Category Archives: Dance Tips

On Clapping

Our Wednesday Night Hop crowd got paid an awesome compliment February 7 at our relaunch party. An attendee remarked that our crowd really claps for the band. They found that rare compared to other venues, so good job, everyone!

If you’re curious what band members want from an audience, check out this link and head to point Number Six.

Being Noticed

An anecdote from our Speakeasy Soiree: As one of the mainĀ hosts for the evening, I walk around the room greeting people, welcoming them, troubleshooting any problems. To one couple, I welcomed them, thanked them for coming, asked them how they found out about our event, and we made some small talk.

I came back around again and they pulled me aside. They wanted to know if I did what I did for marketing purposes or why? I told them that I genuinely wanted to know how they were doing and if they were enjoying themselves. In response, they said they appreciated being singled out because it’s rare to have that happen at a big event. I can’t do that with everyone, but those moments count.

The Essence of the Basics

Oftentimes, students get caught up in matching the teachers perfectly in basic patterns. As an instructor, I want to teach and demonstrate the “ideal basics” and also allow students and flexibility to A. stress less and B. succeed on the social floor. Where does that lead us? Well, here’s some distillation of basic patterns:

Swingout – you briefly connect in a close embrace, and send/are sent a new direction.
Circle – you connect in a close embrace and remain connected for the duration.
Tuck Turn – wind away, wind toward, turn.
Underarm Passby – the leader provides a directional path for the follower to go underneath an arm.

That’s really it. Those 4 basics will carry any level far on the social dance floor.

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.

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.

More Jazz Hands!

I had an epiphany recently after asking my chiropractor about my wrists that occasionally pop. He suggested that I give my hands the occasional self-massage and to spread them out like… Jazz Hands!

My wrists used to be much stronger through parkour. After damaging my right wrist from repeated poor technique on a swingout tossout, this was a good change. I had partially attributed this change to all the impact from parkour – vaults, qm, etc. Now, I think I was strengthening my wrists by being on my open palms so much and working those unused muscles – those I use when holding a dance partner’s hand, moving a mouse, or typing on a keyboard.

Food for thought. Enjoy this QM video.

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!

Emphasizing the 2&4

Have you ever seen this video before?

This is the breakdown of this video here where Harry Connick, Jr adjusted for the crowd’s offbeat 1, 3 clapping to bring them to the 2 & 4. If you look closely in the original video, you’ll also notice a brief moment where the drummer cheers him!

As The Andrew Sisters sing “If you want to keep the rhythm pumpin’, Bounce me brother with a solid four,” you’ll want that solid four as a dancer. Clapping on the 2 & 4, emphasizing the 2 & 4, etc.

Juan Villafane even went into further detail when teaching a Fast Charleston class at Stompology one year. He had working on dropping into the 2 & 4 more during our Charleston basics and then our Squat Charleston. He really wanted that emphasis to connect us into the music and our roots.

This also means that us teachers, bringing up the next generation of dancers, should also be emphasizing the 2 & 4. This could be through clapping out the rhythm. We can make sure we’re fully scatting the rhythm and emphasizing the 2 & 4 vocally. We also need to be picking appropriate swing tunes that swing hard and answer “yes” when you ask “would I dance to this on the social floor?”

SWING KIDS, Robert Sean Leonard, Tushka Bergen, 1993
SWING KIDS, Robert Sean Leonard, Tushka Bergen, 1993

The Expert Witness

back-to-backOn January 13, 2014, I was asked to be an expert witness for a personal injury case concerning a man who flipped a woman and grievously injured her. The lawyers found my aerial recap videos on YouTube, looked me up via my website, and emailed me. We talked that day and the next morning at 7am I sent them questions for their upcoming deposition.

Over the next 16 days, I spent 25+ hours on this project. I analyzed the written deposition, picking apart the defendant’s language; critiqued the video deposition where the defendant demonstrated how he performed the back-to-back aerial; videotaped the aerials using his technique and mine, comparing and contrasting the two through captured stills; and writing a best practices document along with my deposition analysis.

It was intense. We even discussed that they might need me and an aerial partner at the hearing to demonstrate. That was to happen the day I was supposed to fly to Grenoble. Fortunately, this case never went to trial. They settled out of court thanks mainly to my work.

Here are some takeaways from this case:

  • If you’re inebriated, don’t do aerials. Don’t offer, don’t suggest, don’t accept.
  • If you’ve never done aerials before with this person and you’re both sober, do preps before going over. Build trust.
  • If the trust isn’t there and you’re compromised in some manner, do not fly and do not throw.
  • If you’re wearing compromising clothing or footwear, do not fly or throw. This could be a tight shirt limiting arm movement or stiletto heels.
  • If you successfully threw a gymnast for your first aerial, it’s totally them and not you. Same thing goes for tiny children. In the scheme of things, doing an aerial successfully with gymnasts and tiny children doesn’t count.
  • As a base, you should always have a sense (visual or physical) where your flyer is. If you don’t, re-establish it quickly and get ready to become a landing pad.
  • As a flyer when doing connected throws and landing, you should also have a physical sense where your base is. If you don’t, re-establish quickly or get your arms out quickly for a crash landing.