Saturday, June 7, 2014

Lindy Hop Mini Workshop 6/1/14

We've been working on controlling where we end up - maintaining the dance in cardinal directions.

This is part of an ongoing theme with our lessons about being more and more intentional with the movements we choose rather than just letting ourselves fall upon the same old habits.  It's tough and takes practice, but with more and more control comes more tools for artistic expressions and musicality (and not bumping into other people).

Plus, everything you can do forward you can do backwards.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Lindy Hop Mini Workshop 5/25/14

Last week was all about knowing where you're going and being intentional about your directionality.  Is that a word?

This is all part of a greater concept about being intentional with your movement and learning to control additional aspects as you develop as a dancer. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Lindy Hop Mini Workshop 5/18/14

More side passes!

We reviewed last week's side pass exercise and added in this new "sliding doors" move.  It's both fun to do socially and also a good way to practice connecting and changing directions.

Give it a try and join us next weekend for more fun stuff.

Every Sunday at the Zendah Grotto, 6pm. for more info.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Zendah Grotto Mini Workshop Recap 5/11/14

Hurray for working video again!

This week we did side pass drills and added in a reverse swingout.  We even tested out our follows by having them close their eyes to focus on trusting the connection and continuing through with their momentum during the drills.

See you next week at the Zendah Grotto - 6pm - Free with entry. for more info.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Zendah Grotto Mini Workshop Recap 5/4/14

And we're back!

Last week we didn't have a recap because it was review week.  We did add some Texas Tommy variants, but that was all of the new content.

This week you'll have noticed that I don't have a video at the top of this post.  We recorded a recap in which you would have seen Jennifer Lai, guest instructor extrodinaire, and myself showing the variety of connection drills we did and how these make sense inside your swingout.  But there was a malfunction and Jen's internet fame will just have to wait.

So, I've included some clips below from some other people who I don't know showing something similar to what we did.  It's the next best thing, plus there's also other content we didn't do.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Zendah Grotto Mini Workshop 4/20/14

Sometimes things get busy and you forget to do a recap video before the next lesson.  And sometimes you end up having to try to dance on asphalt in the parking lot while planes take off over-head.  You can tell by the pine trees in the background that we're definitely in Florida, haha.

So, this isn't the best rendition of this move, but hey, this is about helping everyone remember what we taught and not about showing off.  Mmm, this humble pie is pretty good.

Alright, here's the deal.  This move requires a combination of things we focused on with both previous lessons - directional momentum and rotational momentum.  Without both functioning correctly you won't hit the turns at the right time and you're not going to make it back around (kind of like how our move ends a little short with me sucking up all the movement and leaving Melissa in place.)  In a more ideal rendition we both would have captured the rotational momentum and moved around together.

Next week we're doing a recap lesson where we will go back over anything we've taught so far this year, so bring your questions and ideas because this one is about what you would like to work on!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Zendah Grotto Mini Workshop 4/13/14

I think we might have exploded some brains this week with the concept of extending the swing out by adding extra beats in the middle.  The video shows a simple version of this where we add extra "5, 6's" to create a longer 10 count swingout.

We also played with rotational momentum and continued to nail down the concept of efficient use of energy and movement.  Last week it was directional movement, back and forth, this week it was rotational.

Join us a again next week, 6pm at the Zendah Grotto, for more!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Zendah Grotto Mini Workshop Recap 4/6/14

Last week we discussed sending out the follow in different directions.

In exploring this concept our class discovered that we need to focus on where our energy is moving and make it more directed back and forth down the line of dance.  Our scene has a tendency to move circularly and to short cut the directional energy in our swing outs.

It was a very eye opening exercise and I hope everyone was able to take something new away from it.

As usual, we'll have a new lesson this week at 6pm with a whole new set of fun things to share!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Zendah Grotto Mini Workshop Recap 3/30/14

We've been working on traveling, consistent motion in a direction and while spinning, and redirecting energy. All that adds together into this fun combination.

Come join us next week at the Zendah Grotto for more! for more info.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

"All Of Me" - Sydney Bechet

If that opening piano section doesn't make you want to dance I'm not sure that you have a heart. And if the following section doesn't get you moving I'm also curious about the existence of your soul. 

The more I listen to Sydney Bechet the more I begin to understand his genius and the talent of his musicians.

This song along with other dance hall favorites like "Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me" and "Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho" seems to stand right on that dividing line between Hot Jazz and Swing.  The songs swing, for sure, but the instrumentation feels more like Hot Jazz with a melody and counter-melody dancing around each other. It makes for a playful combination of two instruments that you don't get in much swing music with larger bands and written instrumentation.

"All Of Me" makes me want to dance slowly, smoothly, expressively. Those of you who know me know that I enjoy fast Lindy Hop and Balboa and usually pass on the late night Blues events, but if those same late night blues events played more Jazz like this and less of what they normally do, I'd be much more willing to stay out late.

