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The Lindy Focus Saga Episode One: Acceptance

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There are two words in the swing-dom that can send a shiver of excitement through a room: Lindy Focus.  And there’s good news for those of you who know what those two words mean.  Registration is open.  That’s right.  Go sign up now!

But for some of you who are new to the world of swing, you might be wondering what this is and why it’s such a big deal.

Jam circle

Let me try to explain.  Have you ever dreamed about what it would be like to be on a movie set with Chris Hemsworth, George Clooney, Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone all at the same time and they all tell you they want to be your best friend and you get the starring role in the film and the film is being talked about in the Oscar pool… Ok you get the idea, basically it’s a dream come true.

Lindy Focus is a lot like that.  Basically, it’s a week of intensive workshops with some of the best swing and blues dance instructors in the world.  But it’s much more than that.  Let me start at the beginning.

So, you’ve organized a carpool and you’ve got your roommates and you’re feeling like a kid on Christmas.  Literally.  Because Lindy Focus starts the day after Christmas. Best. Christmas present. Ever.

After the hours long car ride to beautiful Asheville, North Carolina, you come up the final hill and the sprawling Crowne Plaza hotel opens its arms to greet you.  You check in and dump your stuff in your room and run off to go explore.  As you whittle away the hours until the first bit of dancing,  you marvel at how big the swing dance community is.  It’s really a worldwide phenomenon.

Then the dancing starts.  You dance song after song and not one of them is awkward.  Everyone you dance with is wonderful.  You’re up until the last of the bluesers at the late night trickle off.  You finally make your way back to your room and fall into bed, completely exhausted but at peace with the world.  You could die happy now.

Happy Birthday, Maggie!

But wait! There’s more….

The next morning you audition for placement in your Lindy Hop track.  Levels 3-9 require an audition.  But don’t fret.  It’s not this terrible fiery ordeal and the judges are normal people, just like you and me.  So breathe and just dance.  Waiting for your results has you quivering with antici………………….pation.

Finally, you get your level and you can settle in.  Or you can appeal and try to get a higher level, that’s cool too.  But for the most part, the judges are pretty dead on.

For the next week, the best of the best fill you with their vast and mighty knowledge of all things jazz, swing and dance.  It’s a lot to take in, so I definitely recommend bringing a notebook to take notes in.  A sad mistake I made last year was not having one and it made practicing rather difficult.

Live music at Lindy Focus

At the first official evening dance, you get to hear the first strains of the live music.  Last year’s choices included Ben Polcer and Paul Constentino of Boilermakers fame.

But holy goodness, the best is still yet to come: Instructor Showcase.

Let me tell you, I don’t think I have ever nerded so hard about dancing in my life.  By the time all of them were done dancing, I was pretty much in a puddle on the floor because of so much awesome.   And don’t even get me started on the competitions.  It’s just too much for words.

There was one thing I wish I had known about when I went to LF last year.  No one told there was going to be a New Year’s Even Show.  Although, maybe it was a good thing I didn’t know about it.  I might have actually exploded with impatience.

From “New Orleans Bump” Lindy Focus XI New Years Eve Show

Well, I don’t want to spoil all of the surprises that await in Lindy Focus Land, so I’ll stop here.  But you should all know that this is such an exciting event and there is so much to look forward to.

This is only the very tippy top of a ginormous iceberg

For those of you have already been to LF, what was your favourite part?  And for those of you who haven’t been yet, what is it you’re most looking forward to?

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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.

Dayton Swing Smackdown 2012

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Well, it’s official folks, I have come full circle in my Lindy exchanges.  With Dayton Swing Smackdown, I have officially started repeating events.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way, not with this year’s amazing instructors.

Friday night kicked off at Baum Opera House, which is a fabulous venue making a return this year.  The highlight of the night was the Solo Jazz Competition.  It was an excellent showcase of dancing skill, know-how and musicality.  a huge congratulations goes out to Chris Schoenfelder for taking first place and also to Emily Schuhmann and Ellen McIntire who took second and third place, respectively.  Lindy tunes were spinning until midnight when the dancing action was moved to Elegance in Dance studio down the road for the late night.  The early late night music was much too fast for my tastes, but when Paul Carryer took over the role of DJ the windows steamed up real fast and we bluesed on into the wee hours of the morning.

