Upcoming Events

Wednesday, Sep 6th
7:00 pm New monthly session of Lindy Hop Classes starts at Cats Corner! (More info)
Monday, Sep 11th
7:00 pm New monthly session of Mission Mondays Lindy Hop Classes starts at the Women's Building, SF! (More info)
Friday, Sep 15th
8:00 pm Teaching Swing at Ashkenaz, Berkeley with Steve Lucky & the Rhumba Bums (More info)

Reviews & Testimonials

Nathan was our wedding DJ and dance instructor for our very recent wedding in November and we still can't get over how fun the wedding and our first dance routine were!! Sachiko & Nate
(read more)

I hired Nathan (DJ NateDiggity) for my Move to the Groove party at Cafe Cocomo and he exceeded all my expectations. He was the perfect DJ for the party! Jeremy Sutton
(read more)

Nathan is awesome... I highly recommend taking his group classes, or hiring him for private lessons if you wish to swing dance at your wedding. Claudine & Danny
(read more)

Dance Shoes for Lindy Hop Followers

Hey there followers! So you’ve started swing dancing and you’re having trouble finding the right shoes. Heels are too high and uncomfortable, sneakers have too much tread on the soles, and ballroom dance shoes don’t have enough support. What to do?

The answer:
black keds

Keds are a classic tennis shoe with surprisingly awesome soles. Slick enough that you can swivel and spin, sticky enough that you can grip the floor with confidence.

keds bottom

 

Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers wore Keds back in the 1930’s! How cool is that. You can buy the classic Keds “Champion Sneaker” at Nordstrom, Macy’s, or online at Keds.com and Amazon.

But maybe the floor still feels too sticky in “street shoes” (a term for regular shoes with rubber soles). When it comes to dance shoes, you have the choice of suede or leather soles. Leather soles are excellent for swing dancing, but they are very slick – I don’t recommend them for beginner follows. Suede allows you to slide but also grip the floor.

These Keds-style dance shoes on dancestore.com have the cushioned support of tennis shoe, with suede soles:

http://www.dancestore.com/209-BK-aris-allen-womens-black-canvas-dance-sneaker.aspx

There is another, cost effective option: go to a shoe store, find a comfy tennis show with little or no tread, and test it on a hard floor. If you can slide the ball of your foot across the linoleum without getting stuck, you can probably dance in them. (Look for imitation Keds!)

If you have your heart set on wearing heels when you start dancing (like I did), work your way up to it. Heels can be a great learning tool: they force you to think about your balance, and the distribution of your weight between the balls of your feet and your heels. But as you’re mastering the basics, you have plenty of things to worry about besides not falling over. When you are ready, low-heel, closed-toe shoes are easier to wear swing dancing.

Choose something like this:
black mary jane

Not this:
high heels

See you on the dance floor!

Where is the One?

the one

When dancing to swing music it is often useful not only to be able to listen for and dance on the beat, but also to hear and start dancing on the infamous “1” in the music.

Musicians organize their music into groups of notes called measures, with every measure in the song having the same fixed number of beats. Swing music usually has 4 beats to the measure. The first beat of the measure or “1” is often emphasized in the music, although the type of emphasis varies from song to song, and even within a song. If you’re dancing 8-counts patterns like the 8-count Lindy Hop swingout, it feels very intuitive to start dancing the swingout on the 1 in the music, because after  two complete 4-beat measures, you’ll end up starting your next swingout on another emphasized 1 beat. It will Just Feel Good, trust me.

One way students can learn to hear the “1” is for teachers to spend time in class just listening to music with students.  The teacher can identify the “1” for various pieces of music, and then have the students try to find the “1” on their own. After some repetition of the exercise with a mix of songs, most students begin to hear it intuitively. However,  some dancers never develop this skill, much to the chagrin of their dance partners and teachers.

After a little brainstorming with students last weekend, we came up with a way for students to practice listening for the “1” on their own using a set of YouTube videos to train their ears. After a few minutes of training, a student who had been struggling for months, was finally able to recognize the “1” in the music… and even went on to correctly identify the “1” in songs he had never heard before.

