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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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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.

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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Do Animals Have Rhythm? Another Look at Musical Animals

a pianist plays for elephants

Elephants enjoy a Beethoven concert

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I’ve written on this subject before, the answer being that some animals really do dance in response to music (birds) and others are simply trained to go through the motions (dogs).

Whenever I see a new example of musical intelligence in an animal, I’m inspired to take up the subject again.

 

Elephants are remarkably sensitive and intelligent animals with an enormous capacity for long term loving and committed relationships.  They are also playful and enjoy music.

 

In one clip an elephant dances without music and in another, another elephant plays music without dancing. In this first video, the question arises “what exactly is the definition of dance?”  I usually define dance as making a musical instrument out of your body and jamming with the band, but I also see dance as a physical expression of emotion.  People can burst into spontaneous dances of joy when there is no music at hand simply because the joy is so powerful it bursts out of them. Sometimes there is a fine line between joyful play and dance.  Do you think this elephant is dancing?

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In this next video, Peter the elephant is entranced with the music being played by his human friend and is eager to try it himself.  He is clearly not only enjoying the music but fascinated by the making of music, much like a human child with a natural musical talent.  Watch him carefully work on the nuance of getting a gentler tone out of the piano.

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Do you doubt that this animal has rhythm?

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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And ANOTHER Use of Dance for the Public Safety

 

figure dancing in a traffic light

The Dancing Traffic Light in Action!

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

 

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

 

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by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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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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Using Dance to Make a Point

dancers from "Hand of Power"

dancers inspire people to rock the vote!

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

 

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

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

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Dancing for Seniors

elderly couple dancing

Two seniors enjoy a dance

Let’s Dance

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

 

Dance if it brings you joy

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

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

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

Or maybe dance anyway

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

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

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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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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