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Hawkeye Swing Festival 2012

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A friend of mine (the ever-wonderful Andry Rakotomalala) wrote this review of this year’s Hawkeye Swing Festival, in Iowa City.  You should all read it because a) he’s awesome, b) if you were there, you can gush over how great this event was, too; or c) if you weren’t there you can live vicariously though this.  Whatever your reason, you should read it and be amazed (literally, I drooled reading this and this list of big-time instructors on the bill (and that’s not all of them!))

This event was pretty amazing! By far one of the biggest event I’ve ever been to, but that’s not surprising seeing as I haven’t gone to many big workshops like Beantown, Lindy Focus, or bluesSHOUT before! This was definitely my first BIG event.

What I liked about the event was how big it was, first off; and the completely different swing culture in Iowa. A friend of mine (from Illinois who goes to school in Iowa) said that they love their fast lindy in Iowa, whereas in Illinois, blues was very appropriate later on in the night. Just the excitement of having over 200 people at the event made it so much more fun and the energy in the room was just beaming! These were during social dances! You could tell that everyone was having a blast! The instructors were having an awesome time too!

The big name instructors who were there were Michael Jagger and Evita Acre, Andy Ried and Nina Gilkenson, Mikey Pedroza, Andrew Thigpin and Karen Turman, Damon Stone, Bobby Bonsey, Jamin Jackson, Brian Eley, and Delilah Williams just to name a few. I got a chance to talk to Evita, Michael, Jamin, Damon, and Bobby during social dances and other times throughout the weekend and all of them were very personable.  However, my favorite instructors (apart from Michael and Evita because they’re just amazing) were Bobby and Delilah.  But… more on that after the explanation of the lessons.

The class levels were Elite, Advanced, Intermediate/Advanced, Intermediate, and Fundamentals. I had made the Advanced with some other friends and we had a class with Bobby and Delilah. If you don’t know, both characters are CRAZY fun! They just love having fun and playing around when they dance. During their class they spoke about conversation. Literally all we did were Susi Qs and on every other 8 one of us would do something and the partner would have to take that, copy it or make it their own. And we did that back and forth.  I had some of my best dances with some of the follows there that in class! It just opened my mind that dancing shouldn’t just be step, step, triple step, step, step, triple step with moves! You can still keep the count but DO something fun with it! That lesson changed my dancing for sure! Now I’m confident with every one of my movements and I have a lot of fun with my partner as we dance to the music! I guess their main concept was to have fun while you dance and be confident. This makes the social dance so much more enjoyable for the both parties.  It also helps them communicate and have a true conversation. Plus, Delilah and Bobby are also both very energetic, wild, crazy fun people in general just like me so we connected very well!

Speaking of connection, another fun class that wasn’t just “Do this. Do that. Now move like this, now move like that” was the improve blues lesson with Damon Stone. Apparently the instructor who was supposed to come didn’t show so Damon came in and taught us REAL blues. He stressed connection and the point that stuck out to me was: focus on your own dancing and you’ll be surprised at how well your follow reads your movements and works with it.  He had said this after saying we had no need to tense up our right arm when it’s around the follow.  We don’t even have to hold her.  As long as our forearms are on her back and she’s seeking that connection, every movement I make as a lead should be transmitted to her right away. After some of the class still tensed up, he turned off the light and made us dance with our partner without connecting. This was the fun part! We were just grooving like it was a house party! It was a serious blast but he did all that to explain that our own personal movements in blues are essential because if we don’t know how our own body moves, how do we know how to suggest our follows to do a movement as well? The lesson just stressed confidence again and connection.

Michael and Evita’s lesson taught us some crazy 10 count move.  I love their style of teaching, being funny while not distracting from the point of the class.  And the fluid movements were just really captivating.

There were some things I didn’t like, but that didn’t ruin my weekend. The building we were in was HUGE and the signs to get to the different rooms were confusing. It would have been helpful if the organizers had put up signs saying “Advanced Class this way —>” or something. I wrote a sign on our class door because the intermediate and advanced class room locations were switched! A lot of people were confused and that would have been helpful. Apart from that, everything else was just awesome!

MUSIC! Like I said before, there was a lot of fast Lindy, but as the night went on the music turned into blues. My favorite was probably Solomon Douglas and his band. They played just the right music at the right time.  Around midnight, the lights dimmed and we had some slow blues but there was still some Lindy here and there.

