You’ll Never Feel Happy Until You Try

How comfortable do you think you are with trying new things?

(a blog about Xpress Your Swing dance camp, and the joys of Hip-Hop, by Leanne Frank)

Seriously, think about it. In a world filled from its crown to toe top-full of financial instability and climactic uncertainty, it is easy (and understandable) to cling to the devil you know, better than the devil you don’t. But if you are reading this, you already buck that trend, simply by taking part in a pastime that is outside of the usual Friday-night pub antics that take place in every other part of the country. But… seeing as you’ve made it this far, why not go a little further?
That brings me to the topic of this post: Hip-Hop. Now, before some of you start rolling your eyes with disdain, envisioning scantily-clad women twerking in front of some overpriced, gas-guzzling monstrosity, please hear me out. Whilst in its modern incarnation, Hip-Hop is very much a ‘Marmite’ genre, there are tangible links between Hip-Hop and the great Jazz musicians of the past. Those links, if acknowledged, can add infinite flavouring to your dance and help you see Swing music for what it really is: part of a timeline for the development of African-American (and beyond) culture, a timeline that is the focus of a dance camp that takes place from the 30th April to 3rd of May 2015 – Xpress Your Swing!
Like most people, when I think of Swing music and dancing, I think of elegance, glamour, artistry and craftsmanship which lets me wander the hallways of my jazzy ivory tower, obliviously dictating what Swing music ‘should’ be and not what it really was, and is. Alas, it wasn’t all soldiers and sweethearts; sex, drugs and illegal activities were as much a part of life back then as they are today. With art imitating life, that was obviously reflected in the music of the time. If you don’t believe me, do some digging into the lyrics of Julia Lee (you’ll never look at spinach the same way again) or the life of Jelly Roll Morton to get a real feel for the sinister side of Swing. Whilst the lyrical content may not be as overt as Jay-Z (a Harlem alumni himself) making inappropriate comments about Tina Turner with his missus at the Grammys, the sweet sound of Swing can sometimes leave a sour taste, as can life.
But back to what we came here for: the dancing. As previously mentioned, a wonderful camp has popped up in Montpellier which has chosen to celebrate this musical timeline through a mixture of Lindy, Tap, Solo Jazz and – you guessed it – modern Hip-Hop classes. The camp motto ‘you’ll never be happy until you try,’ has never been more appropriate as the entire weekend is designed for you to dabble, to tinker and to flirt with other styles of dance in the hopes that you will see that they are all parts of the same musical puzzle. For those of you who read the ‘Flying Solo’ post from a couple of weeks ago (and hopefully working on all your new steps from Taina’s classes), you will understand the benefits of trying out new things and breaking out of Lindy. You may find that you are better suited to Balboa or Tap but both of those things feed in to your Lindy Hop, if you’re willing to try.
I attended this camp in February 2013 and I was amazed at the similarities between Hip-Hop and Swing. It pushed me, it tested me and in all honesty, there were some moments of ‘I-won’t-be-doing-that-again,’ as I left a studio. But I tried everything. I learned that the tradition of new moves being created, disseminated and exhibited on dance floors across the country (if not world) never really went away; the names just changed. Anyone who has ever mastered a ‘skate’ will be able to ‘crank that’ like Soulja Boi, anyone who has ever bust out a ‘shimmy’ mid-dance will be amazed at how quickly they pick up ‘the wop’ in a dance class. The possibilities and opportunities are endless.
Sadly, I wasn’t in attendance at XYS 2014, but there are at least four ML patrons who were and I’m sure they’d be happy to answer any questions you may have about the camp, the classes and the atmosphere. I have said this before and I’ll say it again, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is the most terrifying and rewarding thing you can do for your dancing. Dip your toe in the water, try a new class and let it add flavour to your social dancing. Alternately, you might hate it and decide never to do it, ever again. Ever.
Whichever you decide: you tried, and for that reason, you should be happy.

Leanne Frank

Will Smith and Jimmy Fallon – Evolution of Hip Hop Dance

Xpress Your Swing 2013 – Montpellier from RecStep on Vimeo.

XYS Promo Feb 2013

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The Lindy Circular – Norma Miller Queen of Swing

The Lindy Circular – Norma Miller Queen of Swing

“Give me a bucket of fried chicken and a Count Basie record and I will solve all the world’s problems”.

