Sunday, December 4, 2011

Cheek to Cheek

After watching John Bohannon's TedTalks presentation last week, I wanted to take a moment to find some of the other entries in the Dance Your PhD series. After a quick search through YouTube, I found some old friends of mine!

Sommer Gentry and Dorry Segev demonstrating haptic communication
Audio removed for legal reasons.

Last Thursday I taught the Shim Sham and then did a demonstration of how "Eyes Up!" works within a dance. The video above works on what I believe to be the opposing principle. I've long been a fan of dancing blind. I actually love dancing with both my and my partner's eyes closed. Don't do that nearly enough.

I don't have time to consider how these opposing principles complement each other, but hopefully it will suffice to say that I think they do.

Here's the Ted Talks with Dance Your PHD founder John Bohannon

Gorgeous and nerdy at the same time!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cliptomania: (Mostly) Not Lindy Hop edition

I missed the US Open Swing Dance Championships for the second year in a row. I am lame. Directly below are two clips from the early days of West Coast Swing.

Lance Shermoen and Mary Ann Nunez on Dance Fever in 1985.

Mary Ann Nunez is a fairly big name in the West Coast Swing world. Lance Shermoen I mainly have known behind the scenes at Camp Hollywood as the guy who makes sure the judging goes right. I don't remember ever having seen him dance in person. Here they are tearing it up!

Jack Carey and Annie Hirsch, who according to Skippy Blair were "the epitome of Classic West Coast style." I haven't seen either of them in years, I'd guess. I'd imagine that they are both at the US Open at the moment.

This isn't swing dancing but I love it! The Hullabaloo dancers, featuring Michael Bennett and Donna McKechnie, who both went on to fame with A Chorus Line.

This is from the classic episode "Lucy Gets an Eye Exam," and features "King Cat" Arthur Walsh, who is best known for The Groovie Movie. Spoiler alert: this is one of the episodes recreated for I Love Lucy Live!

Thanks to Burnie Gipson for posting that via Tumblr. I've been looking for the clip on YouTube for years. I remember looking through the dancer guide at Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee for clips featuring Arthur Walsh and this was my treasure find. Of course, my old clip collection has gone the way of the VHS tape.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

What a Difference 6 Days Makes!

In case you haven't been reading my blog, the24 Hour Cancer Dance-a-thon is next weekend. The event is a fundraiser for the City of Hope. Here are clips for each year of the event!

This is the Fox News clip from 2005. Jeebus!
Dance-a-thon 2005 > $52,000

This is the jam from 2006. I'm at the very end of the clip!
Dance-a-thon 2006 > $102,000

Charleston performance from 2008!
Dance-a-thon 2008 > $185,000

The T-shirt cutting contest from 2009!
Dance-a-thon 2009 > $130,000

Team San Francisco at Dance-a-thon 2010!
Dance-a-thon 2010 > $180,000

That's a lot of exclamation points! The 2011 event is next weekend. Click on the following links if you would like to donate or participate.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Why I do the 24 Hour Cancer Dance-a-thon!

My mother is currently recovering from her second surgery to remover her cancer. Her appetite is growing and hopefully she'll make a strong come-back.

My father had a form of blood cancer before he died. He had other health issues as well, but the cancer was no help.

At the age of 12 I was told by a dermatologist that I had a high risk of skin cancer. So I wear sunscreen when I remember and I try to stay indoors a lot and eat well.


If you haven't heard of the 24 Hour Cancer Dance-a-thon before, its a large event put on by some Lindy Hoppers down in Irvine with proceeds benefiting the City of Hope, a center for cancer research, care and education.

I've been contributing to the 24 Hour Cancer Dance-a-thon since its inception several years ago. Certainly that was before I had learned of either of my parents illnesses. Now that my mother is fighting the disease too I have to think about why I've done it all these years.

If you haven't read it before, here's my write-up of the event back in 2009: What a Difference a Day Makes.

Here's a video re-cap of last year's event that I found on Youtube:

Going all the way through it is an emotional experience. I can't remember a year during which I didn't laugh, cry and feel a great amount of love. It's a very moving event. It's also loads of fun. That's certainly part of what makes me return.

Maybe that's only part of it.

I think I do it because it's very close to home. My parents, me, even friends I haven't mentioned here. I dance for me and mine. It could be your parents, you or your friends. I dance for you and yours too.

24 Hour Cancer Dance-a-thon 2011 is only two weeks away. Please consider participating or making a donation. Even a few dollars will help a really worthy cause. Even a few dollars can make a big difference.

If you love dancing and hate cancer, please figure out how you can help!

Thanks for your time.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Why you need to fail

Thanks to Daniel Young, for bringing this to my attention. I've posted more thoughts over on Glow-in-the-Dark Thoughts: The aftermath of Failblog

This seems to make a very good synthesis with the posting I wrote recently on the subject of being a beginner.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Thoughts for Beginners - Lindy Hop edition

Last Thursday I went in with little to no plan and we did a class on shock absorption. Remember that your joints are there to help you move around and stuff.

