Following the Latest Fad for Your First Dance

wedding couple dancing

a couple dancing at their wedding

Youtube has changed the face of first dances for weddings. People post their dances for the world to see and it gives others ideas for their own dance. This can be a good thing, but not always.

The latest rage in wedding dances is to start with a traditional dance like waltz or foxtrot and then surprise everyone by suddenly changing into a fast paced choreographed wild and crazy routine. Here’s a great example of a mother son version:

Pretty fun, right? Should you do it for your own wedding? Well that depends. If it really expresses your personality, as it obviously does in this case, then by all means go for it.

But look also at your motivation for doing this. Is it because you think of it as the latest thing and you want to do the “in” thing? If this is the case, I urge you to think twice. First of all, if you’re looking for that big surprise, you may be disappointed. You’re not the only ones who watch YouTube videos. If you go out of your way to make your “traditional” dance at the beginning as boring as possible, everyone will be relieved that you are finally doing something interesting, but you could have achieved the same thing by making your waltz creative and beautiful.

Here’s my suggestion that I recommend for all of my students. There is nothing traditional about a first dance, really. It’s a modern concept, so you can do anything you want. The most important thing is that it reflects who you are and how you feel about each other. Maybe a wild and crazy nontraditional dance is who you are. Maybe a lovely waltz is the best reflection of who you want to be on that day. Maybe your song choice is particularly meaningful and the dance is whatever goes with your song.
Copying someone else’s idea is rarely a good idea. You Tube is great for getting ideas, but watch out for the trap of doing the popular trend of the day. If your dance speaks to your hearts and reflects your feelings for one another, you can’t go wrong!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Happy Birthday, Frankie Manning!

a workshop with the late Frankie Manning

Teaching with Frankie Manning–joy personified!

Today my friend and mentor Frankie Manning would have turned 102.  If you’re a dancer, you would have been delighted if you used google and noticed the google doodle honoring Frankie’s birthday.  Several people brought this to my attention, which is all to the good, because although I missed the pleasure of seeing it  by chance, it’s just as likely I wouldn’t have noticed.  From now on, I’ll pay more attention to the doodle when I’m using google!  
If you are curious about my relationship with Frankie and want to see him in action, go back to this post I wrote a year ago at this time.  Enjoy!

On Being A “Lindy Legend”

Me on the panel

Expounding as one of the Bay Area Lindy Legends

My Lindy History

Last week I got to be on a panel at an event at City College in SF called “Bay Area Lindy Legends”.  More than a couple of decades ago, few people in the bay area had heard of Lindy Hop and you certainly couldn’t go Lindy Hopping if you were the rare exception who had.  My colleague Belinda Ricklefs and I were practice partners back then.  We both taught by ourselves and got together every week to work on material that needed refreshing and sometimes learning new dances.  We had been exposed to Lindy, liked it, and longed for a community of dancers.  When we began to build the community, spurred by the desire to dance with anybody besides each other, never in our wildest dreams did we imagine the scene that exists today.

Frankie Manning

We couldn’t foresee that we would become friends with, and teach with, the charismatic embodiment of joy Frankie Manning in the last 15 years of his amazing life as the ambassador of Lindy Hop.  One of the people who invented the dance, a living history book, Frankie died just shy of his 95th birthday, still dancing until his last year when his knee finally made it too painful.

A Supportive Lindy Community

We built our community with care, making sure it would be one with a cooperative spirit, where everyone would help to promote one another’s classes and workshops and dances, hoping that when it got too big for us to have any control over it, that it would take that positive spirit with it.  Now that we have one of the biggest communities, and hardly anyone knows me from Adam any more, I can stand back and think we gave it a pretty successful shove in the right direction.  I’ve visited Lindy dances in other countries and states, and ours is the only one I know of that has visitor jams where we single out and make out of towners feel welcome.  

 

So I was honored to be on the panel and proud of my part.  I teach a lot of different dances, but Lindy is the one I dance most often for my own enjoyment.  It’s a highly creative, music oriented dance with a welcoming friendly community of people.  If you like swing music and joyful dancing, and you live in the Bay Area, take advantage of the wonderful opportunity you have here.  It wasn’t always available and it will only be here as long as the dancers continue to support it!

