Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Johnny talks to J. P.

I didn't expect the interviews to be full-blown, but Johnny Wu has done a great job of getting some good questions in there. He interviewed a dancer named J. P. (I would guess that it's J.P. Babiera?) and got probably a good minute's worth of conversation down. This is a great example of how just a few simple questions can turn into a decent amount of information.

Great work, Johnny! Hopefully this has given you some food for thought.

You might not have a digital recorder on you, but just get some thoughts on paper. That's all that's required for this assignment.

Dancer: J.P (Last name unknown)

Johnny: You've got some smooth chops on that dance floor.
J.P: Thanks man!
Johnny: How long have you been swing dancing?
J.P: About 10 years
Johnny: I see. Did you start from scratch doing the Lindy or did you do other kind of dancing before that?
J.P: Well, I pretty much started from scratch, right to Lindy Hop swing with no prior dance experience.
Johnny: I see. You must really love it.
J.P: Totally. Oh yeah. Lindy Hop is so much fun!
Johnny: Very cool. How long did it take your to realize that you are a good dancer?
J.P.: I haven't realized that. LOL! Probably about 3-years, after I won a Jack and Jill contest
Johnny: Nice! I'm still trying to learn my basic steps while fine tuning my techniques.
What advice do you have for a novice like me?
J.P: Go social dancing as much as possible and just practice, practice, and practice, there is no other way around it. Try take classes and learn some cool routines if you can.
Johnny: I am, and have been. But I still have to think about all the moves before I do them. I would like to pull them off naturally, without having to think about it you know.
J.P: Don't worry, that is totally normal. It's part of the phase that you can get out of it eventually. What helps me is to somewhat visualize what moves you're planning to use in this dance in the beginning of the song, so you don't have to pull something out in the last second.
Johnny: Hmmm...,that is a great advice!
J.P: Having said that, don't forget to relax your muscles and feel the music. Don't get overly hung up on doing "the moves". ALWAYS AIM TO BE SMOOTH for your follows--not FLASHY!!
Johnny: Make sense. I've always felt that I need to impress my follow with some fresh moves and not bore her with the same, generic moves like the lead before her, guess I was wrong to think like that?Bold
J.P: Well, perhaps some follows will like the flashy moves BUT ONLY IF YOU CAN PULL THEM OFF CORRECTLY, otherwise, I'd say just stick with basic moves but be smooth. You can almost never go wrong with that unless you smell bad, hahah! I think most follow would prefer the simpler stuff more.
Johnny: Hahah, I hear ya!
That's why I always make sure to wear my "Brut".....hahah!!
Johnny: Hey thanks again for the input, J.P.
J.P: No problem--anytime

Friday, February 20, 2009

Charleston - Minns and James style

There's so much to Charleston, man.

Here's a clip of legends Al Minns and Leon James doing a bunch of Charleston variations. At the end of the clip, they do a short bit of The Itch.

Your homework this week, as I mentioned in class:
1) Write the work that you will do to achieve the goals you noted for the first assignment.
2) Footwork and movement drills. If you don't remember them, make something up - KEEP WORKING on this!
3) Interviews - I'd like to see something on paper for next week's Touchstone class.
4) Re-watch Groovie Movie and check the body isolation that those dancers were using. Challenge yourself.

I didn't mention this last night, but we'll need video cameras for next Thursday's class. If you can bring one, it would be really helpful.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Improvisation and movement

I was surprised to see Chester Whitmore in this clip and not as a performer! I don't really see this as an improvisation, but I found it really amusing. I mean they obviously had learned lines and stuff. Still, being able to deal with an audience that isn't prepared is certainly improvisational.

This week I'll make sure to include the drills that I didn't get to show last week. In fact, I may shorten the improvisation content of class to focus more on movement. I will probably start the class with Passing the Itch, though because it is both movement and improvisation-related. I'd rather get you guys practicing stuff at home. So this week I'll focus on drills, I think; footwork and torso isolation, I'll guess in advance.

Re-reading this entry on Lindy Hop and improvisation, I was left non-plussed. It was fairly thin as an entry, and didn't seem to really have anything important to say. I think I will do my first Wikipedia edit soon.