The DJs were fabulous! A lot of them realized how fast the songs were so they slowed it down a lot. My favorite set was probably Mike “the girl” Leggett because she had such a huge variety of tempos and it was a refreshing break from the band for a bit.

Finally, would I go back? Yes. I would definitely go back! If not for the instructors, then for the completely different swing culture.


Thanks for reading!  Be sure to comment and tell Andry how much you liked his review!


My Favourite Colour…Part Deux

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If you haven’t already realized that this is a second installment, you may want to go back and read the first part, which you can find….here!

I left off with the emergence of electric blues and Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley.  A rather infamous Muddy Waters tour in England, during which he played loud, crass Chicago style blues, is said to have influenced artists like Cyril Davies and sparking the British Invasion a few years later.Bo Diddley, blues great.

In the late ’50s Chicago’s West Side Sound style blues developed simultaneously with Swamp Blues in Baton Rouge.

During the 1960s and ’70s Rock and Roll and Rhythm and Soul were all the rage and the traditional blues singers needed to find new ways to stay on the charts.  B.B. King does this with his song “To Know You is to Love You”.

Jimi Hendrix, guitaristAround this time a few names start emerging that we would usually attribute to rock music.  Do Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana ring any bells?  Jimi Hendrix  made amazing use of distortion in his music and his psychedelic rock branched out into more unorthodox styles of blues.  Carlos Santana lent a Latin flair to his blues, again creating a unique twist on the blues genre.

When the (in)famous Led Zeppelin was breaking into the main stream, during the early 1960s, many of their hits were covers of traditional blues songs like, “In My Time of Dying”

The fusion of blues, country and jazz, known as Tulsa Sound, was popularized in the 1970s by artists such as J.J. Cale.    With a similar sound and structure, Texas rock-blues was carried into the spot light by artists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Fabulous Thunderbirds and ZZ Top in the 1980s.

Beginning in the 1990s and up through the present, there have been multitudes of experiments with the genre, bending, twisting and transforming it in ways never before thought of.  In recent years, there has been a trend toward a more classic style of blues, rather than the flashier styles of ZZ Top and Led Zeppelin.  Grady Champion and Susan Tedeschi are excellent examples of this.

There has also been a resurgence of venues dedicated to all that is blues and jazz.  Cincinnati has its very own jazz club called The Blue Wisp.  Classy sounding, huh?  And there are a multitude of blues festivals all over the world.  A notable one in this region is the Chicago Underground Blues Experience.

In all of this research, the one thing that I have learned is that there is no one definition of blues.  It is something different to everyone who plays and hears it.  To me, blues is a slow, burning rhythm that makes me move.  To others, it may be a fast song that expresses anger or hurt about some life situation.  But the one overarching theme is perhaps the simplest of all; that of music.  No matter the style, rhythm or genre, music is the one thing that every human being on Earth has in common.  It is a common thread that binds us all.  And whether you like rap, blue grass or soul, you are never alone.

zZOMG Zombies and Blues Dancing

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zZOMG Zombies and Blues Dancing

This time around, I’ve gotten a very special guest writer to talk about C.U.B.E.  Dayton’s one and only Kat Blum has written a review especially for this blog.  You won’t find a piece like it anywhere else.  What is C.U.B.E. you ask?  Read on and find out.

The Chicago Underground Blues Exchange (CUBE) is a dance event that takes place concurrently with the Chicago Blues Festival. Dancers from all over the country – and Canada, apparently – come together in downtown Chicago to appreciate and dance to live blues music alongside non-dancing city-goers. After dancing downtown all morning and afternoon, dancers can continue to get their groove on at the late night dances organized by the CUBE committee. The full weekend costs only $25, which covers the costs of the evening dances, as the afternoon blues festival is free to attend.

This was my first experience with CUBE, and what an unbelievable experience it was! My fellow travelers, making the journey from Cincinnati/Dayton to Chicago, got a late start on Friday. We left around 7:00p.m., getting to Chicago close to 1:00a.m. Of course, the evening dance was just getting into full swing (pun intended) when we arrived. The venue for Friday’s dance was the Chicago Urban Arts Society.  The venue was great: fabulous DJs, friendly people from all over the country and Canada (Chicago, Texas, Minnesota, Michigan, and Montreal), and a floor with just the right amount of slickness. My only complaints would be that it got a tad warm in the main dance space, and a venue with more bathrooms might be desirable. (I missed out on 4 or 5 songs/dances just waiting to use the facilities.)

