Sunday, December 10, 2017

Lineage - the one who kept us together - Holly Dumaux Ginsburg

I was saddened to learn earlier today that my old friend Holly Dumaux Ginsburg passed away suddenly this morning near her home in Palos Verdes. All of my previous Lineage posts pay respect to dancers from earlier generations. Holly has earned her spot in the family of lindy hoppers who we should remember, even though we only started dancing within days of each other.

Holly was witness to my own earliest days of exploring the lead/follow dynamic. We were in the first bunch of students taking private lessons with Erik Robeson & Sylvia Skylar, right before the phrase Hollywood Style popped up. This was that period sometimes called the Style Wars, more about which some other time.

She more than once credited me with making leading and following work for her. I'll take the compliment, though I'd be remiss if I didn't note how much hard work, blood, sweat, tears and LOVE Holly put into the dance with her then partner Tip West.

Tip & Holly were among the crew of young dancers who spent so many Sundays with the old timers at Bobby McGee's around the turn of the century. As far as I'm concerned they're the dancers who really understood Hal Takier's lessons on how to do the Merry Go-Round. That was one of their signature moves, and I know how important it was to them to get it right.

And these two were up in the top of the competition all the time. I remember watching a full house at the Palladium for one of the early Camp Hollywood events and feeling like the roof exploded when they landed one of their stunts.

But if it was only for collecting moves and competing, there were so many of us doing that. Holly was a mother-figure to us, then the young dancers. And while the world was looking at Tip & Holly as rock stars, to us in Los Angeles, they were family.

So many weekends spent at Holly's condo in Pasadena, watching VHS footage we collected, or going over steps together. Holly made sure everyone felt welcome. I'm sure she felt that we were all kin. She was one to keep us together.

And though I haven't seen her for many years, many memories are flooding back. I'm grateful to have spent so much time with Holly and hope you'll find some time to remember her yourself.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Alive & Kicking -> Feelings

The wonderful documentary Alive & Kicking is now available on Netflix. Everyone should watch it.

It makes me incredibly homesick.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

How to Fake it 'Til You Make it

It has been over a year since I left Los Angeles. I haven't taught at LindyGroove in all that time. Still I don't have the heart to build a new blog or even to rename this one. I hope you don't mind. I'm in Chicago now and not nearly as ubiquitous as I was in Los Angeles or Kansas City. Focused on other things I guess.

I was talking to a young dancer the other night, a beginner who'd maybe started in December and with whom I've had some good conversations. I remember the day I met him, how he was still putting the Lindy Hop basic together. Since then he's had some difficulty, especially since he's completely terrified of getting on the dance floor, terrified to ask people to dance with him. He's been coming out regularly for months but only dancing three times a night, if even that much. I remember giving him my standard beginner homework assignment - ask ten people to dance, at least five of whom should be strangers. He remembered that he had to ask three, and maybe only on that one night. I know that it must still be extremely hard for him.

So here's a rant about confidence. These are a few stories which I remember fondly. Maybe one of them will resonate with you.

The Math Student

Outside of dance, I work a lot on my students' confidence. As a test prep tutor, I've heard the worst that people can think of themselves. People really take their own math histories to heart. With math, many students have very powerful and toxic self-esteem issues. It takes a large amount of trust, listening and meaningful guidance to help a student build beyond those deep, insidious feelings.

Once I had a math student who was getting Ds in class. After a few weeks of working on the basic skills, he was performing much better in practice. He was starting to develop the skills he needed. Still though, he was scoring Ds on his tests. It was starting to get to him.

I asked him what was different about taking a test in class vs. taking the practice tests before-hand. He wasn't really sure. In subsequent practices I asked him questions like "WHO solved this problem?" At first he wanted to give me credit. My response - "What did I actually do?" I think for the bulk of those problems, I only smiled and said "and what next?" He was forced to take credit for his own actions.

We had a talk after that. In order for him to perform well on his tests, he had to rewrite the messages he told himself about tests. Those messages were pretty standard - "I suck at math," "I hate taking tests," "this is too hard." He had to replace them with messages like "I solved that problem yesterday." "I have remember this material" and "I'm going to kick this test's ass!" I made sure his parents were okay with that last one.

His next test came back with a B. As long as I was in Los Angeles, I think he continued to get Bs, and hopefully has been doing fine since then.

She didn't realize that she was a beginner
A friend of mine who learned to dance in a smaller community told me that when she attended her first swing dance event she experienced an utter breakdown. She had never realized that she was a beginner. I wasn't there for that event, but I imagine her locking herself in her room and refusing to attend the dance. By the time I met her, that dance was a few weeks past and she was ready to explore swing dancing again.

We all hung out in a small group of friends, with whom we started organizing events, having meetings and such. We all got to spend a lot of time together. I always saw this friend as the heartbeat of our group. She kept us together and feeling good about ourselves. So it always surprised me to hear that she was so gripped with fear.

There was a swing event in another town and a group of us took the road trip. And on the opening night of the dance my friend was starting to feel anxiety. We sat and talked for a bit. She said she had fear that people would judge her. I told her what I'd noticed about her since meeting her only months before:

"Everyone LOVES you!"

It was true. Every time we had a meeting in public, she was recognized by someone she had worked with in her professional life or and old friend or... They were always filled with joy to run into her. And she was just her kind, lovely, beautiful self.

If someone was willing to judge her based on three minutes of dancing then they weren't worth her time. That weekend went pretty well for her.

Lessons from a Game Shows Champion
I've personally competed on and won three game shows. There has been plenty of tooting my own horn so I'll bring it to this - what was it that made me able to do that? Yes, my head is freakishly big, but that's as much a burden as an aid. I like to think there's something else there.

