Category Archives: Stories

Teachers & Social Dancing

This post is inspired by Asa Heedman post and Sam’s subsequent blog post. My response was inspired by what Sam wrote: “So when i read that some teachers charge for social dancing, i ask myself, “what experiences have led them to this action?”” Since no one has really cared to ask why, here are some examples from my life as a traveling instructor.

Here are situations I’ve been in that would make me add a social dancing payment element:
– Recent grade 1 ankle sprain where I taught 4-5 hours of lindy hop & blues and was teaching aerials the next day.
– Balboa dance featuring non-swing music
– Dance night featuring bad swing remixes, electroswing, and too much fast music after teaching 4-5 hours
– Smoking inside the dance venues
– Not a native speaker and shy combined with the need for downtime after giving so much in earlier classes
– Going straight from teaching to walking around forever for food and then straight to the dance

One organizer said they like me as a teacher but would never hire me since I don’t dance enough with the students. This was after teaching all day, wandering around for food, in a country where I barely speak with the language, where students would hardly engage me, where I didn’t get downtime before the dance and had to teach again the next day.

Another organizer inserted a social dancing clause into one of our contracts. I can’t find it the original contract, but I knew the organizer and they did it in a nice way with reasonable expectations.

Other organizers have thought I don’t social dance enough. At this point, I’ve been swing dancing for 20 years. I no longer have the boundless enthusiasm nor the insatiable lust to dance that others do. I admire those people and have no idea how they do it.

I still enjoy dancing and love music that inspires me. It just gets especially exhausting when I have to find inspiration deep inside me to share with my partner and the music when I just did this for 5 hours.

That is why I’ve used these difficult experiences to construct a contract that I like that takes care of me and my teaching partner. Happy teacher = great event = rewarded students.

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.

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.

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.

On The Dance Floor’s Edge

I witnessed something pretty neat last night. It’s a situation most of has been in. You’re poised on the edge of the dance looking hopefully for someone to ask to dance or someone to ask us you to dance. You’re new to the venue and you don’t know many people. It can be a nerve-racking experience. From my seat at the door I can see the hope on your face and then the moment where you turn away, losing that hope. It’s a change that affects your entire body language.

Then… then someone asks you to dance! It’s Jami Good asking you if you’d like to follow and her to lead. The dance begins.



A Banning in KC

kenny-at-frankie-manningBack in the early 2000s, I (Kenny) was banned from Kansas City’s only all-ages swing dance venue. I was banned for soliciting attending dancers to come to my swing bomb events held across the Kansas City metro.

There was an understanding among ballroom studios that you never offered flyers for events that you were not directly participating in. Studios were insular and very protective of their students. They didn’t want to risk them going elsewhere.

I had become disillusioned with this studio, quit their team, and stopped teaching there. I had discovered the great shining light called lindy hop. In my naivety, I thought I could skirt the studio understanding by inviting dancers outside the studio space to pass out flyers on the sidewalk. That didn’t fly with the studio owner who physically accosted me and banned me.

It was a badge of honor to be banned there. It came with notoriety that felt pretty cool back then. My friends supported me, said they had my back, fluffed my ego. Even 5 years after that event, newer dancers knew I was that “banned guy.” Yeah, that was me.

Looking back, I realize I was foolish. I could have accomplished so much more if I worked with them, somehow communicating my needs and passions. In a way, I became those lindy hoppers I used to intensely dislike as they looked down upon as east coast swing dancers. Well, there I was looking down on the venue holding the only all-ages swing dance that allowed me to dance before I turned 21.

I could have probably used some friends that didn’t enjoy fanning my flames so much either. At the very least, some introspection. Banning is a harsh step and typically not taken very lightly. I wish someone close to me had said the studio owner had just cause. This was my dance mentor that kicked me out.

Banning is tough from all angles. Yours, the person doing the banning, the person making the accusation that results in a banning, the friends who are confused that perhaps pick sides to bolster you, their friend, that one that was just banned.

In the end, I know I was wrong. I don’t hold animosity toward the one that banned me or the person that perhaps told them what I was doing. It takes courage to step up and do the right thing like apologize, empathize, and to ask your friends to do the same thing.

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.

Running & Lindy Hop

Many people have been curious about my ACL recovery progression. Mostly it centers around how long it will take me to dance and teach. During a December conversation at Great Divide, I mentioned that I needed to be able to run and add muscle mass. This student, a runner, immediately latched onto running and what it had to do with dancing and so I explained.
jogging Continue reading

Connecting The Elbow Pit

In every beginner lesson I teach, I ask that the leaders connect their right elbow pit on the followers near waist, their left. This is because I eventually realized the failing of stating “leaders, place your right hand on the right side of the followers’ waist”. Everyone is built so differently that this teacher catch-all was failing students. Connecting the leaders’ right elbow pit works better because they can have a relaxed upper arm that allows for better lat engagement and it allows the lower arm a better place to rotate from. If you haven’t discovered this yet, try it out!

Part 2 of this story: Someone who has heard me say this many times recently said they learned this neat leading tip at Rocky Mountain Girl Jam – to connect their elbow pit on the followers’ side.
homer_dohSometimes it takes that one person to say what you’ve been saying or trying to do in just the right way that it clicks. The missing Lego piece. Is it a failing on my part as a teacher or theirs as a listening student? No. These things happen.


Box Store Story

groceries-hardwareThere was an older gentleman I met in college who used to work for a hardware store. His job was to find new locations for their stores. I remember one story he recounted about suggesting a location near a Wal-Mart. The higher-ups were afraid of this idea because they thought Wal-Mart would consume all their potential traffic. He advocated the location because there would already be so much traffic and people would love a different and more thorough option. His position won out and both businesses were successful.