Archive for April 2012
The other night I was out dancing at a venue that was also hosting a contra dance in another part of the building. When I stepped out to get a drink of water, I met a lady from the contra dance. She was wearing a button on her blouse that said “I am a new dancer!”
I was intrigued by this, so I asked her about it.
Apparently in that community they use these buttons a lot. Rather than being some sort of dunce cap, it is intended to encourage seasoned dancers to be nice and dance with the newbies.
This lady said it was her first time out dancing, and she really liked the whole button idea. She said everyone was being super nice and patient with her, and she’d danced every dance and was having a great time.
I’ve never heard of this idea being used in the swing community. Has anyone tried it? How did it work for you?
On the other hand, I recently came across this post about dance cards which offers another idea for encouraging people to dance with newbies.
I don’t know how I feel about these strategies. They seem sorta fraught. But I’m always looking for new ways to grow the community. If anyone has tried either of these ideas I would be very interested to hear how it went for you.
Birthday jams have become a peeve of mine.
See, when I first started out, birthday jams were a surprise. If someone knew it was your birthday, they would secretly tell the DJ, and sometime during the night, when you least expected it, all of a sudden you were being jammed. It was like this amazing surprise present out of the blue that you didn’t expect.
But they aren’t special anymore. Now they’re more like cattle calls. Every night, without fail, during the DJ break, someone stands up and announces the birthday jam. Anyone? Calling once, calling twice. Anniversary? Bar mitzvah? Anyone?
Sometimes you get fifteen people out there. Hard to feel special in a huge mob like that. Seems kinda artificial and pointless.
A lot of times people are put on the spot. New dancers are dragged out there when they don’t even want to be. They can’t dance, and they don’t even know what’s happening; their friends think it’s hilarious.
Or there are the old timers who only show up once a year, on their birthday, and then leave after the jam is over. Is that fair? Is that playing by the rules? A birthday jam should be about friendship and community, not entitlement and obligation.
Recently I was present at a dance where the birthday person was out of the room when the jam was announced. He missed his window. His friends tried to get the DJ to announce it later, but the DJ was unwilling to muck up his playlist with unnecessary interruptions or something.
So what happened is that his friends took the grass-roots approach. They just quietly passed the word along that during the next song they would jam the birthday guy. He was so surprised when out of nowhere the crowd made a circle around him and suddenly he was in the spotlight. He was beaming the whole time, and it was the best birthday jam I’ve seen in forever.
I think we need to stop doing regular birthday jams and go back to doing them on a request-only basis. What do you all think?
Happy Friday! So how did smiling work out for you? I’ll bet you a quarter that if you tried last week’s challenge, you might not have danced any better, but you had more fun. And I bet your partners did too.
You can’t go by me – I was at the DC Lindy Exchange last weekend, and I couldn’t help having a big grin on my face the whole time. It wasn’t really a fair test, you might say.
So anyway. I’ve been looking at pictures of myself dancing. Ugh.
And one thing I notice is that my chin is always sticking out. Also, I’m always looking down. Super awkward. I’ve got that whole forward head thing the yoga folks talk about. Looks like I spend way too much time on the computer.
So I’ve decided that this week I’m going to try keeping my head balanced on top of my neck where it’s supposed to be.
Wanna try this with me? If you’re not sure how, try this:
- Put your finger on your chin. Now pull your chin back, away from your finger. Not enough to squish your throat, just to the point where your head is on top of your spine, rather than in front of it.
- Imagine that your head is a big helium balloon, and your body is dangling down from it like a string.
- When you turn your head, rather than turning your face toward the thing you’re looking at, think about turning the back of your head away from it. Like you’ve got a big handle sticking out the back of your skull, and someone’s using it to turn your head for you. If you compare the two ways of turning your head – turning your face versus turning the back of your head – you’ll see that the second one allows your neck to turn more freely.
Well, that’s what I’ll be obsessing about this week. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Sometimes it just hits me again, how thankful I am.
