A solid hour of jazz tunes about food should get you in the mood to eat and give thanks. But remember, you're not the only oyster in the soup.
Say that ten times fast.
There are two kinds of people in this world: people who love soul music, and people who don't yet know they love soul music. Whoever you are, here's a starter playlist for you. Use it to get hype, get in the groove, or as a nice background to get dinner ready.
Costuming is a way of life in New Orleans. We’ll take any excuse to dress up in something a little crazy and stretch it all the way to its limit. Halloween, Mardi Gras, Fourth of July – you name it, we’ll dress up for it.
In my opinion, the true test of a costume is how well you can dance in it. That’s where the rubber meets the road. I feel uniquely qualified to comment on this, after being imprisoned in a banana costume for a month straight. That’s a story for another time.
So here’s a breakdown of some of the common costuming mistakes for those with a passion for their getups as well as a desire to get down.
The Oversized Suit
This one is always good for a laugh. Normally the inflatable type, some common oversized suits include the inflatable sumo wrestler man costume, the inflatable t-rex, and others like it. I give it an 7/10 on the comedy, because people look hilarious in an oversized inflatable…anything. But functionally? Not so hot.
Two things to consider with this. How can you get any high quality dancing in if you can’t even wrap your arms around yourself? And how are you cutting through those crowded Frenchmen Street crowds with that massive costume? It boggles the mind. I love the costume idea, but forget about partner dancing with one on. I could see some bodacious solo jazz happening, though. Consider that.
The Inflexible Getup
There are plenty of creative looking costumes with fun themes that limit your mobility in some way. Whether its your ability to look left or right, or maybe it’s just prohibiting you from reaching down, the inflexible costume is a serious no-go on the dance floor.
Usually these costumes start out as great ideas. Maybe you love the theme or the idea is just too clever to pass up. So you think to yourself, “I don’t really need to move my neck for a few hours straight”. But when it’s 10:00 PM on Halloween night and you’ve had that costume on for 4 hours or more – straight – you’re gonna regret it. The things we do for fashion, am I right?
The Mess Waiting To Happen
Personally, I’m a fan of intricate makeup and creative dyes. I’ve seen some really incredible, homemade artistry come out of some of my friends here in New Orleans with makeup and even body paint. Plenty of costumes incorporate makeup into their aesthetic, and that’s great. My only recommendation is to be mindful of where that makeup might wind up.
All makeup plans start with good intentions. But be wary of smearing and running makeup from sweat and heat. It could get everywhere! Also remember that if you’re going to be partner dancing, some of that makeup may make it on to your new dance bud. Probably not the end of the world, but it’s nice to share a dance, not the costume.
The Work of Art
I know some people who started planning next Halloween or Mardi Gras the day its over. Costuming can be a full time job all year long. Maybe you’re poured your heart into your costume and its your magnum opus. You definitely want to show that bad boy off.
Here’s the thing – don’t risk your beautiful, perfect costume by even trying to dance in it. If you’re at a venue with some music and it’s poppin’ off in there, don’t let yourself get swept up (we’ve all been there!) if you think your work of art will be destroyed in the process. My advice? Clap along with the band, dance by yourself as much as you’re able, and look beautiful. You’ve earned it.
You can have your cake and eat it too (note to self: consider baker costume for next year). Pour your heart into your costume and your dancing. We’re here to have fun with whatever we wear. Remember in costumes, dancing, and life - it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.
Talking with Latasha Barnes
Latasha “Tasha” Barnes has been teaching swing and lindy hop for three years and other urban dances for over twelve years. Starting lindy hop over twenty years ago (even longer if you count her four year-old swing outs), Tasha has been an active member of the dance community in all of its forms. A couple weeks ago she took time from teaching classes and letting loose at the New Orleans Swing Dance Festival to sit down for a few questions. Here, we’ll dive into what made her take her first rock step all the way to how she experiences dancing today.
About how long have you been swing dancing?
In total, I’d say about 35 years. I’ve been dancing since I was three. I used to not count dancing from my childhood but I truly recognize how much its contributed to the way I dance today. But professionally, about twelve or thirteen years.
What prompted you to learn swing dancing specifically?
