As a little girl, Paula wanted to be a ballerina, but after a while, dancing in the dusty village hall in a turquoise leotard just didn’t cut it. Luckily a love of all things vintage led to a chance encounter with Lindy Hop and Paula started swinging out in 2002.
Paula was the very first paying customer to turn up to a Manchester Lindy event and joined the committee about a year later. You will often find her teaching a class or giving the male leads run for their money. Paula explodes on the dance floor like a living, breathing piece of art; first to dance and last to leave, Paula is adorned in beautiful tattoos that are only matched by her glamorous outfits. As Manchester Lindy’s resident tattooed lady, she easy to spot and if you can’t see her, you can probably hear her (in the best possible way). Approachable and enthusiastic, she has the talent to assuage the worries of all beginner leads and follows who encounter her. Paula is an all-round ball of lovely, the glue that holds the committee together and a kick-ass lady lead!
When and why did you start dancing?
I’ve always danced, if I hear music, I need to move! I did Tap, Ballet and Modern as a child (eventually quitting due to the lure of smoking and boys) and I’m always the first up at a party or nightclub. I can’t help it, it’s a compulsion! I discovered Lindy Hop when I went to a club night in London (in 2002, maybe?) called the Lady Luck club – I was dressed to the vintage nines and people kept asking me to dance. I wanted to, but didn’t have a clue what was happening – after being dragged around the floor several times, I vowed to never suffer such embarrassment again. That was Saturday night, I went to my first Lindy class (taught by Taina!) the following Tuesday.
Has Lindy Hop affected you in ways you haven’t expected?
Absolutely. I loved dancing in London, and it inspired me to found a SwingSoc at the university I attended (Goldsmiths College) – I’ve learned a lot about working with and motivating others (I’m a bit of a lone wolf in my day job) and met a lot of people I simply would not know otherwise. This increased when I moved to Manchester, not only are the majority of my friends here Lindy Hoppers, but I’ve had to learn a heck of a lot of new skills to ensure there are plenty of folk to dance with.
Where do you like to dance outside of Manchester?
I haven’t really been able to travel for dance the way many of my friends have, I am the mother of 2 and haven’t been able to leave them overnight. I love to visit our neighbouring scenes though, such as Sheffield, Leeds and Chester and I’m pretty certain that I will be travelling a lot further afield in the next 18 months or so. Exciting times.
What made you decide to join the committee?
Hmmm, ‘Ask not what your committee can do for you, but what you can do for your committee’, I guess! I was the first of the new wave, number 13 to the original 12 and was flattered to be asked. Since then I’ve taken on a crazy amount of jobs (all the social networking, running the website, all the graphic design, answering emails, negotiating venues, teaching, working on the curriculum, running the meetings, taking minutes, finances and generally keeping everyone motivated) so many jobs in fact, that I have variously been described as, ‘the middle cog’, ‘the axle’ and my personal favourite, ‘God’.
What are your favourite shoes to dance in?
I like completely flexible shoes, shoes I can fold in half (when I’m not wearing them, obviously). I’m a bit of a fusspot so when I find something I like, I usually buy at least two identical pairs. I generally have them sueded at a cobbler, Stretford Timpsons know that if I walk through the door, I’ve either lost my front door key (again) or I have new dance shoes to suede. I’m not too proud to wear £3 Primark pumps (and they are in fact, my go-to shoe when I don’t know what to expect from a new dancefloor, but I’m an old lady, with a old-lady-knee, so I supplement them with expensive insoles.
What worries you the most during a social dance?
I don’t worry much at actually – I spend a lot of time dancing with the absolute newest dancers and I always say, ‘don’t worry, no one is gonna die’, because while I do remember how intimidating social dancing can be, it really isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of everything. Maybe I’ll get a bruised shin, maybe a squished toe, maybe we’ll never hit the cool break, hell, we may never even find the one but it’s only three minutes and if we can manage a half smile and a thank you at the end, all is good.
What’s would someone say your signature move is on a social dance floor?
I don’t know! I do some weird things with my feet? As a Follow, I’m pretty flamboyant, I’m working on reigning that in a little, so it has more impact when I do bust it out. As a Lead, I try to be musical, whilst being sensitive to my Follows needs, whether that’s a little extra time to complete a footwork variation or keeping them close because they are new and nervous. In terms of actual named moves you can’t beat a Swing Out, or a really nice Sugar Push.
If you had to put in to words what a good dance feels like, what would you compare it to?
A lot of people would answer this with, ‘a conversation’, and I guess that’s kinda true, there is a sense of question and response in good dances, but I’m a massive talker so for me, a conversation is something quite hectic, where a good dance is kind of like the comfortable silences you have with the people that know you best, when you know what the other one is thinking and you can respond instinctively. It’s more listening than talking.
Name one difficulty you have faced learning to dance. How have you dealt with it?
I’ve never had a dedicated dance partner, there has been no one to go home and practice with, no one to experiment with, no one that I haven’t had to share with a bazillion other dancers. That’s kind of sad and I suspect I would be a better dancer if I had had that. However, not having a partner has made me dance with everyone and anyone, Lead and Follow, and that’s probably given me a thousand more personal connections with other human beings, which is pretty darn neat, when you think about it.
What’s the number one rule any good Lindy Hopper must follow?
Smile! We are doing it for fun, if it ain’t fun, WHERE IS THE POINT?
Who are your favourite dancers to watch?
I can get pleasure out of watching anyone who is happy, so new dancers on their first night out are a joy to see. In Manchester, I love to watch Amy, and Kate and in terms of current International professionals, I just love Sharon Davis, Pamela Gaizutyte and Tatiana Udry (all of them are brilliant solo Jazz dancers too). My ultimate dance icons are the 1940’s So Cal Follows, Irene Thomas, Jean Veloz and, of course, Jewel McGowan
Is there such a thing as a mistake in Lindy Hop?
Ah, this one is a trick question, right? Technically, there is no such thing as a mistake in Lindy Hop (only new moves!) because it’s a vernacular dance and there is no syllabus. However, if there was no ‘right’ way to do things, we’d end up with a watered down mish-mash of generic Esperanto-ish swing dancing, so there is definitely a line, and I can’t quite tell you where it is, but I know when we’ve crossed it!
What are your hopes for the Lindy community in the future?
In Manchester, I’d like for more people to get really into it. There is a really obvious plateau point for both Leads and Follows and a lot of people lose interest around this time, assuming they will never be any better, I’m not quite sure how to reassure people that there will be a point when things start moving again (try Tap! Authentic Jazz! Listen to Swing music when you aren’t dancing! Relax more! Have a private lesson! Dance to a live band! Go to a weekend camp! Get fitter!) but it will shift forward again if you persevere. Lindy Hop is an incredibly complex thing and there is room for every one of us to be better, if we want to be.
In the wider world, I just want it to keep that DIY ethos, there is an amazing community worldwide because Lindy Hop events are run by those that love it. Let’s keep it that way 🙂