You need to know that I grew up during a time when swing dancing was absolutely unavailable as an option. In the Seventies and Eighties, people were doing a lot of strange things, but swing dancing was definitely not one of them.
I didn’t know about it, but I craved it.
There were so many places where my life almost intersected with swing dancing:
- When I was ten years old, I had a little portable record player. My dad used to let me listen to his collection of 45s. I’d hang out by myself in my room, dancing to old rock-and-roll songs, twirling around in a swooshy skirt I’d made for myself out of an old tablecloth. This was strange behavior. My favorite song? Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife.”
- At age twelve, my favorite movie was “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” I loved the dance scene in particular – a Charleston-ish choreography dealie – and I was sad that people didn’t still dance that way. That Halloween I made myself a pretty cool flapper costume out of a couple of old pillowcases. No one knew what I was supposed to be.
- In Junior High, I hated PE, except for one semester. That was when we had a unit on ballroom dancing. Everyone besides me despised it, or at least pretended to, but I wasn’t that cool. I loved it. My favorite part was when they taught us six-count swing, and my favorite song to dance to was “In the Mood.” I was a total dweeb, and I didn’t even care.
- At around the same time, I was big into Abbott and Costello movies. Remember, children, this was before cable TV. Channel Twelve used to show “Abbott and Costello Theater” every Sunday afternoon. My favorite movie? “Buck Privates.” Especially the big dance number.
- Once during high school my parents, knowing my love of anachronistic music, took me to an outdoor Big Band “concert.” Lots of middle-aged people sitting around on the grass, politely listening to this music that made me want to get up and jump around. They just sat there. It made me really sad.
- In college, I liked going to dances. These consisted of a lot of inebriated people stuffed into a dorm basement, jumping up and down to really loud music by the Sex Pistols, Devo and the B-52s. It was fun, but I couldn’t help feeling that something was missing.
- My freshman year, I spent the summer with some friends in Southern California, and I went to see The Smiths at the Hollywood Palladium. Now in the Forties, the Palladium was a popular swing dancing venue, and it has recently been renovated, but during the Eighties, when I was there, it was “in decline.” A real dump, actually. And I practically got my leg broke in the mosh pit.
I just think it’s miraculous that today I live in a culture where I have the opportunity to go swing dancing as often as I wish. I’m thankful that everything came together this way. I’m thankful for everyone who participates in this with me. I’m thankful for the community of swing dancers who make this possible.
From the bottom of my heart, everyone, thank you.
(P.S. Read Rebecca Brightly’s post here – her “unthinkable” situation describes the world I grew up in. Kids, don’t let this happen to you.)
This is kind of a goofy topic, but it’s on my mind today, so here goes:
Dancing can literally save your life.
Specifically, today, I’m talking about balance. The physical ability to not fall down and break your neck.
I remember this one time, maybe twelve years ago. I was out taking a walk. Probably trying to lose weight, I don’t know, I was about forty pounds heavier back then.
Anyway, at one point during this walk I crossed in the middle of a street, somehow missed the curb, and fell down, plop, right on the sidewalk. Total pratfall. Collapsed like a bunch of broccoli, for no apparent reason at all. Just tripped and fell.
So embarrassing! People walking by, avoiding eye contact, trying not to notice the thirty-something, overweight lady struggling to get back up onto her feet. Not wanting to embarrass me further by trying to help. Probably assumed I’d been drinking.
Well, that’s a sad story.
Okay, so fast forward to last winter. After eight years or so of dance classes and social dancing, I was back to a semi-normal weight, and in much better condition. One afternoon I was out walking with Cholula, my Chihuahua.
It had recently snowed, frozen, and then snowed again. Things were pretty slippery out, but Chewie and I were fed up with staying inside.
The only proper boots I owned were zip-up ones with high heels. Just asking for trouble, right? But at least they were warm.
