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.

 

 

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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.

 


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!


ABQLX: The Destruction And The Aftermath

Albuquerque lays in complete and utter ruins today. The buildings leveled; the streets buckled and unusable. No one is around. There’s no sound except a slight breeze rustling through the rubble and the trash that litters the landscape now. All because the Albuquerque Lindy Exchange was the bomb that destroyed it all.

It. Was. The. Bomb.

Seriously.

Here are some of the highlights:

This year we had a new venue for our main dances: The North Domingo Baca Multigenerational Center, a brand new facility that’s soon to cover nearly a mile’s worth of land with parks, swimming pools, tennis courts, and more. The social hall had an entire wall of acordian glass doors that opened out onto a patio, so not only did it stay cool in the dance hall, but we got to be half inside, half outside. Plus, they provided drinks and snacks for everyone (most of which were free), and with comfortable seating inside and outside. We couldn’t have asked for a better venue.

Gordon Webster:

Oh. My. God. Gordon killed it Friday! The band was super energetic and tight and completely blew everyone away. He had a 3 song encore, wherein he played a blues song as his last song. I almost cried.  It was beautiful. Not to mention that everyone in the room was still dancing or gawking in awe at the musicians. Plus, Aurora Nealand, the singer/soprano sax, was one of the most beautiful sounding musicians I’ve ever heard in my life. I seriously forgot I was dancing with someone when I started to hear her play.

Saturday Day:

Our ABQLX tradition for Saturday afternoons is to have a lindy bomb in a hardwood floored gazebo in Old Town, the original settlement in Albuquerque, built circa 1779. The gazebo sits in the middle of the plaza, with restaurants, churches, and shops surrounding it. It’s a hub of culture, tourism, and festivities. Old Town was also having their Harvest Festival that day, so there were extra people out and about getting ready for the evening’s events. The weather was perfect, and the gazebo was packed the entire afternoon. Afterwards, a large group of us went to a restaurant across the way where we sat on the patio and were served free margaritas from a giant pitcher. Thanks to our waiter, Ruben, for being so nice and joining us in celebrating.

Saturday Main Dance:

Here’s a clip of our Jack & Jill finals.

Saturday Late Night:

This was probably my favorite moment of the entire event. We had a Jedi Jack & Jill Competition (Oh, it’s going to become a thing) in which there were two hats: one was to pull the type of music the competitors would dance to, the second was the task that they had to perform.

The Ultimate Task: Dodgeball Lindy Hop. Ping pong balls were flying everywhere, and dancers were, well, trying to dance. It was the most organized chaos I’ve ever seen in my life.

It doesn’t end there. We get down to our last two couples, battling it out to “You And Me And The Bottle Makes Three,” when we declare a winner. Mike Faltesek immediately sat down with his guitar, began strumming the song where it left off, and one by one, just like in Hellzapoppin’, the rest of The Careless Lovers join in to create a fabulous rendition of “You And Me And The Bottle Makes Three”. It was the perfect segue back into the social dancing.

The Careless Lovers:

I love them. They’re fun, careless (zing!) and have a great down-home, casual feel. Plus, Falty and Freddie Dickinson are great guys, and were a huge asset  to have this year.

Sunday Afternoon:

Sunday was perfect. We BBQed with the Route 66 Malt Shop next door to Rhythm, hung out outside on their patio, and there was a little dancing. The day was really all about hanging out together, eating some food, and having a good time.

A few side notes that helped our event so much this year:

Our volunteers this year were rock stars. Not only did they go well beyond their regular duties, but we didn’t even need to ask them to do something for us most of the time. They just did it. Volunteering for an event can often be thankless work. It was really great to see how much our volunteers cared about making the event the best it could possibly be, and I’m really thankful for that. The volunteers are the backbone of events; events couldn’t run without them.

The great thing about smaller events is that you see every single person at the event. No one goes unnoticed. Everyone who came this year brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm with them. People were super friendly and laid back.

ABQLX isn’t the biggest event, nor does it have the most badass dancers in the world or world class competitions, but it’s always a great time. This was our best year yet. Believe me, you’re going to want to come next year.


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.