So here are the things I would consider when it comes to improvisation and Lindy Hop:
Call and Response - This is one of the most important structures in Jazz and Blues. There will be more to say about this when we get to it. It's in the music and it's in the dance.
Shining - I think a huge element of making yourself stand out is a kind of fearlessness. Becoming comfortable with improvisation is a step in the right direction.
Saying "YES!" - All improvisation breaks down when one partner says no. It doesn't work if both partners aren't engaged and ready to go toe-to-toe. In the long run, I'd hope this means expanding your comfort zone. However this also means that each dancer must gauge and acknowledge their partner and the circumstances of the room around them.

There's plenty more to consider when it comes to improvisation and movement. We'll get to that when we get to it. In the long run, just have fun.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Your OTHER Left Foot

You ever wonder where the expression "I've got two left feet" came from? I'm pretty sure it was a response to some student pick up their right foot when a teacher (friend or whoever) asked them to pick up their left foot: "No, your other left foot."

"I've got two left feet."

The topic is footwork in Lindy Hop and it is immense. Let's start with some basic ideas!

One of the exercises that we've spent a lot of time on is a balance exercise and hopefully that will be implicit in all the work we do. If we have one leg standing on the floor then we should have enough support to do stuff with the other leg, right? That assumes that our weight isn't up in the air somewhere, like in a jump. Most of the things that I can think about to do with my feet revolve around the transitions between switching the weight from one leg to the other.

For example, I'm dancing on my left leg and my right leg is free to dance in the air the air, then with a hop, my center lifts and both legs are in off the ground, and then my right leg lands and my left leg is free to do whatever it wills. You have done this before. It's called running.

It's really easy to over-think this stuff, so most students learn better from observation and repetition. If you're confused about the paragraphs above, work a little bit to figure out what it means and then let it go. Trust the drills.

The other notion that makes Lindy Hop footwork a bit different from Tap or other solo dancing is that we have a partner, and we have to interact with their weight. Leads, it should be assumed that you are comfortable with placing your partner's weight. Follows, it should be assumed that you are comfortable being placed. But you're students, so let's assume you should probably still work on that a lot.

There's a lot more give and take to the interplay between lead and follow, but for now let's work from the assumption that when the lead places the follow, the follow is supported on one leg and has the other free, more or less.

Needless to say, the best way to improve on this stuff is W.O.R.K.
Only this time, with feet.

Thanks to Mary Freitag, who'll stop by today with tips on follow styling.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Clipped again - featuring Hal Takier

Hal Takier is celebrating his birthday this Sunday in Long Beach at the Golden Sails. You should consider attending. He used to hold court at the late, lamented Bobby McGee's in Brea and his birthday parties were some of the most popular nights. The way that my generation of swing dancers learned was to go here and get schooled by the masters. Hal certainly is one of those, and I'm sure that you'll run into more of them if you show up!

Hal and Betty in Maharajah

Twice Blessed - this film has the same plot as The Parent Trap, though it pre-dates it by a decade or so. Hal is in the second clip, with the twin who can't dance. Even still, both the clips are hecka cool.

Dance Party - features so many of the key Southern California swing dancers, including Dean Collins, Willie Desatoff and Hal Takier.

What You Want! Baby I Got It!

Here are the first round of goals, sorted into categories. As you may notice, many of you have similar goals. Alternately, you may see some goals that you might not have previously realized were important to you, or that bring focus to goals that you already have. I hope you'll feel comfortable looking in on each other in class.

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please feel free to email them to me or to post them here.

The next part of this assignment is to generate a list of steps that you can take to achieve your own goals. For instance if one of your goals is to improve your Charleston, you might list:
  1. Create a short Charleston drill
  2. Perform Charleston drill every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning
Or if you have an issue with staring at the floor:
  1. Note when I am staring at the floor.
  2. Find something interesting to pay attention to, i.e. my partner or the people nearby.
Some of your steps might work best when done off the dance-floor, at home for instance. Other plans might be intended specifically for the floor.