 

By LaurieAnn Lepoff
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A Focus on Dance in the Bay Area: Lindy in the East Bay

The Breakaway Opening Night

The Breakaway: Oakland’s Newest Dance Venue

Until now this blog has been focused on anything having to do with dance, and it will continue to do so.  However, it will also have a local focus on the San Francisco Bay Area where I live and what’s happening in my own community.

Swing Dance in Oakland

Today’s entry is about Swing Dancing in the East Bay.  Swing is a broad term that includes many types of dance including Rockabilly, Lindy Hop, West Coast, and Jitterbug.  Today I’m talking about Lindy Hop and East Coast Swing (also known as Jitterbug), which are danced in the same community.

Ever since Lindy became popular again a couple of decades ago, the scene has been mostly in San Francisco and it’s been difficult to gather much of a crowd for a regular dance in the East Bay.  San Franciscans are notoriously loathe to cross the bridge and East Bay dancers are afraid no one will be there if the SF crowd won’t come.  Hence, a self fulfilling prophecy fulfills itself once again.  That may be changing however as a year long newish venue is taking hold and a brand new promising one is getting started in Oakland.

The Terrace Room

The Terrace Room, an upscale restaurant with a breathtaking view of Lake Merritt, has a live swing band 2 or 3 and occasionally 4 Fridays a month from 7-10.  It’s within walking distance of BART and attracts a decent crowd of dancers, even from SF, most of the time.  There is no cover, but the dancers know to support the venue by ordering drinks or food.  The schedule is published at the beginning of the month at  http://www.theterraceroom.com/go/events-2/.

The Breakaway

 

The Breakaway, a labor of love put together by a group of young East Bay passionate swing dancers, just had it’s grand opening in a new venue in West Oakland, The Starline Social Club.  The Grand Opening sold out almost immediately and was a huge success. Unlike the Terrace Room, which is just a place to dance and socialize, the Breakaway is a place where students of all levels can sign up for on-going lessons and curious beginners can check out a drop in lesson before the dance.  Check out their schedule at

http://www.starlinesocialclub.com/new-events/2016/3/22/swing-dance-tuesday-the-breakaway

or check out their facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/breakawayswing/

My fingers are crossed that the opening success is a sign that there is a need for what is being offered there, on our side of the bay.

Sunday Swing

The long standing Sunday Swing at the Lake Merritt Dance Center is still going, but is down to twice a month and may not continue after one of the instructors, Chuck Dee, moves to Oregon, and the event’s originator, Belinda Ricklefs, retires. Meanwhile, you can find the schedule for Sunday Swing at http://www.sundayswing.net/instructors.php.  And for an interview with Belinda see my previous post http://www.stepsontoes.com/2013/12/how-most-dancers-age/.

Bay Area Lindy Legends

And speaking of Belinda, if any of you are local and interested in how Lindy Hop got started here in the Bay area some 20 years ago, Rebecca Shannon is hosting a panel discussion at City College on March 26 at 4:00.  She’ll be interviewing Belinda and me and a small group of dancers who started the Lindy Hop community back before anyone in the Bay Area had heard of the dance.  We’ve got stories to tell and we’re thrilled that folks want to hear them.  She’s calling it (her words, not mine) Bay Area Lindy Legends. There’s a dance afterward, so we won’t go on forever even though we could!  Don’t miss this chance to get those questions answered!

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

 

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In Honor of Frankie Manning

a workshop with the late Frankie Manning

Teaching with Frankie Manning–joy personified!

This is the week Frankie Manning would have turned 101 had he lived and I always like to leave a tribute for him every year.  I was privileged to have been friends with this wonderfully positive and highly charismatic man for the last fifteen years of his life.

