A Bit of Swing Dance History in a Beer Ad!

vintage swing dance

Still from the new Guinness ad

I’ve blogged in the past about my appreciation for dance in advertising, and now along comes one of the best yet.

[embedplusvideo height=”390″ width=”640″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/2f6ojJl” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/VMBmJYBrigY?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=VMBmJYBrigY&width=640&height=390&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep6413″ /]

I confess I don’t really get what this has to do with Guinness, but more power to them. It’s pretty wonderful all on it’s own so I’m happy to spread it around.  The dancing is top notch, the message is timely, and the history is accurate.  If this kind of dancing excites you, and you live in the bay area, call Steps On Toes and learn how to do it.  The bay area hosts a vibrant Lindy scene. You can be part of it!

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!

[embedplusvideo height=”509″ width=”640″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1coorB3″ standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/5t7ls-TSOeM?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=5t7ls-TSOeM&width=640&height=509&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep6922″ /]

 

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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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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Art, Percussion, and Dance


Music and dance go hand in hand, but sometimes the dance IS the music, or at least part of it.  The most obvious example of this is tap dance, where the dance creates the percussion.  Tap is the perfect blend of music and dance because the dance is part of the music.

 

Watch how this Latin Jazz combo works with the dancers as percussionists.

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There are, however, other examples where art and percussion and dance come together.  When I was in college I discovered for the first time an Appalachian dancing doll.  A friend and I were transfixed by the concept and bought the doll at a crafts fair.  We were art school students so we bought a blank one and painted it.  My friend moved away after graduation and we used to lovingly ship the doll back and forth like a child from a broken home.

 

In this video you can see how the doll is a musical instrument and a dancer at the same time:

 

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Don’t miss next week’s post on dancing marionettes!

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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The Complexities of Finger Snapping to Music

I’ve written previous posts on White Man’s Clapping Syndrome, but even if you can clap to the beat, do you know on which beat to clap?

Jazz dancers clap on the upbeat

I’ve heard it said that black people clap on the upbeat and white people clap on the downbeat.  Or that jazz dancers of any race clap on the upbeat, except for Germans who tend to clap on the downbeat to everything.

So do swing dancers

The only thing that is consistent is that if you can hear the beat at all, you clap on every other beat.  Which is to say, the down beat (1 and 3) or the upbeat (2 and 4).  I’m a swing dancer, white but not German, so I clap on the upbeat.  Why do I do that? Because it feels right for the music.  And of course because it’s cool.

Wikipedia agrees with me.  Here’s their definition of finger snapping (in music):

“In music[edit]

In Sumatran culture, finger snapping, along with chest slapping, is a common form of music.[7]

In Western music involving snapping of fingers, the sound of the snap is usually on 2 and 4 (the offbeat, like the clap).[citation needed]

The sounds of a fingersnap also are sampled and used in many disparate genres of music, used mostly as percussion; the works of Angelo Badalamentiexhibit this in the soundtracks to, e.g., Twin Peaks, Lost Highway, as does the theme song for the television series The Addams Family.”

Here’s the best explanation I’ve ever heard from one of the coolest jazz cats who ever lived, Duke Ellington.

He says it best, so no more words needed from me:

[embedplusvideo height=”509″ width=”640″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/XNa6aL” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/zBeHQtJm5UI?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=zBeHQtJm5UI&width=640&height=509&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep7731″ /]

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Fusion in Performance Dance

students at NW Fusion Dance Company

Some schools specialize in Fusion. This is from NW Fusion Dance Company

I’ve written before about partner dancers combining styles, but performance dancers do it too.  Some years ago I spent 8 Julys  in Sweden studying the European partner jazz dance Boogie Woogie   My favorite teacher, Christer Isberg, was the best all around dancer I’d ever seen.  It seemed he could do anything.  His background included classical ballet, jazz, tap, modern, and I’m sure other genres.  He encouraged us to study as many different dance styles as possible.

 

Sometimes when dancers learn more than one style, their creativity leads them to fuse different dances into one choreography.  In this example, this extraordinarily talented young dancer combines contemporary hip hop with his obvious training in classical dance.  The result is a gripping performance that speaks his heart.

