Todd Yannacone is one of the most influential and inspiring dancers in New Orleans today. A world-class talent in Lindy Hop, Balboa and other partner dances, Todd teaches swing dance internationally while also working as a performing musician in New Orleans with several bands. You can listen to Todd with his bands all over town and on some Thursday nights at the St. Claude Social, and if you're interested in learning to dance from Todd he is available for private lessons when he's not jet-setting.
We took a moment to catch up with Todd and got some of his thoughts on dancing, music, and New Orleans.
When Did You Begin Dancing?
I began dancing in 1999. My mom forced me to, it was definitely not by choice. She danced as well, and dragged me to a workshop in Mexico called Hop the Millenium, run by the Rhythm Hot Shots, and that was a turning point for me. I actually enjoyed it, and saw other kids my age not only enjoying it, but excelling at it, and so when I returned I was determined to actually take dance seriously. So beginning of 2000 is when I actually started throwing myself into the dance.
Who Or What Are Some Of Your Major Influences Relative To Dancing Or Music?
I have had too many influences to know even where to begin. Skye Humphries was definitely one of my earlier influences, and continues to be one today. He was one of the kids I mentioned being at Hop the Millenium, who was already pretty good and made the dance seem like a fun, cool thing to do even as a teenager (when all my teenager instincts told me otherwise). Peter Loggins has been a huge influence for me, despite the fact that we literally couldn't dance more differently. I've always appreciated that he is so into the history of dance, and upholds the authenticity of the various dances, and you could film him in black and white in a vintage suit and it would look like an old newsreel and nobody would know the difference. Slippery Tom (Tom Lewis) also influenced me for years. The things he could do with his feet were just staggering. Ramiro Gonzalez is definitely one of the people I have been more influenced by in the past few years. He just grooves so hard, and makes the simplest things look so good and effortless. The list goes on...
As for musical influences, I'll just name a handful of people worth listening to, that I have enjoyed and who have affected me over the years - Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Django Reinhardt, Lionel Hampton, Coleman Hawkins, Fats Waller, Stuff Smith, Jess Stacy, Count Basie, Chick Webb, Duke Ellington, Willie "The Lion" Smith, Sidney Bechet, too many others to name. I'm also limiting this to jazz, and to famous artists from the past, because otherwise this list would just go on forever.
How Did You Get Into Guitar And Playing Music?
I got a free guitar from my mom's work when I was a teenager. She taught deaf kids and someone had donated a guitar to her school. None of the teachers knew how to play guitar, and lots of the kids wouldn't be able to hear it anyways, so she just got to keep the guitar and gave it to me. I took a few lessons but didn't really understand much about the guitar, or music in general, no theory or anything like that. I would learn a song or two from tablature on the internet, and then put the guitar away for months and then bring it back out and repeat. It wasn't until I was maybe in my early twenties that a friend of mine bothered explaining some music theory to me. He told me I was musical when I danced, and would probably make a good musician, so he was going to just teach me some basic theory. It was the first time anybody had ever explained anything musical to me in a way that made sense. This chord is this chord because it contains these notes, and this is the sound/feeling you get from that, this chord progression works this way, and here's why, etc. It was mindblowing and was the first time music seemed accessible and not like sheer randomness. After that I started practicing more and watching youtube instructional videos or reading books and trying to pick up what I could from wherever I could.
What Do You Think Is The Most Important Concept To Learn For A Beginning Dancer?
Assuming we are talking a partnered dance, I think the most important concept to understand is leading and following. Leading and following are skills that require a certain mindset and way of being. It transcends just learning patterns, or starting on a certain foot, or being a certain gender, or any other things that most people immediately conjure in their minds when they think of leading and following.
What's Your Favorite Thing About New Orleans?
My favorite thing about New Orleans is the fact that it has a unique culture and history that it embraces, that you can't find anywhere else, and dancing and music is such an integral part of that. It's hard to put into words, but if you can vibe with the city, then it can immediately feel like home, whether you live here or not. There are places in the Quarter where they not only welcome buskers (street performers), but they close down streets for them. This is in stark contrast to many other places, including other places I've lived. When you fly into New Orleans, you fly into Louis Armstrong International Airport. That speaks volumes.
What's Your Spirit Animal?
I have two spirit animals. I'll save the in depth explanations, but one is a bear - many of my friends call me Toddy Bear. The other is a fox - my name literally translates to fox.
Learn More About Todd
If you'd like to learn more about Todd, visit his website at www.toddyannacone.com. We also highly recommend punching his name into YouTube for a real treat and a possible dance video rabbit hole.
Take The Workshop
If you're interested in taking a class from Todd, Crescent City Swing is hosting a workshop Saturday, December 17, 2016 at 1:00 - 3:00 PM.
We thank Todd for taking some time to sit down with us and look forward to having him as a guest instructor in the future!