Category Archives: Thoughts

On The Outside Looking In

Here are stories of three people I noticed at dances and spoke with recently.

The first was a gentleman that arrived late to our Stanley Marketplace lesson. I could see him looking at us and so I greeted him from inside the circle. He asked if this was the Meetup and I said sure. He didn’t have a partner immediately, so my co-teacher partnered with him. Later we chatted a bit, I showed him a Charleston step, and he even did some social dancing.

The second occurred while I was packing up to leave the Stanley Swing Night. A woman was watching intently near the band’s merch suitcase. Once I had all my gear, I walked along the edge headed to my car. She was on the opposite side facing the band now. I hesitated and decided “why not, let’s strike up a conversation,” and asked if this was her first time to the Stanley Marketplace. It was and we chatted a bit. Hopefully, she’ll return to the next one or to one of our classes.

The third happened last night at the Mercury Cafe. While I was dancing, I noticed a man standing in the front of the water. He was looking intently at the dance floor. I noticed his Mobtown Ballroom shirt, figured he was from Baltimore (confirmed), and didn’t know anyone. With a lead-in like Baltimore and Mobtown, I figured I’d have an easier time starting a conversation and was right.

I offered to introduce him to any followers or leaders. He shared that he was a bit shy and that he’d like for me to point out some leaders to danc with since he prefers to follow. He mentioned that Denver appeared much different than Baltimore’s scene where anything goes. Hopefully, he had a fun evening.

What do you do when you notice a stranger with a clear desire to try swing dancing or find out more? For me, it’s easy to feel empowered when I’m running the dance or have a leadership position. It gives me more of a reason to say “welcome” or “have you been here before?” Other times, like the Merc example, I feel more confident when I have a starter conversation planned. Other times, if I can guess someones leader/follower preferences and I don’t fit the bill, I’ll suggest to a friend they ask that person to dance because they appear new.

We each have our ways. Regardless, I’d like to encourage more people to go out of their comfort zone to welcome strangers.

Graceful Exit

Recently I received some advice on a business situation. That advice was to provide a graceful and amicable way out in this particular business dealing. Unfortunately for me, I had to apply that knowledge even more recently when an organizer found themselves in an impossible position to continue working with me though they wanted to. Life goes on because I want them to succeed.

Well, how can this apply to social dancing? When I ask someone to dance, I minimize my expectations of what the person being asked might say. They might say “no,” they might say “yes,” they might say either with a qualification. Regardless, I’ll respect their answer and move on. This allows them a graceful acceptance or exit. By modeling this, hopefully you’d experience the same when responding to someone’s inquiry about dancing a song.

Timing is Everything

One of my favorite songs growing up had the lyrics “Time is ticking away, tick tick ticking away.” It repeats in my head sometimes when I’m rushing to meetings, texting people I might be late due to traffic, or waiting for people to arrive. Needless to say, time is very important, important enough to include “Arrive early to class” into our Code of Conduct.

We greatly appreciate the people that show up early and are ready to learn. Our Swing 1 class at The Arvada Tavern is crushing expectations right now. Jesse and I also try to reward our timely Swing 3 students by diving immediately into material at 7pm when class starts. We prefer to reward those people rather than making them wait.

What would you think if we started classes late or ran them late? If you’re like most people, you probably have a schedule to keep  and you have expectations set forth by our calendar and advertisements – class starts at X time, classes are 75 minutes long, the dance starts at 9pm. I once showed up at a dance that was supposed to start at 8pm. It started at 8:25pm.

We want you in class for the entire time. We get that life can sometimes sneak up on you (or metro Denver traffic). In the end, we want you in class even if you’re late because we want you to learn the great material we have planned. But… please do your absolute best to arrive ready to start on time.

Focus On The Dancing

Ever leave a dance night disappointed because you didn’t get as much social dancing as you wanted due to performances, competitions, announcements or too many jams? I have. I’m sure you have too.

notice the people talking and drinking at the bar

This is something I’m always thinking of at our own venues. We want to be a dance venue first. We do enjoy running special things like contests or performances because we want to showcase our local talent and celebrate what our scene offers. We try to be mindful of how long these things run because, if you’re like me, you probably want to get back to dancing no matter how much you might enjoy sitting and watching something special.

