Upcoming Events

Tuesday, Jun 27th
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Tuesday, Jul 4th
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Wednesday, Jul 5th
7:00 pm New monthly session of Lindy Hop Classes starts at Cats Corner! (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
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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
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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
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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.

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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:

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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!

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:

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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:

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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 😉

The Mysterious Mechanics of Frame: Part 1

Frame — which refers to a quality of flexible rigidity in one’s body while dancing — is an important concept in Lindy Hop and many other dances, especially partner dances. Dance teachers talk about it all the time and when I started out I remember my teachers explaining it in almost mystical terms. Perfecting the feel of one’s dance frame was like the holy grail of Lindy Hop. This article is intended to shed some light on some of the mysterious aspects of this essential technical concept.

Why is Frame Important?

Frame is important in Lindy Hop and other lead and follow partner dances because it allows partners to communicate movement with each other and thereby execute moves. If two partners hold hands but keep their arms loose and dangling between them, one partner stepping around on the floor will have little or no effect on the other partner. This is dancing without frame. If instead the partners hold hands but stiffen up their arms, then one partner moving will move the other partner. This is dancing with frame. Without frame, you’re really dancing by yourself.

In the historical context of Lindy Hop, frame is a relatively modern addition to the dance most likely borrowed from ballroom dances including West Coast Swing. The first Lindy Hoppers in 1920s-40s Harlem New York City were street dancers which meant that they learned to dance by watching and imitating other social dancers rather than by taking formal classes. These dancers may not have talked about frame in technical terms or had exercises for developing frame but I’m certain that they could intuitively identify in lay terms which dancers felt good and which ones were more difficult to dance with. Lindy Hop faded from prominence in the 1940s and 50s and evolved into West Coast Swing, a dance which did become formalized over the years. It is quite possible that when West Coast Swing dancers began to revisit their Lindy Hop roots and revive the original swing dance in the 1980s, that they helped introduce the modern concept of frame to Lindy Hop.

Some purists may argue that we shouldn’t teach frame as part of the dance since it is a retroactive addition. I prefer to acknowledge this as part of the living history of the dance, and take a functional approach. Being able to define, discuss and practice good frame allows us to do some pretty awesome moves and makes teaching the dance in a group setting a whole lot easier. Furthermore, when asked what he thought about the modern evolution of Lindy Hop compared to its roots, I remember swing dance legend Frankie Manning answered that he was impressed with modern Lindy Hoppers and amazed with the things they could do these day, things he couldn’t do himself…and that he was happy to watch and steal their new moves!

Developing Frame

1) The Basics

As a simple solo exercise in frame , you can extend both your arms out in front of your chest as if grasping a large box (or beach ball…stay tuned for Part 2). Your arms and body form a letter “C” in the horizontal plane.  Stiffen up your arms, so that you maintain the position of your arms relative to your body even as you walk around the room in different directions or twist from your hips.  This is a first approximation of good frame.

2) Qualities of Frame

It is useful to think of frame as having a range of rigidity from loose, floppy or “spaghetti” arms (no frame) to solidly-stiff, immovable arms (lots of frame). Various partner dances have different characteristic amounts of frame. Salsa dancers, for example, tend to have looser more flowing arms, while Lindy Hoppers tend to have a stiffer base frame. Still, even at a given base stiffness, one’s arms should have a flexibility to them. Think of your arms and chest as being made of wire coat hanger. They maintain their shape but they can still bend and flex. My teaching partner Cat likes to say that the arms should be like al dente pasta…not too hard and not too soft. Another teaching partner, Audrey, likes to say that the arms are like Barbie doll arms.

3) Frame and Partner Dance Connection

A very basic partner frame exercise is for you to hold hands with your partner and extend arms between yourselves, engaging your frame by stiffening up both of your arms a bit. Next, the leader can lean toward the follower letting the weight of their body press toward their partner through their arms. The follower should match this inward compression with equal and opposite force. The hands stay in the same position as your bodies flex inwards toward your hands in the center. You should both feel as though you’re pressing against an invisible wall, the wall that you are both creating for each other. Next, the leader can start to stretch and lean away from the follower, and the follower should match this stretch away again with equal and opposite force, counterbalancing his weight. You can practice transitioning from inward compression to outward stretch and, regardless of speed, the transition should be gradual and continuous, rather than an abrupt change.

Advancing the exercise a bit, you can use your frame to move your partner forward or backward. To move forward from the leader’s perspective, the leader should first compress toward the follower and wait for her to respond. Once that connection is established, the leader can walk forward pushing through his partner’s hands and toward their center of mass. The leader will have to overcome the follower’s inertia to get them moving. Maintaining the compression during the walk allows the follower to physically feel how fast the leader is moving and thereby move as a single unit. The leader will feel as though he is pushing through the follower.

To walk the partnership backward, the leader should first transition into counterbalance with his partner. Once the stretch away is established, the slightest step backward for the leader should pull the partnership over the tipping point and compel the follower to walk forward as the leader walks back. Again, maintaining the resistive counterbalance while the leader moves backward will allow the partnership to travel as a single unit.

I think it’s interesting from a physics standpoint that the partners maintain compression while moving forward or counterbalance when moving backward relative to the leader, because it means that the follower must maintain a forward lean while she walks backward and a backward lean while she walks forward. It sounds a little counterintuitive, but try it out and you’ll see how it allows you to maintain connection with your partner.

The last little note on this exercise is about transitioning directions. To make the changing directions (walking forward to walking backward or vice versa) as smooth as possible, the leader should gradually slow down in the direction he is travelling and release the compression or counterbalance and engage in the opposite force before walking in the other direction. This would be the cycle to walk forward and then backward and forward:

  1. engage basic frame with your partner
  2. leader compresses inward and follower responds
  3. leader walks forward pushing through follower; follower responds by walking backward
  4. leader eventually slows down forward walk
  5. leader releases compression and transitions into counterbalance, follower responds
  6. leader walks backward pulling follower along; follower responds by walking forward
  7. leader eventually slows down backward walk
  8. leader releases counterbalance and transitions into compression, follower reponds
  9. return to step 3

I’ve described these exercises from a leader-centric perspective, but in reality both partners share the responsibility for matching the amount of frame, compression and counterbalance. The leader just happens to initiate the movement. Practice both roles if you have a chance…it’s both fun and instructive!

Okay, that’s it for now…stay tuned for Part 2 and more frame exercises!