If I have ever been up earlier for lessons, I can’t remember it (although I would have been angry and sleep-deprived anyway).  But the early morning was totally worth it.  The day was jam packed with all sorts of lesson from all sorts of the best instructors.  From Charleston to Lindy Hop both the intermediate and advanced track came away with so much new information that I’m pretty sure we all had 8-counts leaking out our ears.  Mike “the Girl” Legget and Dan Rosenthal, Shannon Varner and Mark Calkins, Jean and John Holton, John Holmstrom and Mandy Spencer, and Peter Strom and Naomi Uyama all filled our heads with some of the best dance advice this side of the Mississippi.  Thanks to all of you for taking the time to teach us and pass your dance knowledge on to us, the new generation of dancers (even if I didn’t attend your lessons).

After a super quick dinner break, I headed back to the Baum for the Jack and Jill preliminaries.  I think it is absolutely needless to say that my stomach was jumping with first-time-competition nerves and left little room for food.  Even though I didn’t make it through to the finals this time, it was still a great experience.  And, please, correct me if I’m wrong, but there was a record number of competitors this year, too.  And I have to congratulate the finalist and especially Danny Beyrer and Amanda Guied for taking first place.  You guys looked fantastic out on that floor.

Ask anyone who was there and they will tell you that the crowning jewel of the weekend was the team competition Saturday night.  For weeks, teams of dancers trained, choreographed and polished routines just to showcase them here.  Props to everyone who competed, you guys all danced amazingly and put in some crazy long hours.  Congratulations to SwingColumbus for taking overall first place again this year and to the Jitterbucks (guess which school these guys are from…) for winning the Collegiate Cup, you boys made great looking nerds.  SwingColumbus won passes to this year’s Hawkeye Swing Festival in Iowa City.  You can see the winning routines below and the rest of them here

Aaaannd….Back to Elegance, the place for swing dancing in Dayton.  Again, the late  night music was a little fast for my brain and dance skills at 3am, but there was definitely some great blues songs in there.

I slept like a baby when I finally made it to a bed that night.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go to the Sunday lessons (school really gets in the way some times…) but everyone tells me that the lessons was awesome.

Honestly, I’m really sad the weekend is over.  I had such a great time getting to see all of my friends and meet so many new ones.  Thank you to everyone who made this weekend a highlight of my recent past.

Oh, and a huge thank you to Josh Forbes for making Smackdown a success yet again!

Blues In The Nite ’12

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Blues In The Nite ’12

As most of you have probably gathered by now, Blues is my favourite form of dance.  So when I got the chance to spend an entire weekend doing nothing but  Blues dancing, you can imagine how excited I got.

And let me tell you: Blues In The Nite ’12 did not disappoint.  I got my fill of grungy, raunchy blues as well as some decidedly lighter dances that kept me smiling the entire time.

I left Athens Friday afternoon (skipping class to go dancing is totally legit, right….?) with two other fabulous ladies (there was much giggling about attractive male celebrities) and we made a straight shot for West Lafayette, Indiana, with a quick stop in the Dayton area to pick up another friend of ours.  And together we braved the treacherous snow and long boring stretches of highway to out epic blues adventure.

We arrived just in time for the beginner lesson, taught by the wonderful Jamie Lynn Figure and Tony Goldsmith.  I had in tow withe me two people who had never had a Blues lesson before, and I think it may be safe to say: their minds were blown.  After one lesson, they were both hooked.  Now there’s no going back.

After the lesson ended, the DJs started with Bryan Sykes taking the first set of the night and Derek Camp spinning the last track around midnight.

What?  “Midnight?” you say “But that’s so early!”  But trust me, we needed our sleep for the next day: our lessons started at 10am.  Yeah….