It was a culmination of things. It came about after I had reconnected with movement as a form of recovery. I happened to have a friend who was interested in learning more about the dances of the style of music he was playing. So, he was eager to show me all he knew about swing dancing. Then we found an intersection with the urban dance community in D.C. and the swing dance community and we wanted to share some of those things. Especially with lindy hop being an African American social dance. We wanted to make sure that was being represented at our particular festival, Soul Society, and to show the influences of jazz in the urban dances we do today. From that crossover, they invited us to come out a couple of times and it was through that that made me want to stick around.
I understand you have some family members who were into the original lindy hop scene a while ago?
Yeah, unbeknownst to me. My great grandmother was a lindy hopper. At least, it appears that way from the photos we’ve found of her when she was younger in her “heyday”, as she liked to say. She loved listening to jazz music and would swing me out. She’d throw me and say, “Run, jump, and squat.” I didn’t know she was swinging me out, of course, because I was four years old. But she’d pick me up in the air and swing me around and do all kinds of crazy things to the music. So I developed a joy for it subconsciously. And when I first started swing dancing I thought it felt very familiar, the swing out in particular. So it was very cool to make that connection when I realized that she was doing this dance way back then. And doing it now definitely makes me feel a lot more connected to her. So it’s emotional and humbling all at the same time.
What other forms of dancing have you gotten into?
One of my favorite styles of dance is house. That’s been a main thread for me. From my thought processes about it, I’ve developed different approaches to the way that I swing out or the way I enjoy jazz dancing. I study waacking, which is a funk style. It’s a very emotive dance. It started in the gay clubs of LA during the 70s, around the same time of popping and locking. But it’s a very soulful and engaging dance. Hip hop is where I started. I grew up doing social hip hop dances. But I love Cuban-style salsa. Also, a lot of Afro-Cuban folklore dances. I’m starting to take up tap, which is fun. But I started with popping and locking so I still have some of the vocabulary from that, and dancehall as well. I don’t teach those dances but I like to share them from time to time at parties and socials and such. I try to stay as rooted in the African American social dances as I can.
How would you say lindy hop has helped you in other genres of dancing, or vice versa?
It’s definitely been reaffirming in that dance is what I’ve been put on this earth to do and share and study. It’s reinforced my love for quality movement that’s truly inspired by the music. This goes for all dance styles, but it’s so easy to get lost in the music and just do things as opposed to really responding to it. Not to over-intellectualize it, but it’s given me a renewed connectedness to the roots of jazz and the music that’s derived from it. So lindy hop has definitely reinvigorated my appreciation for all the other dance styles that I do.
Favorite band/artist to dance to? Swing or otherwise?
Well, it’s a progressive thing. My focus is always changing. I was recently introduced to Chelsea Reed and the Fairweather Five. Ah, they’re so good. And, of course, the Preservation Hall All-Stars blew my mind yesterday. And now, having experienced them live, I’d really love to see a battle of the bands between Harlem Renaissance Orchestra and the Preservation Hall All-Stars. But, there needs to be another descriptor for how hard they [Preservation Hall All-Stars] swing, because it was amazing to be a part of that atmosphere. But Chelsea Reed, Preservation Hall All-Stars, and Harlem Renaissance Orchestra. So I guess I don’t have a single favorite. But I also love Charles Turner and Gordon Webster. They’re phenomenal.
If you were stuck on an island with one iconic lindy hopper, who would you want it to be?
There’s so many for so many different reasons. Off the cuff, my response would be Sylvia Sykes because she’s so interesting. Whenever I have a conversation with her it’s always enlightening and hilarious at the same time. And working on things with her is always game-changing. I guess it’s because of the perspective she brings from having directly learned from so many of the originals, which is refreshing but also contextual. So she never presents anything without giving the history. She just has that relevant knowledge that’s so fun to absorb. But being stuck on an island with Ms. Norma [Miller] would be hysterical. Also Al Minns, just because of how creative he allowed himself to be. I’d love to pick his brain about what he was thinking about when he was filming certain things and what his influence was. But there’s so many. Even thinking about my friendships with dancers who are considered iconic today. Like Frida Segerdahl, a swedish dancer. If I were stuck on an island with her we’d just geek out over so many things.
“This dance is based on improvisation, so perfection is a weird thing to strive for. Communication and a shared experience, I’m all for that. But, perfection, not so much.”
How does teaching bring a different perspective to swing and social dancing?
