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The Lindy Focus Saga Episode Two: The Choosing

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In the midst of the scramble to register, there is one other super-duper important thing to think about; your roommates.

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You might not believe me, but it’s true.  Roommates can make or break an event like this. A week in a hotel is a long time when you’re stuck with someone you don’t like.

166996_1585411400944_2764739_nBut fear not!  I’m here to give you a few things to think about before you go choosing roommates all willy-nilly.

The first you’ve got to know about Lindy Focus is that your hotel room is basically just a place for you to store you stuff and sleep.  You won’t be spending a ton of time there, there are simply too many other things to do.  So, bearing that in mind, you don’t necessarily need to fill the room with your best friends.

The first step in the roommate-selection process is knowing what you want.  There are going to be things that you are willing to compromise on and things that you absolutely have to have (or not have).  What are they?  Do you like the room cold when you sleep?  Are you a light sleeper?  Do you like to stay up late?

Things you shouldn’t have to (or can’t) compromise on: 1) the gender of the people in your room, some times people are downright uncomfortable sleeping in a room with the opposite sex. 2)  Perfume.  If you’re like me, you can have a hard time handling things like body spray and perfume.  My nose goes haywire and starts sneezing and that makes for a crappy day.  So I make sure I don’t stay with any middle school boys and their Axe.  3) how you sleep.  It’s nigh impossible to control where you move while you sleep, so if you’re prone to “lobserting” or the flailing of arms and legs during sleep, then you either need to find someone who’s ok with having your body parts in their personal space or volunteer to sleep on the floor.  It sucks for two people to get no sleep.

The absolute key to getting along with  your roommates no matter what is just to be courteous.  If you wouldn’t want someone traipsing around at 6am throwing clothes out of their suitcase while you’re trying to sleep, then don’t do it to someone else.

This is what I find important roommate-wise, but I’m sure there some stuff that I’m missing.  So, what is most important to you in a roommate?  What makes for an ideal stay?

Music Makes the World Go ‘Round. Live!

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Salutations fiends!  I was lucky enough to get to talk to Craig Gildner of the one and only Blue Sky 5.  We love him here in Cincinnati and he’s agreed to answer some questions for me.  We cover everything from musical inspiration to how he fills his spare time.  Believe it or not, he has some non-music-related hobbies.  We even talk about how the band got its name (which isn’t as jazzy as you might think).

Who is your biggest musical inspiration?

I have many influences and inspirations that are at the heart of this music I perform with my band.  But first and foremost would be Duke Ellington.  Several reasons.  He led a successful and popular band for nearly five decades, took a unique approach to playing the piano, and wrote incredible, timeless music, either alone or collaborating with Billy Strayhorn.  The best part about all this is that he stayed true to his principles and goals for the band.  Tastes came and went, but Duke was still Duke.

What made you want to get into swing and jazz music? 

Swing and big band was always in the Gildner house growing up.  Dad loved Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller.  I was given 50 or so 78rpm records when I was three featuring artists like Count Basie, Les Brown, and Harry James.  I spent time as a disk jockey in the mid to late 80’s at a public radio station that spun nothing but jazz: big band, bebop, post bop, fusion, bossa nova.  So growing up, the music was always around…on recordings and at festivals.  But the real turning point came when I had a chance to play with the Tom Cunningham Orchestra as pianist from 1993-94. I discovered that people still dance to this music, for up to three hours sans air conditioning, thank you very much, and have a ball.

What instruments do you play/how long have you played them? 

Piano, my first love, has been my instrument for 38 years.  Guitar for 34.  Cornet in earnest for about 7.  I’d played in school band, but not anything resembling good…or swing for that matter.  I found an unloved Buescher Aristocrat cornet made in my hometown the year I was born for $35 dollars in 2005.  I thought, “I’m from the band instrument capital of the world.  I should know how to play horn, dammit!”

When did Blue Sky 5 form and how?  Have you been involved with any other bands?

Our first gig was April Fools Day of 2000, but the groundwork was established in 1999, when my bandmate Tommy Greco and I, after rejoining Tom Cunningham and riding the crest of the DC Swing Dance wave, decided a small group for Lindy Hoppers playing an authentic repertoire would do well in this climate.  And we were right!  Since then, I’ve had the great fortune and opportunity to meet and play with wonderful musicians in the swing scene:  Jonathan Stout, Brooks Tegler, The Midiri Brothers, Bill Elliott, Casey MacGill, Paul Cosentino of the Boilermakers, Doc Scantlin, Linnzi Zaorski and Delta Royale, and Glenn Crytzer.

As of 2013, I lead four other early jazz and swing related groups.  The Craig Gildner Big Band, playing great arrangements with an authentic rhythm section, and The Craig Gildner Trio, much in the style of the Goodman trio of the 30’s are the newest organizations.  My trouble is, I love all of the styles of jazz created in the first half of the 20th century, and I keep running into musicians who love it too!  Inevitably, a band happens.

Do you have a favourite city/venue to perform in?