Saturday was when we really quenched our thirst for the city of Chicago. My companions and I purchased bus passes, as our hostess was within a 15-20 minute bus ride from downtown. (Public transportation is definitely the way to go. $5.75 for a 1-day bus pass definitely beats $25 for a parking garage or attempting to find street parking.) So we dragged our tired bodies out of bed at the crack of noon and headed over to Bennigans, a pseudo Irish restaurant, for lunch. (If you ever find yourself at Bennigans, I highly recommend the “Broccoli Bites.” Best description: like fried broccoli cheese soup. Delicious! Oh! And complimentary seconds on side dishes if you have room.)

Now, I’m from the rather small city of Findlay, Ohio. There are a lot of things in cities that strike me as fascinating: parking meters, revolving doors, and apartment intercom buzzer systems; but we discovered something upon leaving Bennigans that would have caught the eye of any sane person… zombies!! Yes, you read correctly. Upon leaving the restaurant, we discovered a group of zombies who informed us that there would be a zombie walk happening downtown at 5:00p.m. We almost wet ourselves with excitement as we scurried over to the blues fest for more music and dancing.

We really only spent a few hours at the actual blues festival due to our late rising and our need to see The Bean and the horde of zombies. The time we did spend there was… well… sort of annoying at best. The way CUBE works is that someone is in charge of posting a Twitter update telling at which of the several stages the dancers could be found. However, the “tweet” only went out after they had settled at their new location. Upon returning from The Bean after leaving the group for a short while, it took us nearly half an hour or more to relocate our dance friends. (Nobody answers cell phones while dancing.) While the idea was great, I wish the dancers had not changed stages as often as they did, and/or tweeted faster. However, the bands were wonderful and the dancing was extremely fun as always!

Saturday night we decided to do things right and get some real Chicago deep-dish pizza. We walked through the chill and mist to Giordanos (as recommended by my Uncle John). It was delicious – much better than Sunday’s Pizano’s greasy experience. After eating to the point of a short food coma, we trucked over to The Living Room Lounge for some late night dancing. This venue is beyond awesome. The room was much longer than it was wide, which gave an interesting feel to it. If you stayed towards the left for a long time, moving to the right side of the room felt like you entered a whole new dance with an entirely different group of people! Two thumbs up for this great venue with another well-balanced floor.

While attempting to leave the Saturday night dance, we experienced the greatness (not even just the goodness) of the hearts of swing dancers. Our car experienced a little hiccup which led to the exhaust pipe dragging on the ground. Suddenly there were near a dozen dancers (at 4:30 in the morning, mind you) all surrounding our car offering headlights for better visibility, extra sets of hands and eyes, and even the wire from a spiral-bound notebook that someone had ripped out to try to reattach the car part. This is why the swing dancing community is so loved by those who are a part of it. We were able to get things back in order and hit the road again, but not before many hugs and well-wishes from our new friends.

Sunday brought a whole adventure. We did not even visit the blues festival because we were much too preoccupied with the Improv Everywhere MP3 Experiment that would be taking place at Millennium Park. At 1:30p.m. we participated in a massive social experiment that is perhaps the most incredible event I have ever experienced. Among other things, we were asked to: wave, give a thumbs up, follow a stranger, hug, high-five, thumb wrestle, square dance, freeze, play human darts, play “Steve Says,” take naps, play human Twister, freeze tag, move in slow motion, high-five/hug in slow motion, have a dance party, make finger moustache disguises, point in the direction of our home as well as Nicaragua, hug an animal, and hug an inanimate object, all with a group of several hundred strangers. It – was – amazing.

Sadly for us, we had quite a drive ahead of us and could not stay much past the early afternoon. We took lunch at Pizano’s (again, not nearly as good as Giordano’s), and then headed out of the Windy City. As you can see, our experience with CUBE led to as much city exploration as it did fantastic dances and new friends. This is what makes the Chicago Underground Blues Exchange such a unique experience. Because the only cost is for the evening dances, you can feel free to roam through the city in the afternoon without feeling like you’re wasting a paycheck in doing so.

CUBE gets an A in my book. I definitely plan on returning next year and hope to see you there as well!

If you look closely at 2:14, you can see our very own Kat Blum and Travis Hartman.

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