Here are the YouTube videos….

And here’s how it works.

For each YouTube clip in the playlist, the audio track consists of a popular swing dance tune, while the video track flashes the numbers 1 through 8 on screen, in time with the correct beats of the audio track. I’ve posted 5 tracks to begin with, and will add a few more to cover a wide range of representative music styles.

Step 1: Listen to the audio track along with the video for a while

Step 2: Still watching & listening, count the beats out loud as the numbers change on screen. Tap your feet or hands on the beat if it helps. When you say “1”, say it louder than the other counts, to emphasize it.

Step 3: Stop listening actively, and restart the track, but look away from it this time. Listen to the beats and see if you can re-identify the 1, and count the beats out loud again.

Step 4: Look back to the screen again and check whether you’re counting along with the video track. If so, great! If not, try the exercise again with the same song…or try a different song in the playlist!

That’s it! Good luck! Have fun!

Special thanks to Hemant Sikaria who was my eager guinea pig for this exercise.

 

Blondie Cuts A Rug

Rebecca Shannon - SF Swing & Lindy Hop dance teacher

This month, I’d like to point out a nice little online swing dance resource — Blondie Cuts A Rug — a blog written by San Francisco swing dancer Rebecca Shannon. An art teacher by day and fabulous lindy hopper by night, Rebecca regularly teaches swing dance classes at SF City College along with David Blood. I was fortunate to borrow her to help teach classes at Cat’s Corner this past January.

Rebecca’s posts include useful tips, advice and information that I think will especially benefit new swing dancers — from basic dance floor etiquette, to ways to improve and stay motivated as dancer, to discovering one’s own unique voice and style on the dance floor. Here are a few good reads:

A few of Rebecca’s posts also touch on bits of swing and jazz history, and if you like those, then you should consider “friending” her on Facebook (Rebecca Shannon), where her historical portraits of vintage dance and music greats will find their way into your Facebook stream.

10 Swingin’ Winter Holiday Tunes

The winter holiday season has just about passed, but it’s never too late for presents! Here’s a collection of swingin’ holiday tunes in genres ranging from classic big band swing to rockin’ rhythm & blues that will get you dancing and warm, the rest of this winter and next!

  1. Christmas Blues – Washboard Pete
  2. I want to spend Christmas with Elvis – Debbie Dabney
  3. Stay a Little Longer, Santa – Shemekia Copeland
  4. Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow – Ella Fitzgerald
  5. Little St. Nick – the Beach Boys
  6. Jingle Bells – Glenn Miller
  7. Boogie Woogie Santa Claus – Lionel Hampton
  8. Duke’s Jingle – Duke Ellington
  9. I’ve got my love to keep me warm – Dean Martin
  10. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee

 


Wishing you all a fantastic 2013 filled with music and dancing!

Masters of Lindy Hop: Steven & Virginie

Lindy Hop Teaching Masters: Steven & VirginieSteven Mitchell and Virginie Jensen are easily two of the most talented, respected, innovative and influential dancers and teachers in the Lindy Hop community today. Indeed, you will be hard pressed to find a serious professional or competitive Lindy Hop dancer who hasn’t been influenced by this dance couple.

By the time Steven and Virginie had teamed up officially in 1999 as international dance instructors, they had already developed a deep store of dance skill and knowledge through their own individual dance studies. Steven Mitchell had studied Jazz, Ballet, Modern, Ballroom & Hip Hop in Los Angeles and New York, and along with one of his original swing dance partners, Erin Stevens, had studied extensively with legendary Lindy Hoppers Al Minns & Frankie Manning.

Virginie, who had studied Jazz, Classical Ballroom, Swing and Ballet extensively for 20 years, had been teaching and performing since age 16. A lesser known fact is that Virginie actually began swing dancing in the SF Bay Area, was an early attendee of Lindy in the Park, and taught with then local swing dance teacher Chad Kubo before she formed her partnership with Steven.

YouTube responded to TubePress with an HTTP 410 - No longer available

My first experiences with Steven & Virginie was in workshop classes at the Oakland Swing Dance Festival in 2002 and 2003. My main Lindy Hop teachers at the time, Paul Overton & Sharon Ashe, had been raving for weeks for us students to seize the opportunity to learn from Steven & Virginie. Naturally, I had to see what all the fuss was about, so I did.