                                                                              Norma Miller

Norma Miller (centre front)
Norma Miller (centre front)

Frankie Manning’s name is heralded at crowded water tables on the edge of dance floors across the globe (with as much reverence as Voldemort has to a Death Eater) and it sometimes easy to forget that there are still some of Swing history’s greats with us today. Jean Velóz celebrated her birthday dance with Remy and Skye at SEAJAM earlier this year and Dawn Hampton is still making aspiring dancers cry with the razor-sharp tongue and teaching style. However, there is one woman whose name definitely deserves a mention: Norma Miller. If you don’t know who she is, you should. If you want to learn about her, you can. At the very least you can keep up with her movements across the globe via her Facebook (yes, Facebook) page. To point you in the right direction, here is a little bit of background on the First Lady of Lindy, the last surviving member of the world famous Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers: Norma Miller , Queen of Swing (by Nathan Dias)

Leanne Frank

The Lindy Circular – Good for the Sole

Good for the Sole

A blog post about dance shoes by Marianne Knowles

A general chat about what the hell to put on your feet when you’re dancing, and whether anyone should even give a damn, anyway.

Bottoms Up

There are few topics that interest dancers as much as footwear – frankly, we’re obsessed. Some Manchester Lindy members buy fancy trainers that will never touch a Lancashire cobble. Others visit their cobbler more often than they go to the dentist, but what is it that makes us get so excited about having bits of material stuff stuck to the bottom of our pumps?  What is all this madness? And if you want to hop onto the dance shoe bandwagon, where do you get started?

Virtually every Lindy dancer who has been dancing more than a few months wears shoes chosen specifically for the dance. When I started, I knew there must be a reason for this, but I didn’t know what that reason was or where to get them from. I took the time to ask around, researched and pondered and finally bought some fancy shoes of my own.

I’ve now been dancing two years, and here is everything I wish I’d known right at the start, in a handy blog guide.

The Science (tist) View

Manchester Lindy’s resident expert (and committee member) Megan Lomas, (BSc sport Science Physiology, VTCT Dip Sports Massage no less), believes that when it comes to shoes, personal preference is key. Lindy Hop attracts people of different shapes and shoe sizes, so it makes sense that whilst a particular pair of pumps may make one person feel like Ginger, it might make someone else feel like Oliver Hardy.

‘Some Lindy dancers like more slip from suede whereas for others, the suede can put them off balance. From my point of view, the more slip from the shoe the better, especially for the twisting actions and swivels that females do, slippy shoes are pretty much a necessity. If the foot doesn’t slide well, you risk twisting the joints, stretching the back muscles and damaging your knees. The wrong shoes can also strain tendons and ligaments in the feet’, says Megan.

Serious stuff – but don’t let this put you off dancing, injury can occur doing anything (including changing light bulbs and waiting for the bus) and being aware of the potential for injury is often all you need to avoid it.

Sole Searching

Check out the following brands and stockists for some suitably suede-y (or leather-y) soled shoes:

Aris Allen pumps and shoes are designed specifically for Swing dancing, made by and available (along with plenty of other male and female dance-type paraphernalia) from www.dancestore.com in the USA (good prices, expensive shipping).

(see here for Dancestore’s detailed explanation of shoe terminology: www.dancestore.com/footwear-glossary.aspx)

Bleyer Shoes are made in Germany, and are popular amongst Swing, Jive and Rock and Roll dancers all over the world. These come in European sizes and some require an additional insole, so pay attention if ordering online! Available from the London Swing Dance Society http://www.swingdanceuk.com/store

Remix Shoes are some of the most beautiful retro shoes on the planet – for dance, you may wish to have them sueded by a local cobbler (this usually costs around £25) www.remixvintageshoes.com

Rock and Roll Products– part of (Johnson’s Shoes) craft both ready made and custom shoes, for dance and for style, right here in the UK) www.rocknrollproducts.com

Retro Revival sell vintage style clothing and shoes in London (stockists of Aris Allen and Remix and personal friends of Manchester Lindy) www.revival-retro.com

A heads up on shoe size mysteries – Swing shoe shops in the UK are rare and there are none in Manchester – this means many dancers buy their shoes online. Some online shoe ‘stores’ work in American sizes and generally speaking there is a 2.5 – 3 size difference between British and American sizes for ladies sizing and a 1 size difference for chaps. This means that if you’re a women’s 6 like me, you’d be looking at a US 8.5 or 9, If you are a UK men’s 10, you’ll likely be a US men’s 11, depending on the type of shoe and your feet. If you are thinking of buying a particular brand via mail order ask around and see if you can try on someone’s shoes, or try them on at Lindy Exchanges and camps (we’ll be posting more about these soon).

