This past weekend was insanely busy for us, packed full of dancing. Saturday, we went to the annual croquet match between St. Johns College and the Naval Academy. Everyone was all dandied up in their finest vintage inspired threads. There was some croquet there, but to be honest the game seemed secondary to hanging out, dancing, eating, drinking, and general all around merriment. We had an amazing time. Continue reading
Category Archives: 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.
In addition to being a great song by Dorothy Ellis, “Drill, Daddy, Drill” is a useful motto for any dancer. Most swing dance instruction focuses on moves, styling and technique. It’s not often that you see swing dancers practice turns across the floor like ballet dancers. I’m not saying that it never happens. We include it in our classes occasionally. But as an instructor getting people started with social dancing, many who have little to no dance experience, there are often other priorities like having fun and getting some sort of rhythmic pulse into the body.
That means that it is up to us as dancers to drill all of the body movements we use. This year, I’ve decided to make dance drills a part of my Lenten discipline. My goal for the next 40 days is to practice 100 rock steps a day. Rock steps are the most ubiquitous small component of swing dancing. They start and finish many moves. Good ones feel stretchy and secure. Bad ones feel like getting yanked. On a personal note, I have a bad habit of letting my shoulder round forward and disconnect when I rock step. Continue reading
Years ago when I was just a kid in a dinner theater production of Oliver, I met Andrew Nemr. We’ve been good friends ever since, and I have had the privilege to watch his career develop. Mentored by Gregory Hines, Andrew is an outstanding tap dancer with a deep passion for the dance and its history. He runs his own tap company, Cats Paying Dues (CPD), which will be presenting his show, Echoes in Time, on March 4th at Symphony Space in NYC. I caught up with him in preparation for the show to chat a bit about some of his mentors, the connection between tap and lindy, and the upcoming performance.
Craig: Welcome, Andrew, to All the Cats Join In.
Andrew: Thanks, glad to be here.
C: So, I remember attending your college graduation party a few years back (or more), and meeting tap legends Buster Brown and Brownie Brown. Can you tell me a little bit about those guys?
A: Oh wow. You know, I didn’t know they were going to be there. Buster and Brownie were members of the Copasetics, a fraternity of mostly entertainers, that included Billy Strayhorn (Ellington’s writing partner), Honi Coles, Cholly Atkins, and LeRoy Myers. All of the members came up at a time when tap dance was part of the popular culture of America, so we’re talking the 1920s until the late 40s, early 50s.
Buster and Brownie, specifically, were two of my personal examples of the joy that one can have being a tap dancer and sharing the dance with others.
C: Yeah, I certainly got to see that in them that day. The reason I mention them is that I distinctly remember them having some serious swing moves on the dance floor that day. I’m guessing they were in their 80s, but they could still man-handle a woman across the dance floor!
A: Yes sir. If my recollection serves me, Brownie danced with every girl at the party. Like I said, pure joy! And yes, Buster was 88 or 89 in 2001 and Brownie was around the same age.
C: Was it common for tap dancers to social dance as well? Continue reading
This week, Susanne and I hosted dinner for a couple of friends from dancing. As we were talking, we discovered that our friends knew of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, but had never really seen them dance! We were shocked, and quickly went to work to rectify this glaring absence in their dance knowledge. Here is a clip to the only piece that Fred and Gene danced together on film.
One of the things that fascinates me is how different each of these men dance. Continue reading
This year, Santa was very good to Susanne and me. Under the Christmas tree, we found lots of goodies, many of which have the makings of future blog postings! I want to take time to thank my parents and my brother and sister-in-law for fueling our dance addiction. Here are some dance loot highlights.
We’re looking forward to watching our new DVDs. We both believe that to have a vibrant dance scene you need to grow strong roots just as much as you need to grow new branches. So we’ll be using our slow motion to dissect clips from “The Spirit Moves.” As for me, I’ve read a lot of great books on jazz history already, but I’m looking forward to the Ken Burns “Jazz” documentary with all of the videos, pictures, and other multimedia mixed in.
We both received new dance shoes this year. Mine are a pair of black, wingtip shoes from Cole Haan. I bought a pair of brown ones earlier this year that I’ve really enjoyed, and needed to replace my black dress shoes as well. Susanne’s new shoes are super awesome, and my sister-in-law deserves a special shout out for them (Holla!). She designed them especially for Susanne on the create your own custom keds website. I’ve poked around on the site a little bit, and the possibilities seem endless! For us dancers who are constantly battling to find the right balance between comfort and style, this might very well be the perfect solution.
We received two books this year. I’ve already started reading Norma Miller’s memoir “Swingin’ at the Savoy,” and have ideas for three new blog posts just from the introduction. The second is The Best Dance Moves . . . Ever! because everyone needs an illustrated, step-by-step guide to doing such classics as the Macarena, the Hand Jive, and Thriller. At least the author was smart enough to include the Charleston.
Our thanks to everyone who has fueled our dance habit this year. We feel very fortunate and grateful to have you in our lives.
When swing dancing was first being revived in the 1980s, the Internet was an infant in academia. Passionate lindy hop aficionados hunted for VHS tapes of old dance videos trying to steal moves, and local dances and lessons were listed in newspapers. Today, technology has vastly changed how we communicate, and the very nature of the swing dance community. Our new “Pillow Talk” feature seemed like the perfect vehicle to discuss it. Listen in on a little late night conversation.
Susanne: Hey babe.
Craig: Hi! So when did you start dancing?
S: I had a rough introduction in the late 1990s around the time of the infamous Gap ad, but I got a serious introduction in the early 2000s when I moved to Washington, D.C. What about you?
C: I started around the summer of ’99 after the Gap ad, too. My girlfriend at the time discovered Friday Night Swing up in Towson, Md. I don’t know if she heard about it on the Internet or from friends, but I know we used to go to their website to get info. Its still just as crappy as it was then, except back then, everybody’s web site was crappy.
S: Hahaha. So true. After I started taking lindy hop classes for a while, I identified all of the major promoters and bookmarked their websites. And then I learned about Jitterbuzz. Did you use that site any?
C: I used it a little bit, but honestly, I moved to Pittsburgh for grad school in fall of 2000. I would check Jitterbuzz when I was home for the holidays to find the best places to dance.
S: Right. It was a great event aggregator. But oh, the frames on that site. And the mysterious Asian symbols, which I never quite understood. At the time, it was and is a great service for the lindy community.
C: I had mixed feelings about the ranking system. Sometimes, it seemed sort of arbitrary. Top ten dances for the week based on. . .where the one guy who put it together wanted his friends to go.
S: I know you aren’t alone in that. It was one person’s opinion. Mostly I just used it to see what the options were. The one thing to watch out for was his strong anti-Boilermakers streak. Continue reading