DJ Audition – Hey Ya

Back in the day, the Mercury Cafe was the top spot to DJ swing music. It became one of my goals to be asked by Dan Newsome to DJ there. The main question was – how do you get asked when they’re never going to hear you play?

Well, the opportunity arrived later in 2005, the year I moved to Denver. I was still trying to run the occasional workshop in Kansas City and I asked Dan and Tiffiny to teach there. I was also going to DJ the Saturday dance at someone’s dance studio loft. Plan in motion.

I eventually ran into a problem; there were break-dancers attending the dance. How in the world was I supposed to get them onto the dance floor and still cater to the swing dancers? Also, I knew what the Merc’s DJ program was all about – solid swing music, very minimal novelty songs, strong DJs. I was concerned, but mentally said “screw it” and played “Hey Ya.”
Well, the break-dancers and swing dancers took the floor. If I recall properly, I think a cypher even occurred.  It worked and I even got a crack at DJing the Merc a month or two after this. Thanks, Outkast.

Facing Fear

Ever since I’ve started rehab, I’ve learned to better empathize with our beginner students. I’ve been learning new things that appear easily attainable, but my body occasionally betrays me. I occasionally sweat more and can feel my brain overloading with an intense feeling of heat when learning challenging movements. I occasionally extrapolate to the worst possible scenario.

Even yesterday, I faced something I was afraid of – jumping to one box, then to the ground, then explosively up to another box. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t trust myself to explode from the ground. If I took my time and set myself, I could do it, but that wasn’t what my physical therapist demanded.

What I’m learning or, perhaps just reinforcing for myself, is that it’s okay to struggle and fail. Sometimes you need to break up your goals into smaller, more manageable, chunks to succeed later. And, as a teacher, I need to be cognizant that some students may need more time and personal attention (oh, and aircon!).

The Limitation Game


We played some fun games with our Swing 2 students last week and I’d like to share what we did. There’s a demonstration of some options here:

Our plan was to limit them to 8-count patterns, then 6-count, X role can only use right hand or left hand, breaks on 7, no triple steps. In the past, I’ve found that limiting what I can do can expand my vocabulary if given creative tools, expose vocabulary and technique issues, and spark questions. You should give it a go!

On The Outside Looking In

Here are stories of three people I noticed at dances and spoke with recently.

The first was a gentleman that arrived late to our Stanley Marketplace lesson. I could see him looking at us and so I greeted him from inside the circle. He asked if this was the Meetup and I said sure. He didn’t have a partner immediately, so my co-teacher partnered with him. Later we chatted a bit, I showed him a Charleston step, and he even did some social dancing.

The second occurred while I was packing up to leave the Stanley Swing Night. A woman was watching intently near the band’s merch suitcase. Once I had all my gear, I walked along the edge headed to my car. She was on the opposite side facing the band now. I hesitated and decided “why not, let’s strike up a conversation,” and asked if this was her first time to the Stanley Marketplace. It was and we chatted a bit. Hopefully, she’ll return to the next one or to one of our classes.

The third happened last night at the Mercury Cafe. While I was dancing, I noticed a man standing in the front of the water. He was looking intently at the dance floor. I noticed his Mobtown Ballroom shirt, figured he was from Baltimore (confirmed), and didn’t know anyone. With a lead-in like Baltimore and Mobtown, I figured I’d have an easier time starting a conversation and was right.

I offered to introduce him to any followers or leaders. He shared that he was a bit shy and that he’d like for me to point out some leaders to danc with since he prefers to follow. He mentioned that Denver appeared much different than Baltimore’s scene where anything goes. Hopefully, he had a fun evening.

What do you do when you notice a stranger with a clear desire to try swing dancing or find out more? For me, it’s easy to feel empowered when I’m running the dance or have a leadership position. It gives me more of a reason to say “welcome” or “have you been here before?” Other times, like the Merc example, I feel more confident when I have a starter conversation planned. Other times, if I can guess someones leader/follower preferences and I don’t fit the bill, I’ll suggest to a friend they ask that person to dance because they appear new.

We each have our ways. Regardless, I’d like to encourage more people to go out of their comfort zone to welcome strangers.

Graceful Exit

Recently I received some advice on a business situation. That advice was to provide a graceful and amicable way out in this particular business dealing. Unfortunately for me, I had to apply that knowledge even more recently when an organizer found themselves in an impossible position to continue working with me though they wanted to. Life goes on because I want them to succeed.

Well, how can this apply to social dancing? When I ask someone to dance, I minimize my expectations of what the person being asked might say. They might say “no,” they might say “yes,” they might say either with a qualification. Regardless, I’ll respect their answer and move on. This allows them a graceful acceptance or exit. By modeling this, hopefully you’d experience the same when responding to someone’s inquiry about dancing a song.

Teacher Flow

So I was watching Ludacris rap Llama Llama Red Pajama last night. Coupled with a compliment for teaching flow, I thought these two things go together especially when I found my head bouncing to Ludacris’ freestyle.

In teaching life, flow can mean a couple different things. First, flow could mean the way you build upon what you’re teaching. X leads to Y leads to Z all the while encouraging students, playing music, bringing the along. You’re linking all the pieces together into one harmonious whole.

Second, flow can represent the pitter patter of teacher-speak. Just listen to Ludacris’ breath work, how he uses filler beats, and how his pauses are purposeful. I think it’s similar to how good teachers and dancers scat or count off a room – “uh5uh6, uh5uh6uh7 8 and rock step…” They can get you dancing while standing still. So good.

#JOLO

Kenny – “I’ve watched your guys’ epic showcase and read all the amazing posts about CH this year, but….what in the world is #jolo? Is this CH exclusive jargon? Asking for a friend. 😀”

Jitterbugs Only Live Once was coined a few years back. I struggle to remember who came up with this phrase, but it was probably Nick Peterson or someone close to him. The phrase captures the essence of the Underground Jitterbug Championships which arose from the death of the Jitterbug Contest, a staple of the National Jitterbug Championships (the contest portion of Camp Hollywood).

Here’s what I think #jolo is all about.
– you throw down
– you’re fearless
– failure is an option when you’re dancing beyond your means
– you give everything you have
– you entertain
– you’re not there for the YouTube video, you’re there for the people
– this moment is what it’s all about

My first UJC

Top Down Event Culture – Camp Hollywood

Someone said something to me at Camp Hollywood XX that stuck with me. That Hilary Alexander, the founder and chief organizer, wants to see something that makes her go “hell, yeah.” Whether it’s true to not is a different story. Regardless, I have seen this attitude permeate throughout each Camp Hollywood I attend.

Whether it’s the innovative aerials, routines that make me go “only at Camp Hollywood” with a happy smile on my face, people dressing to extreme lengths for theme nights, the fantastic music, or my joke that you need to throw the kaye flip during strictly prelims to make finals, you see this amazing spirit. Even new competitors know they need to throw down. It also helps there is an amazing crowd showering you with support because they also want to see something that makes them go “hell, yeah!”

Great events start from the top.