The quote above was posted on Facebook yesterday and attributed to Ira Glass, host of This American Life. I've found it quite resonant so I'm posting thoughts on it here and over at Glow in the Dark Thoughts, my blog about stuff in general.

Nowadays it can be a really intimidating time for a person to come to LindyGroove as a rank beginner. I often liken a beginners' class to the first day of snowboarding: you spend more time on your ass than on your feet.

New folks come into swing dancing and see some dancers who have rudimentary partnering skills or better and get all freaked out. It's one thing to be a beginner and another thing to do it in a room full of people who don't seem to be beginners.

If you're a beginner I should point out this: 90% of the people in the room are beginners too. Otherwise they were beginners at one point. Every dancer on the floor had a first day and on that day they felt somewhat like you.

I have observed a lot of fear with beginners of dancing with folks who have stronger skills. Anyone who has danced for a while knows that this is essential to growth, but at first we just feel like we haven't earned it yet. When I taught the beginning Lindy Hop class, I assigned my students the homework of finding at least 5 folks they hadn't met in class and verbally asking them to dance. I'd teach the phrase "would you like to dance" verbatim and I still feel like it's the most important lesson a beginner can learn.

For those beginners who feel terror at the notion of public exhibition, I'll offer this advice: the dancers on the floor can barely see outside of their space bubbles. They won't notice you unless you physically harm them in some way. Be careful not to bash into folks and you'll be fine!

And then some folks I meet say that they suck at dancing and they know because they tried it once or twice. If this is you then I say "Duh! How can you be any good at something if you've only done it for a couple of hours?"

Rant over. See you soon!

Now with video!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hal bal 2001

Jeez, this was like a decade ago.

Monday, September 19, 2011


There's a notion I learned about way back when called Shine. Shortly, that is the way a dancer is able to make themselves stand out, to radiate, to make themselves be seen.

This comes up because over in my other blog, I've been discussing improv and in improv, I've been teaching notions of how to share focus.

As I remember it I was in a talk with the late John Mills and he brought up the notion of shine steps. He suggested that there were three ways to shine: she shines, he shines and both shine.

Since I've been working in improv more recently, it occurs to me that shine steps take at least an ounce of listening. Each dancer might want to consider their partner, if at least to discern, whether there will be a shine opportunity.

There's certainly more to this, but I'd rather just open the door.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Since I mentioned it last week...

We had a class on rhythm last week and to say the least it was challenging to everyone who took it. Since we've been ramping up the difficulty over the last month I promise that we'll go back to basics next Thursday!

As it occurred to me, we had discussed how rhythm is felt before it is heard. I'd even mentioned that there were at least a few deaf lindy hoppers and that the ones I have watched were more rhythmic and musical than some would guess.

This afternoon I read an interview on Swungover with Tim Vail. Seems cool and topical to bring it up here!

Here's a short section:

In a sense, dancing should be music made visible, and in that sense it is probably more accessible to deaf people than most people realize. What is really different is we pick it up, and sense it in a different way. In that sense, figuring out how to convey the rhythm to deaf people without relying on hearing (remember a lot of the vibrations can be felt) is probably the only barrier there really is.

I'd recommend reading the whole thing!


Edited to add:

Here's some footage from the International Lindy Hop Championships!

Everyone please start ravaging youtube to find as many clips as you can!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Goals - August 2011 edition

We've been having enough of a new regular crowd that I've started assigning homework again. The first assignment was to list five short term goals, five goals to achieve within a year and five long term goals.

Here are the latest lists that some of our students have generated:

1. Be easier to lead
2. Fix Charleston
3. Fix Swivels
4. Resolve up-bounce issue
5. Learn more swivel types

1 year
1. Shim Sham, Big Apple, etc.
2. Find shag people to dance with + practice shag and improve
3. Undo wrong muscle memory in team choreo
4. Get better at lifts
5. Be less nervous (especially dancing with good leads)

5 years
1. Get crazy beautiful fast feet like I see some pros have
2. Keep dancing and have fun!
3. Compete?
4. Be able to follow anything
5. Be able to lead?