 

[embedplusvideo height=”390″ width=”640″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1n4qJYl” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/osCQwJdzYwA?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=osCQwJdzYwA&width=640&height=390&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep2762″ /]

 

One of the first fusion performance dances was Afro Fusion.  Check out these talented women in this example:

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African dance has influenced the roots of many dances, so it does beg the question: What is fusion and what is the development of a new dance.  Lindy Hop has it’s roots in tap, charleston, African, and Jazz.  Yet we don’t consider it a fusion dance.  For those of you who like to clarify your definitions, I would say that most, if not all, new dances are rooted in previous dances.  It’s fusion if a dancer or choreographer consciously puts more than one dance style together with another.

 

It’s a new dance if it rises out of new music and is an expression of a movement to the music, like Hip Hop, Lindy Hop, and Salsa.  If you have another idea on this interested topic, I’d love to hear it!

 

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Banning Same Sex Partners in Competitive Ballroom Dance

two women dancing

Bay Area champions Zoe Balfour & Citabria Phillips
strut their impressive stuff!

I’m not a fan of competitive dance, particularly Ballroom, but I have no objection to it’s existence. Many people love it and more power to them.  When I write about it, it’s because something in that world has captured my attention.

 

Same sex dancers still strike fear into some 

I’m having a hard time believing that, at a time when many sports are reversing long held homophobic beliefs and policies, the British Dance Council is considering a proposal to define dance couples as consisting of a “man” and a “lady”.  Maybe some of the women will then be disqualified on the grounds that they are too crass to be considered ladies.  I mean, just take a look at some of those costumes.  Would a lady wear that?

Country Western Dancers preceded Ballroom

I miss the Country Western dance scene which has all but disappeared from my neck of the woods, but I don’t miss the homophobia.  After a couple of gay men were so good that they started winning too many competitions, the powers that be did indeed pass a rule banning same sex partners from competing.  The flourishing gay competitive dance community, on the other hand, had no problem with opposite sex partnership.  Everyone was judged on dance skills.  Period.

Women banned from dancing lead

Homophobia was so rampant in the early days of Country dancing that women could not lead in the lessons.  At the now defunct but then thriving West 40, where I was studying advanced Country Western dancing in earnest, you had to find a partner with whom to take the lesson because there was no changing during the lesson.  There were always extra women who wanted to be in the lesson but couldn’t find a partner.  Even though I would be doing the service of providing an opportunity for 2 extra women to take (and pay for) the lesson, the teacher made it clear by a combination of ridicule and ignoring us, that women were not welcome to learn the lead in his class.

 

It saddens me now to see the same thinking mirrored in the ballroom community. A big hue and cry complete with petitions, of course, is occurring in response, so maybe they’ll have a change of heart in time.  The internet was a baby during the time of the Country Western policy change, so nobody knew about it until after the fact.  Stay tuned for the aftermath when the decision is made!

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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New Ideas in Competitive Dance: Part II

Erin and Frankie

Erin Stevens from the Pasadena Ballroom Dance Association teaches a jazz step with the late great Frankie Manning

Dance Inovatin from Israel

The second innovative dance contest idea comes from Israel where there is a solo Lindy competition.  Yes, Lindy is a partner dance, but there are many jazz steps incorporated into the dance, which allow both partners to be creative while still dancing in partnership.

 

Jazz Dance Routines

It’s also common for teachers to put together routines so that students can practice the jazz steps.  Sometimes such a routine, like Ryan Francois’ Jitterbug Stroll, will catch on and become a popular dance in Lindy communities world wide.  The most widely known such routine, The Shim Sham Shimmy, is a classic tap routine adapted by Lindy Hoppers in the 1930s and still danced in many places today.

So again I’m surprised no one has thought of this earlier!  I’m also surprised it hasn’t caught on elsewhere since this is not the first year the Israelis have held this contest.  Check out these fabulous dancers strutting their stuff sans partners:

[embedplusvideo height=”388″ width=”640″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1jNvkN0″ standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/8B5j1pIcvXs?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=8B5j1pIcvXs&width=640&height=388&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep4494″ /]

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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