Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Movers and Shakers - Leah Herman, South Florida

Movers and Shakers is a new series highlighting some of the people behind the growing Lindy Hop scenes throughout Florida.

This week we interviewed Leah Herman from Swing Out South Florida.  Check out their website and facebook page for more info.

How are you currently active in your scene and what have you done over the last year to grow Lindy Hop in your area? What have you learned from your work?

I’m super active! I’m currently an organizer for Swing Out South Florida, a swing organization I co-founded in January 2011. Since founding SOSF, we’ve grown from 15 dancers a week to 30-40 dancers a week, with a solid group of amazing intermediate dancers who are starting to travel outside of South Florida. And, of course, we’re still trying to grow. 

Most of the things I’ve learned from this are life skills rather than dance skills, however – I’ve learned a lot about leadership, about creating and marketing events, and about how incredibly important it is to reach out to people and connect with them in a meaningful way.

Tell us a short story about your dance history. When did you start swing dancing, Lindy Hopping, other styles? What initially drew you to Lindy Hop?

A friend of mine just happened to have an extra ticket to “Burn the Floor,” a variety dance show that featured all kinds of partner dancing. After the show, I was so excited about dancing in general that I would have tried anything – but my friend was a Lindy Hopper, and she invited me out to swing. (I also remember very clearly that she was not impressed with the lindy hop portion of the partner dancing show – they weren’t doing any triples.)

She only came to one or two dances with me since she was graduating, but I immediately fell in love with the energy. I was completely unafraid – I still remember going to Southern Belle after only 3 months of dancing and running up to anyone, no matter how good they were, to ask them to dance with me. Total lindy junkie from the get-go.

What do you love about this dance? What keeps you dancing?

What I love most is the complete exhilaration you feel when having a great dance with someone. When I feel truly connected with my partner, when we’re perfectly matched, perfectly goofy or soulful or crazy (whatever the music calls for), and when we’re smiling together – that’s when I feel the deepest love for lindy.

What are you currently working on in your dancing right now?

Although I have good musicality, I sometimes sacrifice connection for it and allow too much noise into my movement. I’m working on learning new ways to express myself so I can style more effectively. I’m also working on my stretch at the end of a swingout and learning to dance faster.

Who is a major inspiration to your dancing? Can you link us to a favorite video of this person? If you can’t pick just one, then post a few!

There are so many dancers I admire! One of the current dancers I admire most is Laura Glaess – she has a silliness to her sometimes that I totally get, and she has beautiful connection. Frida I admire for her fearlessness to contribute to the dance and alter leads she’s given (but who doesn’t admire her?). As for historical dancers, I think Jean Veloz is amazing. There’s a great video of her still dancing at 88 – I can only hope to be as active a dancer when I’m old.

What was the catalyst that pushed you to become personally invested in building your scene?

Actually, the responsibility dropped right into my lap. When the person who started Monday Night Swing, Tamar, left for Orlando, it was up to a couple of us to continue the dance. At the time, there was no Wednesday or Friday night swing – it was to lindy or not to lindy. If we hadn’t decided to continue, there would have been no swing dancing in South Florida.

If you could request only one song to be played at a dance, what would it be?

Oh, this is a tough one too… Breezing Along with the Breeze by Johnny Marvin, even though the recording quality is terrible. I have a faster version on my computer with a stronger beat, but the below link was all I could find.

What events do you always attend? Which ones inspire you the most?

I was out for a year and a half with an injury, so I’d say that there isn’t any event I’ve attended regularly in a while. However, I have very fond memories of Lindy Focus and I’m really looking forward to going this year. The Hop Shop is also one of my very favorite events – they have had a really unique workshop format and great teachers every year.

What do you envision for your scene in the next year? Next 3 years?

I really want to grow our scene more – I’d love to grow it to 60 dancers and find a big, beautiful venue to fit them all in. I’d also like to expand the scope of our teaching. Right now, we’re just at the point where we’re starting to get people very interested in progressive lessons, but we don’t have a lot of dancers above intermediate level. Over the next few years, it would be nice to develop some more advanced dancers who would be able and willing to spread their knowledge to the rest of the scene.

If you could share one bit of wisdom that you’d like everyone to know, what would it be?

Be kind to yourself and to the beginners. A lot of dancers get really frustrated with the level they’re at, or with who will or won’t dance with them in their scenes. The truth is that you need to put yourself out there if you want to be part of things. Be brave and ask people to dance. And don’t take it personally when someone doesn’t enjoy their dance with you – just like in life, in dancing, people don’t always mix.
As for the beginners, I’ve heard some dancers complain about them, and seen plenty of advanced dancers who just don’t dance with them. If you’re part of a big scene, maybe you have that luxury. I think it’s a terrible attitude – the beginners are what keep your scene going. People come into the scene and people leave. It’s a world of constant flux. Not only that, but those beginners may be great in few years. Or maybe they’re great people that you would end up wanting to be friends with, or to date. You’ll never know if you don’t even bother to give them the time of day. Never judge people based on their dancing ability alone.

Thanks, Leah! If you're down in the Ft. Lauderdale area on a Monday night, swing by their dance to say hi.

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