Let's bring back the "Slow Jam" and request a song like this again soon, circle up, and take turns killing it, slowly, smoothly, expressively.

Aww yeah.

That's my Jam!

Youtube's of the other songs mentioned:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Zendah Grotto Mini Workshop Recap 3/23/14

This week we had fun with pop turns and inserted one into the middle of a swingout on the 5 and 6!

Come join us every Sunday at 6pm at the Zendah Grotto for more lessons!

Visit for more info.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"Down South Camp Meeting" - Benny Goodman

That's My Jam!

When two guys as brilliant as Fletcher Henderson and Benny Goodman put their heads together, you get songs like "Down South Camp Meeting."

You might be more familiar with Benny Goodman.  He was, after all, the King of Swing and helped to bring Swing Jazz into public acceptance. This was the 1930's and conservative whites were not comfortable with their children listening and dancing to what they considered to be "colored people's" music. Benny Goodman began a trend that happened again and again in every generation of the 20th century - he was the white guy playing the black people's music who helped bridge the gap. Some would consider him the Elvis of his time.

What you might not know is that the musical genius behind the scenes who composed much of Goodman's music was a man named Fletcher Henderson who did not happen to be white. Together Henderson and Goodman would influence the entire progression of popular music.

If you pull up my Great Lindy Hop and Balboa Playlist on Spotify and sort by artist you'll see a whole bunch of songs by Benny Goodman. "Down South Camp Meeting" stands out to me because of just how dance-able it is.

First, it swings. It swings hard. The syncopations fall right into the pocket. It's one of those songs that just feels right. It feels comfortable. It rises and falls. It grows and shrinks. The themes repeat, but with enough variety that they are playful and familiar, not annoying or dull. It's a tune that makes you want to move your feet.

If you're interested in learning more about Henderson and Goodman I'd recommend checking out Ken Burn's documentary "Jazz" which is on Netflix currently, or the BBC documentary "The Swing Thing" which I've poste
d below. Both touch on this topic among a host of other awesome stories about swing.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Zendah Grotto Mini Workshop Recap 3/16/14

At the beginning of the year I started teaching a weekly 6pm mini-workshop class on intermediate Lindy Hop concepts at the Zendah Grotto.

The class is open to anyone who is comfortable socially leading swing-outs and using basic Lindy Hop techniques in their dancing.

The premise is to create an atmosphere where we all feel comfortable working on our dancing together, learning together, and generally growing in excitement for the dance we all love.

If you're in the Tampa Bay area I'd love for you to come on out and jump into the lesson.  Invite  and challenge your friends to come learn with you.  The more we lean together the better we'll all retain the information and get to use it on the dance floor.

The video above is a short recap from the lesson Melissa Reilly and I taught last week.  I can't wait for all the fun things we have planned!

See you on Sunday!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"Diga Diga Doo" - Artie Shaw

That's My Jam!

What's my jam for this week?  A little song with a lot of versions.  Searching Diga Diga Doo on Spotify brings up a long list of songs.

Many artists have taken a swing at this song over the years, but none of them sound more dance-able than Artie Shaw's version in the clip above.  You can check it out here on Spotify too.

This version swings so hard.  The beginning horns are like a siren's call to the dance floor.  The rhythm section is seated right behind the beat, right in the pocket.  Everything about this song is inviting the listener to get up out of their seat.  Also, if you listen carefully, you can hear what sounds like a "Hey!" from a band member right at 1:09.  The band is just jamming this out.

Another version of note is Duke Ellington's (original?). It contains aspects of Hot Jazz with a rhythm section emphasizing the bass on 1's and 3's but not the 2's and 4's for most of the song.  The beat feels more vertical and staccato.  Of course you can force dancing on anything, but it doesn't feel as natural as Artie Shaw's version.  It's also a less comfortable tempo.

What about more recent versions?

I've searched around and there are a few, but none of them have the same spirit and feel as Artie Shaw's.  Many push the song way faster, or take it back to a Hot Jazz feel, which make it less enjoyable for dancing.

Usually I stay away from mentioning Neo-Swing bands as a general rule.  They rarely play actual Jazz with most songs being dressed up Jump Blues or just Rock-n-Roll with horns (which, because of accenting the back beat, the 2's and 4's, are less comfortable and effective for Lindy Hop, and evolve dancer's movements in a different direction.  Think Boogie Woogie or Jive.), but I thought it would be interesting to shortly (or maybe longly) discuss Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's version.  Give it a listen.

I try to be fair and scientific.  I like to test things out and see the evidence before determining a judgement.  So how do the Big Bad's fair?