1. Comfort slow dancing
2. Get dance shoes
3. More comfort with height
4. Learn those jazz steps
5. Comfort with shadow Charleston

1. Advanced class
2. Learn better how to follow
3. Enter a dance competition
4. Never be caught off-guard by new footwork
5. Good at "feeling the music"

1. Beat Neil in a dance off
2. Win a dance contest (choreographed)
3. Teach a class
4. Aerials comfort
5. Mix in Tango/others


1. Be able to read the way my follow needs to be lead
2. Develop a more adaptive lead
3. Smoother lead
4. Reduce head bounce
5. Be able to dance faster

1. Competition-wise, go from 8 out of 9 to be in the top five.
2. Be more balanced
3. Be consistent with my swing out
4. Improve spins
5. Learn to follow

1. Competition-wise, go from 8 out of 9 to be in the top three
2. Learn Balboa
3. Learn Shag
4. Help teach a dance class
5. Learn west coast


Love it! I'm going to start working on material to deal with the short term goals and I'll start using material over the next couple of weeks.

Do these give you any ideas of goals you might want to set?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

8 Bit Lindy

Camp Hollywood was a blast. The most common questions that I was asked was "why aren't you at Comic Con" and "why aren't you competing?" More on either of those questions will not be read here.


I love these guys. Thank you Morgan Day and Emily Wigger for earning my favorite Golden Budgie to date!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Props to the Funky Monkey!

One of my first students was a kid named Ryan Hitchin. When we met, he was still in high school and really just starting to get it together in the neo-swing scene. I remember one day giving him an assignment to help him find his core and that by the next time I saw him he told me that he walked miles from school to home by the rules of the exercise. He grew tons.

Obviously, he learned a lot from other folks as the years went on, competing with teams like Supercalilindylicious and working on stuff with friends.


Here's Ryan competing with Bella Viramontes.

Anyway, Ryan recently moved away from Los Angeles to become a dance instructor in Austin. I have to give this guy props. Hard work always pays off!

Go Funky Monkey!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A bit on Viewpoints

I took a workshop with Eric Hunnicutt during the Los Angeles Improv Festival a week ago and really enjoyed it. He taught a shotgun class about Viewpoints which really seemed to mesh with the things that I understood about movement.

What's the essence of this Viewpoints thing? From my two-hour exposure, I'd say it's a technique for teaching students different ways of describing, seeing and interacting with the world around them, broken down into chunks like "Space," "Shape" and "Time."

This technique seems like the kind of thing I could learn to apply in my dance classes. It's a really cool set of techniques that I'd like to learn more about.

Also posted on: Glow-in-the-Dark Thoughts

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Ballroom Bootcamp

There was a short-lived reality series on TLC a few years ago that I really dug called Ballroom Bootcamp. Admittedly I'm not a fan of the ballroom dance world, but I found the show to be compelling in the way that watching someone learn something new and important usually is.

Anyway, I picked up a DVD collection of the show and watched it all in one sitting.

Here's a sampling:

Not a fan of Jive either, but I still find this completely fascinating.

Here's a report from one of the participants on the show. Sibylla Nash

I just dig this.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Here's some stuff I'm eager to watch. Not Lindy Hop specifically, but all pretty cool. There's a common thread to these films. Two are more obvious than the third. They bring to mind Jimmy Valentine.

Wheelchair Dance Competition

En Tus Brazos

Love 'N Dancing - Trailer
I just picked this up on DVD. It looks like you can watch in YouTube for $3.99. Fun stuff.


Don't know who these folks are, but fun stuff and actual lindy hop.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Music : Dancers = Light : Painters

Here's a reaction to Rebecca Brightly's post at Dance World Takeover: Musicality is Overrated

To me teaching an appreciation of music to dancers is as vital as teaching an appreciation of light to painters.

I remember a night at Denny’s many years ago when a young dancer asked me what he needed to improve. “your moves are nice,” I said “but you need to listen to the music.” Since then he has gone on to be a world-famous instructor and has been lauded for his musicality. To this students I didn’t need to say much. Others need more.

I don’t feel that the phrases “musicality” and “creative vision” are mutually exclusive, though I can imagine some students and teachers approaching these counter-productively. As well I can see the opportunity for synergy in the exploration of both. To sum that up, it may be possible to learn to appreciate music and to dance creatively in a way that fosters something even more powerful.

I’ve seen a musicality class that I could have summed up in one sentence: “don’t use your limbs like percussive instruments.” That’s really not much of a lesson in my opinion. Another musicality class taught musical structures, which I think is more important, especially at the beginning phases of study. The best experience I had as a student was in a hip hop class when the teacher stopped us and forced us to pull the music apart before allowing us to dance again.

Those are just some examples. More are coming.

By the way, I think Dance World Takeover is a really fun blog and am recommending that you read it now.

What are your thoughts on the subject?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Swing Out and Bear Down!

We got home from Tucson, Arizona last night. It was an incredibly lovely weekend. Fancy and I must offer thanks to everyone who made sure this was such a wonderful trip: Aelynn Heinrichs and Rain Bidleman for handling all of the location, promotion, travel and housing; Kadie Pangburn for putting both of us up in her lovely home (she's also an amazing photographer!); Gayl and Howard Zhao for lending us dance space in their home (Gayl also owns the Dance Loft) and all the students and other folks who were so warm and welcoming.

