I recently had the immense pleasure of sitting down with Mike Legett and Dan Rosenthal, Cincinnati’s newest swing dancing fixture. Together, the two of them form the dynamic duo that is Living History Dance School.
It was a rainy Sunday morning in June and I was trying my hardest not to get lost when I pulled up outside their cute little brick house. There were chocolate chip pancakes on the stove, tea brewing in a pot and an abundance of fresh fruit. After a very lovely breakfast, we got down to business. I wanted to find out who these two dancer are, in short, I wanted to know what made them tick.
We started by talking about their newly opened dance school. After six months in town acclimatizing to the Queen City and scouting venues, Mike and Dan finally found a home for their dance school at the Emanuel Community Center. With LHDS, they both said they want to grow the Cincinnati dance scene into something far-reaching with a welcoming reputation. But perhaps most importantly of all, they want to stir up some excitement about learning to dance and learning to dance well. They don’t want to compete with the existing dance organization, but work with them and make Cincinnati into a swing dancing staple.
I was curious as to why they chose to have a blues crash course be their inaugural lesson. According to them, blues is missing from the scene, something no good swing scene should be without. You can’t have a late night without blues. It is also the dance for which Mike is most well-known. You gotta use what you got, not that these two will have any problems drawing people to their school. The Blues Crash Course they hosted in June drew people from Indianapolis for the four-hour workshop, solely because Mike and Dan were teaching.
We moved from there to discuss their dancing histories. They’ve been dancing together for about a year, but each had their own career before that.
Dan has been dancing since 2008 i n Pittsburg. and is particularly fond of dancing Lindy Hop, Blues and West Coast. Little would you guess that Dan graduated with a B.F.A in Classical Guitar Performance from Carnegie Melon and has also studied Electrical and Computer Engineering. Now, that’s what most people would call multi-talented. After much searching on his computer, Dan finally found a song he could label as his favourite, although it was by no means an unchallenged title. Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho by Sidney Bechet took the title. He also gave me the titles Love Me Or Leave Me by Sammy Davis Jr. and Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out by Josh White before settling on the Sidney Bechet as number one. You may also remember him as this year’s Dayton Swing Smackdown 2nd place Jack-n-Jill Competition winner.
Originally a ballroom dancer, Miss Mike began dancing in 2001 in Memphis, Tennessee. It was a few months before she found swing and blues in Knoxville. And although she is a full-fledged swing dancer, she still as a strong passion for Tango. She began teaching full-time in 2007 and has danced as far away from home as Herrang, Sweden. One of her favourite songs to dance to is Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives Me by Sidney Bechet. She has an affinity for Lindy, Blues and Tango.
Since the two are dance partners, I was curious as to their stances on having a consistent dance partner. Surprisingly, Mike said having a set dance partner can be detrimental. Dancing with the same person all the time can come to act as a crutch and you two can begin to compensate for each others’ shortcomings, making it extremely difficult to improve your dancing. Dan said having a set dance partner can be a good thing, although maybe not the best option for learning something new. But, according to him, a consistent dance partner gives you a point of reference, a set point from which you can work and fine-tune things.
There are a few things I’m always curious about when I meet people who have danced in far away place; like favourite dance scene and favourite dance venue. On both of these topics, Mike and Dan agreed: their favourite dance scene is Philadelphia, apparently notorious for the its dancers musicality, and their favourite venue is the Red Room in Atlanta, Georgia.
Our interview came full circle as we wrapped up. I wanted to know where they came up with the name “Living History Dance School”. They told me the name was inspired by a third fold in their hopes for the school: to preserve the historical aspects of swing dancing while bringing it into the 21st century. Dances evolve as the years go by, but sometimes the roots of the dance get lost in the modernization of the steps. In the immortal words of Dan Rosenthal, “They sold their old clothes and bought skimpy things with sequins.” The purpose of LHDS is to strike a balance between the historic and modern aspects of swing dancing.
As our tea grew cold, Mike and Dan had some parting words of wisdom for new dancers: take classes, go social dancing, and most of all, have fun and don’t get discouraged. You’re new, people understand, you will get better. They also had a piece of advice for dancers of all levels: STOP LOOKING AT YOUR FEET. They won’t go anywhere you don’t tell them to.
So, Cincinnati, be prepared for a whirlwind of activity with the arrival of Mike “The Girl” Legett and Dan Rosenthal. They’re here to shake things up and bring a new sparkle to the Queen City dance scene.
Go check out the “Other Cool Things” page for links to LHDS’s webpage and Mike’s and Dan’s personal sites. And just so you all know, LHDS is having a Tranky Doo workshop on July 24. Register early, it’s going to be tons of fun!
Pepsi Bethel, Leon James and Al Minns doing the Tranky Doo
Mike and Dan doing the Tranky Doo