The wonderful video at the end of this post from 1995 inspired me to write about these dancers because they were both a huge influence in my early dancing years. Sylvia Sykes was my teacher for the first six years I studied Lindy Hop and she, along with her partner Jonathan Bixby, also introduced me to Balboa and St. Louis Shag. They used to come to the Bay Area from Santa Barbara twice a year for a weekend workshop. This was before there was any Lindy community here, so their workshops were filled with West Coast Swing dancers. Since there was no place to dance Lindy, my practice partner Belinda Ricklefs (see How Dancers Usually Age for a post about Belinda) and I used to buy the workshop video and practice for 6 months in between workshops. Sylvia is still one of my favorite teachers, although I have much less access to her these days. She has a sharp take-no-prisoners wit and a clear, patient, teaching style along with her dynamite dancing skills. Her classes are as fun as they are educational and she can hold her own with the best comics when she tells a story.
Ramiro Gonzales also used to come to the Bay Area periodically from Texas. He taught weekend workshops in West Coast Swing and Salsa and is one of the most gifted dancers I’ve ever known. Many years ago Ramiro and Jonathan Bixby were doing a series of workshops called “East Meets West” in which they were attempting somewhat unsuccessfully to combine West Coast Swing and Lindy into one dance. It was obvious to everyone that they were just using it as an excuse to see each other and visit San Francisco, but all the more fun for us. Balboa at that time was rarely seen in this area so every time I had a chance to take a class I would often find myself the only student who wasn’t a beginner. This was the case that year when Jonathan was teaching a bal class and Ramiro was in the room waiting for him to finish. I took the opportunity to take advantage of his presence.
“Ramiro, I need a partner. Do you know Balboa?”
“No,” he said, “but show me.”
Balboa, for those of you who are not familiar with it, is a very complex and difficult dance, but Ramiro followed flawlessly as I practiced the new steps that Jonathan had just given me. After a while he said “Let me try.” He took over the lead and danced just as flawlessly, with no practice or previous experience with the dance. Ramiro is also one of the few dancers I know who follows as easily as he leads. He’s so good, in fact, that I’ve seen homophobic straight men line up to dance with him.
In this clip, Sylvia and Ramiro are in a contest where they were allowed to choose their own partners (unlike a Jack and Jill where you are partnered by chance) but the music is a surprise. Like a Jack and Jill, it’s essentially social dance, but with the partner of your choice. These two don’t live in the same state, and don’t usually even do the same dance, but you can see by the grins on their faces that it’s a real treat when they get a chance to dance together. Sylvia’s specialty is Lindy, but she has no problem following Ramiro’s impeccable West Coast Swing lead. He also throws in a lindy step to give Sylvia a chance to show off her signature swivels.
This is also a terrific example of how skilled dancers with great musicality can create a spontaneous dance that looks better than choreography. Hard to believe none of this was planned or rehearsed in advanced. This is leading and following at it’s best! If you’re wondering about the side by side routine, this is a great example of a called step. If both partners happen to know a particular move that is unleadable if the follower doesn’t know it, the leader can lead it and the follower will recognize it and follow along. If he doesn’t know if she knows it, and it’s a common step, he can ask. “Do you know Toe-Heel-Cross?” for instance. They both knew this one from their past so Ramiro threw it in and Sylvia recognized it and joined in.
And for an extra treat, for those of you who are curious about Ramiro as a follower, this one not only showcases Ramiro’s following skills, but it’s also another great example of stealing in social dance. (For more on that, see my post from last October, Stealing in Partner Dance). The dance they are doing is six count hustle.
by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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