We taught four classes on Saturday:
Beginner level Lindy Hop - We broke down our basic and then threw out some work on freespins and tuck turns. In-the-moment Leading and Following were secret objectives in this class.
Charleston Chews - We were tacitly teaching Newton's laws of motion until the point when I went and mentioned one of them vocally: "an object in motion stays in motion."
Adventures in the Groove - this is the class on lindy hop improvisation that I wrote a long time ago. I don't get to pull it out at LindyGroove too often since we have so many new folks and it takes an amount of teacher/student trust to teach this class. I'm not going to describe the class here. If you weren't there you'll just have to be there the next time we teach it.
Putting it Together: Style - Eyes up! We taught a couple of stylish examples and then discussed what makes dancers more interesting to watch. Also, if you can't sing, sing loud!

After talking with students there are a few general topics of discussion that I'll leave with. Here are some questions to consider:
relax - with a lower-case r. So many students bring their nerves with them onto the floor. What's the best way to deal with dance anxiety?
Leading and Following - Is it important to use less effort? How does one find the easiest way make this dance happen? What does your partner bring to the equation and waht are some good ways to honor that?
Dogma - what's the point of learning different ways to do things? Why should or shouldn't we experiment with different paradigms?
LOVE - we snuck the word agape into the class at some point. It's a good thing to have. That's not a question.

For those in Tucson, I'll have to recommend the amazing Yoga Oasis studio! Darren Rhoades is a yoga rock star and he's in your town. Classes are dirt cheap. There's so much to learn there. Check it out!

Also, I suggested watching a few videos on The YouTube. Here's one that I'm sure the students didn't write down:

ASSSSCAT! - Here's one take on improvisation. This ain't a dance clip, but it shows the power of Yes And!

Monday, March 14, 2011

The things I learned when I was away - flipside

This is an excerpt from my other blog, Glow in the Dark Thoughts:

Here are some things I learned from Lindy Hop that have influenced my Improvisation:

1) There is someone with you, whether you remember it or not.
2) It's better to play with the person with whom your are dancing than some other person about whom you may be wishing.
3) When someone does something you don't expect, it's way more fun to accept it and perhaps augment it than it is to put up defenses.
4) What's the point of fear? It's not like there's a bear on the dance floor.
5) Listening is more than hearing. Using my senses is an important way to tune in to the world around me, not to mention the person with whom I'm dancing.
6) Everyone was a beginner at some point.
7) There's always more work to do.

These are just several notions that come to mind after more than a decade of dance.


This is to say that it's worth it creatively to explore the world around you. If you do something fun, it can't help but carry over into all of your creative endeavors.

I'm sure there are thoughts about how my return to improvisation has enriched my dancing. Not to mention my more recent exploration of yoga. I'll have to let those thoughts simmer for a bit.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Clip hunting

Fancy and I trade clips from time to time. This is some stuff I found while hunting.

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers: Too Hot to Handle.

Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor tearing it up.

Project Bandaloop - holy mackerel!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Neil and Fancy show!

I've recently started partnering with Fancy Dougherty. It has been a really playful partnership so far. She helps teach the class, we trade dance clips, we work on material. Fancy and I have been hired to teach a workshop in Tucson next month. Our bios are forthcoming!

Hailing from East Los Angeles, Neil Figuracion began studying theater and movement while at UC Santa Barbara. He discovered Lindy Hop by accident and nothing has been the same since. He has learned from international champions and has put in his time with the old-timers in Southern California. Neil has been a formative member of the Los Angeles Lindy Hop scene since the late twentieth century. He has taught Lindy Hop on both coasts and many parts in between and someday may teach swing on the moon! Neil is also one of the innovators behind the Twister Yoga craze and plans to knit a J.R. "Bob" Dobbs sweater some time in the next decade.

Frances “Fancy” Dougherty was born and raised in Van Nuys, California, and enjoys guitars, foreign languages, bubbles and a great swing out. In her dancing career, she has performed with bands such as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Captain Jeffrey and his Musical Chumbuckets. She has also been featured in recent productions such as Lee Ann Rimes’ grammy nominated music video “Swingin,” and Paula Abdul’s ‘Live To Dance’ show. Competitively, she has carved her place in the scene with wins in fast lindy and the Camp Hollywood Collegiate Shag Championships. Her other talents as an Olympic sleeper, criminal mastermind and aquatic singer are currently on hold, as lindy hop has stolen her heart.

Together, Neil and Fancy teach the LindyGroove Technique Class in Pasadena, CA. Their partnership is much like that fateful night when the Flying Graysons were shot and Batman met Robin.

Also, Bobby White does it again:
Swungover: An Index of Basic Classic Clips

Seriously, there are enough clips here to last you a month. Watch and enjoy!

Sunday, February 13, 2011