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.

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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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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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Learning to Dance on Youtube

My friend Stu Sweetow, videographer extraordinaire, sent me the picture at the right with the excellent phrase, “Real men take dance lessons, because you can’t learn connection on youtube!”  This inspired me to once again take up my blog, which my many fans have no doubt noticed I have let slip for several months due to more pressing matters in my life.

The Question

The blog-worthy question is, of course, what is connection and why can’t you learn it on youtube and maybe also, if not connection, what can you learn on youtube?

 

Connection in partner dance is the skill of leading and following.  It is how the leader communicates to the follower what to do, without telling her in advance what the step will be.  It is how two people can move around the floor as if they are one without choreographing and practicing a routine ahead of time.

 

Connection is a right brain skill and you have to feel it to know what it is and if you are doing it right.  That’s why you can’t learn it on youtube.  Different dances have different kinds of connection, but the basic principles are the same. Once you have learned how to connect to a partner in one kind of dance, it’s a lot easier to learn how to do it in another.

 

What part of dance don’t you understand?

 

So is there anything you can learn on video?  Yes there is!  Once you’ve learned how to dance (connection) you can pick up new steps on youtube if you’re a visual learner and you work at it.  But if all you know are the steps, not the connection, you’ll be hard to dance with and dancing won’t be much fun for you or your partner.  You know something’s missing but you don’t know what it is.

 

Connection Vs. Steps

So here’s my advice if you are the kind of learner who has the discipline and learns well from videos.  Take private lessons FIRST.  Learn what your strengths and weaknesses are and learn connection.  Then find cool steps on video that you like and practice them.  If you fall in love with a step and somehow it isn’t working, take a private lesson and ask a teacher what you’re doing wrong.  There’s probably something tricky about the lead in that particular move.  Have fun!

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 Your Dance Skill for Free Cruises and Parties

ballroom dancers on a cruise

Crystal Cruises on the Cunard Line is one cruise that offers dance hosts to single travelers.

If you’re a man who enjoys the company of senior women, can dance, and likes to be of service to others, you’re in luck!   Older women vastly outnumber their male counterparts on the dance floor, and people who organize cruises and parties for seniors are on the lookout for dance partners for their guests.

 

Sometimes you can get paid for your services.  Sometimes you get a free cruise, or free admission to a party, or a vastly reduced ticket price to an expensive cruise.  In all cases you get to make a lot of women happy.

 

The downside is you probably will spend a lot of time dancing with unskilled dancers.  This is definitely a personality issue and is not a problem for everyone.

 

A lot of men, regardless of their own skill level, love to dance with women who don’t know the first thing about how to follow.  There is a lot to be said for the pleasure of lighting up a woman who rarely if ever gets to dance.  You get to be a hero.  She feels like a dancer and experiences tremendous joy at the simplest little turn.  Your skill at finding her skill level, finding steps she can follow easily and enjoy, without making her feel inept, is rewarded by her immense joy.

 

The other downside is that if you meet someone with whom you’d like to pursue a relationship, you’re out of luck.  Showing preference for one woman is always against the rules.

But if the perks appeal to you, and you can dance, go for it.  There will always be a need for you.  And if it really appeals to you, and you can’t dance, what better reason than this to learn?

 

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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My Favorite Students, Part 1

I’m not going to talk about specific students in this post, but rather the kind of people I most like to work with, and why.  In other words, as marketing people like to say, my target market.

I like to work with people who think they can’t learn to dance.  This isn’t everyone, of course.  I do have students who come to me without the baggage just because they heard I’m a good teacher and they want to learn to dance, but the majority have some kind of issue to get over.

Sometimes they are people who have always wanted to dance and have finally reached a point in their lives when they are willing to take on this huge challenge.  They’ve been attracted to, and terrified of, this enticing activity for as long as they can remember and here they are, giving themselves up to someone who does FOR A LIVING this thing at which they feel totally incompetent.  Could anyone possibly be more vulnerable?

They often begin by assuring me of how competent they are at whatever they are good at, least I mistake their ineptitude at dance for general stupidity.  If, as is remarkably often the case, what they are good at is technology, it gives me a perfect opportunity to put them at ease because how they feel about dance is how I feel about what comes so easily to them.  I still have phones that don’t do anything except make phone calls as you would know if you’ve ever tried to text me.

Dancing has always come easily to me but that doesn’t mean I can’t relate to my student’s experience.  I studied Jujitsu for eleven years and not only did I totally suck at it, but I still couldn’t fight my way out of a paper bag.  We’ve all got things we naturally do well and things that make us cross eyed.  I love seeing people take on the challenging stuff and truly feel honored that they trust me to guide them through it.

Because I specialize in teaching people who are dance phobic, the one thing a lot of my students have in common is a conviction that they are terrible dancers and will be difficult if not impossible to teach.  “I’ll bet I’m the worst student you’ve ever taught,” I hear from almost everyone except the worst students I’ve ever taught.