It’s a delicate balance. Sometimes, as a dancer, you just need to understand this is how this venue operates. There might be no birthday jams, a regular planned cypher jam that happens to this one song (“Sing, Sing, Sing” at my regular KC place), or downtime at a regular time so show up early or arrive late.

At our venues, we try to keep announcements tight and, at minimum, we’re thanking our DJs and bands. Most of the time, there are playbills announcing those things anyway or we have the event on our Facebook page. For competitions, we have a dance break between the first round and finals rather than running everything together. And we occasionally do a random snowball or out-of-towner jam when the timing feels right. We want to focus on the dancing and music-making and develop the community aspect while dancing.

Straight Leg Challenge

The number one goal during my ACL rehab is getting my leg straight. It’s looking better when lying down, but as soon as I start walking, I’m a bit more bent due to my hamstring muscles seizing and tightening up. So I do my exercises and every time I step, I’m supposed to be consciously pushing through my right leg for extension. If I’m to move on to more physical activities (like dancing, perhaps), that straight leg is required.
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Dealing With Bias

I’m not sure how to write intelligently about this subject, but I run into people where I feel, giving them the benefit of the doubt, that they have unintentional bias toward the male in the teaching partnership.

Examples:
– Organizers that ask me first to teach at their event without initially involving either of my teaching partners in the conversation especially when A) they know exactly who they want and B) when they have both of our email addresses

– Students that only thank me for the class without thanking my partner especially when they’re close enough to include. I’m not so picky when a person chooses to compliment me for something specific I did, but when it’s for the entire class, someone else needs thanking.

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Hitting The Reset Button

A dancer we know was talking about hitting the reset button on their lindy hop. If I remember correctly, they weren’t expressing the music how they wanted and didn’t feel current with their vocabulary. They want to hit that lindy hop reset button and jump into some classes, though they’ve been dancing for years.

I find it extraordinary to hear this. I think many of us could use that reset button, but it’s discomforting to admit that we don’t know what we think we ought to know. It’s probably discomforting to attend a class with dancers that have been dancing less than you and treating them as your classroom peers.

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Jam Circles – Getting the Lay of the Land

birthday-jam-circleIn a Tom Clancy book I read, a spy chief was training two new special operatives. They were doing field work in various cities and he was giving them various tips on blending in since each city is unique. Study what locals wear, notice if they cross the street before the walk signal comes on, et cetera. Similar advice on studying the lay of the land could be given when participating in birthday/out-of-towner jam circles.
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Inspiration & Next Generation

1000-new-ideasBefore there was YouTube, there were dancers uploading dance videos in various formats. There was poy.no, Yehoodi, James Glader and various forums that led to more dance videos. These were my lindy hop resources. This was one of the first videos I ever saw of lindy hop danced overseas:

At the same event, you can catch Max Pitruzella, an international teacher, as a student learning and performing a routine that Skye Humphries and Sarah Spence taught:

Not only did these routines stick in my head, but the music did too. The songs were respectively “Loose Wig” by Lionel Hampton and “Gangbusters” by The Cats and The Fiddle. They have contrasting tempos and styles, but they’re both so energetic. Continue reading

Performance Talk: How To Deal With Nerves

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As someone who has been dancing for 22 years (oh my god), I can tell you that one of my favorite aspects of this habit is performing for an audience. Dancing is extremely expressive and visual, and is therefore intrinsically tied with getting up in front of others and showing them what you have to say. Watching a seasoned dancer perform may look as easy as pie, but it most certainly isn’t, and here is why: nerves. They can sneak up on even the most rehearsed of individuals and show themselves in unpredictable ways the minute before it’s showtime. Forgetting choreography; mood swings; the sweats; the tears; the giggles; the itches; mental blocks; having to go number 1; having to go number 2; heck, having to go number 3 or 4; these are all symptoms of the jitters.

While we might not be able to control what rears its head pre-performance, we can mitigate the extent to which these nerves affect us. Here’s how:

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