Well, they're all over the place.  I do find a common theme or feeling in a lot of their music.  It's as if they and the whole genre has the effect of feeling like it's trying too hard to be the cool kid - it's as if the band is more interested in showing off musically and being cool than actually catering to dancers and creating a solid and pleasant foundation.  There's also this strange feeling about the faux-vintage look.  It's as if they dress and present a false image of the past, similar to how you can pull up an 80's movie about the future and it doesn't really look like the actual future, more like the future of the 80's had trends never changed.

I'm a bit torn though because there are pleasing elements.  When the song gets past the overly complex and showy intro and into the first sung verse the rhythm chills out and breathes, giving a nice solid 4 on the floor beat with slight piano accents on 2 and 4 - which isn't overbearing.  It's actually kind of nice.  Then the trumpet solo comes in, which actually hearkens back melodically to the chorus, which is, again, surprisingly nice as a dancer.  The rhythm morphs again into more of a Hot Jazz feel, but it's better than a heavy snare back-beat.

Then the scat section happens, and there's a heavy snare back-beat.  Sigh.  Well, I thought we were staying away from Rock-n-Roll with this one since it is a Jazz standard, but I guess not. Modern drummers just can't seem to stay away from the snare drum.

The song continues to change feeling at every new section.  At one point you can feel an almost Electro-Swing influence.  They just can't make up their mind.

In my opinion, what might make for interesting and creative listening decisions removes some of the appeal for social dancing.  And although you could argue that the song as a whole "swings" it doesn't do so in a pleasing and uniform way.

Some of you might argue just the opposite, that a song like this gives you fun changes to play with and the rhythm differences keep the dance interesting.  But how many of you know 3 or 4 different dance styles to use to match the changes as they come?

Let's compare this to Artie Shaw's version.  The song structure sticks with the classic AABA Jazz structure.  The horn section holds out notes, the melody is less sharp and flows better, there aren't large and overbearing breaks between song sections - they just flow together.  The rhythm is just SOLID and swings consistently the whole way through.  Even the drum solos are short, unique and interesting whereas BBVD's drummer does that stereotypical low tom drum thing that all the New-Swing bands do.  There's a rise and fall to the overall song and the climax toward the end keeps it's cool.  The BBVD version gets abrasive and chaotic.

Though the recording of Artie Shaw's version is old, it's still clear enough to hear the elements (and people yelling "Hey!" in the background during the performance).  It's also not overly "compressed" like many of today's recordings.  Horns, especially, don't sound as good or natural with modern compression.  The BBVD version is harsh, loud, and compressed.  Yes, you can hear everything, but you hear it all at the same volume at the same time.  There's no space between the sounds - no individual volumes to different instruments.  Plus I generally prefer instrumental vs vocal songs for dancing if given the choice.

In many ways these versions are opposites.  The very things that draw me, as a dancer, to Artie Shaw's version are not present in BBVD's which they, in tern, replace with the very things that push me away as a dancer.  I would argue that Artie's version is actually better for both new and seasoned dancers at the same time.

In short, Artie Shaw's version works as a strong foundation with which to place your dancing on top of, to showcase what you can do to jam with the music with you and your partner's bodies.  The BBVD version takes all the jamming room for themselves and makes you, as the dancer, bend to them.

As always, check out The Great Lindy Hop and Balboa playlist on Spotify for more wonderful tunes for dancing!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"When I Grow Too Old To Dream" - The Cats and the Fiddle

I've decided after some time off from the blog that I'd start this baby back up with some new ideas.  The first of these is a semi-regular series where I highlight a specific song or artist.  I think we'll call it...
That's My Jam!

So what's my jam this week?

"When I Grow Too Old To Dream" by The Cats and the Fiddle.

I recently included this in the Advanced J&J Prelims a few weeks ago at the Zendah Grotto.

In my mind there is a category of song that screams, "Swing Out!" and this is clearly one of those songs.  Even if you can't exactly dance at the moment just listening to it makes me tap my feet and want to move.

Now, I'm no expert on this group, and very little is revealed in their Wikipedia article about what these guys were like, but I have my suspicions.  

As many musicians know, you spend a lot of your time hanging out and just jamming on the songs you know. This recording feels like the hundredth time they played this song - they've got this thing down and they've experimented with a hundred different ways to improv vocally and instrumentally with this, and now this song is all feel.  It just jams out.  It's been boiled down to it's primal instrumental groove, and the melody dances around the remnant of the original.

For contrast, here's Nat King Cole's version recorded a good decade plus later.

It's slower, groovier, and the melody is a lot straighter.  And it's still a good song.

An additional fun note.  Many of you will know of Lindy Hop instructor Mike Faltesek.  His band, Falty and the Defects, just recently released their first album and this song is one of their Jam's too.  Check it out at Reverb Nation and give them a like on their Facebook page.  Who knows, maybe someday we'll get them to come play down here in Florida.