I’m definitely of the school that your teaching should inform your dancing, and vice versa. I have a very symbiotic relationship with what I’m teaching and how I’m dancing, because what I teach is derived from what I’m dancing or practicing. Also, I really enjoy the feedback I get from teaching. Not the praise, but the feedback. Actually learning, while teaching, how to better execute something so it’s received in its entirety. Not just as a move, but either in the musical or historical context. But teaching shines a greater light on that so it makes it easier to identify my shortcomings so that I can be better at executing things so they can be better understood and perpetuated. I’ve also enjoyed teaching with different partners, as of late, because it’s taught me a lot about how I move and avoiding doing classroom dancing, as opposed to what I’d actually do if I were dancing. Sometimes we have a tendency to temper things and make them look exactly a certain way. And that’s not true to what we’re doing when we’re dancing and expressing ourselves. This dance is based on improvisation, so perfection is a weird thing to strive for. Communication and a shared experience, I’m all for that. But, perfection, not so much.
Do you have any big projects you’re working on at the moment?
Yeah, collectively. The dancers of color, as we refer to ourselves, have a group called Black, Brown and Beige. We’re working on putting pieces together to share and to continue to highlight the representation of African Americans and dancers of color. Not to cast a shadow or anything, but to be more present and more active collectively. So seeing the development of that has been pretty fun. But I’ve also been working with the Frankie Manning Foundation. And I’ve been wanting to work toward helping with some of the youth programs. The largest thing I’m working on right now is my grad school program at NYU Gallatin. It’s an individualized study school. So I created a master’s program focused mainly around ethnochoreology. It’s dance anthropology, ethnography, and musicology all kind of rolled into one.
Ian Monroe is a contributing writer for Crescent City Swing, community member, and friend.
Photos by Jessica Keener Photography.
The festival is upon us! Every October hundreds of people from around the world come to town for a celebration of dance, music, and all things swing. This year, we want to introduce you to the director of the festival and a major behind-the-scenes creative force in our city: Amy Johnson.
How long have you been swing dancing? Where did you start?
I have been swing dancing almost 20 years now. Its actually a bit of a mind trip to think about that. I started in the Twin Cities in 1998 right at the height of neo-swing popularity. I would be lying if I said that things like the Gap swing commercial and the movie Swing Kids didn't give me encouragement to start. But I had been a fan of old movies and swing music long before that.
How old is the swing dance festival?
The New Orleans Swing Dance Festival is turning 9 this year. It started in 2008 when I moved The Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown to New Orleans from Minneapolis. The Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown would be turning 16 this year of it wasn't taking a much needed break.
What's your vision for this year's event?
The vision for this year is all about exploring the variety of styles of dance and music under the umbrella swing. There are so many that we can't even feature during the weekend because there just isn't enough time. And as usual we have classes with live music. There is nothing more valuable than hearing the perspective of the people playing the music you dance to.
What are you up to when you're not organizing this crazy thing?
I also run a summer camp for adults called Welbourne Jazz Camp on a farm in Middleburg, Virginia. Its for people of all ability levels who want to learn to play jazz and also study lindy hop, tap, and jazz. Its the most fun thing I do all year. I love it so much.
Throughout the year I also run The Chorus Girl Project and The NOLA Chorus Girls with another local dancer, Laura Manning. We do our own original choreographies to all local band recordings. We also do parades but thats not the main thing we do. We mostly focus on performing in local jazz clubs. The Chorus Girls are super fun because it's ladies of all ages from all over the city coming together to dance and break away from their normal life.
What's your favorite place to dance in town?
Naming my favorite place to dance is a hard one. When it comes down to it, I love to dance anywhere there is music that is really really good. I am very much partial to dancing to bands my friends are in. They just happen to also be the best around.
What are you going to be for Halloween?
Not sure yet. My 6 year old nephew thinks I should be a Minion like him.
Where can I find the best Thai Iced Tea in New Orleans?
The best thai tea? Hmm. Well, I drink the most at The Orange Couch because I basically live there when I'm working. Sukho Thai is good too. But the best Thai tea I've ever had was in Middleburg (where Welbourne Jazz Camp is) at Best Thai. :)
Check out The New Orleans Swing Dance Festival website for details about schedule and ticketing. We, your friendly neighborhood Crescent City Swingers will be there too, teaching the Beginner Lindy Hop classes and hosting the festival's community ambassador program. Find our table at the event!