So why do so many people self identify as hopeless dancers?  Many of them are not only not hopeless, but are perfectly normal.  Sometimes people think they can’t dance simply because nobody ever taught them.

So when they tried, of course they failed miserably and were mortified.   They assumed the problem was not their lack of education but that something was just wrong with them.  They just can’t dance.

There is a popular myth about leading and following in dance.  The assumption is that it is natural for men to lead and women to follow and that they should just kinda know already how to do it without any instruction.  The truth, of course, is that not only is it a skill like any other, but it is not even gender specific. In fact most people are naturally inclined toward leading or following and you have about a 50 50 chance of falling into the category that society has assigned to your gender, not unlike the rest of life. You may remember a past post or two about that.

OK, so how about the people whose self image is on the money, the ones  who really DO have a tough time learning to dance?  Well, they fall into all kinds of categories.

Some of them have difficulty finding the beat, and I’ve devoted entire posts to that in the past.  But most of the people who have the most challenging time have a kind of physical dyslexia, and I encounter this phenomenon all the time.  It’s as if they understand how to follow the instruction, but by the time it gets to their feet, it gets twisted into something different.  They do get it eventually through perseverance, but it takes dedication and a lot of practice.  And a very patient teacher of course.

I once had a student who took a month of dedicated practice to learn the box step, something my average student can learn in about 10 minutes and a quick student can learn in about one minute.  Next week I’ll talk about some other reasons people might fall into the category of my target market.  Stay tuned!

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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What is Your Learning Style in Dance Class?

elderly couple dancing

No matter how you learn, you’re never to old to learn to dance!

If you know how you learn, you’ll know what kind of dance teacher can teach you.  Some teachers do know about learning styles, but most teach the way they learn, so the easiest way to pick a teacher is to observe until you find one who teaches the way you learn.  If you know your learning style is unusual, don’t waste your time in group classes.  Find the best private teacher you can and explain how you learn.

Learning styles for dance

Most people are some combination of visual, audial, or kinesthetic.  Kinesthetic learners don’t get it until they do it, but most of them also are helped by something like counting (audio) and/or watching while they do it (visual).  This post was inspired by a student of mine who is 100% kinesthetic.  Counting does not help him remember to move his feet.  Watching me is equally unhelpful.  He just has to do each piece of the movement over and over again until his muscle memory kicks in and then he can put it all together.

Teaching an unusual dance student

One way to work with such a student is to dance with him, back leading the movement until he feels the timing and can do it on his own.  If your learning style is this unusual, you’ll be lost in a group class of any kind and unless you have an unusual amount of self esteem as well, you’ll probably feel inept or stupid.

The truth is anyone really can learn to dance, but it takes knowing how you learn (or finding a teacher who can figure it out for you), and finding a teacher who can work with you.  

The rewards of learning to dance anyway

Some people are more challenged than others. We all have areas in which we are naturals and areas that challenge us.  If you are drawn to learn a skill in an area that does not come naturally to you, know that it will take time and patience.  The rewards, however, are that you will open up parts of yourself you never knew existed and realize that you are more capable than you ever imagined.

And of course, you’ll also be dancing, which has it’s own fabulous rewards no matter how easy or challenging the path to that end.  Dancing is our birthright.  Don’t let anyone (including yourself)  tell you you can’t have it.

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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Do Justice to the Culture Whose Dance You Are Borrowing Part II

Yismari Ramos

Yismari in performance

Last week I wrote about my Samba teacher Jacqui Barnes.  Today I’ll introduce you to my latin rhythms teacher, Yismari Ramos.

 

Like Jacqui, Yismari is passionate about the music of her culture (Cuban) and the the way the dance feels.  Her classes consist of complicated choreography that incompasses the various rhythms of Cuban dance.  This is a class for dancers and the choreography is as challenging for the brain as it is for the body.

 

Here’s Yismari teaching our gym class.  She’s in the blue top and black pants in the center.  If you look hard, you can catch me in the 3rd row struggling to keep up.  (In my defense, this was my first encounter with a routine she had been teaching for 2 weeks.)  This is a typical routine which she teaches for 2 weeks before choreographing a new one.

 

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Just like Jacqui, she wants us to learn the moves but is more concerned that we put feeling into it.  She’ll often parody how the dance will look without soul and tell us to just do SOMEthing.  “I don’t care what, just move your BODY.”

I love learning from these women, because they are inspiring in the impossible ways they can move, but also because of the love and passion they have for their art and their music, and the culture represented by the dance.

 

Here’s an excerpt from a performance by Yismari and another great local teacher, Erick Barberia.  If you are lucky enough to live in the bay area, consider taking advantage of the amazing talent available to you here!

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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