The next part of the assignment is obviously to implement the plan. This might work a little bit without actually doing more than making a list, but it is much more effective to work on a problem than it is to ruminate on it.

After a while, you might feel like these guys:

Lindy Hop/Assorted swing fundamentals

  • Practice Charleston – Mike
  • Dancing to fast song - Jorge
  • Retrain my muscle memory so that I fix lingering problems with my swing out, lindy circle, and sugar push – Frank
  • Get through a song without messing up shag footwork –Frank
  • Learn more Charleston, Balboa, Shag moves so that I can dance a whole song in any of those genres – Frank
  • To be able to dance comfortably to faster songs – Frank
  • Get tuck turns down – Allan
  • Become a better social dancer – Allan
  • Finally learn how to do that kick-around Charleston – Corrie
  • Be consistently able to follow the Shadow Charleston – Corrie
  • Figure out how to get into & out of tandem Charleston – Johnny
  • Be able to mix 8-count moves with 6-count moves – Johnny
  • Be able to make smooth transitions between lindy, bal, and charleston moves – Johnny
By far the most repeated goals here are related to faster dancing and Charleston. Of course, those two are vitally related to each other. So for those of you who want to work on dancing at higher tempos, I would highly recommend some kind of Charleston work.

Frank, I might not be focusing very much on Balboa or Shag, but if you have any questions about those, I'll be happy to consider them. Johnny, the important thing to consider in the transitions between those dances is an understanding of the core/weight change relationship between the partners.

Allan, you mention it elsewhere, but the best way to become a social dancer is to dance socially. There really isn't anything else for it.

Physical conditioning

  • Strengthen knees through stretching to avoid pain! - Kirsten
  • Good swivels without knee pain - Kirsten
  • Build up my endurance – Jorge
  • Improve stamina - Allan
  • Become more flexible physically - Johnny
This is also related to the fast-dancing mentioned above. For my own endurance program, I have added running the block each morning with my dog. Anyone have any good links to stretching programs?


  • Be able to teach beginners without messing them up – Jorge
  • Learn the shim sham at a decent level – Mike
  • Master the Shim Sham – Corrie
  • Clean up and master my shim sham – Jamie
Some of the students have started to pick up their Shim Sham work to a decent level, to a level at which it is not necessary to watch someone do the steps to remember them. I'd hold each of you to this standard. As I have mentioned elsewhere, there are plenty of secrets in this dance which will help you grow as a dancer, and which I will call upon from time to time in class.

In stages, the first thing to learn is to count. Counting makes this routine so much easier to learn, not to mention all other dancing.

Once the steps are in place, the next thing to learn is how to dance them. Last night I asked Allan, who does seem to have the steps in the right places at the right times, to start using his arms a bit more. This is part of the plan. Just go with it.

Thirdly, it will be crucial in class to understand this routine musically. It is not merely a list of steps to repeat, but a key to understanding songs, to finding interesting bits in those songs and putting them to work.

Jorge, the more vocabulary and practical understanding you have, the better your instruction will become. Luckily this is a long term goal.


  • Improve balance – Kirsten
  • Consistently show solid balance with engaged core - Kirsten
  • Get the core better – Jorge
  • Improve in control and centeredness - Mike
  • Improve balance – Allan
  • Better balance – Jamie
  • Be able to do some free spins with ease - Johnny
We've done a few balance exercises, and I'm sure we can find more. The breathing exercise is only a beginning to a deeper understanding of balance and dance. Should I suggest doing these exercises on a regular basis, rather than only when I ask for these to be done during class?

  • Improve sensitivity to leads – Kirsten
  • Be able to establish connection with leads faster and follow more readily - Kirsten
  • Learn to follow – Jorge
  • Have core, absorption and connection down better – Jorge
  • Learn to communicate with inexperienced or difficult dancers – Mike
  • Learn to lead well enough that I don’t lose flow of the dance during a song – Frank
  • Be able to read my partner better – Allan
  • Become a really fun lead so that the advanced leads will be happy when I ask them to dance! - Corrie (see also psyching up/creativity and style)
  • Better connection – Jamie
  • Be a great follow – Jamie
  • Have a supportive frame – Jamie
  • Become a more consistent lead – Johnny
As I mentioned last night, trust is the major issue that interferes with leading and following; that goes for both leads and follows. Following closely after that are the habits that we learned from our teachers, the ones they didn't notice were being taught. Some of this is just going to be up to our own work.

