Best floors for Lindy Hop Slides!

Harlem dancers

The most famous slide ever photographed, from Life Magazine in the 30s

Swing dancing has a wide range of styles because it’s a street dance, constantly changing with the creativity of the dancers.  Slides are tricky steps.  They’re not that common, due to the difficulty in executing them properly.  You’ll only see them performed by advanced dancers, and they’re always show stoppers.  If you’re a bay area dancer, you won’t see them at Lindy in the Park or at Local Edition.  If you want to try them out, you need a slick floor no matter how skilled you are.

The best dance floors for Swing have a polished surface with just enough slickness to slide but not so much as to be dangerous.  The best floors are also sprung so they have a little give to them.  Here in the bay area great floors are hard to find, but as long as the floor is not sticky (like the sidewalk at Lindy in the Park or the unfinished wood at local edition or any finish that feels sticky rather than smooth) any finished wood floor is fine.  You can also make adjustments to the floor by wearing shoes that have right amount of slickness for you, and using dance wax if you need a bit more slickness than the floor offers.

Sprung floors are designed for dancing , so they are few and far between, but while they are great for low impact, they are not necessary for slides.  The recently renovated Starline Social Club, which hosts the new Tuesday night swing event The Breakaway, has one of the best floors in the bay area as does the Lake Merritt Dance Center.  The Scottish Rite Temple, which hosts vintage dances every other month also has a spectacular floor.  The Terrace Room recently renovated it’s floor which gives it a boost in ratings from sticky to pretty good. These places are all in Oakland, and SF also has good floors in many of its venues.  The Russian Center, Verdi Club (which just had it’s last regular swing night), and practically any place besides LITP and Local Edition, that hosts a swing dance, has a floor you can slide on.

Don’t know what I’m talking about when I reference slides?  Here’s a great example in this recent clip from a swing camp in Spain:

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Look like fun?  Think about adding a signature slide to your Lindy repertoire!

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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Sisters Do the Dance of Love

 

young sisters smiling

Dancing sisters pose before their dance

Dance has all kinds of functions, from exercise to art, to connection, to just plain fun.  As an art form, it’s one of the best ways to express emotion.

 

My sister, whom I love more than just about anyone else in my life, sent me this beautiful video of another set of sisters performing a dance that tells a tale of love about as eloquently as I’ve ever seen it told.  Love is a favorite theme in art, in it’s many forms.  Love unrequited.  Tragic love.  Plain old romantic love. Love of nature.  Love of beauty.

 

Sisterly love we don’t see so much.  Watch it come through with such blazing sincerity it brings tears to your eyes in this moving dance number

 

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Dance Heals the Brain

 

Distonia sufferer dancer

Italian journalist Federico Bitti finds healing in dance

Dance as a cure

Dance has been used as a valuable tool to cure various brain disorders.  When we are passionate about something, often our brain skips over the part that’s not working right and focuses.  Music, when it is music we love, can have a healing effect of it’s own.  When music and passion and movement are combined, magic can happen.

 

It’s a miracle!

I’ve seen with my own eyes many times the miracle of elderly people who can barely walk, leaving their canes and walkers by the side of the dance floor as the music starts, returning to them after the dance is over.  Neurologist Oliver Sacks has written about music bringing patients out of comas and alzheimer’s patients have also been known to come back to themselves when they hear a familiar and beloved song.

 

My friend Zo DeMuro, a wellness coach who is magical in his own right, sent me this beautiful video of a man with a condition that I’d never heard of before now.  Nothing worked for him until a creative and open minded holistic practitioner realized that dance was the road to wellness for him.  The video speaks for itself!

 

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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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And ANOTHER Use of Dance for the Public Safety

 

figure dancing in a traffic light

The Dancing Traffic Light in Action!

I think this might be my favorite example yet of using dance to save people from themselves.  In the spirit of using fun to get people to change negative behavior, (and what can be more fun than dancing?) the dancing traffic light was an idea to see if people would resist the temptation to jaywalk at a dangerous corner if it was more fun to wait for the light.

 

Not only was it a fun and clever idea, but it actually worked!  Some people chose to dance with the dancing traffic light and some just enjoyed watching it (and maybe the people dancing with it) but nearly everybody actually waited for the light to change before crossing the street.  What a great combination of creativity, joy, dance, fun, and public service!