I remember the last game show I did, Trivial Pursuit: America Plays. The shooting day was at least twelve  hours long and I was at the end of the list. I brought a game with me and hoped to engage my competitors. Otherwise we'd be bored out of our skulls, I think. So every once in a while we'd pull out a card from the game and just help each other guess. At least it kept me in play for the long day, right?

The day was really draining too. As we saw more and more competitors make it to the final round and lose their winnings, the group of us remaining started to get really demoralized. The audience was feeling the drag too. So I just kept playing the game, because it helped me stay playful.

Then my turn came up. Three of us were chosen, one of whom was a lady who said that she was terrified she'd have to play against me. I brushed that off. I went to make-up and said I was worried about the sweat on my fingers, like for pressing the buttons. The make-up artist suggested putting a light layer of something on my fingers and that really helped.

During the game I really had to play. I remember getting beat to the buzzer on an obscure one. I was glad to have whatever was on my fingers. In the end I had to put some effort toward feeling the light go on, the light which alerts us that we can press the buzzer. It paid off. I went to the final round. I won it, as I mentioned earlier. That's not the point.

The point is that if I hadn't kept myself at play and been honest about what I was nervous about I would have never had a chance.

I've often wanted to teach a class on how to win game shows. The skill set is valuable for folks in every field.

Fake it 'Til You Make it
I will often teach my dance improv students that one of the best ways to earn confidence is to "Fake it 'Til You Make it." You don't earn self-esteem by thinking about it. You earn it like you earn anything else, practice and play, and working the fabric of it until it fits.

I have other stories of confidence, but I think the post is long enough. I'm curious about your own stories of confidence. What have you got to teach me?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Lineage - the Inspiration of Freda Wyckoff

My last post a few months ago was a meditation on the lineage of the Lindy Hop. There I mentioned Freda Angela Wyckoff having celebrated her 90th birthday. Earlier this week I received the news via Facebook that she was in intensive care. This morning I received the news that she passed away from heart failure last night.

Morgan Day dubbed her the Queen of the Rock & Roll Lindy era. I think to many of us (including Morgan) she was much more than that.

Here are a couple of her memorable videos from YouTube, dancing with George Christopherson:

I'm sad to say that none of the photos on my classic MySpace profile with me and Freda survived the transfer to new MySpace. There weren't many, but I remember a picture with Freda, Lila Desatoff and me, in which the ladies wore t-shirts with bikinis printed on them. Perhaps someone has a copy somewhere. There are plenty of photos of Freda surfacing on her Facebook profile at the moment. She clearly meant a lot to us.

Do I even remember the time she went from being the lady who danced in those clips to being a person whom I knew and loved? Faintly perhaps. I'm not sure if it was my first or second time at Bobby McGee's. At that point I was still taking in those first whiffs of family, like being part of a thing that was more than a hobby. Freda wasn't alone in that sense, but she was a major part of that.

The thing I remember is that she loved us kids. She welcomed us with open arms, without reservation. I mainly remember lots of hugs. There was a lot of love in that woman. That's what I remember more than the dancing.

Here's the tribute that my friends at the Swing Pit made for her 90th birthday just a short while ago.


Watching this clip now I think it was Dave Frutos who put the word "Lineage" into my mind via this exact clip. It's a sadness for me that I wasn't there. I miss you all, my friends.

Here's a comment I wrote just minutes ago to a photo of Kim Clever and Freda from that same party: 

Hugs, Kim 
I miss Freda too. I had been thinking about her since I moved so far away. And I think that more than her dancing were the open arms with which she greeted us youngsters. 
And I hope you won't mind if I say I feel you embody that really well. So in some way, Freda lives on.

In memory of Freda I suggest that you find a way to hug someone at a dance this week. Just let them know they are welcome. Show someone some love.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Now that I live in the Midwest, I've realized what it is that Southern California has that most other places don't. This morning I spent a good half hour responding to Scout Craft's question on Facebook about the benefits of social dancing in Hollywood style. I was unaware that folks still used that phrase. I've always believed that branding dance styles is ludicrous. I'm much more concerned with the lineage and the traditions of wisdom that have been passed along.

But now I have to reflect on what the style of dancing at home meant to me and it wasn't a style. I personally never tried to dance like the old timers, but sort of swimming in the same pool with them was a big deal. Now that I've lived in places where their influences aren't felt I know a lot more clearly what it is that they shared. I miss that. Most places don't have a direct link with their history. Most Lindy Hoppers don't have a familial connection with their dance.

Bart Bartolo passed away in February and Jack Carey passed away last month. Freda Wyckoff just celebrated her 90th birthday last weekend at the Swing Pit. I'm glad I knew all of them.

I went to a Balboa event last month and I think there's a giant missing component in the modern Balboa community. I'm not able to elaborate on it very much but old Balboa dancers really wanted to impress upon us that Balboa could be danced as slow as 80BPM. That range of tempos has really shrunk over the decades and it seems like most modern Balboa dancers don't even know this is an option. 

I include that last part in this post because it's about lineage. And as our elders continue to pass on, I think it's vital to remember their knowledge. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

The History of the Flapper

Amy Johnson posted the first of these on Facebook so I'm posting them all here. This is a neat perspective on the pre-Lindy Hop Jazz Age.


The History of the Flapper

Tangentially, I've really enjoyed the first three seasons of Downton Abbey. The third series starts in 1920 so I'm curious (and please don't spoil anything) about where the show will head after that.

Monday, November 26, 2012

What are your thoughts on Electro Swing?

I have a lot of thoughts bubbling about Electro Swing, but not a lot of time to compile them. So I'll ask you: what do you think of Electro Swing?

Caravan Palace

Soo Chan Lee and Hyun Jung Choi