 

Frankie was one of the people credited with creating the Lindy Hop, and due to his delightful personality was in many ways responsible for the resurrection of this joyful dance in present times.  After being pulled out of retirement in his 70’s, he began traveling the world teaching workshops and spreading the popularity of Lindy Hop world wide.  He was modest and unassuming, always grateful to his students and the burgeoning Lindy community for bringing back this dance that he loved and giving him the opportunity to spend the last years of his life spreading it’s joy.  “I’m happy to be here”, he would say at every workshop.  “But at my age, I’m happy to be anywhere.”  And right up until the end, he was.

 

I met Frankie on his 80th birthday at a big celebration in New York City.  Practically everyone who danced Lindy in the bay area was there.  About 5 out of 6 of us!  We were exposed for the first time to dancers from all over the world, and to exciting new (to us) styles of the dance.  We fell in love with what was known as Modern Savoy Style and brought it back home.  As our community grew, Savoy style was what was mostly danced here.

 

When Frankie came to the Bay Area for the first time shortly after the New York workshops, I got to teach with him for the first time. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.  It was one of the high points of my life and although it was the first of many, nothing beat the high of that first time.

 

He was a piece of living history, a joy to know, an honor to call friend, and I’ll always feel lucky to have crossed paths with him at the end of his life and the middle of mine.

 

I’ve included two clips to give you a glimpse into the joy he brought into dance and the charm that was always the hallmark of his teaching style.

 

Here he is dancing the Shim Sham Shimmy with his son Chaz Young at the Herrang Dance Camp in Sweden.  He was in his mid eighties believe it or not at the time!

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This clip gives you a window into Frankie’s style and sense of humor.  To Frankie every woman was beautiful, and he made every woman feel beautiful and special.

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Using Dance to Explain Music

picture of interpreter

Swedish interpeter steals the show

A dancing interpreter for the deaf is winning hearts across the internet with his heartfelt signing of musicians.  It’s a great example of how to interpret music for those who can’t hear it.  He is so fun to watch because he dances as he signs, his body movements feeling the music as his hands interpret the words.

 

A few decades ago I studied American Sign Language because I had a deaf friend and occasional deaf students in my self defense classes for people with physical disabilities. I never got fluent enough to sign for my students or converse with ease with my friend, but I spent a lot of time with the deaf community in order to practice.  They all thought I had recently lost my hearing because I was such a novice at signing.

 

Dancing is popular among the deaf, but I never attended any dances because the music was too loud for my sensitive hearing. They crank it up so they can feel the bass through the floor and find the rhythm.

 

Feeling the rhythm section to get the beat is not the same as understanding music, however.  When the interpreter moves to music as he signs, the nuance of the music comes through.  I’ve seen this before in some of the best interpreters and wonder how much of the music comes through this way.

 

When I watch without the sound, it’s definitely not enough.  But when the beat is added, the baseline that can be felt if not heard, the dance makes sense.  It may be impossible to really express the idea of music to those without hearing, but this combination of dance and signing comes as close at it can.

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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Brain Science Shows Another Reason Why I Teach Dance!

I recently blogged about a science experiment that explained why teaching dance is so important to me.  It was about our

natural proclivity towards being of service to others.  I’ve always been fascinated by the science of the brain and I use that science in the way that I work with my students.

Today is my birthday and I’ll be spending it, where else?  Dressed to the nines, dancing to a fabulous Swing Band (The Klipptones) in a beautiful venue (The Terrace Room at the Lake Merritt Hotel)  surrounded by good friends, favorite dance partners, and good food.  What could be better?

When I saw this wonderful little video on brain science’s explanation of happiness, it again reinforced why teaching dance makes me happy.  Yep, our brains are wired to feel joy when others feel joy.  Dance is the embodiment of joy.  Bringing dance to people who otherwise would not be able to experience it brings me joy.  There you have it.  Enjoy!

 

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Dance Contest Played for Laughs Raises Consciousness Anyway

 

me and jose when we were young

Dancing with Jose in younger years

Jack and Jack Dancers

During the Peach State Country Western Dance Festival in Atlanta, there was a Jack and Jack competition in which men partnered with other men in texas two-step, waltz, west coast swing, and night club two step.  These guys were all excellent dancers and many of them were teachers.  They were also all straight and they camped it up, somewhat offensively, playing for laughs even  while dancing masterfully.  There was no Jill and Jill counterpart.