With regard to core, frame (sic) connection and absorption/compression as Jorge mentions, the rope exercises will be very important. Exercising in relation to balance, mindful of engaging the proper musculature is vital.

As for the habits, it's a bit harder to recommend here as there are so many to deal with. The easiest way to beat a habit is to find a superior technique and then to become comfortable with it. For instance, it doesn't usually work to say "I'm going to stop looking at the floor" but it might work to say "when I notice that I'm looking at the floor, I will choose to look at my partner instead."


  • Improve technique, starting with "perfecting swing out" not just having a working one - Jorge
  • Learn to relax my back to improve connection - Kirsten
  • Remember to relax and have fun! - Corrie
  • Learn how to breathe - Corrie
This is going to become more and more important as we progress. Beside the breathing exercises, it is recommendable to note the moments of tension or over-thinking and to add the step: take a deep breath.
  • Be able to hit breaks in music more consistently/effectively - Frank
  • Improve Rhythm - Frank
  • Learn to express the dance in a musical way with my body - Corrie
  • Have a good sense of musicality - Jamie
We have done a bit in this class already dealing with music and rhythm. I'll save those comments for a later post. In the meantime, the best way to get better at this is to listen to music. Let me know if you would like any recommendations in this arena.


  • Fix the turnout issue I have (don't over-rotate away from lead)
  • Losing my "salsa" hips – Joelle
  • Drop my arm when not using it – Mike
  • Reduce extraneous movement - Mike
As I mentioned above, breaking a habit can be tough to do. Repetition is the main thing here, but a question might be asked about what is worth repeating. Find those things that feel good (as opposed to feel normal or feel familiar) and repeat those things.

Mike, I'm going to add "remember to face my partner and pay attention to them" to your list. That's related to your reduce extraneous movement goal. With regard to arm movement, I think more students need to add this to their lists. Rather than "drop my arm when I'm not using it," perhaps "engage my arms and bodies in the dance." I don't really feel there is a point at which I'm not using any part of my body, though I've been known to go through the motions from time to time.

Psyching up!

  • Become a bolder, less self-conscious dancer - Kirsten
  • Dance with a person without having to warn them that "I'm still learning, please have patience with me" - Joelle
  • Trying not to be so nervous – Joelle
  • Getting rid of that "I'm not ready" feeling (this might take more than a month) – Joelle
  • Jam circle ready (without aerials) – Jorge (see also performance technique)
  • Be less cerebral – Mike
  • Gain confidence as a dancer – Mike
  • Become less afraid of talented dancers – Mike
  • Succeed in Neil’s Beginning Intensive class – Frank
  • Spend more time social dancing – Allan
  • Dance with more experienced people – Allan
  • Get the courage to ask the advanced leads to dance more often – Corrie
  • Keep having fun and never lose the sheer enjoyment of dancing! - Corrie
  • Keep having fun!!! - Frank!!!
  • Keep motivated in learning swing dancing - Johnny
Obvious steps in this category: ask unfamiliar/talented dancers to dance. The worst they can do is say no, and if so, screw 'em. Easy breathing can help with anxiety and repetition is another great route to confidence.


  • Figure out meaningful, interesting options to occupy my left arm/hand – Kirsten
  • Break the habit of looking down – Joelle (see also Psyching up/habits/)
  • Look less lame (stance and general body movement, even when not dancing Like getting a glass of water or walking or simple Charleston) – Jorge
  • Have better footwork so i don't have to do jumping jacks when playing with the music – Jorge
  • Look not only less lame, but cool in my stance and in my dance – Jorge
  • Fix my exit move from washers/up-downs/duck walk – Frank
  • Improve shine – Allan
  • Learn styling – Corrie
  • More styling – Jamie
  • More creativity – Jamie (see also psyching up)
If you are interested in growing your style, it would behoove you to watch dancers whom you enjoy. Also, if you haven't heard it before, it's worthwhile to pick those dancers with whom you share some body traits. For instance, I should not imagine that I will look like a dancer who is 6+ feet tall with a long reach. That said, there are things that you might learn from these dancers, so it is always worth a look.