I’ve spoken before about how learning and improving my dancing is important to me. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to help start a dance school; so that I could share my joy learning with other folks who might feel the same way.
And so it makes sense that one of the most common questions we get from our students is when to move on to the next level. I’m going to answer some of those questions here, but the first thing you should know is that learning is a very personal process and not all the guidance you’ll find here will apply to you. A blog post probably won’t answer every question you have on this topic, so I’ll start by encouraging you to always speak with your dance teacher to get their opinion on the issue.
If you think you might be ready to move on, or if you want to be ready to be ready to move on, listen up!
An Overview Of The Program
Imagine our swing dance program like a lush, beautiful tree. Swing Basics courses are like the trunk of the tree. Everything else you learn is connected to the solid foundation you build in these introductory classes, so it’s really important that you know them backward and forward. Thin, puny trunks don’t support big, strong trees!
Just past the trunk you’ve got some branches on your tree. At our tree... er, school, we have Lindy Hop branches, Charleston branches, Balboa branches, and Solo Jazz branches. You might enjoy one of these styles more than the others, but strong trees have at least a few solid branches rather than just one big one (I think a tree with one branch is just a log). The reason we offer more than one type of dance is so that not only will you find something you enjoy, but you’ll build a good foundation in each style and be able to use them whenever you’re inspired to.
At the end of your branches you’ve got full leaves and maybe even some fruit growing. This is your personal touch, your contribution to the dance. This is your higher-level stuff. You need a good trunk of foundations and nice branches of specialized knowledge to get there, but finally you’ve got some fruit! It’s unique to you and the envy of all the other dancers, and you needed the whole journey to get there.
What You Should Know
Alright, metaphors aside, there are practical things you need to extract from each level before you’re ready to move on. From swing basics, you might be ready to move on when you know these skills comfortably:
- Six count basics with single and triple step rhythms
- Eight count basics with single and triple step rhythms
- Six count send-outs and return to closed position patterns
- Six count tuck turns
- Eight count promenade patterns (leader goes, follow goes, etc.)
You’ll notice that most of these things are techniques and moves. Dancing isn’t just hammering out move after move but you have to know these things before you can start to exercise your creativity and control over the dance. We’ll talk more about the “non-move” stuff later.
A longer period of time spent in Swing Basics will serve you very well moving forward. In fact, it’s a good idea to return to swing basics periodically (no matter your level) to work on your fundamentals. Generally, you should be in Swing Basics for 6-8 weeks for exposure to all these concepts – and more – before you’re ready to move on.
What You Need From Level 1 Courses
Level 1 courses like Lindy Hop 1 and Charleston 1 assume that you have a decent foundation in the Swing Basics repertoire. These classes will move faster and challenge you to grow more. In the level 1 classes you’ll learn the “classic” moves from that particular dance style and maybe start to see the bigger picture of how all these dances relate to one another.
Advice about moving from Level 1 to Level 2 classes is a little less cut and dry. Of course, you’ll need to know the foundational aspects of each dance style to move to level 2, but there are less quantifiable aspects that should be starting to happen with your dancing, like:
- Beginning to introduce musicality to your dance decisions
- Growing more comfortable deliberately breaking patterns or mixing techniques together
- Able to more clearly lead or readily follow weight changes and more complex patterns
- Experimenting with your own ideas and moves during a dance to see what works and what doesn’t
You’re not expected to be a pro to be at Level 2 – far from it. But if the concepts above seem daunting or maybe even impossible at your current level, consider staying in Level 1 for a little while longer. Just like Swing Basics, Level 1 courses can be taken repeatedly to improve your dancing. Mastery of Level 1 might take you longer than Swing Basics and that’s ok – 8-12 weeks minimum might be enough to expose you to all the concepts you need to get you ready for Level 2 courses.
Around The World And Back Again
Maybe you’ve done Swing Basics, Level 1, and Level 2 in one of our course offerings. What now? The learning doesn’t end there. Here are some ideas on different ways to progress and grow in your dancing:
- Try the opposite role of your preferred one
- Try a different style (even if you’re not sure you’ll like it at first)
- Talk to us about joining our performance team
- Start a practice group and work with your peers on improving together
- Try a weekend exchange or workshop weekend
- If you have a competitive streak, try entering a competition
- Social dance, social dance, social dance!
