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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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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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 in Atlanta

Real southern food!

Enjoying the local fare with dance partner Jose and his husband Jim

A couple of decades or so ago I taught a series of monthly country western workshops with a close friend.  I usually teach alone because a teaching partner automatically cuts the take in half, but I loved teaching with Jose so I mostly did it for fun.  There was an expensive Japanese restaurant in the neighborhood where we had our workshops.  We loved the food there, so after we finished our class, we’d go there and blow our earnings on dinner and catch up on our lives over the previous month.  Then Jose’s day job took him out of state and our teaching team was history.

Dance partnerships never die!

Our friendship, however, remained intact, as did mine with his spouse Jim, who shares my love of gardening and old musicals.  Last weekend I finally visited them in Atlanta, combining my visit with the renowned Peach State Country Western  Dance Festival.

During Jose’s time in the Bay Area, Country was very popular.  There were C/W dance bars everywhere.  I taught a lot of country and went dancing frequently.  Now the country scene has all but disappeared here, although it appears to be thriving in Atlanta.  (I noticed differences, though. At least in the competition scene, the ballroom influence is so strong I could barely tell the difference.  In the early days of Country, the dancers prided themselves on NOT being ballroom.)  It begs the question: why do some dances disappear and others stay for good?  Why are some a flash in the pan, like the Lambada, only to be gone a year later, while others are around for years and still thrive in some areas but are gone from others?  And others disappear for a while and then come back with a resurgence a few decades later, like Lindy Hop.  Lindy is popular in the Bay Area, but fragile.  It takes work on the part of the dancers who love it to make sure the scene thrives.

Salsa in the South

I managed to get a little Salsa dancing in as well, to my delight.  Jose is from Cuba and still my favorite Salsa partner.  Salsa is a dance that seems to be popular everywhere and here to stay.  It’s hard to imagine a stronger dance scene than Salsa, yet it’s a relatively new dance.  By that I mean that I was a young woman when Salsa was a new dance.

I never expected Country to leave the Bay Area, but even the gay community is not supporting Country dancing as much any more.  We may soon see the end of it all together.  Jose suggested the theory that it may be the music.  There is little distinction between Country and Pop today, so there is not as much reason to do a different dance.  That may be, but doesn’t explain why it’s still popular in the South.  It’s an interesting question.  Why do you think some dances come and go while others seem to be here to stay?  I’d love to hear your ideas!

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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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 Dance Students, Part 2

This is a continuation of last week’s post, so if you missed it, read it here first.

Another reason some of my students fit my target market is an unusual learning style.  One of my specialties is finding out how people learn so that I can teach to their particular learning style.   Most people are some combination of visual, audial, or kinesthetic learners, but some people just don’t learn in any kind of normal way, so they know they need a teacher who can figure them out.

Often they already know how they learn and they tell me exactly what does and does not work for them.  It still takes a fair amount of creativity, even so, to figure out how to make dance fit the parameters of their learning style even when I know what it is.  For me,that’s the fun part.

But also there are people who don’t have a clue as to why it’s so hard for them to learn. The last student who fit this description was a hundred percent kinesthetic learner.  He got nothing from watching while doing and no kind of explanation, counting, or verbal reminders of any kind had any effect whatsoever.  I had to back lead the moves so that he could feel what his body should do and then repeat over and over until his muscle memory took over.  Even then, he never had any conscious understanding of what he was doing, or why.  He just knew what it felt like.  Fascinating!

A lot of my students self identify as hopeless dancers because at some point in their youth they attempted to dance with someone who said something devastating to them when they were feeling particularly vulnerable.  My friend and mentor Frankie Manning said that when he tried to copy his mother as a young child, she said “You’ll never be a dancer, because you’re too stiff!”  Frankie’s response was “I’ll show her!” and used that memory as fuel to become one of Harlem’s greatest dancers.  (Frankie’s mother, by the way, didn’t remember that she ever said that.)  None of my students had the “I’ll show her!” response.  Mine had the “I’ll NEVER give anyone a reason to say anything like that to me ever again because this is the LAST time I’m ever setting foot on a dance floor.”

We’ve all experienced responding to a trauma by creating a belief that in some way kept us smaller for the rest of our lives.  Until maybe at some point we decided to challenge it. Usually because something we want overshadows our fear of taking on that old ingrained belief.  Like a fiance who really wants a first dance at her wedding.  Or a guy who really really likes a girl who really really likes to dance.  Or a shy guy who’s figured out that  being a great lead is the world’s best babe magnet.  By the way, a friend of mine who admittedly learned to dance to get girls and then found he really liked it told me it’s a great way to get your foot in the door but you still have to work really hard to get them into bed.  So it does have it’s limitations.

I work primarily  with beginners, so I teach a lot of the same material  over and over again. I never get bored because I teach it differently to each student.  I do tend to tell the same jokes over and over but I never get bored with that either because I’m always just as funny.