I remember two classes with them. The earlier class with Virginie focused on personal body movement, and how to connect with and move across the dance floor. There were no 8-counts, or 6-counts, triple steps or lead and follow, just rows of dancers relearning to walk across a dance floor with grace, power and style. In her endearing  French accent, she explained how to move from one’s “heeps” (i.e. hips) and center, and how to propel oneself across the floor by pushing through every step. Students also benefited from her extensive classical, jazz and ballet training as she covered how to turn and spin in a balanced and graceful manner.

The second class I remember, taught by both Steven and Virginie, gave me a whole new perspective on the swingout. In a teaching approach that is uniquely theirs, they avoided complicated technical explanations and jargon, and instead presented their material in simple visual and auditory terms, whittling the swingout to it’s bare essence: drawing one’s partner in, embracing them, and then sending them away. They built the movement up in stages:

  1.  just holding hands in open position, walking in place, one step on every beat (no triple steps!)
  2. same as the previous – walking, single steps on each beat – but leaders draw their partner toward them for the first half (first 4 counts), embrace partner briefly (count 4,5), send partner back out the way they came in for the second half (last 4 counts). Essentially, an 8-count sugar push with no triple steps.
  3. same as the previous, but leaders rotate slightly around counts 4-5, so that they send their follower out 180 degrees opposite the way they came in. Basically, a half-swingout.
  4. same as the previous, but leaders revolve 360 degrees while embracing their partner around counts 4-5, still just single stepping on every beat. Basically, a swingout, without the triple steps.
  5. same as the previous, but finally inserting triple steps on 3-and-4 and 7-and-8, making it a full, recognizable Lindy Hop swingout

Although I’ve deconstructed their lesson plan analytically, the real value in the lesson was the nuanced connection and the feeling of the swingout that they conveyed. Steven – who is incidentally a passionate singer and who is often be found singing onstage with the bands at world swing dance events – would vocalize what he and Virginie were feeling in the middle of those swingouts,and what they wanted you and your partner to experience yourself.  You could hear the power and gentle flow of their movements as they exclaimed “ooooh” and “ahhh” (tastefully, mind you), during the embrace of their swingouts, to express what was happening physically.

My overall point is that learning from Steven & Virginie is an experience in itself, and one that I highly recommend you try. Luckily, they are highly sought after instructors on the Lindy Hop and Blues dance teaching circuits, and you’ll find them as featured instructors at many national and international dance workshop and camps. Check them out at event such as Houston’s Southwest LindyFest (March),  Herrang Dance Camp (July), Swingout New Hampshire (Labor Day Weekend, August/September) and Denver’s Lindy Diversion (October), among others. Or catch them at their annual event in Rochester:

YouTube responded to TubePress with an HTTP 410 - No longer available

Also, another little know fact, is that Virginie still resides in the Bay Area, and comes out to swing dance every now and then at Cat’s Corner and the 9:20 Special. Nathan has been talking to Virginie about bringing her out of hiding, so that a whole new generation of Bay Area swing dancers can benefit from her unique experience and take on dancing. Be sure you’re signed up for the Swing or Nothing and/or Cat’s Corner newsletters to keep up-to-date as that develops!

Cat is Back!

Catrine Ljunggren - International Lindy Hop Dance Teacher

Cat is Back!

Catrine “Cat” Ljunggren is visiting the SF Bay Area this weekend (November 9-11th), and I couldn’t be more excited!

Catrine is the very “Cat” who founded Cat’s Corner at its original location at El Valenciano (a bar in SF), and several years later invited me to teach and run the dance party with her when it moved to Savanna Jazz Club in 2006. We taught together for four and half years, and it was an amazing experience.

We’re teaching and hosting the dance party at Epic Swing in San Mateo on Saturday, and Cat is available for private lessons on Friday (4-8pm) and Saturday (11-2pm).

