Monthly Archives: April 2011

Anatomy of a Swing Song

While preparing for my upcoming gig for the Towson University Ballroom Club’s Spring Fling, I’ve been arranging some “non-traditional” songs for my band. I love finding amazing, well-written songs and adapting them to the style of music that I love. I really appreciate groups like The Lost Fingers, and Paul Anka’s Rock Swings! album. Both of these artists maintain their own artistic voice and integrity while covering songs that originated far outside of their own style of music. It got me thinking about my process of transforming songs into my genre of swing/dance music and what makes a swing song.

There are a lot of different ways to answer this. At the most basic musical level, a song swings when it uses uneven eighth notes. If you’re not sure what that means, say “Ta-ta-ta-ta ta” fast and evenly. Those are straight eighth notes. Now, in a long-short long-short pattern, say “Da-ba Da-ba Da-ba Da-ba.” That would be a swung eighth note. Even if a song is written with straight eighth notes originally, its still possible to swing it. I love covering Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” which you can swing really hard even though the original is as straight as a board. Continue reading

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Filed under Jazz, Music

No Easter Without Good Friday

Earlier this year, I was laid off from my job. In the immediate aftermath, I was worried, fearful, and scared. But the sky didn’t fall. We moved on. I applied for positions, went on interviews, sent out resumes, and consulted mentors. The unexpected blessing of unemployment was time step back and consider what I wanted out of life. Also, I get the pleasure of small things, like hearing Craig practice.

Today is Good Friday. Easter has long been my favorite holiday. I love the themes of rebirth and forgiveness. When I met Craig, he was working as a church music director and Easter was the first time I visited his church. He also initially proposed to me on Easter Sunday. It holds a special spot in my heart for many reasons. Continue reading

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Filed under lindy hop

You Must Be This Awesome To Ride This Ride.

When Susanne and I first started hosting dances in the Annapolis area, we would always get a few midshipmen from the Naval Academy at our events. They would always go in to the jams, and I would hold my breath (and sometimes my tongue). The guys at the academy are all pretty muscular, and the girls are very athletic as well. Without any sense of technique, the guys would throw the girls through some aerials and lifts, set her down, and then continue with some awful basic six-count, arms flailing.

That was then, and this is now. About a year ago, I started working with the midshipmen, mentoring Max Desens who taught beginner classes at the academy this past fall. Since January, I’ve been working with the mids on a routine for the International Ball which was this past Saturday. When I think back to the dearth of knowledge and skill a year ago, I am astounded by how far these kids have come. Continue reading

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Filed under Choreography, lindy hop

How to Save a Life

As I mentioned before, I started dancing around my junior year of college. I was that kid with lots of energy and flailing arms. I probably did more than my share of arm yanking. I recently heard someone describe toddlers as all will power and no skill. I was definitely a toddler at dancing. I had no money for classes and danced as time permitted, but I was still a casual enthusiast. Then, everything changed.

I finished my undergraduate degree in December of 2000, and spent the next eight months teaching private music lessons, learning how to drive, and getting myself ready for grad school at the University of Pittsburgh. I moved to Pittsburgh in August of 2001, got settled in, and immediately looked for a place to dance. I found instant friends who took me into their little group, maybe because they could see that they weren’t going to get rid of this wild arm yanker, so they might as well train him. I had friends, a new life, school was great. I was on top of my game.  Continue reading

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Filed under C-Jam, community

Where Shame Goes to Die

Last night, I was teaching intro to blues for the Towson University Ballroom Dance Club, and we touched upon the issue of self-consciousness in dancing. I firmly believe that to be a great dancer, you must leave your shame behind every time you step on the dance floor. You have to take risks with your body, make weird shapes, feel awkward, and be completely willing to make a fool of yourself. As my students will attest, making a fool of myself is something at which I excel.

It’s not that the goal is to make a fool of yourself. The goal is to free yourself from the critical, judgement centers of the brain to free your body to be expressive. The goal is to give yourself the permission to dance with wild abandon, with no reservations and no hesitations. Yes, you might end up looking ridiculous, but the path to looking ridiculous is strangely the same path to looking phenomenal. Continue reading

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Filed under Aesthetics, Blues Dancing, C-Jam, Charleston, lindy hop, Technique, Theory

The Real Birdland

Yesterday was the Orioles first home game in Baltimore. I’m no fan of baseball, but I thought a baseball inspired post was in order. Living in Baltimore, home of the Orioles and Camden Yards, baseball is more than an institution. It’s a way of life. Driving around the other night, I saw a billboard that read “This is Birdland,” advertising the Orioles. Apparently, they’ve taken to nicknaming Camden Yards, “Birdland.” I guess they think they are clever since the team mascot is a bird and all. I hardly think one bird, an oriole, warrants calling the place Birdland.

The REAL Birdland was a jazz club named in honor of Charlie Parker, aka “Yardbird” or “Bird.” The Orioles rip this name off as a marketing gimmick. The club used it to honor a legend that played with the likes of Jay McShann, Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Hines, Thelonious Monk, and Charlie Christian. Continue reading

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Filed under community, History, Jazz, Music

Most Amazing Dance Video

Every now and then, I see some of the most amazing dancing that inspires me like no other. Dance has that power to take you to another place, to express something beautiful, and to show the ability of the human spirit to triumph over adversity. Recently, I saw a video like none other. Since then, I’ve been watching it over and over, trying to learn every nuanced move. I hope someday I will be able to recreate this dance in all its glory, and that I might be able to create something equally as inspiring.

I love the musicality in this clip. Its as if I can hear every note being played in their dancing. I even tried putting the sound on mute. Maybe it was the dancing, or the fact that I’d just watched it twenty times, but I could still hear the music playing through my head with every move they made. There’s also some incredible intricacy in the footwork. I’m still trying to figure out how they do the part starting at 27”. I’m not sure who these amazing dancers are, but maybe someone else can identify them for me. You can watch the video for yourself here.

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Filed under Video