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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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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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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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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Why Do Dancers Like Flash Mobs So Much?

In this charming video a group of swing dancers gather around a street orchestra to perform a charleston routine.  It’s a simple routine that repeats, they do it well, and they are enjoying themselves immensely.  It’s a great choice for a flash mob because for swing dancers it wouldn’t take long to learn.  They know the steps already and just have to learn what order to do them in, but they have to be pretty skilled for it to look this good.

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Dancers looking good

And it does look good, doesn’t it? It looks good because they are experienced dancers and because they are having fun.  It’s fun to watch people have fun and this would have been almost as fun to watch if they were less skilled but still having a blast.

Dancers showing off

So why is it so much fun to do?  Because dancers love to show off.  There are exceptions to this of course.  I’ve known good dancers who are shy and don’t like to be in the spotlight, but for the most part it’s energizing to feel the appreciation of onlookers.  Doubly so when it’s a surprise.  A show that people pay to see has a much higher risk level.  It’s still fun and energizing, but everybody is there already with an expectation that this will hopefully be good enough to be worth the ticket price.  A flash mob comes out of nowhere and feels like a gift out of the blue to people lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to witness it.

Musicians like to show off too, so when dancers and musicians combine their talents this way it’s a guaranteed success.

Flash Mob or Lindy Bomb?

A close cousin to a flash mob is a bomb.  I’ve never heard other kinds of dancers use this term but it’s common in the Lindy Hop community.  When a group of swing dancers put up a boombox and break out dancing in a public place, it’s called a Lindy Bomb.

A flash mob is choreographed.  Whatever the material, it’s planned out in advance and everyone learns a part or does the same routine.  A Lindy bomb could be spontaneous, starting with a small number and growing as people join in, or it could be planned out by a particular group, but there is no choreography.  People just dance as they would in a club.  They’re just doing it in a public place where it’s not expected to happen.

Anyone can join a Lindy Bomb if they know the dance.  Any level dancer can participate.  The fun for the audience is seeing a bunch of people suddenly breaking out in a joyful dance.  If you are dancing Lindy, even if you just started, let others know you’d like to participate in the next Lindy bomb.  And if nobody has one planned, consider organizing it yourself.  It’s a guaranteed fun-for-all!

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.

 

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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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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:

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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New Ideas in Competitive Dance

I’ve never been much of a fan of competitive dance, but even I was intrigued by two categories I recently heard about in the Lindy Hop competition scene.

Jill and Jack Dance Contest

The first is a Jill and Jack, in which, like a Jack and Jill, partners are selected at random.  The twist is that women have to lead and men have to follow.  This is always an option in a traditional Jack and Jill (no rules determine gender when you sign up as a lead or follow) but this is the first I’ve seen in which all leads were women and all follows were men.
It’s not uncommon in the Lindy community for advanced dancers to dance both parts, so I’m surprised nobody has thought of it before.  These dancers in the 2014 O-Town Showdown in Ottawa are great fun to watch as they show off their skill in this twist on the traditional Jack and Jill.  I expect this to catch on elsewhere!

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Next week I’ll tell you about the other unique contest in the global Lindy Hop world!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Rhythm: Our Birthright

 

twin babies dance

Twin babies charm us with their natural ability to dance

I’ve shown this video in a previous blog, but It so perfectly illustrates my point that just have to show it again:

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Rhythm and Dance are our Birthright

I believe that human beings are born with an innate sense of rhythm. I believe that as we grow up and face various traumas, we respond by shutting down whatever natural responses that feel
threatening to our young minds at the time. It could be sexuality, or even the ability to breathe with natural ease. For a great many people it’s a graceful natural response to music.

What Causes White Man’s Clapping Syndrome?

Imagine for instance that the twins in the video were boys and that their parents implanted in
them the belief that moving to music was a sissy thing to do. Those boys would likely grow up to be my target market, afflicted through life with White Man’s Clapping Syndrome..

They might remember what it was that made them think dancing was just not allowed, or it might not be obvious because what makes sense at the age of two might not register on an adult brain.
But they are nevertheless left with an emotional reaction that feels like a threat to their very survival Why else would a man who loves a woman who loves to dance refuse to even try to learn to be a partner for her?

My previous experience in counseling comes in handy here, not because I analyze the psychological issues of my students, which I don’t, but because I recognize the power of decisions we make at a young age and how difficult it is to break free.

I have incredible respect for the courage of people who are willing to take on such a challenge. I
guide them through it with understanding patience, compassion, and humor.

The Power of Music

The great neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote about using music to bring people out of comas. It had to be the right music, though, music that they loved. When faced with the wrong music, the coma looked like a better choice.

Everyone who lacks rhythm requires a unique approach to finding it again. This one problem is the most challenging for me to solve. Rhythm comes from the right brain and our educational system only teaches us to use the left. When I teach it I have to use my right brain as well. People ask me how I do it and the answer is I have no idea. I make it up as I go, praying that my instincts will guide me to the right way to work with each student. It’s the scariest and most enriching part of what I do.

Dancing without music

I know a couple who copied the dance routines of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. They danced around the room with graceful skill, completely ignoring the music. It looked like a movie with the sound track out of sync. Most teachers don’t even try to teach this, and many competitive ballroom dancers believe that dance is it’s own art form that has nothing to do with music.

I, of course, disagree. To me, dance that is disconnected from music is more of a sport than a dance. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: my definition of dance is making a musical instrument out of your body and jamming with the band.

My biggest success story comes from the time when Lindy Hop inexplicably was all the rage among teenagers. I worked with a kid whose friends were all advanced lindy hoppers. He fell in love with the dance even though he could not even feel the basic beat. Lindy is a jazz dance that uses all the nuances of the music.

He not only learned how to feel the music, but he fell n love with the dance and went on to become one of the best dancers in the community. He was cute and athletic and all the cute girls lined up to dance with him. This also made him totally insufferable for a while but I figured he earned the right.

New at Steps On Toes

What’s new in my business is that I now begin every first lesson with an explorer session. That’s a coaching session in which I find out what they want to accomplish, what their dance history
is, what worked and what didn’t, and what their goals REALLY are. They may come in thinking they just want to learn to dance, but their bottom line might be confidence, intimacy, social skills, or connecting to a community. When they achieve their goals it can have major impact on all parts of their lives.

People who learn to bring back their sense of rhythm often see the most profound shifts because they bring the right brain into balance. This also happens when left brained people learn
the skill of following, which also a right brain skill.

The human brain connects to music and we want to move to it. You see it in kids all the time. Dance is the embodiment of joy and it’s my job to give back to people their birthright: to respond to music with effortless grace and unabashed joy.

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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