 

My friend Jose, who was my host, says they do this every year and we tried to avoid it by going Salsa dancing earlier but managed to arrive right in the middle of it anyway.

 

C/W dance teachers never die..

I noticed that they seemed to know each other well and were good friends.  They clearly enjoyed showing off their considerable skills together and they were having a lot of fun, but they couldn’t give themselves permission to just enjoy dancing together without making a joke of it.  When one of them made a particularly lewd dance move, the announcer to my astonishment said with a laugh “Dave Getty better not see that one!”

 

And neither does homophobia

Dakota Dave Getty was my first country western dance teacher at a now defunct club in Hayward called the West 40.  He was also the head honcho of the people who made the rules of C/W competition.  Because there was a gay couple who were so good they were likely to walk away with all of the awards, Dakota  changed the definition of a couple to “a man and a woman”.  He also would not let me dance lead in his classes even when there were extra women who could not be in the class because there weren’t enough men.  I haven’t heard anything about him in years, but I guess his homophobic reputation  is still known far and wide.  After the contest, during the dance, Jose was invited to dance by a man 3 times, and we noticed same sex couples on the floor dancing without raising a hint of hostility from the mostly heterosexual crowd.

 

“That never happened before,” said Jose later.  “Maybe some change was brought about by that contest after all.”  What do you think?  Coincidence?  Exposure over time to the sight of men dancing together even for laughs? Maybe the unmistakable friendship and real caring between the dance partners?  Or the changing times coming into play in spite of the homophobia of the contest?  Readers, weigh in!

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Dancing in Atlanta

Real southern food!

Enjoying the local fare with dance partner Jose and his husband Jim

A couple of decades or so ago I taught a series of monthly country western workshops with a close friend.  I usually teach alone because a teaching partner automatically cuts the take in half, but I loved teaching with Jose so I mostly did it for fun.  There was an expensive Japanese restaurant in the neighborhood where we had our workshops.  We loved the food there, so after we finished our class, we’d go there and blow our earnings on dinner and catch up on our lives over the previous month.  Then Jose’s day job took him out of state and our teaching team was history.

Dance partnerships never die!

Our friendship, however, remained intact, as did mine with his spouse Jim, who shares my love of gardening and old musicals.  Last weekend I finally visited them in Atlanta, combining my visit with the renowned Peach State Country Western  Dance Festival.

During Jose’s time in the Bay Area, Country was very popular.  There were C/W dance bars everywhere.  I taught a lot of country and went dancing frequently.  Now the country scene has all but disappeared here, although it appears to be thriving in Atlanta.  (I noticed differences, though. At least in the competition scene, the ballroom influence is so strong I could barely tell the difference.  In the early days of Country, the dancers prided themselves on NOT being ballroom.)  It begs the question: why do some dances disappear and others stay for good?  Why are some a flash in the pan, like the Lambada, only to be gone a year later, while others are around for years and still thrive in some areas but are gone from others?  And others disappear for a while and then come back with a resurgence a few decades later, like Lindy Hop.  Lindy is popular in the Bay Area, but fragile.  It takes work on the part of the dancers who love it to make sure the scene thrives.

Salsa in the South

I managed to get a little Salsa dancing in as well, to my delight.  Jose is from Cuba and still my favorite Salsa partner.  Salsa is a dance that seems to be popular everywhere and here to stay.  It’s hard to imagine a stronger dance scene than Salsa, yet it’s a relatively new dance.  By that I mean that I was a young woman when Salsa was a new dance.

I never expected Country to leave the Bay Area, but even the gay community is not supporting Country dancing as much any more.  We may soon see the end of it all together.  Jose suggested the theory that it may be the music.  There is little distinction between Country and Pop today, so there is not as much reason to do a different dance.  That may be, but doesn’t explain why it’s still popular in the South.  It’s an interesting question.  Why do you think some dances come and go while others seem to be here to stay?  I’d love to hear your ideas!

