Swingin at the Crossroads Lessons

One of my favorite parts of attending workshops such as this weekend’s Swingin at the Crossroads is listening to other instructors – hearing how they teach, the things they say, etc. It’s nice confirmation to hear out of town instructors saying the same things I say. But it’s especially nice to hear them say largely the same things I say when I’m teaching, but phrase them differently.

My favorite example from this weekend is Alison answering a student question about how the follower knows whether or not to put her hand on the leader’s shoulder during any given move. Alison responded that she never assumes a basic step, she notices the leader asking her to move forward, and then when she notices his hand has connected with her back, then her hand is the last thing to connect with his arm. The last thing.

This is a concept I also convey to our classes, but I don’t phrase it nearly as succinctly nor as clearly. I usually dance (pardon the pun) around the concept a bit, talking about how I can do the dance without using my left arm at all, that I am not holding or grabbing onto the leader, etc. Then hearing Alison say the same thing but using about 1/4 of the words… well, that’s my strange idea of a good time!


Swingin’ At The Crossroads

Here we are at the Convention Complex for Swingin’ At The Crossroads! I couldn’t be more pleased with the weekend so far. Last night’s Jive Junction was excellent, the turnout at today’s classes has been excellent, and the classes have seemed to go well.

Joel and Alison are, of course, excellent instructors, and they’re super fun on top of that. If you’re reading this at home, make plans to head down here and join us – either for the afternoon today (Saturday), for the dance tonight, or for tomorrow’s classes.

Tonight is our big dance with the Jaztronauts from Minneapolis. $10 gets you in for a night of dancing.

Oops. AND Swingin’ at the Crossroads News

Well, shortly after I published the Swingin at the Crossroads website, it was pointed out to me that the advance registration deadline was missing a digit. It was supposed to be July 31, not July 1. That was about two months ago. Apparently, I just forgot. Someone pointed it out to me again today and I’ve actually fixed it now.

So you have until JULY 31 to complete your advance registration for Swingin’ at the Crossroads. That’s only $45 for a whole weekend of dancing with some of the USA’s top instructors. I should note, also, that Alison is going to stop touring next year, so this will be one of your last chances to see Joel and Alison teach together outside of California!!

Also, we’ve adjusted the weekend schedule somewhat. We’re starting later, and we have four classes on each day now, instead of 5 and 3. We won’t wear out our teachers quite as quickly that way, and you’ll have more energy for the dance Saturday night!

Trip Report: Chicago to see George Gee!

George Gee at Grant Park

Randy, Wally, and I headed out to Chicago to catch George Gee on a rare midwest visit. He played three times in the city over the weekend – Saturday evening at Grant Park, Sunday afternoon at Navy Pier, and Sunday night at the Willowbrook Ballroom. We only caught the outdoor shows, while Kevin caught the show at the Willowbrook.

The crowd at Grant Park

The show at Grant Park was fun – it was a lovely night, and it’s rare to have the opportunity to see a band we love at an outdoor venue. We didn’t get much dancing in – you can see the dance floor was packed. We had Wally, and needed to stay near him, so we danced on the sidewalk near where we were sitting a few times. (But had to stop each time because a suspicious person kept heading towards our bag with our camera in it every time we got up, then he’d veer off course as soon as we stepped back over to protect it. Frustrating. Particularly since the bag was sitting right next to Wally.)

But it was fun nonetheless. The park was packed with dancers and non dancers. The dancers were all skill levels. We didn’t see anyone dancing Balboa, though, which was odd.

This particular performance was part of a summer-long dance program in Chicago called SummerDance. I would LOVE to see Des Moines emulate the program, which involves free dancing of all sorts (Jewish to Swing) to live bands nearly every night of the week, all over the city. Of course, Chicago is about 20 times larger than Des Moines, making this undertaking a bit easier (more and more varied local bands, more dance organizations, more money in the city budget).

George Gee at Navy Pier

Sunday started with thunderstorms, but apparently George Gee made a few calls and fixed it so the weather turned beautiful by his afternoon show at Navy Pier. Randy and I were half of the people dancing there, which was a bit strange, but we had a great time. Plus, nobody trying to steal our stuff, so we could dance a bit more!