Catrine and Nathan along with student performers at her 2010 SF farewell party:

YouTube responded to TubePress with an HTTP 410 - No longer available
 

Catrine, an international dance performer and teacher who specializes in Lindy Hop, Charleston, Tap & Jazz, is one of the original Rhythm Hot Shots, the world renowned dance group from Sweden that trained extensively with Lindy Hop legends Al Minns & Frankie Manning. Indeed, she taught as Frankie’s dance partner at numerous international dance camps. As part of the Rhythm Hot Shots, she played an important part in the formation and popularization of the Herrang Dance Camp (also in Sweden), which is today regarded as one of the modern meccas of swing dancing.

 

Catrine and Elliott demonstrate the Bug (aka Superman)!I caught some of my earliest glimpses of Catrine dancing late nights at the original Cat’s Corner with her main dance partner Elliott Donnelly.  I also watched them competing and representing San Francisco at the 2003 Harlem Jazz Dance Festival. I was struck by their powerful lines, athletic and acrobatic dancing, and the passionately playful energy that had them just about bouncing off the walls. I loved taking workshops with Catrine and Elliott at the annual Oakland Swing Dance Festival that had us students literally sweating buckets, falling over each other onto the floor, and laughing the whole time. Learning the fundamentals of Lindy Hop with Catrine and Frankie at the yearly Frankie Manning Workshop in Oakland was always a special treat too.

 

Catrine and Elliott (couple on the left) dance the insanely fast Harlem Congo at the Oakland Swing Dance Festival 2004:

YouTube responded to TubePress with an HTTP 410 - No longer available

Stylistically, what Catrine brings to Lindy Hop is a consummate spirit of performance and showmanship, and a fierce dedication to preserving the historical roots of the dance. She’s mentioned to me that two of her biggest inspirations (after Al & Frankie) were the old film clips, especially A Day at the Races and the old Harvest Moon Ball footage. Watch Cat dancing, and you’ll see for yourself.  More than simply recreating dance routines and copying moves, Catrine and the Rhythm Hot Shots have sought to capture the feeling, emotion and essence of joy and improvisation that’s at the heart of dancing Lindy Hop.

 

Catrine and Chester Whitmore hoofin’ it at Brazil Swing Out Extravaganza 2011:

YouTube responded to TubePress with an HTTP 410 - No longer available

Catrine and I will be teaching dance workshops and hosting the dance party at Epic Swing Night on Saturday, November 10th. We’re making it a special “Herrang Dance Camp” edition party, as we compress 7 full days of dance camp activities into one spectacular evening! We hope you’ll join us!

Catrine is also available for private lessons in San Francisco on Friday, November 9th (4-8pm) and Saturday, November 10th (11am-2pm). Email Nathan to schedule and set up your lesson!

Recent Inspirations: Daniel & Asa, Paul and Sharon

I was so wrapped up in organizing this past weekend’s Swing Dance for Life dance benefit, that I haven’t had much time to blog.

No matter, I had such a great time at the event, especially teaching workshop classes with Idalia and Audrey, and I figured it might be interesting to share some of the inspirations for some of the class material that we taught.

Harlem Hot Shots: Daniel & Asa

Audrey and I taught an intermediate/advanced class that we called “Small & Crazy / Big & Crazy”, and my personal inspiration for the class came largely from a class that I took at the Herrang Dance Camp with Daniel Heedman & Asa Palm, two Swedish Lindy Hoppers, who are also members of the renowned Lindy Hop dance troup, the Harlem Hotshots. In the class, Daniel and Asa gave wonderful demonstrations of using one’s whole body to improvise and transform simple, understated movements (many borrowed from the Frankie Manning playbook) into living, breathing works of art. Their class honed in on the idea of quality vs. quantity of movement, and we modeled our own class on that too. Here are some clips of Daniel and Asa:

YouTube responded to TubePress with an HTTP 410 - No longer available

Groovy Lindy Hoppers: Paul and Sharon

Meanwhile, Idalia and I taught a class on the topic of connection: i.e. how one moves one’s body in a way that clearly, comfortably and efficiently communicates the lead and follow with one’s partner. Whenever I think of connection, I think of two of my earliest Lindy Hop teachers, Paul and Sharon, who were world renowned for being masters at demystifying this sometimes opaque subject. One of their magic keywords was “gush”, which they used to describe the spongy, elastic quality of stretch-iness that one seeks in one’s swing dancing. You can see for yourself how grounded and comfortable their movements are, in this video:

YouTube responded to TubePress with an HTTP 410 - No longer available

You can see for yourself how grounded and comfortable their movements are.