Don’t Forget the High Street

As well as buying ready-made slippery soled shoes, you can go to regular stores such as Primark, Dune and Clarks and pay a cobbler about 25 quid to slap some suede on the bottom for you. This might be handy, if you’re new to dancing and don’t want to spend much on shoes (especially the Primark option, as some of their basic pumps have smooth enough soles to use as is, although you might like to buy a size up and add a supportive insole) and is a great option for when you just fall in love with street shoes and wish they were dance shoes. It’s also good for those of us that are fussy about fit, and need to try shoes on before purchase.

Dancers’ Devotions

I asked a few Manchester Lindy chaps and chapettes what they had to say about shoes:

Leanne Frank, Lover of Colourful Keds and Comfort

‘Sueding shoes for me became a thing around two years ago. I went to a dance weekend and noticed after a couple of swing outs that my knees started to twinge. As I was running regularly at the time, buying new shoes was a no brainer. My brand of choice, Keds (founded in 1916 and with styles that are virtually unchanged since the 30’s) aren’t particularly popular on the Manchester scene but I love them for the support they offer me when I’m dancing and the variety of colours you are provided with. My advice would be, find a pair of shoes that you like and are comfortable in, befriend your local cobbler and get some dance soles put on them. Or, go for popular dance shoes, such as Aris Allen as they come pre sueded. Comfort is the key in this game!’

Jacqui Madden, Fan of Aris Allen and Free to Spin Forever

“I wore extremely cheap (1 of my finest English pounds) and very cheerful pumps from the good folks at Primark during my first year in dancing and found them to be comfortable and more than adequate. My balance and spin-ability weren’t the greatest in the beginning, so having a shoe that wasn’t hugely slippery but also not too grippy really helped. Now that I’ve been dancing for two years I swear by Aris Allen sneakers/pumps and whilst I still think having fancy suede shoes isn’t a necessity for dancing, it really does help. Suede shoes feel great, are extremely comfy and allow for freedom of movement. I’ve also found that my balance has improved and that I can now manage a darn good spin.”

Sidney Simon,  This Man Knows all about Good Gaffer and Killer Threads.

“At Manchester Lindy on a Tuesday and for practicing generally, I prefer to adapt street trainers by putting some good quality gaffer tape on the sole. This gives a decent amount of slide without it being permanent (*editors note: some posh dance floors will not permit this, because it can leave a sticky residue on the wood, so be sure to get acquainted with your venue). If I’m dancing out, I choose the shoes to suit my outfit and that often means leather soled dress shoes. These shoes can be very expensive, but you can get bargains in places like TK Maxx and if you keep them for best they’ll last years.  I think the main point is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to dance.”

If the Shoe Fits

In keeping with the welcoming spirit of the Lindy Hop, the most important thing is finding something that works for you, something comfortable, something enjoyable and most of all, something safe. Happy Dancing!

Marianne Knowles

Source for the science bit: http://www.nismat.org


The Lindy Circular – Flying Solo

Flying Solo

a blog about Jazz by Leanne Frank

Manchester Lindy is branching out into the world of solo Authentic Jazz, with a veritable smorgasbord of Jazz knowledge being delivered by the wonderful Taina. But why go? What is it? What’s in it for you?

There have been a lot of questions like this bandying about the social dance floor; so to contextualise, let’s use what we know.
It’s Saturday night. A song comes on that you love but none of your friends are keen to accompany you to the dance floor. Fuelled by (Dutch) courage, you get up and dance, regardless, throwing shapes with such joyous musical abandon that those around you gaze on, secretly jealous of your style and the apparent happiness it brings you. The song finishes and you feel… electric, knowing that you danced because you wanted to and nobody was going to get in your way. Now, add a swing soundtrack and there it is… solo Jazz!

Solo Jazz (or vernacular Jazz, as it is also referred to) is a way of dancing without a partner, which is always helpful on a social dance floor if there aren’t many leads/follows to dance with. Along with that, it’s a fast-track way of developing your own sense of style in your partner dancing and gaining confidence with variations and more technical moves.
If you only remember three things that solo Jazz can (and will) add to your dancing, remember these.

Creativity
The best international social dancers get to be the best because of their understanding of the freedom solo Jazz offers to you. After a few months of classes, your swing-out repertoire will be unbelievable; follows will find opportunities to try out new moves with the most basic of leads, leads will be able to interpret the music in previously unprecedented ways. This is the stuff that makes a good dancer a great dancer. If you enjoy improvisation and playing with rhythms, then this is the next step.