Us with George Gee

We had a chance to chat with George Gee after the show. He was very friendly and related how he was spending Father’s Day apart from his 5 and a half year old, who was in Japan with his mother. He’ll join them in a few weeks, but it was obvious he really missed him! He chatted with Wally for a few minutes, then agreed to this photo.

We completely didn’t think about bringing the leaflet from one of our George Gee CDs to have the band sign, which makes this only about the second band we’ve seen that we’ve not had autograph their CD leaflet, which bums me out.

More pictures at Flickr

Swing Des Moines serves as Artists in Residence at Western Hills Elementary

Western Hills Elementary School Event

It’s hard to say who had more fun – the teachers or the students – last week as Swing Des Moines served as the Artists in Residence at Western Hills Elementary.

Many of you may already know that one of Swing Des Moines’ purposes is to work with area schools to educate students not only in the art of America’s Folk Dance – Swing dancing – but also in the history behind the dance. We had another chance to do just that last week.

Western Hills Elementary School Event

The week kicked off with an all-school assembly featuring Capitol City Swing, our performance troupe, showing the kids (and teachers) our hour-long presentation covering the entire swing era. The kids particularly liked the Charleston, the Shim Sham, and East Coast swing (which we danced to Great Balls of Fire). We ended the assembly by letting all the kids get up and learn a few steps as a preview to what they’d learn in their PE classes that week.

Then we had each class twice over the course of the next four days during their PE time. Students learned 20s Charleston – from Kindergarten all the way up through Sixth grade. They all seemed to just love it.

And the teachers seemed to have a great time, too. The kids were just so fun to be with – particularly the littler kids. A few of the kindergarteners preferred to hold hands while learning new steps. One of the first graders took a particular interest in helping Wally to get the steps right. Some of the older students developed elaborate group poses for Posin’. It was great.

Western Hills Elementary School Event

Swing Des Moines owes a huge thanks to Mike Dennis and Kevin Spencer for taking on this project. Mike was at the school all four days, and Kevin was there for three of the four. They did the bulk of the work, that’s for certain. Randy and I helped out on Thursday, but I feel like we did very little while we were there.

You can view our photo stream from the event here. I failed to take a camera to the assembly, and wouldn’t have had time to photograph anyway. The pictures show the Thursday classes, and Kevin is missing because that’s the one day he wasn’t there. I’m sorry Kevin!! If anyone else took pictures at the event, please add them!

There is also a small write-up at the Register here.

Dance Floor Etiquette, Part 3

And last in our series…fancy things.

Aerials are not usually appropriate on a social dance floor. Why? The potential for injuring someone else is HUGE.

Aerials can be appropriate in jam circles or on dance floors that are quite empty. If you’re not sure, ask! At Jive Junction, you can ask whoever is at the door, or ask the DJ.

NEVER do an aerial with an unsuspecting partner, or with someone you don’t know. If you’re planning to do an aerial, make sure that your partner is expecting it, knows what you’re doing, and knows WHEN you’re doing it. Make sure that you both know how to safely EXIT from the move if something goes wrong. Before starting the move, take one last look around to make sure nobody is close enough to be injured – or to be scared.

You do not have to end a song with a dip. Ending by just stopping dancing is fine, or striking some other pose. If you do want to lead a dip, make sure you know what you are doing! If you’re going to do something more complex than just a basic dip, ask her first! Especially if you don’t know her well!

Ladies, feel free to refuse to dip. Even if he just starts to dip you without asking, take a small step away and firmly keep your body upright while you say “no thanks.”

Erratic dancers
Sometimes, you’ll notice that a particular couple is dancing kind of erratically. Maybe they’re doing aerials, or a lot of kicking, or they’re just not paying attention and are body slamming other people. Leaders, guide your partner AWAY from the area to somewhere safer. DO NOT place yourself so that your partner acts as a shield for you. (Yes, I’ve seen this.)

And that concludes our thesis on dance floor etiquette. Hope it was helpful!!