There’s also a great interview with Paul and Sharon about mixing swing dancing and romance that makes an interesting read 😉

Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown 2012

Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown 2012

I spent the last weekend at the Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown (ULHS) & New Orleans Swing Dance Festival. This was both my first time visiting New Orleans as well as my first time at ULHS since the event moved from its original home location in Minneapolis-St. Paul several years ago. I’ll admit that as an annual attendee of the original Lindy Showdow, I held a little healthy skepticism for whether the new event could live up to the original’s standard of excellent competitions, social dancing and Lindy inspiration.

Final verdict: the new Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown has been spectacular! I’ve had a great time dancing with folks from all over the country and world (with Montreal and Canada have been well represented)…and the clincher is the phenomenal live music! I’d heard so many reports about the live jazz scene in New Orleans, and now I understand personally what the hub-bub has been about.

The best welcome to the city had to be on Thursday when I arrived and was walking along the Mississippi riverfront with dance friend, Mia, from Sweden. We were trying to catch the free ferry to view the city, but had missed the last boat. However, as we walked home the sound of a Dixieland jazz band lured us toward a  River Steamboat Queen, the Natchez. Since the actual riverboat tickets were a bit out of budget, we decided to cut a rug and dance on the dock where the boat was moored. After two dances, a man hustled toward us, and we thought he was going to shoo us away for dancing to music that we had not paid for. Instead, to our great surprise, he let us know that the captain was so impressed with the dancing that he invited us to come aboard and dance for free during the two hour ride…which were more than happy to do!

Some video clips from the weekend’s competitions:

Jack and Jill Finals:

YouTube responded to TubePress with an HTTP 410 - No longer available

Showdown Elimination Battle (Prelims)

YouTube responded to TubePress with an HTTP 410 - No longer available

French Market Social Dancing

YouTube responded to TubePress with an HTTP 410 - No longer available

Nat Gonella

Full Name: Nathaniel Charles Gonella
Lived: March 7, 1908 – August 6, 1998

Summary: English jazz trumpeter, bandleader and vocalist best known for his work with the band he formed in 1935, the Georgians, with whom he played during the 1930s British dance band era.

Musical style notes:  punchy, rhythmic and bright horn playing and catchy vocal scat that is similar to that of his hero Louis Armstrong – albeit with a distinctly British accent and peculiar sense of humor

Danceworthy Tunes:

Popular Hits:

Played with: St Mary’s Guardian School Brass Band, Archie Pitt’s Busby Boy’s Band (1924-1928), Bobby Bryden’s Louisville Band (1928-29), pianist Archie Alexander, Billy Cotton Band (1929), the big bands of Roy Fox, Ray Noble and Lew Stone, Nat Gonella and his Georgians

Interesting Anecdote:

As a young musician playing in Archie Pitt’s Busby Boy’s Band, Nat received a used phonograph and a collection of jazz records, including one by coronet player Bix Biderbecke, as a gift from the bandleader’s wife, stage choreographer Gracie Fields. Shortly thereafter, Nat discovered the New Orleans jazz sound of Armstrong and transcribed and learned all his idol’s solos by heart. When Armstrong visited London in 1932, Gonella  met his hero by convincing a local music shop to let him deliver Armstrong’s trumpet, left at the shop for cleaning, to him at his hotel room. Armstrong was amused and impressed by such an ardent fan, and the two became friends.

