000 times more successful than last week’s class, despite the fact that the teacher was trying to take pictures of her students on her phone while we were in the middle of teaching and distracting everyone from the lesson.

The kids were pretty typical 7th graders: awkward, insecure, and being overly dramatic about touching each other because they think that everyone else is grossed out by touching people of the opposite sex, so they should act that way too. Plus, they’re typical students who think their teacher is a little lame, and  because she brought us in, we were guilty by association. So it was as if we had to prove ourselves to them to show them we and what we were teaching weren’t lame as well. They stopped complaining completely as soon as Brett told them that even though partner dancing doesn’t seem cool now, once you get into college you’re super cool if you know how to dance, especially if you’re guy. They didn’t seem ecstatic to be dancing after that, but they were definitely more agreeable to it. They also enjoyed watching us dance, especially since we did a frog jump and an A-frame for them.

The teacher decided that we’ll stay in this class for at least the next six weeks. I think we were more successful this week because of a few things. 1. We were teaching easier material 2. We had a much tighter leash on them this week and kept them moving constantly so that they didn’t have time to talk or misbehave, which 3. made the students more agreeable to dancing and more trusting of us. And I think the more they spend time with us, the more we’ll gain their trust and the easier it’ll be for them to listen to what we say.

Last week, the kids knew we didn’t have a good grip on the class, so they were pushing the boundaries the entire class. It makes a difference when they know that you’re in control.

So, things are looking up and unlike last week, I left feeling pretty decent about the class. There’s a lot of improvement we have to do still, but I think things are looking more hopeful than grim at this point.

Oh, by the way, the teacher told us that two of her kids from the 8th grade class we taught last week had to leave the class today because they were behaving so badly, one being taken out of class by the school police. She even told us that that class is just super terrible, which made me feel a little better about last week.