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!”
One of my craziest experiences was when I taught a drop-in blues class in Prague. (quick recap last paragraph here)The organizers’ advertising was too successful. Their small venue, The Jam Cafe, was packed with Czechs wanting to blues dance and they were stuck with an American teacher. We planned for a few people and saw 50+. That class went like this – get their attention, demonstrate a move, teach the move, check if they’re sufficient at it, play music, repeat. We slammed through material those 30 minutes and kept the good times rolling. That tactic is really great for public, non-dance school gigs.
Heartland Swing Festival 2016 was a whirlwind of teaching, dancing, and refueling for more of the previously mentioned activities. Delilah and I landed Friday afternoon after spending a leisurely time at DIA.
There are things that Heartland does that makes it stand out among other workshop weekends. First and foremost, they have a great organizational team who are super proactive and productive. This means we have a liaison to drive us, people to get me a gallon jug of water, great hosts, a schedule with our classes and judging duties. They minimize any stress I might have outside of teaching classes and provide reliable information. I can just show up and get to work. It’s great. Continue reading →
Four of us Swingin’ Denver performers – Reese, Todd, myself, and Jesse, had a gig for the Westin DIA Grand Opening Gala this past Saturday. Typical gigs involve a lot of social dance style performing and crowd interaction. In essence, we add to the ambiance. Saturday was made much easier because we got to work with the Queen City Jazz Band, a Denver-based band that been playing together for 58 years. 58 years! They’re great musicians, have a fabulous singer, but you want to know what struck me the most? How flexible they were with their plans to get the crowd up and dancing.
During their first band break, we talked about some strategies and they decided to try some more slower tunes during the next set and if that didn’t work, they’d go for rock ‘n roll tunes that had their originations in blues or swing. They even discussed having their singer talk about the songs before they were played to draw the audience in. They did that. Then we even had a spontaneous Charleston lesson where they ripped into a Charleston tune with three rows of people dancing with their new Charleston skills. Well done, Queen City Jazz Band!
Yesterday marked our second dancer/band practice. This time we worked with Odessa Rose, a local band specializing in western swing, gypsy jazz, americana, and folk.
We met Odessa Rose for the first time in May, 2015. Their bassist, Alex, had discovered us when he heard music playing from The Savoy at Curtis Park during Rocky Mountain Girl Jam. He passed their card to Ash Helms who passed it to me and I followed up. We went to their night at DADA Art Bar and had a blast.
Our first band and dancer practice was a success! We did this last Thursday with La Pompe Jazz and some of our team members and teachers.
I don’t remember how this idea originated, but I think it came from David Lawrence, La Pompe’s bandleader. We’ve been developing a rapport over the last few months, attending their various gigs at Brik on York, Crown Social, Denver Flea and 16th Street Mall. They play great music, love us dancers, and they were always playing in the coolest spots.
This idea and we did gradually took shape thanks to several influences. I can’t keep a lid on cool things potentially happening, so a team member that found out early suggested we do a faux competition. La Pompe wanted to get better playing for dancers. And I wanted to do something new and continue developing relationships with local bands. We all move the scene along.
The night started off with some social dancing and finished with a fun Jack & Jill competition. What happened in the middle? We learned musicians counted in measures or 4 beats and dancers in phrases and 8 beats. We learned about blues structure and blues doesn’t necessarily mean slow music. We learned about what dancers might want for jam spotlights. We talked about how we can interact with each other. We also talked about how to start a dance – build softly and then increase the energy.
I was reminded of this moment when Jerry Almonte shared the ULHS Semi-Final video on his Facebook page and wrote “Also, nice to see Kenny show up for one of these things finally.” This could be taken two different ways. First, that it was my first ULHS in New Orleans. Or, the fact that one of my most ignominious moments was not showing up for my Jack & Jill Finals at ULHS 2008. The latter is where the story is at. Continue reading →
Some point after the Showdown Finals, I was talking to a highly regarded lindy hop instructor. I don’t remember the conversation word for word, but his thoughts stuck with me. It had to do with how the lindy hop scene cycles through phases. There’s wild abandon, refinement and too much refinement. He thought Delilah and I were toward the former, though not lacking in refinement. This was great to hear because I feel that is close to our ethos.
I also think he put words to what I’ve been feeling about the lindy hop scene in general. One of our most viewed international events is ILHC. Typically, major events are trend-setters, a glimpse of where the overall scene is heading. And I was bored. I wanted to be blown away, emotionally drawn in, and I was bored. There were many technically great dancers, but I wanted something more visceral and it felt intellectual. Continue reading →