And it’s a good thing it ended so early, that gave me time to get some late night munchies at an authentic West Lafayette tradition: Triple XXX  Family Diner (as seen on The Food Network.  They have great chocolate malts and three cheese and tomato omelets, but are better known for their Duane Purvis burger.  I’ll leave it to you to solve the mystery of what that is).  I found this place with the help of my gracious host, Andrew.  I should also point out that, in addition to his hosting duties this weekend, he also played a huge part in organizing Blues In The Nite.  So, props to you, Andrew!

But it didn’t take me long to get over my sleep-deprived, early-morning stupor and discontent (I am not a morning person, folks).  Almost as soon as the lesson started, I knew it was going to be a good day.  Michelle Richter and Dexter Santos got all of us up and moving with an introduction to Jook Joint Blues.  Basically, this is  Blues for small spaces: there’s little or no space between you and your partner, there is a lot of physical contact and you get to make a wonderfully close connection with your partner.  This was exactly the stuff i wanted to learn.  Even though it was only an hour-long lesson, I felt like I learned more in that one hour than I had since my introduction to Blues.

After Jookin’ Blues, we transitioned to Ballroom Blues.  It still manages to keep that intimate Blues connection, but in a slightly more upright way, reminiscent of classic ballroom dances like the Foxtrot and the Waltz.

Lunch came after the Ballroom class and I was lucky enough to eat with a nifty group of people and chat with Michelle during the break. At least this time I didn’t have to worry about being late getting back to the lessons: the lessons would start when we returned the other half of the teaching unit.

Luckily, we decided to return Michelle in time for a lesson on connection.  And what a sweet lesson it was.  Blues is a tug-and-pull, give-and-take and above all, a conversation with your partner.  With the help of Dexter and Michelle, I really made a connection with my dance partners.

The next lesson gave us a different view of what Blues could be.  It doesn’t always have to be this slow, slinky, sexy dance.  Each song has qualities all its own and each dance is a character unique unto itself.  Sometimes the dance is happy, sometimes its angry, sometimes its sad, and sometimes it is indeed sexy.

The final lesson of the day was Mo’ Better Blues, which was all about moving your own body, knowing what you can do, and still engaging your partner and keeping it interesting for him/her.  This was by far the most difficult class of the day.  Dexter showed us some pretty classy moves that I will definitely need to practice in the safety of my own kitchen before breaking them out on the dance floor.  Never the less, it showed me that, as a follow, I can rock my own moves and still keep the atmosphere of the dance (and laugh at my when I end up totally mutilating my footwork).

I think I got so much out of these lessons because, for the first time, I wasn’t intimidated by the instructors.  Most of the time I end up being a little star-struck or just plain scared, but not this time.  Michelle and Dexter did a wonderful job of making things easy enough for us to do, while not being too basic and treating us all like total newbies.

The weekend’s festivities continued after a dinner break and a quick trip to the bus stop to pick up a friend.

The Merou Grotto is a little white building on a dark street which can only be reached via shuttle.  Sketchy, right?  Yeah, ok, maybe a little.  But when you have a bus full of college students making up their own verses to “The Wheels on the Bus” and the best bus driver ever, what’s a road without streetlights?  And besides, once we were inside, I fell in love with the place.  A small building, in the dark with steamy windows and the best Blues tunes around.  It really doesn’t get much better than that.

And we danced Blues for SIX HOURS STRAIGHT!  Best night ever.  I like my Lindy Hop as well as the next girl, but there is just something so enticing and entrancing about Blues.  And you try to Lindy for six hours.  I can’t make it through one.

By the time 3 in the morning rolled around, I was so tired I could barely walk straight.  But I could not have asked for a better night.

While the dancing was done, I didn’t go home Sunday morning.  The Midwest Collegiate Swing Summit held court in the student union at Purdue and discussed everything from DJs to teachers to funding.  But I’ll give you all those juicy details later (because I know you all just can’t wait for that…)

So all in all, an absolutely great weekend.  Thank you to the Purdue Night Train for pulling off this fantastic event.  Thank you to Dexter Santos and Michelle Richter for teaching a fabulous workshop.  And thank you, in particular, to Andrew for hosting me an discussing books, movies and A Very Potter Musical withe me.  I will definitely be back next year!

