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The dangers we face

Posted on February 17th, 2010 by

Who knew that being a dance instructor could be so dangerous? Just look at what this Wisconsin dance teacher went through.

A Baraboo man was accused of repeatedly shocking a male dance instructor with a stun gun, claiming the instructor was a “sinner” who “defiles married women.” A Dane County prosecutor said the suspect, 59, hastily arranged a dance lesson at the instructor’s Madison home and showed up with a stun gun and sledgehammer last Friday. The criminal complaint said the man told a detective that his church does not condone touching while dancing and that he was going to scare the instructor “and tell him to leave the women alone.”

Read the full story.

Wow… and ouch!

Partner dancing can be a touchy subject in some religions. In fact, there are many in my own faith that disapprove of dancing. However, over the years, I have seen attitudes change and norms relax as more people see there is a difference between social dancing and… um… things that should be left behind closed doors.

Thanks George for sending this link along!

Categories: Dancing Tags: ,

Eleanor Powell & Fred Astaire

Posted on February 4th, 2010 by

Our friend Shelley sent us a video that has been floating around in email. It’s of Eleanor Powell & Fred Astaire dancing. The email says:

A bit of history:

It seems as if Eleanor Powell was just too good for Fred Astaire, as he never wanted to be paired with her again.

He evidently was played down by her, but they were both great, and the likes of this will never be seen again.

The year: 1940 (69 years ago).   The narrator is Frank Sinatra.

It was filmed in ONE unedited camera shot.  Amazing!

It is considered by many as one of the best dance scenes ever filmed

Personally, I tend to like this clip from the same 1940 film (Broadway Melody):

Categories: Videos Tags: , ,

Dancing to get fit in the New Year

Posted on January 13th, 2010 by

Many people’s resolutions this year includes getting fit and shedding some unwanted pounds. Rob and I are no different in this area. We too are suffering from the result of too much “joy” and “holiday cheer” enjoyed this past Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday. Aside from our clothes fitting a bit tighter than normal, our lowered fitness level became all too obvious to us when we danced a mid-tempo Collegiate Shag at this past Saturday’s dance.

While many people will be hitting a local gym to work off the extra weight, we are going to incorporate dancing into our weight loss plan (along with eating better). Even done without a partner, Collegiate Shag and Charleston make great dances to get the heart pumping. Moving your body to music you enjoy also makes getting the 30 minutes per day of suggested cardiovascular exercise easier and more fun. Not to mention all that practice will surely show on the dance floor with smoother, more relaxed footwork and body movement. Just remember to stretch your leg muscles before and after dancing to prevent any injuries and stay hydrated.

Don’t forget that our series classes are a great way to get a guaranteed 1.5 hours of movement per week while meeting other great people looking to learn dancing, move their bodies, and/or do something new. The 2nd and 4th Saturday swing dances at Whirl and Twirl are additional opportunities to get moving, hear great music, and have fun.

So no matter how you plan to drop those unwanted pounds, here’s to a slimmer, fitter, 2010 🙂

Swing History Misinformation

Posted on September 8th, 2009 by

Lindy HopSwing dancers come to find their passion through many means. For Dawn and I, we started by learning ballroom dancing for our wedding and though this discovered a love for swing. While pursuing our passion, we found that there is a lot of misinformation about swing (in particular, the history of swing dancing) amongst the ballroom community. Over the years, this has motivated us to educate people in the history of swing as well as the dance as we teach classes and workshops. Why care about some misinformation floating around? Because swing is a rich part of our cultural history. Until the swing scene boomed, ballroom studios were most people’s source for information about the dance. Given those stats, the history of swing dancing was almost rewritten with misinformation. In fact, when Dawn and I first started to pursue our love of swing, it was actually difficult to find good information about the dance’s history.

Now before I go any further, let me say that this is by no means a slam on the ballroom community. Nowadays, this “one off” history is being passed along through no malice. It’s simply people relaying the information they were told from what they felt was a reliable source. Fortunately, as the swing scene boomed and many others found a love for the history and culture of the dance, this misinformation has become more the exception. It’s now easy to find good information about the roots of swing dancing and many ballroom dancers have embraced it’s rich history. However, there are still pockets who have not been enlightened.

Arthur MurraySo what is this misinformation that I am talking about? We’ve heard all kinds of stuff over the years. When we first started dancing, our instructor told us several interesting factoids including “Arthur Murray invented swing” and “the name ‘swing’ comes from the swinging of the hips”. Both statements are clearly false. Other statements include swing being a “modified Foxtrot” and/or a “modified box step”. Knowing the true history of swing (more specifically, Lindy Hop) proves that both are again false.

So what’s the big cover up? What’s the source of this inaccurate information? Well, just recently a good friend shared a website with us that sheds light on this. On this ballroom dance site was a “misleading” (at best) history of swing dancing. Having a hunch that this information was probably copied from a studio syllabus or publication, I did some searching and found that this description appeared almost word-for-word on multiple ballroom sites. This says that it was clearly a copy/paste job. It’s not my goal to single anyone out, so I will simply link to Google results so you can view the source. Since one site references the swing era as “about 35 years ago”, we can assume that this is from a studio publication that has been passed down over the years. The wording has either been changed by some when put online, or the document evolved over time. In fact, I’ve seen some of this wording that has been mixed in with more factual swing histories.