Confidence
It almost goes without saying that if you are bold and creative, your confidence will increase. If you are in the middle of a dance, testing new Jazz steps and having a jolly good time, people will notice. People will praise you. Most importantly, people will ask you to dance. Remember, you are partaking in an activity that is visual. If someone sees that you are an innovative dancer, they will want to dance with you because you will put them through their paces and create those ‘did-you-just-see-what-they-did?’ moments that we all feel when watching the professionals dance. Some people may feel self-conscious about dancing alone, but to those people I say: dancing fortune favours the brave, and where you lead, others will follow.

Commitment
Now, for the science-y bit. The beauty of solo Jazz is that you are completely responsible for your own body movement. It seems silly, but seeing as we are ‘raised’ in a world where our dancing destiny is inextricably linked to the person we’re connected to, breaking that link is enlightening. You have to take command and really contemplate your weighting, balance and positioning, for every move. This is something that feeds back in to your partnered dancing, making you more sensitive to yours and your partner’s movement. You learn what works and what doesn’t, and even better, how to self-correct.

That’s when you’ve made it.

The best dancers don’t get to be the best without making things up, being bold and trying them out, getting things wrong and taking the time to work out how to make it right. Solo Jazz helps with every aspect of this. Of course, there will be some trip-ups along on the path to Jazz glory, but if you aren’t cocking up at some point, you aren’t trying hard enough.

Leanne Frank

 

Welcome to The Lindy Circular!

Welcome to The Lindy Circular!

A blog by Leanne Frank

If you, intrepid dancer, have found your way to this brand-spanking new Manchester Lindy blog series, prepare to have your MIND BLOWN. Well, maybe not blown, but definitely jiggled purposefully. This blog series will be a veritable cornucopia of knowledge on the ins and outs of Lindy Hop, both in Manchester and beyond. There will be links to national and international dancing, inspiring dance videos and all manner of information to help you, dear reader, get the most out of this wonderful dance.

Hopefully, you have been enjoying the musical delights of our regular Tuesday session and have become accustomed to the warm, fuzzy feeling that radiates through your innards when you have a good dance. One of the loveliest things about Lindy Hop is knowing that after only forty-five minutes of teaching, you are dance floor-ready and can spread happiness across a room full of relative strangers then toddle home, charged full of positive energy for the week ahead.

To help you on your quest for Lindy glory, the committee are always on hand to help with any questions you may have about particular moves, dance floor etiquette or ways to improve as a dancer on the whole. They are all incredibly friendly and expect you to go up to them and ask questions; never feel as though you are a burden!

You may have been dancing for some time now and the Swing bug has taken a sizeable bite out of some/all of your extremities. You want to take it further, to Improve and impress. What to do you do? Well reader, the next bold step on your Lindy ascension should be to book on to your first dance camp!

Dance camp? That sounds a bit serious, doesn’t it?

Actually, it’s the complete opposite. Dance camps are designed to be totally oriented to improve your lead and follow skills and create a lively and engaging environment for you to try them out. The atmosphere is completely social and you will be inundated with dancers coming from similar (dance) backgrounds to you, from all over the world. You will make friends; you will laugh, learn and most importantly, dance!

There are no words that describes the social floor at a camp as well as ‘inspirational’. Here you’ll find dancers from all over the world coming together and trying out their best moves  to a live band providing the  soundtrack. Just observing will immerse you in the true spirit of Lindy Hop.

If booking onto a camp is a bold step that you aren’t quite ready for or don’t have the budget for, that’s OK, it just so happens that there’s a solution for this – the fabulous workshops that take place in Manchester! The focus can range from swing-outs to solo jazz and they are always tailored to suit your needs and build your confidence. As well as our own occasional workshops, taught by national and international dancers, Manchester Lindy happily recommends the Would You Dance? workshops, taught by Taina K. Honestly, you really do want to take advantage of these additional classes as they are there to help you become a better social dancer. If you want any more information, just speak to the committee (manchesterlindy@gmail.com) or Taina (mail@tainak.com).

With workshops and inspiration in mind, here are a few clips of a couple in action that will be teaching at Manchester Lindy’s very own upcoming workshop… Pontus Persson and Isabella Gregorio! Booking is not yet open for this May 2014 workshop, so keep an eye on our Facebook Group and blog for announcements.

In the meantime, enjoy these videos of Pontus and Isabella in action:

Pontus- Solo Jazz at Paris Jazz Roots

Pontus and Isabella Pro Classic division ILHC 2012

Until next time!

Leanne Frank