More Thought on Fat Dancers

John lindo dancing

Champion Swing Dancer John Lindo in action!

A great dancer to watch

I’ve written before on the topic of fat dancers, but I realized I left out a glaring omission, especially since I talked about partner dance but used video examples of performance dance.

Anyone in the west coast swing community knows the glaring omission is John Lindo.  One of the best Swing dancers ever to grace a floor, John Lindo is well known for breaking the stereotype of what a dancer’s body “should” look like.  Youtube is full of videos of this fabulous dancer, so if you love watching the following example, feel free to spend even more time enjoying other clips.  This is one of my favorites:

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Dance is the great social leveler

I often speak of partner dance as the great leveler.  There are few attributes more sexy than a great leader.  Height, weight, hair loss, age, even personality, doesn’t matter.  If you can lead well, everyone will want to dance with you.  Over and over and over again!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Dancing blind

blind-folded dancer

Dancing blind opens up all kinds of new insights

When my dance students are learning the skill of following, I often suggest they close their eyes.  Closing your eyes takes away a lot of the urge to back lead, and it brings forward the senses you use to feel the lead.

Even when social dancing, I often close my eyes because it’s relaxing and feels good.  Leaders, however, are in the driver’s seat, so they need to keep their eyes open. 

That’s why I was blown away by this video of a West Coast Swing performance with a blind-folded leader.  OK, this is a rehearsed routine, but it’s STILL pretty impressive even though I doubt they used the blind fold before they had mastered the choreography.

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Even though the lead is in charge, there is a certain degree of sensing what’s happening with your partner, especially with a jazz dance like West Coast Swing or Lindy.  Practicing with your eyes closed is a good exercise for leaders, too.  Just make sure you have plenty of room, and unless you have a LOT of room, not a good idea for you both to be blind-folded at the same time.

Dancer Rebecca Niziol talks about performing  blind when she lost a contact right before a performance.  Although she never would have done so on purpose, she was surprised to find out how tuned in she was and what came out of her when forced to rely on her other senses.  For the full article, see Dancing Blind Taught me to Be Present.

You may find yourself surprised at what you get in touch with when you can’t use your eyes.  Try it just for fun, and if you discover something interesting, let me know!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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How Can You Tell One Swing Dance from Another?


Swing Dancers do a lift

What Swing Dance is This?

Swing is a broad category that includes many different dances.  If you’re a novice, it’s hard enough telling completely different genres apart let alone the variations in one category.  And as if that wasn’t confusing enough, there are different styles within the same dance!

I’m going to keep it relatively simple in this post, however.  I’m going to focus on 3 different types of Swing:  Lindy Hop, West Coast Swing, and Boogie Woogie.  Boogie is a European dance that you are unlikely to see in this country, but I fell in love with it and spent 8 summers in Sweden and Norway studying it.  People ask me about it, so I thought I’d include it here.

All three dances have their roots in the same place and share much in common.  They’re all jazz dances, which means there is room for freeplay within the context of the lead and follow.  You play with the music, do jazz variations on the breaks, and converse creatively with your partner in the language of dance in all three.  There is also cross over in a lot of the jazz variations.

Boogie Woogie bears a lot of similarity to West Coast Swing.  It’s danced in a slot, but while 8 count moves are allowed, it’s primarily a six count dance.  If you slow it down, it can look a lot like West Coast Swing and you could borrow a lot of the moves and adapt them.  So what’s the difference?

There are differences in the rules of the dances, but a lot it comes down to style.  The look and feel of each dance is unique.  Lindy was the first swing dance, so it’s not surprising that you see a lot of Lindy in every dance that came later.  But Lindy is not slotted.  The steps can go off in any direction and the dance has a wild crazy attitude and can get downright silly.  You have to be willing to let go of your dignity to really get into this dance.  In this clip you can see some different styles of the dance as the teachers from a dance camp jam with each other.  This is social dance, not choreographed performances.  There is one aerial, which would not happen on a social floor, and they do break into a spontaneous shim sham (a line dance that Lindy Hoppers do) but you get the idea.

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West Coast has a much more sophisticated style.  It’s danced to contemporary music and has a slick, sexy look.  It is danced in a slot and your dignity is never compromised in this dance.  Lindy is danced to a variety of speeds but West Coast is almost always relatively slow.  In this clip you can see different styles, all social like in the lindy clip, but very distinctly all West Coast Swing.  Can you see the difference?  You may not be able to figure out why they look different, but see if you can get a feel for how the two dances differ.

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Boogie Woogie is danced to fifties rock and roll and piano boogie.  It has lots of room for play and creativity but it also has very distinctive footwork that gives it an unmistakable look.  While it’s steps are closer to West Coast Swing , it’s attitude is closer to Lindy.  In this jam, you can once again see different styles of Boogie.  Can you see how they are similar to each other and different from the other two dances?  Boogie is considered a competitive dance in Europe and is danced competitively much more than socially, so that’s why the Boogie examples are full of air steps.  This is not a demonstration of social dancing, but people do dance it socially.  They just don’t put it on youtube when they do!  By the way, I once entered a Jack and Jill (random partner contest) and drew Jorgan (second couple in the boogie clip) as a partner.  He politely asked me how long I’d been dancing Boogie.  I told him 6 years but only for one month a year.  “In that case,” he qualified, “you’re very good!”

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There are lots of other swing dances, and it’s not really necessary to be able to analyze what sets them apart from  each other.  The important thing, if you are interested in learning to swing dance, is that you have a feel for the essence of each dance so that you can make an educated choice about which one to choose.  The three dances I showcased in this article are all about equal in difficulty, so you may not want to choose any of them if you are just starting out.  Part of your criteria should be your ability to pick up complex dances easily.  If you are challenged by the idea of learning to dance at all, I recommend starting with an easy one, like East Coast Swing.  And of course also the availability and how far you are willing to travel to learn it.