We believe that there’s no secret to becoming a better dancer. The truth is it takes time and practice and a little bit of dedication. We’re here to set you on the path. If you have any questions about where to go or what to do with your dancing, we’re here to help answer them too.
Whatever you do, remember that dancing is supposed to be fun and rewarding! We take the learning seriously, just in case you don’t want to. But if you do want to take it seriously – we got you.
See you on the dance floor!
Come with us for walk through Balboa fields forever. We're starting a whole new branch of classes this fall and we want to make sure you have some idea what's you're getting into. So put your feet up, grab some popcorn, and get comfy with a whole new style of swing.
What Even Is It?
Balboa is a swing dance! It originated in southern California, as opposed to Lindy Hop which is from New York, so when you dance it you can feel the ocean breeze on your face. That's the main difference. Just kidding.
You'll find a lot of similar rhythms in Balboa to Charleston and Lindy Hop, and you can easily transfer knowledge from one dance to another. There are a few main differences though, most notably the connection. Balboa is danced much closer to a partner, often chest to chest.
It's also known for its fast footwork. These weight changes, like in other swing dances, are led and followed, even though sometimes it looks like a magic trick. (Sometimes it is actually magic)
Why Should I Do It?
The small space requirement and relative ease of dancing to faster music makes it an ideal addition to the New Orleanian swing dancer's arsenal. You can mix it in with all of your other dances, plus - it's beautiful. This next video, an example of Balboa in New Orleans, was shot at French Quarter Fest 2009 and features Balboa mixed in which a bunch of other swing dances. Can you can identify all of the different swing dances in the clip?
We'll discuss the answer in Balboa class, Mondays at 7:30 in the fall. See what I did there?
A Fresh Perspective introduces dancer, writer, friend, and Jazz Squares member, Cameron Lovejoy. Cameron has been lindy hopping for almost ten years, starting in Columbia, South Carolina and making his way to New Orleans, where he now resides. Seeing as though he has a number of years under his belt, I thought it’d be interesting to get “a fresh perspective” on the dance from someone who’s done it for so long.
You can find him on Frenchmen with a typewriter, dancing at one of the socials, or teaching a lesson at the Spotted Cat restaurant every few Thursdays. Join me as I take a look at Cameron’s thoughts about dancing in New Orleans.
1. When did you see swing dancing for the first time?
Well, I saw Lindy Hop for the first time in 2006. And I remember taking a small workshop that same day. But getting into it was a slow process because their wasn’t much of a scene in my town.
2. What was your thought the first time you saw swing dancing?
There was this workshop fair at my summer camp back when I was a teenager. Two of the staff advisers were really good at it and wanted to show us. So everyone was crowded around this brick fireplace in the middle of Vermont. Then they played Lavender Coffin, I think, and danced. So it was the coolest thing, I thought, to see this rubber band dance. The dancers were so good. The style was so playful. I went crazy about it.
3. What’s your absolute favorite thing to do, besides dancing, of course?
Probably write poetry. I do that almost every day. But I also dance every day. So, you could say it’s my physical and mental balance.
4. Favorite solo jazz move?
Uh, I really like Crazy Legs and the Shish-ka-boom-ba from the Big Apple. And this is a cheesy one but I like the Scarecrow a lot.
5. Favorite TV show growing up?
Definitely Hey Arnold. In the first episode they dress up as these fruits for a play they’re in. But they end up getting on the wrong bus and go an adventure. Plus, there’s jazz throughout the whole show. So I think my love of jazz and traveling started with Hey Arnold, subconsciously.
6. If you had to pick one dance move to lead during an entire three-minute song, what would it be?
Swingout. When I played drums, I’d always try to do some kind of fill at the end of a measure. Or add an accent here or there. So it’d be really hard to keep the same vanilla swingout for that long. But if I had to pick, it’d be that….or high-fives.
7. In your opinion, what makes a really good lead?
A really good lead allows the follow to finish their sentences, and guides so that the other can speak. They’re soft enough to feel gushy, but firm enough to convey their ideas.