4 Jazz Routines Every Lindy Hopper Should Know (Part 3 of 3)

Welcome back to the final part of our 3 Part series on Jazz Dances that Every Lindy Hopper Should Know. Next up:

4. The Big Apple (difficulty: hard)

Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers performing their Big Apple Routine in the film 1939 Keep Punchin’:

YouTube responded to TubePress with an HTTP 410 - No longer available

In the context of swing dancing, the Big Apple most often refers to:

  • an improvised, free-form, social group dance performed in a circle formation that originated among African American dancers in South Carolina during the 1930s
  • a specific, routine version of this dance choreographed by Frankie Manning and performed by Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers which has become increasingly common dance vocabulary among modern Lindy Hop dancers
It’s not unusual to witness modern Lindy Hoppers who have studied the latter routine to bust out an impromptu performance of Frankie’s Big Apple on the social dance floor at competitions, workshops and special events where many experienced dancers have gathered.
As a dance teacher, I usually try to distinguish between the two related dances by calling the choreographed version “the Big Apple Routine”, or “Frankie’s Big Apple (routine)” and referring to the free-from version as “the original Big Apple”, “social Big Apple” or simply, “the Big Apple.”

Original/Social Big Apple

At its heart, the social Big Apple is no different than the group circle dance that all of us have performed at a wedding party or while freestyle dancing at a dance club at one time or another. Dancers arrange themselves in a circle, all looking inward, and when someone performs an interesting step, everyone in the circle copies that step. My long-time teaching partner Audrey Kanemoto, often describes the basic format of this dance as “monkey-see, monkey do.”
In 1936, three white students from the University of South Carolina discovered just this sort of dance being performed among African American youth at the Big Apple Night Club in Columbia, South Carolina. The three students arranged special permission to enter the normally blacks-only club and observe the dancers from the balcony, from where they would toss nickels to the dance floor to keep the nickelodeon going for the dancers. According to some accounts of this version of the Big Apple, a designated caller would yell out the name of jazz steps for all the dancers to perform in unison, similar to square dancing. Thus the dance had both structured and improvised aspects.
During the summer of 1937, the three University students started dancing the Big Apple at the Pavillion in Myrtle Beach, where it caught on among local dancers. News of the dance craze began spreading, and soon New York talent agent Gae Foster was traveling to the Carolinas to recruit dancers to perform the Big Apple at the Roxy Theater, the world’s second largest theater at the time. Arthur Murray, after seeing the Big Apple at the Roxy Theater began incorporating the dance into his syllabus, further launching the dance into the public spotlight.

The Big Apple Routine

As the story goes, legendary swing dancer Frankie Manning was in Hollywood, California along with his dance group Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers during the fall of 1937, when he received a telephone call from his manager in New York, Herbert White, a.k.a. “Whitey.” Whitey had just seen the Big Apple dance performance at the Roxy Theater and excitedly described the movements of the dance to Frankie. Because the Big Apple incorporated many jazz steps that Frankie and the Lindy Hoppers already knew, Frankie was able to piece together his own version of the Big Apple and teach it to his troupe.
Frankie’s Big Apple routine was originally slated to appear in the Judy Garland film Everybody Sings, but it was cut due to a disagreement over working conditions between the film director and Whitey. Frankie later taught the routine to dancers at the Savoy Ballroom once he returned to New York, and Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers were eventually captured performing the routine on film in the 1939 film Keep Punchin’.

Learning and Spreading the Big Apple

Ready to learn Frankie’s Big Apple choreography?
Look no further than YouTube where international swing dance instructors Patrick and Natasha have posted a free, step-by-step video breakdown of the routine:
YouTube responded to TubePress with an HTTP 410 - No longer available
Whew! That’s a challenging routine!
If you don’t mind spending a little cash, dancers Hanna and Mattias Lundmark – who, as members of the renowned dance group Rhythm Hotshots studied the dance directly from Frankie Manning – give an excellent treatment of the Big Apple Routine in DVD form.
Want to perform the routine to the original song from Keep Punchin’? Swing dancer/bandleader Solomon Douglas recorded an exact version of the song with his modern swing orchestra, available for individual track download or as part of his dance music CD Swingmatism.
But you don’t have to learn the whole exact routine to enjoy the fun! The original free-form Big Apple is little more than a group of friends dancing together in a circle and trading steps. Next time you’re standing on the sidelines at a dance, grab some friends and bust out your own Big Apple dance!