Well, I was making pretty good progress along the sidewalk. Then I got to a spot where a big old tree had encroached on the pavement and deformed it into a lumpy patch of rubble. Not only that, it had dropped big branches all around, and no one had bothered to do anything about it.
So I’m in my high-heeled boots, with my spastic Chihuahua on a leash, picking my way through this treacherous area in the snow.
With my right foot I unknowingly step on a long bent stick. It makes a loud crack, and one end of it flies up in the air.
Chewie freaks out and dashes between my feet.
To avoid stepping on her I take a giant step to the side.
My left heel gets hooked into the stick.
Chewie is pulling on me with her entire eight pounds’ worth of craziness. Her leash is looped around my right leg.
Nothing. A graceful little skippity skip, and the whole thing is over. A total non-event. You’da thought I’d practiced it or something.
I actually continued on my way without even thinking about it. It was only after a couple of blocks that I realized, Hey, wait a minute…
Why am I not lying on the ground right now?
Why? What made the difference between splatting on the sidewalk for no apparent reason, and a decade later staying upright in the most challenging of circumstances?
I can honestly say it was all because of dancing. Dancing saved my life. You want to know the secret of not falling down and breaking your neck? It’s dancing.
Now that I’m somewhat recovered from the weekend, here are a few differences I noticed between DC’s lindy exchange and ours in Portland:
Food: They served a variety of do-it-yourself snacks. Sandwich makings, vegetable and fruit trays, cookies, chips and dips, coffee with the trimmings were all laid out on different tables and people ambled around and assembled their own thing on paper plates. We had hot catered food – burritos or wraps or something – more like a meal. I don’t eat bread, so I actually preferred the flexibility of their snack-type approach. I don’t go to exchanges to eat.
Drop-ins: I didn’t show up in time to see how they did their drop-in lessons. But I did observe that at several times during a dance they would announce that so-and-so was available to give a quick lesson to anyone who didn’t know how. Wonder if you could use that approach to eliminate the drop-ins completely?
Late-night: We had DJ’d music before and after all the bands, so there was no gap between the end of the main dance and the beginning of late-night. Their late-night dance was scheduled an hour after the end of the main dance, and on Saturday it took so long to set up that there was actually an hour and a half between the two dances. That means that between 12:30 and 2 am there was all this time to hang around drinking, eating, being bored, falling asleep, and deciding to give up and go home. I was not a fan.
Bands: I would just like to observe that they must have spent a million dollars on music. No band appeared at more than one dance, and all their bands had lots and lots of members. The music was great, but sheesh. I thought WE spent a lot.
Flyer table: There wasn’t one. At one venue I saw a little stack of flyers for some out-of-town exchange, so I put my flyers there. The next night they were all gone, like someone had thrown them away. Grr.
Registration packets: Not just the obligatory information papers and pack of gum stuffed in a manila envelope. There were buttons, a water bottle, and other goodies in an actual fabric shoe bag. Pretty nifty. Again, I think their budget must be roughly twice what ours is.
Outdoor dances: They had an outdoor dance on both Saturday and Sunday, at different venues, which is cool. They also had an in-case-of-rain backup plan. They announced several times on Friday and Saturday nights not only what the outdoor venue was, but where the dance would be if it rained, and where to tune for news and official information. They announced over Facebook, Twitter and on their own website by ten a.m. whether or not the dance would be moved. I thought this was very well done. We always have our outdoor dance on Saturday, rain or shine – some years it’s been snowing or hailing and we’re still out there dancing. Cool or insane, I’m not quite sure.
Anyway, that’s just some thoughts. If anyone wants to comment and tell me their favorite and un-favorite things about exchanges, I’d love to hear about them!
Well, sorry to say it, but other obligations forced me to miss yesterday’s barbecue as well as the main dance with the Boilermaker Jazz Band. But I did make it to the afternoon dance, so I can tell you about that.
