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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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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Dance and the Benefits of Oxytocin

 

two women dancing together

The author having a blast! What can be more fun than dancing?

Oxytocin is the hormone our bodies make that makes us feel sociable.  It’s what gives us the desire to collaborate with each other and to help other people out.  It’s what makes mothers feel connected to their babies and what bonds lovers to each other.  It’s one of the all time  great feel good hormones.  Women have the power to make more of it than men, another fabulous perk of the gender, but men make it too and all of us can consciously seek out ways to get more of it.

 

I first heard about Oxytocin at Rise, a conference of an organization called Braveheart Women, whose goal it is to bring women from all over the world together to collaborate and support each other to the end of no less a goal than saving the planet.  Founder Ellie Drake created an exercise designed to raise the level of Oxytocin in a room of 800 women who were mostly strangers to one another.  After this remarkable activity, we felt like an enormous family, emotionally connected to a room full of sisters whom we all wanted to support and trust.

 

One of my heros, the Dalai Lama, said that is the world was going to survive, it was up to western women to save it.  My guess is that it is our combination of access to global connection through technology, access to free time, and yep, oxytocin.  That’s what makes us WANT to understand people of other cultures instead of eradicating them.  I hope we’re up to it.

 

Clearly right now the world is mostly up to seeing other cultures as enemies and trying to eradicate everyone it doesn’t understand, so perhaps we need more oxytocin and less testosterone in the foreign office.

 

Well, how did we get into this mess and how do we get out of it?  In a so called primitive African culture a western visitor held a contest for a group of boys.  These people were impoverished, by our standards, and had very little.  The winner was given a delectable treat  which he divided and shared with the other boys.  The perplexed westerner asked why he didn’t keep it for himself.  The equally perplexed boy said what would be the fun in that?

 

There are a lot of wonderful amazing things about western culture for which I am very grateful, not the least of which is leisure time, Lindy Hop, and indoor plumbing. But we have gotten so far removed from our own basic natures that greed is more natural that our natural intstinct to share pleasure with others.

 

Human beings are social animals and we thrive on human contact.    People need to touch each other in order to be physically and mentally healthy.  That very touch, the source of Oxytocin, is becoming more and more scarce in a society that is becoming more and more technical. People need to touch each other in order to be physically and mentally healthy.

 

Respected family therapist Virginia Satir is famous for saying “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.”  She said that in 2012 and it’s been said so many times it’s become trite. You might say, especially if you’re single and don’t have a cat, “I don’t get 12 hugs a day and I grow.  I don’t even get 4 every day and I’m still alive so obviously it’s not only trite, it’s bullshit.”

But here’s the thing.  When you experience real growth, you might look back on your hugless existence and say “I can’t believe I called that surviving.”  It’s all a matter of degree.

Because  I’m a single woman, it’s hard to get enough hugs every day to thrive even though I do have a cat.  Two cats even.  And I’m an introvert.  I envy those people who can stand in a public square with a sign that says “Free Hugs!” but Nooooooo.  That’s way too extroverted for me.  Plus, I like people and I’d like my hugs to be connected at least most of the time to actual relationships.  If not deep friendships, at least people I know or have met and feel some kind of connection to.

Partner dance to the rescue!

Partner dancing is like a musical hug, but that’s not the only reason it’s an Oxytocin raiser. Even dancing by yourself to music you love will raise your oxytocin levels.  Dancing is joyful and joy is big trigger.  Combine the joy of dance with the touch of partner dance and you have a double whammy of Oxytocin.

And of course you have community.  When you go dancing regularly, you get to know the other people who regularly dance in the same places.  You connect over a shared activity. And it’s an activity in which you are constantly touching one another physically, in a natural, organic way.

I know it works, though, because of the way I feel when I do it.  In a word, joyful.  At Frankie Manning’s memorial service, the minister cited this quote in the bible: “The purpose of life is joy”.  I think God said that, but I can’t find it so I’m not sure.  The minister said that Frankie, who never went to church, was a deeply spiritual man because as the “ambassador of Lindy Hop” he spend his life spreading joy.

When I think about world change, I think first about joy.  Joyful people want others to feel joyful.  Sharing joy creates joy.  Dancing with a partner is not fun if your partner is not having fun.  It’s all about connection.     Go out there and be joyful and together we just might make a real change!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Go out there and be joyful and together we just might make a real change.

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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Brain Science Shows Another Reason Why I Teach Dance!

I recently blogged about a science experiment that explained why teaching dance is so important to me.  It was about our

natural proclivity towards being of service to others.  I’ve always been fascinated by the science of the brain and I use that science in the way that I work with my students.

Today is my birthday and I’ll be spending it, where else?  Dressed to the nines, dancing to a fabulous Swing Band (The Klipptones) in a beautiful venue (The Terrace Room at the Lake Merritt Hotel)  surrounded by good friends, favorite dance partners, and good food.  What could be better?

When I saw this wonderful little video on brain science’s explanation of happiness, it again reinforced why teaching dance makes me happy.  Yep, our brains are wired to feel joy when others feel joy.  Dance is the embodiment of joy.  Bringing dance to people who otherwise would not be able to experience it brings me joy.  There you have it.  Enjoy!

 

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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 With Myself

 

me, dancing alone

Enjoying my own company on the dance floor

I’m a great fan of partner dance and for me the fun is in the connection with the other person.  But there is something to be said for dancing alone.

Dance as meditation

For people who are resistant to sitting still and being present, solo dancing can be the easiest form of meditation.  The Whirling Dervishes use it as meditation, and in a less formal way anyone can lose themselves in movement to music to calm and center themselves.

 

Solo but social

Of course, it can be social as well.  Even though you don’t touch your partner, you can engage with each other in other ways.  You can follow each other’s movements, try out each others steps, play off of your partner’s styling.  Doing this is much more fun than just standing in front of another person on the dance floor and basically ignoring them.

As is so often the case, the case for solo dancing is perfectly expressed by the muppets!  With irresistible enthusiasm, Gonzo makes a case for the best partner of all time: himself!

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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My Dance Vision in Action: Another Great Example!

 

If you’ve been to my website, you know know my vision statement has to do with people dancing spontaneously in inappropriate places.  Last week I wrote about hip hop crews on subways.  This week I want to bring your attention to a different kind of subway dancing.

 

Starting Dance Parties on Trains

In Australia, a country famous for oddball behavior, there’s a guy who goes around instigating random dance parties on trains.  He first makes a bold announcement that he’s going to start dancing and that anyone is welcome to join him.  He turns on some music and dances up and down the aisle.

 

The Party Gets Going

Pretty soon someone else who loves to dance jumps up and takes the opportunity to join him.  If I’d been there, that would have been me!  Some of you might have seen a TED talk about starting a movement.  It starts with a lone nut, who is eventually joined by a first follower.  Other people then feel they have permission to join in, and finally the rest of the crowd feels left out if they DON”T join in.   Although there are definitely people who who are happy to continue to sit and watch, you can see that dynamic in action here.  The guy comes across as a lone nut at first.  It’s kind of embarrassing to watch him, but his courage gets everyone into the spirit and a train car full of travelers spend their time joyfully dancing and interacting with one another instead of sitting in lone separation.  Watch this little miracle here!

 

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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