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DJs – Cultivators of Taste

Over at Fog City Stomp 2017, Nirav hosted a Musician’s Panel which opened by asking Michael Gamble his thoughts on the role of the DJ. Check out the answer starting at 4:50.

The first thing that struck me was his view that the DJ’s role is to cultivate the musical taste of the scene. Even if your local scene doesn’t have good to great swing bands, you can still access the greatest swing music ever played. In fact, he implored DJs to widen their catalogs and search for unfamiliar (to you) swing dance tunes.

That’s an important charge and one I’d like to make sure we’re meshing with our DJ philosophy of playing, I’ll say, visceral music. We want our music to relate to deep inward feelings rather than to your intellect. Then we have cultivate our DJs’ taste along with our audience’s taste.

This is invaluable advice to move our scene forward and another important aspect to the role of the Swing DJ. You’re not just letting a playlist run, you’re the curator of taste.

Learning and Self-Reflection

Last night, Jesse and I taught a role switch class. It’s where all our dancers danced their less dominant role. You can see what we taught below.

What was fascinating, and I only realized this when Jesse pointed it out at Birdcall, is that the new leaders were self-reflective and the new followers were rarely self-reflective. This meant that the new leaders were more likely to take responsibility and internalize things while the new followers were more likely to lay responsibility on their new leaders. Hmmmm…

One example is when the student pointed out there were 3 good leaders in the class and he would probably learn faster as a follower with them. We conceded that observation, but turned it around to emphasize their responsibility in their new role. Not to mention, there were 4 good followers in the class so everyone was on a level learning field. We know this person didn’t state this in a hurtful way, but we teachers could have handled it better.

Going forward, we’ll need to encourage greater self-reflection and perhaps coach our students how to do this. We covered it slightly through connection, spotting, and generating/following momentum, but we could do more. Overall, I’d say that the dominant-role followers made the largest adjustments during class.

Post Auditions – Standing Out

It’s after auditions and you already think you were erroneously placed. What can you do? It really depends on the event, but the first step should be taking your classes and standing out.

Each level has stratification between low, middle, and high skillsets. Some students think that merely doing the moves the instructors are teaching is enough, but it isn’t. If you truly want to stand out, you should strive to emulate the teachers as much as possible. This means their:

  • quality of movement
  • connection
  • ease of leading and following
  • smooth transitions
  • ability to create rhythms and other variances on top this pattern or theme
  • enjoyment of the dance

I hope you appreciate some of these ideas and try to incorporate them next time you’re trying to be noticed during auditions, post-auditions, or appeals.



Competition Tips: Know Your Partner’s Abilities

Have you watched Fog City Stomp’s Invitational Social (random partner draw) competition yet? Watch until near the very end and you’ll see Anthony & I working (it) together.

Above is an example of two guys knowing the other spoke westie. Two hand left side pass with a lunge break = a playful moment. In this case, it equated to a ginormous body roll.

Moments later, and people were asking what Anthony and I were talking, we threw a pancake aerial. According to my recollection, the conversation went like this:
A: Pancake?
K: What?
A: Pancake
K: (thinks about this blazer’s armholes before leading a tuck turn as the setup) Pancake

That’s a good example of Anthony making an excellent call based on what he knew of my skills.

Bottomline: It’s good to know your partner’s skillsets. Even if you don’t know them personally, that’s the benefit of the beginning all-skate, the start of a dance, or just asking what the other is best at.

Rambling on a Slow Whip Experience

I used to compete at dance competitions a lot. Initially, my primary competition outlet were at west coast swing conventions. Their competitions were most accessible to me for a few factors:

-I could compete in a level-appropriate Jack & Jill whether it was a regular Jack & Jill, Pro/Am, Mixed Ages, etc

-Strictly comps, where you pick your partner, didn’t feel so focused about the perfect partnership dynamic as lindy hop competitions feel. I met one woman at event, found we danced well, asked her to compete at the next comp we’d be at and she said “yes.” I feel a greater pressure to win or place well with lindy hop. One of these reasons is because lindy hop competitions doesn’t have many level divisions, have great pools of prelim dancers and then typically narrows straight to finals featuring 5-8 couples.

-They were fun even when you didn’t know what you were getting into!

