Favorite Dance Teachers From My Past


Jonathan Bixby and Sylvia Sykes

My first Lindy Hop Dance Teachers, Jonathan and Sylvia

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 dancing with a man

Ramiro dancing follow

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.

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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.

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Inspirational Jean Veloz dances like a teenager at 87

Jean Veloz dancing

Jean Veloz as a young dancer

Back to my theme of older dancers who inspire us with their perpetual youth (I know they’re not the norm, but they sure are fun to read about!) I have to talk about one of my personal favorites, Jean Veloz.  Jean was a popular example of the smooth lindy style popularized by dancers like Dean Collins in the 1940s.  In addition to her flawless style, she was also flat out adorable.  Today, she’s just as energetic and unbelievably cute as she was 70 years ago.  Few people get to age like this, but at least we know it’s possible.  Here she is in the 1944 movie Swing Fever, the epitome of girl next door wholesomeness.  Every soldier’s dream girl, she symbolized what we were fighting for.  She’s dancing with two guys, and you can see another example of stealing, as describes in my October 18 post Stealing in Partner Dance.   In this choreography they do some stealing and sometimes they politely hand her to one another instead of stealing her away.

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Last year (2012) she was honored at the Herrang Dance Camp in Sweden.  You can see her familiar style still going strong as she dances with Marcus Koch, who can’t resist flirting with her as they dance.  This is not a choreographed routine like the one in the movie.  They’re just social dancing on a stage.  She’s 88 in this clip:

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Yep, wouldn’t you like to dance like that at 88?  It helps if you never stop, and add to that the right genes and lack of serious injury and you just might get to keep on going like Jean Veloz.  Good luck to you all!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Stealing in Partner Dance


lindy hop stealing routine

A dancer waits in the wings to steal the girl!

Stealing is the art of slipping gracefully into someone else’s dance and stealing their partner. Ideally, you do this so artfully that the stollen partner hardly knows how it happened and the former partner can’t figure out why they are suddenly alone. It’s a version of cutting in, but more playful and requires considerable skill. In this delightful routine, the stealing is choreographed but the steals are real and can be used socially as well.

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By the way, this routine is also a great example of excellent use of aerials in a dance routine. See previous post Using Aerials in Swing Dance.

In the Lindy Hop community, birthday jams are a great place to practice your steals. In a birthday jam, birthdays are celebrated with a jam. If it’s your birthday, you are in the center of a circle and you dance with a number of partners who cut in on each other after a few bars of music. You could just sidle up to the couple and wait until the birthday dancer notices you and turns away from their current partner to connect with you, but you could also slip in with a steal. If you blow the steal it’s no big deal since most people don’t even try. It’s a tad embarrassing when it doesn’t work, but it’s REALLY FUN when it does! It’s also fun when it’s your birthday to experience an elegant steal. I’ve had my share of steals I’ve screwed up (that’s what the word “oops” was invented for) but well worth it for the appreciative looks on my partners faces when I slip in with a perfectly executed one.
If you’re at least an intermediate level dancer comfortable with your floor skills, try practicing a few steals. Assuming you’re careful of who you cut in on so you’re not stepping on anyones toes, it can add a new level of fun to your dancing. Give it a go and tell me how you like it!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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