 

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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The Fat Dancer “Controversy”

A scene from Nothing To Lose

Dancers from Nothing To Lose

I’ve written a few past posts about fat dancers and was inspired to write again on the subject by a show in Australia featuring a cast of obese dancers.  What caught my interest, aside from the obvious fact of how unusual this is, was the director’s comment that such a show shouldn’t be, but is, controversial.

 

In my area there is a popular feminist dance company called the Dance Brigade. It’s talented director, Krissy Keefer, while not fat, does have an atypical body type.  She’s short, stocky, and muscular.  Just because her body is not that of a typical ballerina, her dancing is controversial.  Just what is this all about?  Why is it controversial for more than one body type to perform dance?

 

Human beings move naturally to music.  We do so with grace, or we don’t, and it has nothing to do with our shape, size, or even our physical abilities.  Yet the majority of people in our society are astonished to see great dancing in a fat body and embarrassed to find themselves as mesmerised by the movements of the fat dancer as by the more familiar lithe dancer body.

 

Even worse, derisive laughter is a common reaction, no matter how good the dancer.  Derision is a tool that keeps people in their place through shame.  So it’s all the more impressive to see the existence of a show like  Nothing To Lose, where the dancers are unabashedly comfortable in their bodies.  Take a look at this video and notice if you have a reaction, positive or negative.  It’s interesting to look at the root of that reaction and question it’s history, influence, and how much of it is culturally imposed and how much is pure artistic appreciation.  Have fun!

 

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Using Dance to Make a Point

dancers from "Hand of Power"

dancers inspire people to rock the vote!

Dance can be a powerful motivator.  It’s energetic and engaging and keeps people’s attention.  I’ve talked about how much I enjoy the creative use of dance in advertising, but it’s also used to make people think, to inform, and to combat apathy.

 

One of my favorite examples is Rock the Vote. These guys make funny, engaging, creative videos to encourage responsibility and they almost always use dance.  Check out this example:

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Wasn’t that fun?  If you want to see more of them, look them up on youtube.  They make a point of letting individual groups of people know they count and that they can make a difference.  And dance is one of their favorite tools.

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Dancing for Seniors

elderly couple dancing

Two seniors enjoy a dance

Let’s Dance

A short article in United Health Care’s Magazine Renew entitled “Let’s Dance” reminded me to take up this subject again.  There has been much research on the subject of the best exercise for aging bodies, and dance keeps coming up number one.

 

Dance if it brings you joy

Of course, I still hold with the truism that the best exercise is the one you’ll do, so if you don’t like to dance, and I’ve heard rumors that such people do exist, it may not be the best one for you.

It is true that dancing is great for balance, strength, bone health, posture, flexibility, stamina, stress reduction, confidence, and it’s been proven to ward of a number of age related illnesses, but I believe it’s greatest benefit is joy.  It’s no coincidence that this ad for a senior living facility chose dance as it’s metephor for what it will be like to live there:

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Dance is the embodiment of joy.  It’s the perfect expression of a joyful feeling, and doing it also brings that feeling to you.  My unscientific contribution to this discussion is that a joyful life keeps us young.  I can’t say which benefit is the most  important, though.

Or maybe dance anyway

If something unhealthy and sedentary brings you great joy, like say watching old movies while consuming great amounts of chocolate, you might want to give dance a go anyway.  You may find that you can reduce the amount of time you spend on the couch and the amount of sugar you consume and still have great joy and a more cooperative body into the bargain.

You get to have joy in more than one way in this life.  Exploring new things also brings energy and delight.  Who do you know who’s feeling low because their aging body is beginning to betray them?  If you celebrate the gift giving traditions of this time of year, consider giving them a package of private lessons from an inspiring dance teacher.  It could be a life changer!

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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Dancing Ambassadors

 

conference photo booth

Posing with another host at the Airbnb conference

I didn’t get Fridays dance blog written because I spent all weekend at a very inspiring conference for Airbnb hosts, of which I am one.  For those of you unfamiliar with the phenomenon, Airbnb is a company that matches travelers with people who rent out places to stay.

Dance Lessons for Internationals Tourists

Hobnobbing with other hosts, I met a young woman who has a large place in SF that houses about 14 guests at a time.  We talked about organizing a group dance class for her guests and taking them to Lindy in the Park.