DC, our home base, is always a pleasure.  We’ve made good friends with the promoters here. Great places to play, and enthusiastic crowds.  Philadelphia was great back in 2003-4.  Loved the energy and enthusiasm, plus great vintage shopping the day after.  Midsummer Night Swing in NYC was ground breaking!  Recently, Ohio is starting to give us some serious love.  I took the trio for a weekend road show at the end of June, through Cincinnati and Cleveland.  The response was overwhelming!  The full band has played for several CincLX events.  Always lots of folks out dancing, always an encore at the end of the evening.  And, as a fan of Cincinnati style chili, I can’t wait till the next trip when I can stop in a Gold Star or Skyline restaurant and order a plate of four way meat water…chili with beans and cheese over spaghetti.  Yowza!

Do you have a pre-performance ritual or habit?

Not really.  To be honest, every gig is different.  I’m usually preoccupied with the sound system, setting up my instruments, going through a sound check.  I may bust into a Fats Waller or similar stride piece to get the hands working, or run through a Charlie Christian riff at that time, but never a set thing.  Back in 2002, I used to use a Bach etude on a beat up piece of copy paper that had my hands working independently on the keys.  Then I lost it on some gig.  The guys in the band were razzing me about it.  I guess it was more piano recital material…and though it was a good workout, there’s not much crossover unless we were playing full on bebop with single note runs…which of course is not in our repertoire.  The thing I am starting to do on gigs though is consciously reminding myself to relax my hands and arms.  Especially in the flag waver tunes like Avalon, with tempos well above 230bpm.  There’s a natural tendency to dig in.  But at that speed my hands become fixed claws if I don’t remember to relax.  It’s much like when my wife and I took a Lindy Hop class for advanced tempos and we learned how to relax before attempting the streamlined moves.  If you’re all keyed up about staying in time, then chances are you’ll lose the beat and drag.

What do you do when you’re not playing?

Well, I have a recording studio in Bethesda where I do voice over and post production work.  Some of the smaller group’s recordings are made there.  Just like not knowing when to say ‘when’ with the bands, I have way too many hobbies.  I’m an old car enthusiast/owner, I collect vintage clothing from the 20s-40’s, 78rpm records, radios, phonographs, 16mm, Super 8 and 8mm motion picture film and equipment and musical instruments.  And once those have completely exhausted me, I usually remember I’m a dad and husband, with the usual and customary duties of dinner procurement, homework assistance, story reading, trash removal and grounds keeping. Ha!

How did you come up with the name Blue Sky 5?

There’s a tendency among fans and friends of the band to believe that it was derived from Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies”.  And I’d like to believe that.  But reality gets in the way of a good story.  13th hour.  Late night Baltimore March of 2000.  Tom Koerner needs a name for the band to start promoting it at upcoming dances.  My initial suggestion, Groove Juice Special, was flagged for its inability to roll of the tongue nicely.  Pacing back and forth in the den of my apartment.  Nothing’s coming.  I glance at my CD rack, and my eyes hone in on the title of an album by an alt rock band from Australia that was big for a fleeting moment in the late 80’s, Midnight Oil-Blue Sky Mining.  A HA!  And then a number.  We have five in the band.  Blue Sky 5.  Boom.  Done.  There’s actually been a slight change lately.  It’s now Craig Gildner and The Blue Sky 5.  Years of experience have brought about this update.  We added a permanent clarinet to the lineup.  This eliminates the inevitable remark from the lone wise guy in the audience when the clarinet was an added attraction: “The sign says Blue Sky 5 but there are six of you? Can you count?” (Yuk yuk yuk yuk.  Boy that’s funny, are you here all night??) Also, having played various dances and dance events as a guest with other bands, the fans of swing music may know me, but not know that Blue Sky 5 is my band.  That link is now crystal clear.

I hope you all enjoyed the Q & A with Craig Gildner.  You can check out Blue Sky 5’s albums here.  Support a great musician and a wonderful band and help keep all of our lovely swing bands doing what we all love.

That’s Procrastination

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Ok, so, since classes have started up again, and we’re all busy, I figure everyone wants another way to procrastinate.  So, in honor of the brave and noble notion, I’ve posted the New Year’s Eve show from Lindy Focus this year.  Watch and be amazed.

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!

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!

Dance Break

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Aaaand….I’m back…from outer space.  Yeah, ok, not really, but I do have a quick post ready for y’all.

I needed a mid-week break so I booked it up to Columbus with the fabulous Maggie Miller and made a vast improvement on my Wednesday night.

Nyoh’s Buckeye Bar and Grill is the hot spot for heptcats on Wednesdays with great DJs and some of my favourite dancers.  I had an absolutely wonderful time swinging out with great friends and meeting new people.  Nyoh’s is a nifty little bar with a small raised dance floor and half price burgers, if nothing else, the food should be lure enough to get you out there.  SwingColumbus packs the place and are always welcoming new dancers.

I met a doppelgänger, danced to Green Day and had Cane’s Chicken for the first time.  I’d call that a good evening.

Basically, if you ever happen to be in Columbus on a Wednesday night, make it out to Nyoh’s for dancing.  The drive is totally worth it.

(I told you this would be short.)

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!

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