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Dancing With Myself

 

me, dancing alone

Enjoying my own company on the dance floor

I’m a great fan of partner dance and for me the fun is in the connection with the other person.  But there is something to be said for dancing alone.

Dance as meditation

For people who are resistant to sitting still and being present, solo dancing can be the easiest form of meditation.  The Whirling Dervishes use it as meditation, and in a less formal way anyone can lose themselves in movement to music to calm and center themselves.

 

Solo but social

Of course, it can be social as well.  Even though you don’t touch your partner, you can engage with each other in other ways.  You can follow each other’s movements, try out each others steps, play off of your partner’s styling.  Doing this is much more fun than just standing in front of another person on the dance floor and basically ignoring them.

As is so often the case, the case for solo dancing is perfectly expressed by the muppets!  With irresistible enthusiasm, Gonzo makes a case for the best partner of all time: himself!

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Another Dance Controversy: Hip Hop Crews on Trains

 

dancers hang from the rafters

Hip Hop crew Tylive makes creative use of the subway  props

The other day on BART, three young hip hop dancers looking like street thugs started dancing and passing a hat.  They weren’t great, but they weren’t bad either.  And they were doing something joyful that took skill and not a little hard work and practice, for the pleasure of onlookers.  For money, yes, but they exerted no pressure, and they obviously took pride in their achievement.  I put a buck in the hat, thanked them, and told them they made my day.  They beamed in appreciation of the compliment.  Other passengers enjoyed the performance as well.  How often do you get live entertainment on public transportation?

 

In this clip you can see real pros at the top of their game busking for a tough crowd: New York subway riders.  I’d have been thrilled to have gotten to see these guys, but even so, the first youtube comment calls them criminals and urges subway patrons to report them.  “These so called dancers are nothing more than criminal beggars!” he rants.

 

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Granted, not everyone likes Hip Hop, but to call these guys “so called dancers” bespeaks a serious shoulder chip.  Whatever your opinion of people busking on the subway, these dudes can DANCE.  It does make me wonder, though, why so much anger?  Yes, it’s illegal.  And if amateurs had a go at this level of gymnastics it would be downright dangerous, but these dancers were highly skilled and very much in control.  Would he have had the same reaction if a team of white Olympic gymnasts had taken to the racks of his subway car?

 

So what’s really going on here?  Hip Hop is an African American street dance.   It reflects a very specific culture.  Not just black, but ghetto black.  My last post about a dance controversy was about people’s reaction to fat dancers on stage.  When someone has a visceral, angry reaction to art, there is usually deep seated prejudice of some kind behind it.  Fat prejudice for Australia’s Nothing to Lose, racism in New York’s subway for the Tylive Crew.

 

It’s my vision statement to do my best to contribute to a world in which people break out into spontaneous dance in inappropriate places, so you know where I stand on this controversy.  But I also like to see people, including myself, take a look at the reactions we have to art and question the validity of what’s behind them.  After all, that’s part of the job of art, isn’t is?

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Behind the Urge to Teach Others to Dance

 

a workshop with the late Frankie Manning

Teaching with Frankie Manning–joy personified!

I recently saw a video that gave me another insight into why I so love teaching dance.  It was a science experiment in which altruism was proven to be a natural instinct not only in humans but also in chimpanzees.  You can check it out here:

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I’ve written in the past about rhythm being our birthright, and how some people shut down the instinct to respond naturally to music at a young age as an act of survival.   This video made me wonder if everyone starts out with the natural urge to be of service to others.  Just as some people shut down their connection to music, I can see why some might find it necessary at a young age to squelch the natural urge to help others, in order to survive.

 

The desire to be of service is the main motivation behind teaching for me certainly, and I’d guess also for most others who love to teach.  It’s especially true since I teach dance.  I taught a lot of other things before I became a dance teacher, and many were important and rewarding.  But dance is pure joy.

 

Because I specialize in teaching people who consider themselves unteachable (specifically in dance, not everything!) I get to share the joy of the world’s most fun activity with people who previously believed it was unavailable to them.

 

What could be better than that?

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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