You get good by dancing socially, so I also recommend choosing a dance that is convenient to do socially as well as to learn.  For most people, not a good idea to pick a dance you have to travel to Europe to do!  Have fun, you all!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Fusion Dance Part III: Swango!



swango dancers

Swango dance experts Lynne and Topher demonstrate their expertese

In my first article about fusion dance I wrote about hip hop and swing. In the second, I wrote about Lindy and Tap. This one is about Tango and Swing.

Unlike Tap and Hip Hop, which can be used to embellish or change the style of Swing, Swango is literally a combination on the two dances. You can use Tap or Hip Hop to play with your own styling without affecting your partner, but here both partners must be competent in both dances. The leader is moving from one dance to the other as the music moves him and hopefully makes the transitions seamless.

I’m using three videos here to illustrate what’s happening in this fusion. The first is an example of West Coast Swing. I’m using this because West Coast is the Swing style that is used in my Swango example. Here’s a bay area local favorite, Michelle Kinkaid, dancing with Jason Taylor:

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In this clip, a classic Argentine Tango is flawlessly performed. You can see why the follower has to know this dance in order to follow Swango.

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And finally, here’s a West Coast Swing version of Swango from Lynne and Topher who specialize in Swango in their Monterey studio. See if you can recognize the merging of these two beautiful dances in this example:

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Tango can also be fused with Lindy Hop as well as Blues, but no matter what, it’s extemely challenging because it combines a knowledge of the most difficult partner dance (Argentine Tango) with an equally proficient knowlede of another challenging partner dance.  Something to look forward to as you progress in your dancing!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Dance Fusions-Blending Different Styles

Fusion in physics

Fusion in physics reminds of the same concept in dance

The term fusion is used to mean a mix of music as well as dance.  In this post I’m focusing on dance fusion.  By that I mean two different dances or dance styles fused into one dance.  This is a surprisingly controversial thing to do, given that it pretty much mostly happens with street dances which are open to interpretation anyway.  By street dance, I mean a dance that was made up by dancers in response to music that was new at the time.  Street dances evolve with the creativity of the dancers and are constantly changing, but they do retain something in all permutations that enable them to retain the integrity of that particular dance.  This is as opposed to a studio dance like Ballroom, which has very specific rules and never changes.

So why is it controversial?  Because people are afraid of the dance they love getting lost if it fuses with other dances.  Purists get upset if you name something and they don’t see what they consider the integrity of their dance surviving in that particular version.  Fusion shows up every so often in various swing dances.  Hip Hop is the most common culprit and it’s usually the hip hopper, not the swing dancers, who get upset.  This doesn’t really surprise me because what you see is a swing dance with hip hop styling, not the other way around.  If you dance that style of swing, it’s obvious that it’s still very much lindy, or west coast swing, styled for hip hop music.  The hip hop dancers don’t see enough hip hop to consider it legitimate so it’s not unusual to hear scoffing comments (“There’s no real  hip hop here!”  “Where’s the Hip Hop?  The baseball caps and baggy pants?”)  I have to admit, when I saw a hip hop troupe incorporating swing, I had a similar response.  There wasn’t much swing and what there was wasn’t very good.  It must be extremely challenging to do justice to two completely different dance styles in one performance.

In this clip two of the world’s top Lindy Hoppers, Max Pitruzzella and Thomas Blacharz, put some hip hop into their routine.  The result is a highly entertaining, absolutely stellar lindy performance, but hip hop dancers remain unimpressed.

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If you are not being distracted by the fear of your dance not being properly represented, you’d be hard pressed not to enjoy that charming little show.  I featured these guys in an earlier post about stealing in partner dance  with Annie Trudeau in case you want to see more of them.

Here’s an example of West Coast Swing infused with Hip Hop.  Similarly, the West Coast Swing is unmistakable, that hip hop just adds styling to the dance and fits it to the music.  Well, this WAS for a west coast swing competition, not a hip hop contest.

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So I suppose you want to know what I think of fusion dance?  Well, I do have a concern for the integrity of each dance.  I don’t want to see all dance styles melded together  so they all become the same, but I’m not really worried about that.  I remember attending a workshop with Frankie Manning, one of the original creators of the Lindy Hop who would be turning 100 if he were still alive.  Frankie taught the running man step in a Lindy class.  He learned it from his hip hopping granddaughter and thought it was a great move.  Street dancers are constantly stealing ideas from each other and from other dance styles. But when those moves are incorporated into a different dance, they become part of that dance.  And, frankly, when I see dancers this good I just appreciate their creativity and enjoy the show.  Life is too short to do battle with my fellow dancers.  There’s room for everything in the world of dance.

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Lindy Hop Versus West Coast Swing


west coast, not lindy

What West Coast Swing dancing looks like

What’s the difference between West Coast Swing and Lindy Hop?  It’s mostly stylistic.  West Coast (the state dance of California, by the way) is usually danced to contemporary rhythm and blues, is danced in a slot, and has a slick, sophisticated, sexy look.  Lindy has a wild and crazy quality, takes up space in all directions, has WAY less dignity and a kind of “who cares how stupid I look, I’m just having fun!” attitude.  Both are jazz dances, which means that even though the dance is lead, there is room for individual creativity on the part of both the lead and the follow.  This clip shows a couple doing first West Coast and then Lindy.  This clip, by the way, is from a Jack and Jill contest, which means partners are drawn at random.  This couple does not usually dance together and none of this is choreographed.  Can you see the difference in style?

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By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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