My Favorite Color

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So I’m going to be out of dancing commission for a while, but that doesn’t mean there’s any shortage of swing things to write about.  So, while I’m not dancing, I’d like to take a closer look at one of my favourite styles of music.

Blues is slow and slinky.  It is passionate and fiery.  It is cool and smooth.  It’s anything at all, really.  But most of all, it’s simple and musical.  There’s not much to blues as far as basic steps go, which makes it wonderfully easy at 4am after a long evening of dancing.

If you Google “blues” you’ll come up with a bunch of stuff about blues music.  And really, blues dancing is nothing without blues music.  You can’t move to non-existent music.  But how many of us actually know where blues came from?  Do you know how the blues really began? (If I may quote Sammy Davis Jr.)  The blues as we know it has its roots way down south in the cotton fields and sugar plantations, as far back as the 1890s.  Many blues songs are based on old work songs (“I sold my soul to the company store…”) or field hollers and chants.  Many songs from this era aren’t documented because of racial tension and the mere fact that anything associated with slaves and Black people was taboo at the time.

As time went on, blues became a much more socially acceptable to listen to inter-cultural music and the blues took off.  It spread across the country and various regional genres formed, including St. Louis blues, British blues and Memphis blues.  Along with regional variations, several sub-genres popped up as popularity grew, notable among which are Delta and Jump blues.

Much of the earliest was performed in an almost orchestral way, with a full band and singer.  W.C. Handy was one of the first to publish sheet music of a blues song, and he is a great example of the symphonic early sound.  As time went on, a blues began to sound a bit more like what we know as country, with only a guitar for accompaniment.  It is country blues for which we have Blind Lemon Jefferson and Bo Carter.  (Cincinnati has the Blind Lemon Cafe, with live music every night.  Gee, I wonder where they got that name?)

Blues underwent another transformation with the advent of urban blues.  It’s a cleaner and more structured style of music because it had to be adapted to wider audiences.  It is here that we get more of the familiar names and many female singers.  Do Mamie Smith or Victoria Spivey ring any bells?

With the long economic boom in the 1950s, electric blues became popular in many of the renown blues hubs across the country, like Chicago and Detroit.  It is about this time we start seeing blues performances look a bit more like what we’re used to seeing.  They utilized electric guitars for the first time, double bass and bass guitar, drums and a harmonicas also begin to appear in the era.  Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry hail form this decade.

Alrighty, guys and gal, I think this is a good stopping point for now.  I’ll continue this little history lesson next week, so stay tuned.

DJ, Turn the Music Up

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I had my foray into the realm of DJ this past weekend at the late night for the Ohio University fall dance; and let me tell you, not once did I ever think it would be so nerve-wracking.  I kid you not, I spent more than two weeks planning what I was going to play, when I was going to play it and worrying about whether or not anyone would dance to the songs I played.    It was a long couple of weeks.

I had never realized just how much thought had to go into the music that we dance to.  To me, it was a bit like picking the perfect dress for meeting the my boyfriend’s parents: I know what I liked, and I know what he liked, but would Mom and Dad like it, too?

I kept taking songs out, thinking they were too fast for the last blues set of the night, or they didn’t have that good “blues” fell to them.  I’m pretty sure at one point I scrapped the whole list and started over with a blank slate.

I also didn’t want to stick with just “the classics, as much as I might like them.  I was playing the last set of the night and, it was almost a sure bet that a lot of those would have already played.  As a result, I ended up with a really modern playlist, with a vast majority of my songs being post-2000.  I included a song from Adele, some Maroon 5 and surprisingly, I even had Enrique Iglasias on my list.  I also had Nora Jones and Florence + The Machine on there as well as my current obsession, Ruthie Foster’s “Death Came A-Knockin'”.

So, now the question I want to ask is: what makes a good DJ set?  What is some advice from you more seasoned DJs out there?  What songs do you like to dance to?

Now that the first big plunge is out of the way, I really enjoyed the DJing experience.  It’s fun to test-dance new music.  I’d like to DJ a Lindy set sometime soon.

 

Death Came A\’Knockin\’- Ruthie Foster

Idlewild Blues- OutKast

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