It got rained out! It was supposed to have been at Dupont Circle but it got moved to the annex of the Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo instead. All this rain, you’d think I was back home already. A bunch of wet clothes and socks dancing around in a small ballroom made it pretty clammy, but it was still fun.
The high point for me was when the Bitter Dose Combo played “Swing 49″ and right in the middle the vocalist started singing “I Will Survive.” Sang it right through, in fact.
I was deliriously tired anyway, so I’m afraid I was rather giggling like an idiot. My dance partner was nice about it though.
That’s all I have the energy to report right now. If anyone reading this attended the exchange and can add any details I missed, please feel free to comment here, I’d love to hear about it!
(P.S. Oops – I mean “Minor Swing.” I guess I really was delirious. Here’s the video.)
Wow. So many good dancers out last night! My head is spinning.
The Band Battle at Glen Echo was incredible, of course. With the Tom Cunningham Orchestra and Glenn Crytzer’s Blue Rhythm Band it couldn’t hardly be otherwise.
But I totally didn’t realize that Meschiya Lake was going to be there! I saw her standing off to one side of the ballroom – you can’t mistake Meschiya for anyone else – and before I knew what I was doing I barged up to her and said, “I didn’t know you were going to be here, I’m totally stoked!!”
She looked at me a little bit like, who the hell is this? And then she smiled, turned her head away slightly and said, “You and me both, sister.” She was so elegant; I felt distinctly like a doofus.
So I decided that as long as I was going around bothering celebrities, I might as well barge up to the lovely and talented Andy Reid and make his day too. I asked him to dance – one of the braver things I’ve done in my life – and we had a very nice time. Or at least I did. With these friendly, cheerful types, you can never really tell, can you? Anyway, he was very gracious.
I saw a couple more celebrities there, but I was too scared to ask them to dance. I did have a whole bunch of really great dances with some non-celebrities, or at least if they were celebrities I didn’t know about it. I tried to get all their names and remember them, and of course I forgot. So thanks, everyone who danced with me, whoever you are. I had a great time!
The downside – everyone was dressed up but me. All the girls were cuted up in their little vintage dresses, and here I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Duh! Must remember to dress up next time.
The Careless Lovers were delightful as always; nevertheless, late-night defeated me once again. Although I did stay until three, so that beats my former record anyway. See you all tomorrow!
Glen Echo Park is lovely. It’s an antique amusement park in a woodsy setting; feels just a tad bit like the Oregon Country Fair, but without the nudity.
The dance last night was in the Bumper Car Pavilion, an open-air structure with a wooden floor that would have been just marvelous except it had recently been treated with linseed oil. So it was a bit on the gummy side. Didn’t seem to slow anyone down much – people just wore their second-best shoes and didn’t worry about it. Lots of good energy, and the band – Craig Gildner’s Blue Crescent Syncopators – was swinging in a most respectable manner.
Only saw one other dancer there from Portland, my pal Christina. We’re really just very slightly acquainted, yet we greeted each other like long-lost relatives. Had a fun dance together. But it was kind of embarrassing: here we are, representing the beautiful Rose City, and nary a tattoo between the two of us. In Portland, most people are covered in them from stem to stern, and folks tend to look at you funny if you don’t sport at least two or three.
I always find it amusing, when I travel, to discover that dancers everywhere tend to fall into types. Everyone I dance with turns out to be the exact equivalent of some individual I dance with back home. Someday I’ll have to make up a catalog.
The late-night venue was super chill – a proper ballroom with a very nice floor. Only downside was the huge mirrors everywhere I kept having to avoid being obsessed by. The food was perfect. The band, an organization called Bruce Tegler’s Joy of Sax, featured three saxophones and totally rocked the house.
Even though I tried to pace myself, I’m afraid I did get a little carried away. So I didn’t make it much past two a.m. Maybe I’ll do better tonight. Gonna miss the afternoon dance and tour Mount Vernon instead, but I’ll be back at Glen Echo for the main dance, and I’ll try to go the distance at late-night. Let you know how it goes.