8. What’s your number one favorite dance memory?
This isn’t a specific memory, but there are times when it’s late at night and you’re kind of delirious, and keep dancing song after song, and you’re sweating so much -- like your eyes are burning, there’s so much sweat -- and you’ve even slightly injured yourself and know you probably shouldn’t keep dancing but you do anyway, and there’s a live band playing and everyone wants to dance with you and you want to dance with everyone else.
9. Is New Orleans different at all compared to other swing communities? How?
A hundred percent. You guys are spoiled. I mean, so many other cities have like one night a week, maybe two, at an appointed dance hall or some weird building with a terrible floor. Here, we have the option to dance to live music pretty much any night of the week. And there’s the social aspect to it. Not just the people you’re with, but the people who are visiting New Orleans, the bands who feed off the dancers and vice versa. And even if the floor sucks or if it’s crowded, it’s just a great time.
10. What’s your favorite book of all time?
Uh, I really love Daracula by Bram Stoker, Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote, and I’ve really been getting into Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.
11. Where’s your favorite spot to dance in New Orleans?
Hmm, well the energy at the Spotted Cat is awesome. But, I love the floor at DBA...and the space at DBA...and the beer at DBA. Soooo….DBA.
12. Why did you hate the new Spider-Man movie with Tom Holland (no pressure, we just want to know)?
Ugh, it was just super formulaic and cheesy and cliche. They just recycled the same lines and the same message from every other superhero movie. Plus, I thought Spider-Man was just really whiny.
13. What non-dancing areas of your life has dancing helped you evolve in?
Definitely drumming. Being able to know measures and counts. Being able to know the difference between the “and” and the “e” and the “1” and the “2”. To know through my body where the “1” is or where I can add an accent, and just understanding the structure of music. Also I feel like it helps with the rhythm of metered poetry. And then relationships, as well. Whether platonic or romantic, just in listening to each other. I feel like a lot of people don’t let others speak enough. So as a lead in the conversation I’m conscious of listening more.
14. Is this what you do, hop out of bed and spit wisdom?
Well, I don’t hop out of bed. I Lindy Hop out of bed.
15. Favorite place to get a cup of coffee in the city?
I’d say St. Coffee’s pretty good. But if I’m going for the atmosphere, I’d say Flora’s.
Ian Monroe is a contributing writer for Crescent City Swing, community member, and friend.
I’m a pack animal by nature. I like being part of a team and genuinely prefer it to doing things by myself. So when Kerry started the Jazz Squares, the Crescent City Swing performance team, I was really excited to join. Surprisingly, it was more fun and rewarding than I could have imagined. And if you were interested in joining a team (or THE team), let me pull back the veil a little and tell you what it’s like.
When you’re on a dance team, you practice dancing. A lot. There are generally two types of routines we might perform; a choreographed solo jazz routine with little or no partnering, and a partner routine which is also choreographed but can often be lead and followed like a social dance.
When we practice a solo jazz routine, we’re moving independently or through different formations together. Although these routines revolve around solo movement, sometimes the teamwork required to pull off the formations and aesthetic we’re looking for is even greater than what’s required to lead and follow a partner routine. I didn’t think I would appreciate these routines as much as I do – I was excited to dance with partners in the team setting, but I was surprised how much fun and creativity can come out of the team when we work together and dance together even when we’re not even touching.
The partnering routines are also a ton of fun. I often find new and interesting ways to spice up my Lindy Hop by adapting the choreographed elements of a performance into a movement that can be lead or followed with ease. The nuts and bolts of my leading and following have been refined by working on complex partnering ideas with consistent partners over and over again. Hands down some of the fastest growth you will see as a dancer will come through focused effort in a team setting.
Did I mention earlier how much we practice? The Jazz Squares meet for a minimum of two hours every weekend, and often practice together several hours of the week during Office Hours to get everything humming along nicely. Add in the time spent on your own working on choreography or improving your own dancing and you start to see the amount of time and dedication it takes to be on a team.
Working on dancing and practicing together is a badge of honor for the team and we take our commitment to each other seriously. That’s a big part of what being on a team is about. It’s an agreement to work hard together to help everyone’s work pay off. It’s true that I work hard for my own personal satisfaction, but I also work hard to honor my fellow teammates and the hard work they've put in.