What’s particularly interesting about this is that you can see some of the roots of the years of misinformation. Look past the facts and look at the writing. Certain phrases stick out:

“For many years now the better establishments have frowned upon the wilder forms of the Swing”

“It is possible, however, to do a fine Swing… providing the dancers are better than average…”

“There is no question that the dance is here to stay”

“…originally called the Lindy Hop, was born in the South of the U.S.A.”

To really understand the meaning behind these phrases, you have to put them in context. Swing is a street dance. During the swing era, the ballroom community and studios rejected it as an improper dance. It was viewed as a passing fad that would soon go away. In their eyes, no respectable person would do the Lindy Hop. What was the motivation behind this? Some say that it was because during the time the dance was popular amongst the youth of America and was viewed as wild and rebellious. Others say that race came into play. At the time, ballroom catered to upper class white clientele while swing was created by blacks in Harlem. Personally, I think it was a heaping helping of both.

Regardless, sometime in the 1940’s and into the 50’s, the ballroom community came to accept swing, however, not in its entirety. After years of the dance being wildly popular, it was clear to them that “the dance is here to stay”. At that point, studios looked to capitalize on the trend. However, due to their previous bias, they felt the dance must be repackaged to be more acceptable to their clientele. In marketing material and internal publications, the history of the dance was obscured. Instead of acknowledging the black roots of the dance in Harlem, it was instead claimed that the dance came from the south. While possibly true seeing Lindy Hop evolved from Charleston (a dance with some roots in the south), the statement is misleading at best. To further cover the roots, the steps were likened to basic ballroom steps like the box step. This gives the impression that swing came from a more “proper dance” and not an evolution of jazz steps. To add on, studios implied that with proper training it is possible for someone to dance a “fine swing” and not be frowned upon when visiting “better establishments”. This was an early form of what we would now call marketing spin.

Here we are many decades later and these old inaccurate, misleading publications are still making appearances on modern web sites. It’s a sad reminder that a part of our cultural heritage was almost obscured. This isn’t due to any conspiracy on the part of any modern ballroom studios or instructors. They are just relaying what they were taught and what they have always assumed as accurate information. However, this is a good warning that marketing spin can often rewrite history and obscure the real facts… often destroying culture in the process.

Categories: Dancing Tags: ,

What happened to swing in the 90’s?

Posted on August 5th, 2009 by

I ran across an interesting article about teaching swing dancing in the streets of Vail during this year’s film festival. A little over midway through the article, the author asks an interesting question…

“So why did swing dancing fizzle out following the late-’90s rage?”

The instructor being interviewed responds with…

“I really couldn’t tell you,” Yannacone said. “I think it’s the popular media what determines what’s hot and not. And its not that it disappeared entirely, but to most people not in the swing dance world, yeah, it kind of was around then left.”

He is right, popular media has a lot to do with it. But why didn’t they latch on to it like they did with the current round of dance TV shows?  Having danced through the boom and decline, I think I can add some to his response. It’s really quite simple. Swing doesn’t “sell”.

In the late ’90s swing was briefly snatched up by nightclubs all across the nation. It wasn’t long before they realized that swing isn’t profitable as a format. You can’t drink alcohol and spin all around the dance floor. Let’s face it, profit margins are in bar sales, not cover charges. Swing brought in the crowds, but everyone was on or around the dance floor and not building up a bar tab. Most clubs changed format while crowds were still high, leaving many to wonder “what happened?”. While Salsa can occasionally bend the rules, in general, partner dancing and nightclubs don’t mix. That’s why you haven’t seen any clubs pick up on the latest ballroom dance craze… they learned their lesson in the ’90s.

But in reality, it goes much beyond bar sales. In small pockets around the nation, swing was was an underground movement before the Gap commercial launched it into the mainstream. It was a rebellion against… well, pop fads and pop culture. In a time where people were recovering from grunge and “freak dancing” was sweeping the country, swing (and the vintage lifestyle that surrounds it) was the counterculture to counterculture. This didn’t mesh well with mainstream media. While swing certainly caught people’s attention, it wasn’t… well… sexy enough… and we all know, sex sells.

Let’s not forget about the music. There was certainly mass interest in swing music during the boom. The neo-swing “daddy bands” rocketed in the charts and people where buying up Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman CDs at music stores. Again, this didn’t fit into the mold of mainstream media. Bands are now manufactured by record and media companies (anyone watch American Idol?). The facts are that swing bands are not easy to artificially manufacture and there was no way that big media was going back to the old way of doing things.

In many ways, the swing fad of the late 90’s paved the way for the dance show craze of today. The mainstream media learned by trail and error to find what they were looking for. The latest dance shows have a sexy side and offer a variety of dances, that can be conveniently danced to whatever song that needs promotion time. Is this a slam on the current dance shows? No, not at all. In some ways, they are just reinventing a format that started way back with American Bandstand. In fact, it is probably a great win/win situation. It gives dances some spotlight time, while still allowing individual dances scenes to thrive “underground”.

However, learning from the 90’s fad, I am concerned about the “post boom”. How about you? Feel free to leave a comment.

Categories: Dancing Tags: ,

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“I wanted to compliment you guys on your dedication and skills as instructors. ... on Sunday I did have a break while waiting for Dawn and watched how each of you were instructing and I was impressed. Your love of the dance and dedication is obvious. ... For my own thanks, at every event I've gone to and danced Shag, Balboa, Lindy Hop (and the occassional Charleston) with others from around the world and I've always been thankful for what you guys taught. Most convincing (and testimony to your teaching) were the first times I travelled out of Florida and I danced with skilled follows from far away, and I was like - this stuff really does work all around the world!”

- Ben Saro


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