Dance Floor Etiquette, Part 2

How to deal with a partner on the dance floor is sometimes a source of much consternation, particularly among newer dancers. From discomfort with asking and accepting (or declining) a dance, to uncertainty about what to do if you mess up or are injured, social dancing can be frought with potentially uncomfortable situations. Well, fret no more! Just read on…

What do I do if I am being hurt or groped on the dance floor?
If your partner hurts you more than once while dancing (or gropes more than once), it is OK to simply stop dancing and leave the floor. Say something like “I’m sorry, my wrist is hurting me,” or be more direct and say “ouch, you’ve managed to wrench my shoulder.”

Why do I say “more than once”? Because once could easily be an accident.

How do I ask for a dance?
Take a deep breath, walk up to someone, and say “want to dance?” Try to ask one specific person, rather than a group. “Would any of you like to dance” will usually result in a long pause, while the group nonverbally checks with one another until someone finally steps forward. A group of girls will usually take a LONG time to respond to this question, because everyone will defer to the others out of politeness. Meanwhile, the asker has to stand there feeling uncomfortable.

How do I accept or decline a dance?
Accepting is easy. Say “sure” and get up and go out to the floor with your partner.

Declining is also not hard. If you just simply do not care to dance with whoever is doing the asking, say “no, thank you.” If you have a reason for not wanting to dance to that particular song, but wish to dance later, say something like “this song is too fast, but I’d love to dance the next time a slower song is played” or “I’m exhausted after that last song, but maybe later.”

It is polite to sit out the entire song after declining an invitation to dance, so if someone else asks you during the same song, you must refuse them, as well.

How do I end a dance?
Thank your partner. Traditional etiquette is to walk your partner back to where you found them, but this is a somewhat awkward social situation these days, and many people prefer to end a song by simply thanking their partner, and then running off. This is not rude, but merely a byproduct of so many DJ’d dances these days leaving less time between dances to find a partner for the next song.

If you wish to dance another song with your current partner, ask first. “Want to dance another one?”

What if I mess up during a dance?
Well, this is likely to happen – EVERYONE messes up. All followers miss a lead on occasion, All leaders lead inadequately from time to time, and everyone takes a misstep now and then. Don’t sweat it. Don’t feel that you have to apologize. Feel free to apologize if you want, but if you find yourself apologizing after every third move, that’s probably too much! I have had, on occasion, dances where I’m in far less than perfect form. I’m sick, or distracted, or whatever, and I mess up SO MUCH that I feel an apology and excuse are in order after a dance is over. “Gosh, I’m sorry about that. I’ll owe you another dance on a different day. I am so exhausted tonight, I’m kind of stumbling over my own feet!”

Dancing with dancers of different skill levels
Please dance with dancers who are better than you, and who are not as skilled as you!

If you’re a leader and dancing with someone less skilled than you, stick to easy things until you’re confident she can/will follow more complex moves. If she struggles, take it down a notch. If you’re a leader dancing with someone MORE skilled than you, don’t sweat it! Lead what you know, and don’t feel compelled to try to do only complex moves in an attempt to impress your partner.

If you’re a follower dancing with someone more skilled than you, he should make the dance easy on you – as ANY leader should make a dance easy for ANY follower. If you find yourself consistently unable to follow his leads, don’t worry about it – it is NOT your fault! He’s either not leading properly, or he’s trying to lead things that you just don’t have the skills yet to follow, and he should be catching on to that fact and adjusting. If you’re a follower dancing with someone less skilled than you, keep your steps basic, and don’t throw in fancy footwork variations until you’re sure they won’t confuse him.

Some of the dancers are so snobby!
To borrow from the Austin Swing Syndicate, “Sometimes a perception exists that good dancers only hang out with other good dancers. This is a by-product of the fact that many dancers have been dancing together for a long time and know each other better. For the most part, few people within the scene are intentionally reinforcing this perception. Feel free to break the ice if they don’t.”

Lots of more great tips at Gotta Dance and Austin Swing Syndicate.

Up next…. What about aerials, dips, fancy moves, and erratic dancers?