You will all benefit from watching yourself either in mirrors or on camera. Some dancers like to consider that any moment of dancing caught in a snapshot should look endlessly cool. I'll leave you to your own devices on how strict you'll be with yourself in your own regard.

Jorge, the main thing you can do is watch yourself on video and work to improve. However some of your issues stem from that bouncing ball thing you mentioned. Thank Laura Keat for that by the way. It's going to be very important for you.

Kirsten, I like that goal.

Frank, I'm not sure of the specific steps by name. Feel free to show them to me and I'll offer any advice I have.

  • Impress people at my friend’s wedding in May – Mike
  • Re-learn some moves off the Camp Hollywood DVD
  • Visit some Swing dancing clubs that I haven’t been to before – Frank
  • Do some performances (for example, the Big Apple, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy) – Frank
  • Get back into shape for the air raid – Allan (see also conditioning)
  • Learn some aerials (they look so fun!) - Corrie
  • Be able to compete – Jamie
  • Be able to pull off some aerials - Johnny
Some of these are obvious: Frank, there are plenty of clubs around town that feature good dancing. Since I don't know where you normally visit, I'll recommend Paladino's and Strutter's Ball. Also you might consider doing some traveling to find out what dancing is like in other areas. Some folks prefer Lindy Exchanges, but I like going to a town when nothing special is going on. It's an eye-opener, for sure.

Mike, you might want to consider bringing someone to the wedding with whom you can dance. Having a decent dance partner never hurts in those odd situations.

For those of you interested in competing or learning aerials, I'd recommend highly to check out Kim and David from Ventura. They run Paladino's every month and are very popular teachers at Camp Hollywood every year. The other side of competing though, is looking cool/pretty/exciting. Watch clips and find a style you like and then go for it!
Lastly, while chatting with Kirsten last night, it occurred to me that I could post my own goals for the class to see and to perform my own assignment. Here goes!

Short term goals
  • Improve my stamina and core strength (added running with my dog; will start Two Hundred Sit-Ups program this afternoon. Will also add push-ups and other strengthening exercises to the program)
  • Learn new tap steps (it has been a while for me, but I will go back to The Tap Dictionary for some steps to practice, and if I can't find that, then YouTube)
  • Get past my occasional ruts.
  • Find a partner with whom to work for competition. (I have a prospect or two here. This has always been tough for me.)
  • Learn some new moves. (they're worth exploring, ya know!)
Long term/Ongoing goals
  • Learn some good performance aerials (You students are not alone. I'm waaay behind the curve of my generation. However having a partner will help here.)
  • Improve my competition performance. (in case you were unaware, I compete every once in a while, but being so behind the curve in aerials and partnerless doesn't help in this regard, I still make it to finals from time to time, but weekend-long stamina could help here too.)
  • Earn a buck or two. (I'm pretty generous with my info, but if you know anyone who would be interested in private lessons, I'd be willing to take their money for instruction. Email or call me for rate questions)
  • Teach at more workshops. (for as long as I've been teaching, breaking in to the workshops has been difficult. As I am not a popular contest champion, putting my name on a flyer does little to help event organizers with their fears about generating attendance. However, every workshop that I've held has been illuminating and requested again, but for reasons outside of our control don't happen often enough)
  • Choreograph a team routine. (I started one a while back, stopping for my own injury. I'd like to get back to this at some point.)
On the other hand, you could pay someone else to do the work for you:

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pimp my Dance Partner

This is a 2-part video from Marcus Koch, a world-famous teacher and a pal of mine from way back. He's a corny guy, but I thought you might be able to relate to this video a bit. He's running a camp in Munich at the end of the month, Rock that Swing. I don't have a passport, but it sounds like fun!