Category Archives: Thoughts

Taking Spaces for Granted

Last December proved to be the last Wednesday Night Hop at The Arvada Tavern. A dancer we hadn’t seen attend our dances in many months professed they were sad we were closing down since it’s so close to their place.

A monthly swing night at Dry Dock Brewing’s South Dock proved unsustainable after a huge kickoff night was followed by a 50% attendance drop the following two months. We discovered that special events spaced out were much more successful.

Several years ago when I was teaching in Europe, I saw the extraordinary news on Facebook – Marilyn was giving Denver’s largest swing night (Tuesday) to the blues dancers. Thursday nights, the secondary night, hadn’t been doing well, so the hope was that consolidation would make more business sense.

These examples all show that we can’t take our venues for granted. We can’t even take the apparent indefatigability of venue showrunners for granted. Colorado Swing Dance Club has been asking for new board members for a few weeks. Will someone new step in, perhaps someone that loves that Friday night dance option and wants to see it continue?

If you like something for whatever reason close to your heart, support it. Support can come in a variety of ways – sharing ways the venue can attract more people, giving encouragement to the new DJ that had to step in, inviting your friends to the dance or class even though you can’t attend, et cetera.

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.

Self-Deception & CoC

As safe space leaders in the community, we have to unfortunately deal with some individuals that don’t accept the consequences of their actions or refuse to believe they did anything wrong. From doing some research, I think some people practice self-deception. This article can explain it much better than I can.

We just wiped our hands clean (for now) of one individual we believe is practicing self-deception. It’s the only way we can make sense of their avoidance of facts that paint them in a negative light or shake up their core beliefs. One belief was that they were always a welcoming person. When I shared with them an example when they intimidated a party planner into dis-inviting me and blocking from me from attending, they blamed me and insisted they did nothing wrong.

Be wary of these people. Some self-deception can be good, but it may eventually cause harm.

The Follower

In the car ride back from Dry Dock Brewing’s Ugly Sweater Swing Dance, Jesse suggested I change my teaching language in a specific area. I have a (recent?) habit of saying “your follower” rather than “the follower” or something similar.

One problem was that “your follower” implied some sort of possessiveness. Another problem was that we wanted followers to understand they were responsible for their response. The possessive adjective could imply someone else is responsible which we don’t want.

Hope you appreciate the insights from our teaching experiences.

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.

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.

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.

Bash or Organize

Raise your hands if you have the means to run your own event. It takes time, energy, financial resources, a dependable crew of people, a website, and more. It’s exhausting, stressful, and the payoff is much like climbing Long’s Peak.

Now it’s time to descend

Someone recently wrote: “If you want to see something better, then organize an event of your own and focus on bringing something great to the community rather than bashing someone else’s efforts.”

I think challenging people to create an event rather than complaining about one is a rather high bar to set for people speaking negatively about an event. It can take away these people’s voices especially when this opinion and plea comes from someone well-regarded within the dance community. One way to interpret this is that they’re trying to silence people that speak out when they might have good cause to and no other platform. This viewpoint also diminishes the thought that perhaps the people complaining have due cause.

Just because someone is providing something apparently good to the community, doesn’t mean they get a free pass from critique. Neither should people get a pass for showing effort.

As an organizer, you should be open to critique and strive to make improvements. Some ways we strive to receive feedback here is through surveys, inquiries via personal email or private conversation, and by keeping our ear to the ground. We want to do a great job and compare ourselves to great organizers outside our city and niche scene.


Do Bad Events Die

The other day a well-known dancer made a very public accusation that a dance event website was hacked. This person’s wording tied their accusation to individuals that don’t participate in nor support the event in any capacity. When faced with others surmising that it might be a database error (like a Google search showed) or a random hacker, this person still alleged suspicion for specific reasons they didn’t go into and then wrapped it up with a line which included “Good events will succeed, bad events will die out.”

If only that was the case. That is a gross simplification and works great as a hope but not a truism. If you’re like me, you’ve probably participated in a mismanaged event that you swore off yet is still running. I can think of several. Can you?

How can this be?

  • consistent fresh blood
  • participants just want to have fun
  • great financial resources whether through sponsors, grant money, donors, wealthy organizer(s), etc
  • the people that know about what makes it a bad event don’t use public platforms to take the event down or have low social capital which diminishes their voice
  • negative engagement can lead to repercussions
  • there are people still willing to take the money, favors, increased stature these events provide
  • And it’s easier to participate in a poorly run event that start your own.

Bigger the Bill

I was listening to Wiz Khalifa the other day and one of his songs had the repeating lyrics of “The bigger the bill, the harder you ball.” It struck as truth.

In Swingin’ Denver’s early stages, there was a part of me that was coasting. However, once my rent was increased, I started increasing my investment in advertisement and other forms of hustling. Now I’m thinking there’s still more to do. Naturally.

At ILHC, a professional instructor advised me to get out of the mud and find the bigger picture. That’s what I’m working on now – finding the big picture, gaining more vision, realizing that I gotta ball harder. Here’s to the future.