Don't get me wrong, it’s not all work all the time. Practices are fun! And building camaraderie with your teammates is also fun! In the time we’ve been together, we’ve been able to support each other, hang out, and have a good time outside of practice.
And the performances we’ve gotten to do have been a blast. When you’re asked to perform, you’ll often get to go to places you normally wouldn’t go, like fancy cocktail parties and VIP-guests-only sort of engagements. More than one performance has involved some free cocktails and free food thrown my way. Dancing is its own reward, but eating good food for free is a pretty sweet win, too.
You don’t need to be a superstar to be on a great team. It will take some hard work, dedication, and team work from you to get the most out of it. If you think you have what it takes, The Jazz Squares will be starting session two of their performance team in September with practice times on Sundays. If you’re nervous about starting with the team or don’t know whether it would be a good fit for you or not, give Kerry a holler and see what she thinks. If you need a little more experience before you join, that’s OK too – there will be an opportunity for you in the future.
In the meantime, look for the Jazz Squares performing and dancing around town. If you catch us performing, come over and say hi or grab a dance with us! We love dancing and we want to share it with you. It’s what Jazz Squares do.
Things have sped up for me recently. Finding myself in the process of moving, working more, and being an adult in more ways than I’d like has made me busier. Sadly, luxuries like dancing have taken a bit of a back seat. I’m sure those of you with careers far outside the realm of swing can relate to this. So far my summer has consisted of playing a long game of catch up. On the rare occasions that I do finally catch up, I try to spend most of my downtime getting a dance in anywhere I can. But there hasn’t been much time for lessons in my schedule. In result, I’ve been feeling stagnant in my dancing. So I thought I’d take this time to express how much a fan of lessons I am, and how big a part they are in my life.
First off, if you’ve recently gotten into dancing and are considering buying a lesson package but not sure if it’s worth the change, I have three words for you. Just. Do it. Lessons may be my favorite part of dancing. They’re the reason I am what I am today, why I can walk onto a floor with confidence, and even why I’m writing this. Community lessons are great way to get your foot into the door of dancing. But if you truly want to progress as a dancer, there’s no way to invest in yourself than by getting a package of lessons. In lessons such as these, you and other dancers around your skill level can learn and build with each other without any judgment. You’re free to ask as many questions as you like or even have a teacher examine your technique if you’d like. These classes usually have a smaller attendance record and allow for more personal instruction time than your usual drop-in class.
A few other things about lessons are the rate at which you progress. Getting a package and going to lessons every week can allow for so much progression as a dancer. Of course, going to community lessons on top of these would be even better (which I highly recommend). But community lessons are geared more toward people who have very little or no swing experience, so they won’t build on themselves the same way a lesson package might, which will have around the same students consistently. And maybe you’ll even get to know these other students and go have informal practices of your own. I have a friend who’s always going to lessons. Whether it’s a package or community lesson, if it’s swing he’s there. Actually, at one point he was even a member of two lesson packages at two different dance studios. But, eventually we started seeing each other at the same lessons for a while so we started talking about different moves we’d learned and how we could improve on them. And the best part is we’re both leads, so dancing together causes us to practice our following as well. So try to ask other students as well as teachers about certain moves, or about setting up impromptu practices to work on moves. It’s a great way to get better in a fun, comfortable setting.
Inherently, lessons will make you a better dancer. But at the heart of it all, they can also make you a more confident person. Once your knowledge of multiple turns and moves fall in line with your ability to execute them, there’ll be nothing stopping you from asking anyone to dance, which was something that I struggled with when I first started. Of course, that shouldn’t stop you from asking people, whether you’re a lead or follow, and it shouldn’t have stopped me. I would have progressed a lot faster if I got rid of that fear first, because the best way to get better is practice.
One of the most important things I’ve found in going to lessons is to use it or lose it. For me, I have about a three-day window after I learn a move to use it on the dance floor before I start forgetting the dynamics of it. Because as you progress further into dancing, more complex moves will start making their way into your vocabulary. In my experience, a good way to make sure they don’t overwhelm you is to get them into your muscle memory early on. Whether it’s going out to dance, or getting together with a partner, or practicing alone in front of the mirror, anything helps. Your brain can only remember an hour’s worth of new material for so long. So get out there and dance!
Ian Monroe is a contributing writer for Crescent City Swing, community member, and friend.