I have so much respect for these people who are willing to be so vulnerable, to place so much trust in me to see them week after week doing the one thing that makes them feel the most inept.  What a gift they give me with that trust.  And what a reward for us both when they find out they CAN learn to dance and not only that, but have fun.

I believe that anyone really can learn to dance and find the joy that is our birthright.  Who do you know that is convinced they can’t learn to dance but might have a compelling reason to question that conviction?  Wherever they are, somewhere out there, there is a dance teacher for them!

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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When Your Partner Dances Better Than You

 

nerdy guy asks for a dance

Asking strangers to dance takes courage, but it’s the only way to learn!

Swing dancer consults Abby

“I’m a very good swing dancer,” wrote a woman to Dear Abby, “and my boyfriend doesn’t dance.”  She goes on to say that while her boyfriend is willing to learn, she doesn’t want to stop dancing with partners at her skill level while waiting for him to catch up.  He doesn’t want her to dance with other men because it makes him feel jealous and insecure.

A common dance couple conundrum

This letter generated a huge flurry of responses from readers, most of whom were not dancers but a few who were.  I read it all with interest not only because I’m a Dear Abby addict, but also because I run into this situation all the time.  The guy is willing to take on an activity in which he has no real interest so that she won’t have to give up something about which she is passionate.  In return, he wants her to dance exclusively with him.  She is happy to dance with him, but she also wants to dance sometimes with other partners.

What is the missing information here?  Unless you are a natural, leading is not an easy skill to master.  It takes commitment and effort, and the reward for all this hard work is the light in your partner’s eyes when you delight her with a really fun move.  It is fun to light up another person, and it’s especially so when you are in love with that person.

But what about all the time it takes you to get to the level of being a good lead on the dance floor?  Is it fun for her to dance with you as a beginner?  Well, up to a point it is.  Depending on her personality, it may be exciting to see your progress and touching to see how hard you are working to share this special activity with her.  She may get a lot from supporting you in your goal, but at that stage it’s still what a friend of mine refers to as a “mercy dance”.  It can’t compare to the joy of dancing with partners who are already competent at leading.

Also, in the swing dance community, the custom is to dance with a variety of partners.  Even couples who are at the same skill levels don’t usually dance any more with each other than with the rest of the crowd.  A lot of the fun is the variety of dancing with a lot of different people.

 So is there a solution?

So what is the solution?  Well, every couple has to find their own way around their particular relationship issues, but I always suggest to my students that as a beginner you dance as much a possible and with as many different partners as possible.  When you are practicing at home, the advanced dancer can help her struggling partner out as much as she can without feeling resentful.  Again, everyone is different about how much patience they have with beginners.  But when you go social dancing, if you are the beginner take responsibility for that and practice with other beginners.  Dance once each with a variety of intermediate and advanced dancers, but don’t make a pest of yourself.  Be grateful for the mercy dances and be gracious.  And that goes for the help your girlfriend bestows upon you as well.

Also, remember that it’s not a game of how can I ever catch up to her.  It’s not about how many steps you know.  It’s about how well you lead them.  Once you’ve nailed the skill of leading, you become a fun partner.  You’ll want to increase your repertoire or you’ll get bored, but your partners will be happy with just a few steps if you lead them well.  Concentrate on learning to lead, take private lessons at the beginning to understand your strengths and weaknesses, and make use of your dance community to get in your hours of practice without burdening your partner.

If you are too insecure to do this, the problem is not with dancing, as Abby was quick to point out.  Use this new challenge as a challenge to work on the challenges of your relationship skills as well, and add couples counseling to your dance lessons.  Your personal relationship and your dance relationship are more connected that you think.  Work these issues out on the dance floor and your relationship will be more secure and more loving.  If you don’t, your girlfriend just might take Abby’s advice and dump you!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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Thankful for Dance and Love and Love of Dance

 

Bonnie And LaurieAnn

Me (in black) and my sister

Today is Thanksgiving and I like to honor the tradition of gratitude at least as much as that of family, good friends, and way too much food.

 

Not many people are lucky enough to get to do what they love, about which they are passionate and at which they excel.  I’m grateful every day that I get to make my living teaching dance.  And I’m grateful that I found and recognized that which I was truly meant to do.

 

And because all self employed people are in the business of marketing, at which I definitely do not  excel, I am also grateful every day for the love and support of my amazing sister and brother in law who have been my lifeline.  Whenever I hear horror stories about siblings fighting over an inheritance, I am again grateful that my sister and I share the wisdom to know what’s really important and value love over possessions.

 

And teaching notwithstanding, I’m grateful to have dance in my life because nothing brings me more joy.  And I’m grateful for the friends in my dance community because partner dance is even more fun when you do it with people you love.

 

May all my readers have as much to be grateful for.  May you all be filled with love for the people in your lives and at your table and may you all enjoy a great meal prepared with joy.

 

And if you eat too much, or even if you don’t, put on some music and dance!

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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