Friendly dancers welcome visitors

I often take my guests, most of whom are visiting from other countries, to LITP.  They get to try out a very fun dance, meet a group of very friendly dancers, and go out to eat afterwards.  We engage them in conversation and they get to know the dancers and the dancers get to know them.

 

Dance is truly an international language.  My guests, as well as other international visitors to LITP, often say it was the highlight of their visit.

 

Someone said they wouldn’t be surprised if Airbnb won the Nobel Peace prize some day.  I can see that, and I also think dance communities have a hand in the movement for world peace.  After you’ve shared a dance and a meal with someone from another culture, somehow the idea of shooting at them just doesn’t make sense.

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Dancing In Inappropriate Places

Dancing makes people smile.  My vision statement has to do with a world in which people break into spontaneous dance in unexpected places and occasionally I like to blog about occasions where that happens already.

Great examples of inappropriate dance

Nothing makes me happier than seeing evidence of people dancing with abandon in “inappropriate” places.  Some people are blessed with the not caring what others think of them gene.  Check out these garbage men dancing on the back of their truck.  What a way to make a workday fun!  Do you think they brought a lot of smiles to a lot of faces along their route?

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Dancing Cops

One of my all time favorite examples of this fabulous genre are police who dance in public.  Introducing this element of fun and spontaneity to this job could go a long way in healing the rift between police and citizens they are supposed to be protecting.

 

Not surprisingly, most of the examples I have took place in countries where there is considerably less of a rift than there is here.  This one’s from Canada where a Toronto cop doing security at a jazz festival joins the revelers in a line dance:

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The next two very short clips are from Sweden.  I wish I knew the story behind this first one  because I’ve been to Sweden many times and I’ve never seen a dancing cop.  He just seems to, like my vision statement, be breaking into spontaneous dance with a “who cares what anyone thinks?” attitude.

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This guy joyfully joins a Pride march and dances in the parade, creating a ton of goodwill and having a great time.

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And here in the good old US of A, this SWAT traffic cop at a political convention outdoes our neighbor countries in this delightful show of dance skills that don’t interfere with his job:

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Last but not by far the least, I leave you with this example which I’ve used in a previous post. (More Thoughts On How Dance Makes a Better World.)

It bears repeating because it’s the absolute best example of the healing possibilities of dance:

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Why Do Dance Teachers Take Dance Lessons?

posing with dance friend

Me with my friend Shala Marie in NY last May learning and dancing and learning more!

 

My last two posts were about two amazing dance teachers who are influencing me now.  More than one person has asked me, since I’ve been teaching for more than three decades, am I still taking lessons.  There are so many aspects to that question that I thought I’d address some of them here.

Dance exercises the body and the Mind

 

One reason is that dance is one of the best forms of exercise both for the body and the brain, but not when you’ve been doing it for years and it’s second nature.  When I go out dancing I like to dance every number, but I don’t get tired.  My younger partners are panting and I’m not breaking a sweat, but trust me.  I’m not in better shape than they are. I’m just more efficient.  My brain is relaxed, too.  It has already absorbed the information and knows what to do effortlessly.  I have a lot of fun but I don’t get much exercise.

 

The classes I wrote about are (relatively) new dances for me.  The ways of moving my body in these styles are challenging and the choreography is mind bending.  It’s thrilling when I finally get a particular way of moving in Samba or nail a really complex routine in latin rhythms that don’t follow the familiar count of Salsa but constantly change cadences.  I sweat plenty and I have to challenge my brain not to quit on me.

 

Plus, it’s just plain fun, and that’s the bottom line when it comes to dance.

Becoming more of an expert

So that’s the reason for learning dances that I don’t teach.  What about the dances I DO teach?  Well, here’s the thing about dance.  There is ALWAYS more to learn.  When someone comes to town who is a master, I want to take advantage of them.  I can always sharpen my game and learn new things.  And that’s exciting.  Keeps me humble, energized, and fresh.

 

When I was deciding whether or not to quit dancing in the TinaMania show, a friend told me that I should stay because nothing keeps you sharp like professional dancing.  He had a point, but taking classes from exceptional teachers does that as well.  Human beings are learning machines.  We’re wired that way.  When we stop learning, we’re dead.  For me, the most fun thing to learn is dance, and there will always be more dances in this world than I can learn in a lifetime.

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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