Monthly Archives: January 2011

A Rose by Any Other Name

Today, I watched clips from the 2011 Lone Star Championships. For the invitational jack and jill competition, competitors danced two songs together, one classic lindy hop selection and one that was “Sweet Soul Jam” or “Karaoke Grab Bag.” I got a big kick out of watching some of the best dancers of our day let loose during the second selection (Check out Peter Strom and Mia Goldsmith). It got me thinking about the role of popular music in our lindy hop scene.

Some dancers really enjoy dancing to non-traditional swing songs. Some dancers don’t enjoy it at all. For as long as I’ve been dancing, I’ve heard arguments, sometimes heated ones, about popular music and lindy hop. I’ve heard people argue that, because the aesthetic of the dance changes when danced to non-traditional swing songs, its no longer lindy hop. I’ve heard others argue that the lead/follow technique and the shared framework for creating the dance is the same in both, and so its a perfectly valid expression of lindy hop. Personally, I think there’s some truth in both perspectives. Continue reading

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Filed under Big Band, Dixieland, Jazz, lindy hop, Music, Pop

Cabin Fever Entertainment

For many folks I know, lindy hop is the doorway to vintage-inspired attire, hair, decor, music and art. I love seeing the artwork, movie posters, and Varga prints up in the homes of fellow dancers. I can’t boast of a thrifted wardrobe, but I sure do like to look at one. Neither have I refinished mid-century modern furniture, but I love to look at before and after pictures.

One of the few vintage-inspired decor pieces we own is a print of the November 4, 1961 cover of the Saturday Evening Post illustrated by Thorntorn Utz. After we got married, Craig and I decided to be responsible adults and save the generous gifts we received for a rainy day. But we stumbled upon the print in a Rehoboth Beach, Del. shop that Craig worked in one summer during college. Clearly, it was meant for us.

I love the colors, especially the orange skirt of the dancer in the lower right hand corner. But my favorite aspect are the older adults standing on the right side in closed watching the young’uns twist and twirl. Continue reading

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Pillow Talk: Dancing the Blues

The dance floor allows us a place to process the stuff of life or to escape from it. Listen in on a little mid-day conversation as we mull over our need to dance the blues.

Susanne: Hi darling. Well, this has been quite the week, hasn’t it?
Craig: I think that’s an understatement.
S: I could really do with less drama in my life. Between my car battery dying Monday, the death of our beloved kitty, Solomon, Tuesday, and snow Wednesday…well, let’s just say I’m learning a lot about perspective.
C: Plus, you forgot about the damper pedal on the piano going wonky today.
S: Oh right. Needless to say, I’ve been feeling really blue and I know you have as well.
C: Yes…I miss my black fuzz-bucket.
S: Not to be Capt. Obvious, but loss is hard. When my childhood pets died, I had already moved out and it impacted me less.
C: Yeah, same for me.
S: Last night after that dance demo neither of us were in the mood to do, I got to thinking about dancing as a way to express and process emotions.
C: Yeah, that was certainly not the dance I wanted to be having. It was hard to suck in my sorrow, put on a smile, and be a show.
S: So true. But I did feel a little less glum afterwards. Being active and focusing on something else helped for a bit.
C: I think there’s two ways to go. One where you set aside your life to just dance. There’s a real sense of release and freedom in that.
S: Yes, and that idea has a place.
C: The other is where you bring everything you’re feeling on to the dance floor and dance it out.
S: Right. Because it is nice to talk about the romantic, sweet dances, but we’ve also had some angry dances. And some sad ones.
C: I know that I’ve certainly come at it from both angles. Dancing was a major escape from my frustrations with grad school, and I tend to express what I’m feeling in personal relationships on the dance floor. I know you’ve heard me say this before since it is one of my deeply held beliefs: good technique is always in service of great expression. Our suffering makes us human just as much as our joy. I think the more we can bring all of those experiences into our dancing, the more fully expressed me become. Continue reading

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Filed under Blues Dancing, lindy hop, Pillow Talk, Technique

Dancing Bass, Drums and Keys

I’ve heard many great instructors say, “We don’t dance steps, we dance rhythms.” I appreciate that as a musician and a teacher. I’ve been mulling over the concept of dancing rhythms as I practice, and thinking about musicality. I’ve heard a lot of amorphous explanations of musicality over my years as a dancer and student. What does it mean to express the music? To dance a line or the melody? When we say, “we dance rhythms,” what rhythms are we talking about. I, myself, have been guilty of these broad sweeping statements, but grandiose ideas without any sort of practical grounding leave students confused and never really help their dancing. So I’ve taken my experience as a musician and dancer, and tried to connect them.

The most central instrument in the rhythm section of a jazz band isn’t the drums. I know this might seem odd and shocking to many, but for me the key is the bass. A strong bass player is setting the pulse for the entire band. The bass is also the link between the drums and the melodic instruments, tuned in to all of the changes and to the rhythms on the drum. When I’ve got a bass player holding down a steady pulse, there is a certain freedom for all of the other musicians. As dancers, the pulse of our body, the steady bounce, mimics the role of the bass. Continue reading

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Filed under lindy hop, Technique, Theory

It’s Not Like a Bacon Dress

In honor of Millinery and Chapeau night tomorrow, our yearly tribute to hats and hair pieces, I’ve decided to share my latest obsession: Pork Pie hats! I’m sorry if this post is a little more rambling than normal, but I’m too excited to formulate a structure for all of the amazing pork pie-ed-ness in my head right now.

Over winter break, I started reading the Norma Miller memoir, Swingin’ at the Savoy. In the preface by jazz historian, Ernie Smith, Smith delves into fashion, mentioning how pork pie hats were in vogue among jazz and blues musicians, and how dancers adopted the style for themselves. Continue reading

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Filed under Blues, History, Jazz, lindy wardrobe, vintage

Lindy Wardrobe: Julia at Catherine Russell

Meet Julia. I first met Julia…geez, I don’t even know when. I think it was one of those things where we kept seeing each other out dancing and got to talking. Probably about hair accouterments. She has an enviable collection. Where I have a towel on my towel rack, Julia has a row of headbands. But Julia’s hair clip collection pales in comparison to her fantastic calves. Continue reading

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Pillow Talk: Memorable Dances

Memorable dances or magic dances are a deep part of our lindy addiction. Listen in on a little late night conversation as we share our top three memorable dances and ponder the linking factors.

Susanne: Hello there, darling.
Craig: Hi love! Time for some more pillow talk?
S: Well, I’m in the mood. And I have words I haven’t yet used up today.
C: Well, I will help you meet your quota. Over the holidays, as we were driving up to Rehoboth Beach for some R&R, we started talking about memorable dances that we’ve had over the years.
S: Yes, certain dances are like snapshot memories for me. Sometimes because of who they were with, or because of the band, or because of a dance “breakthough.”
C: Yeah, bands are a big one for me, too. Sometimes, the right band with a room full of good people can make for an entirely memorable evening.
S: Memorable evenings and memorable dances are related but different, don’t you think?
C: Yes. For me, a memorable dance is usually a broad memory of a great event while a memorable dance is usually tied to stronger emotional responses and shared moments with a partner. Really, its that connection to a partner that stands out the most and makes a dance memorable.
S: The connection to another dancer is part of the lindy addiction for me.
C: So, what are your top three most memorable dances? Continue reading

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Filed under lindy hop, Pillow Talk