That leads me to my Slow Whip experience in Texas. Back in 2006 or 2007, I was at America’s Classic and saw the Slow Whip competition in their brochure. On a whim, I asked Samantha Buckwalter (seen below in the video) to compete with me. All I remember is that she agreed, our mutual goal was not to place last, and that Slow Whip featured slow and fast movement. Good enough, right?

What I didn’t know until later was that we were being judged by Slow Whip’s old-timers. Gah! And we were being spotlighted two couples at a time. Say what? And we’d be dancing to live music. Woohoo!

For not knowing what I got myself into, I had a lot of fun. Dancing west coast swing (excuse me, slow whip) to live music was an undeniable treat. Best of all… we didn’t place last, just second to last.

I’m A Duck

I heard this during an interview on NPR. A woman described herself as a duck – calm on top, but furiously paddling to stay afloat.

That’s how I sometimes feel when competing. Nobody wants to see the mental gymnastics that are happening, but they’re cranking away! Breathe, scary teeth, scat that rhythm, look at the audience, what’s up with that one judge, plant your feet, you can do it, why is my partner now yelling. All this is going on and more.

What’s your competition inner-monologue like?

Competition Tips – Strategy vs Comp IRL

“This will be a no-holds barred, all air-steps allowed social dance competition open to all.”

What happens when your competition expectations, strategy and plan match the contest description but not the music provided? Do you scrap it, dance your plan, or adjust accordingly? It’s a tough call and I sympathize with competitors that find themselves in this situation.

Since I coach some of the Coloradans featured in this video, I had the opportunity to speak with them about their strategies and perhaps what to do in the future. They’re also not the only ones that perhaps planned for a more intense finals than what was provided as evidenced in the Hellzapoppin’ Strictly shown below. This statement isn’t meant to criticize any one dancer, but to use these videos as a discussion point for this post.

It’s also very true to say that I’ve been in their shoes. Here’s me relying on choreography, dancing over the music, and having little spontaneity inspired by the music. This is what I get for practicing sequences outside near Denver’s dancing statues.

The first thing I’ve learned is that it isn’t enough to rely on your flashy steps, big tricks and bigger aerials. Lindy hop is about dancing and you need to constantly work on your skills as a partner and solo dancer.

This leads into dancing into and out of your flashier steps well so they don’t look like isolated chunks. This is the airsteps versus aerials mentality. Airsteps have a rhythm, breath, a flow whereas aerials don’t to not flow as well. If people don’t necessarily “see” your swingout coming, perhaps you should treat your tricks the same.

You’ll also want to up your musicality and improvisational game with comps featuring chorus-long spotlights or slower tempos or less energetic songs that might shout for choreography or airsteps.

Also, be sure to thoroughly read the contest description. The description above includes – “all air-steps allowed social dance competition.” Unless your scene is vastly different than my scene, airsteps aren’t a regular part of your social dancing. My airsteps are either called (long-format competition), followed by a certain pattern (mini-routine), or part of a choreography (how I survive Camp Hollywood’s Pro Lindy division). For even better strategy-making, I’d research past competition videos to calibrate your expectations.


Even then, you might want to decide to just dance how you want and not give a care what the judges or anyone else thinks. You gotta do you, right?

Letting the Path Choose You

I was recently hiking near Breckenridge. Like most hikes, you had to pick your way across mud, water, and rocks. As much as I’d like to scout my path, rock to rock or dry patch to dry patch, I’m always willing to go with the flow that the loose rock dictates.

Rather than fighting for balance, I’ll flow the direction given and try to best choose the next step given where I’m now heading. Sometimes I’ll land with grace. Other times I find myself constantly hopscotching until I regain balance and control. Even with all my childhood training playing in the woods, I do land in the mud.

I find this philosophy even applying to my social dancing. Between Point A (beginning of the song) and Point B (end of the song), most of what will happen is unknown until it happens. I find this balance between known and unknown to be where the most fun resides.


Last week, I was invited to a Facebook event. I wanted to know more information so I clicked on the “Find Tickets” option to take me to their website. That’s when I got the “Server not found” message. Quick investigative work showed that they typed the URL with the wrong suffix.

This only emphasizes that you have to take great care of what people see first. Initial impressions matter, so proofread your work.

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