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
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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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The Zen of Learning to Dance (part 3)

I’ve been reading and exploring a lot of Buddhist material in my personal life these days, so I’ve taken that as inspiration to write a little about some Zen-like bits of experience that I’ve picked up while learning to dance over the years. Each of the three experiences I’ll relate was with a different dance teacher, and I hope they don’t mind my mentioning their names here. This will be a 3-part series, with one teacher per post. Here’s part three.

3) Breath Awareness with Kathe Burick

Kathe Burick was my tap dance teacher for a 16-week beginning tap class that I took at San Francisco City College back in 2007. Kathe teaches tap there regularly, and the class is one of the best deals in town, not only because it only costs $20 for all 16 weeks, 2 hours a week, but you also get to take class with a woman who is not only a great tapper, but also an inspiring teacher who teaches from her heart.

At the time I took Kathe’s class, I was going through a difficult time in my emotional and personal life, enough so that I found it challenging to stay mentally focused through the 2-hour class. At times my mind would wander absently to the fixation of that particular era of my life, and though my body was physically in the tap bungalow, my presence was somewhere in a galaxy far, far away.

Outside of class, I had started reading about meditation practice, and had begun trying it out myself, and some of the first things I read were about breath awareness, focusing one’s attention on one’s own breath as a means of calming oneself and bringing oneself back to the present moment. I experimented with this in class.

When I was in Kathe’s tap class, if I caught my mind wandering, I simply acknowledged that fact to myself, and then took a deep, gentle breath, re-centering myself and bringing my attention back to the class.

Taking that deep breath was like hitting a mental reset button. I visualized myself as a kind of conduit through which the knowledge Kathe was conveying could flow through as she taught. My mental wanderings and fixations were like blockages in a pipe, bits of accumulated dirt and debris which reduced the efficiency of the flow of knowledge. Breathing in and out was like flushing the pipe clean, so that the knowledge and experience could flow freely once again.

Now, what makes this more a story about Kathe, is that I noticed several times in class when it seemed that Kathe had become aware of someone’s mental distraction (including my own), and rather than giving a stern rebuke, she actually quieted down and took a deep breath in and out herself, deep enough that one could hear it, and everyone in class seemed respond by also taking a parallel breath in and out. It was as if Kathe’s breath had been a gentle invitation to return to the present moment, to the class…that she as teacher was keyed into our attention level and helping us hit our own mental reset button when she saw that we needed it.

Towards the end of the 16-week class, I asked Kathe whether her act of breathing in and out was a conscious effort to help her students relax and bring them back to attention. As a teacher myself, I was particularly interested in the answer. I think Kathe said that it happened intuitively, and that chances were that I already did it myself in my own classes without realizing it.

Still, these days, having personally experienced some of the benefits of breath awareness, I try to be aware, among many other things going on during class, of my students breathing and attention patterns; if I sense a bit of tension, distraction or frustration, I try to take a deep breath myself, inviting my students along with me, and hitting that reset button.

Thanks for that cool trick, Kathe!

(…and that concludes this three part series.)

The Zen of Learning to Dance (part 2)

I’ve been reading and exploring a lot of Buddhist material in my personal life these days, so I’ve taken that as inspiration to write a little about some Zen-like bits of experience that I’ve picked up while learning to dance over the years. Each of the three experiences I’ll relate was with a different dance teacher, and I hope they don’t mind my mentioning their names here. This will be a 3-part series, with one teacher per post. Here’s part two.

2) The Zen of Ambidexterity with Steven Mitchell

Steven Mitchell is an internationally renowned dance instructor who I remember for his intense teaching style and his ability to convey subtle yet profound elements of connection, rhythm, and musicality often without even saying a word. His jazz dance classes are out of this world and often steal the show at Lindy Hop workshops where he teaches.

I first took a class with Steven Mitchell at the 2003 Oakland Swing Dance Festival, and while there are ideas I learned then that still influence my dancing today, the particular experience I had with Steven at the 2004 Herrang Dance Camp is the one I want to comment on.

I was attending week 3 of the Herrang Dance Camp and we students had jazz with Steven for an hour and a half for each of four days. That particular year, Steven presented a Gospel inspired jazz routine to a song called “Satisfied.” It was an extremely popular routine likely because of its high-energy and soul-stirring music, not to mention the challenging but immensely fun and creative choreography.

Steven began by teaching us the first part of the choreography in his usual animated and intense style, and proceeded to drill, drill, drill the routine into us, until it was out of heads, and out of our feet, and embedded in our subconscious souls.  On the second day, when we students were feeling fairly comfortable with the chunk we had learned, Steven dropped the bomb on us.

“Now reverse it. Do everything in this section again…on the other foot.”

Silence. Shock. Students shyly eyed each other, searching for reassurance that this feat of footwork reversal was actually possible. Some began with concentrated effort to work out the transposition step by individual step.

A few seconds later, Steven interrupted us, wagging his fingers and scolding, “No! Don’t think! Don’t think! Just do it!”

He elaborated briefly. “It’s already up here,” he said, pointing to his head, “but if you stop to think you’ll ruin it. It’s just the mirror. Your body and brain already know it, but not by thinking…just dance it.”

This was a real leap of faith he was asking us to take with him, but as he started up the music, we all took a deep breath…and proceeded to dance everything we’d danced, starting with the right foot first, and then dancing the next chorus completely opposite! We were filled with glowing amazement and awe!

To be sure, the transposition had not been perfect, but I would safely estimate that most people were able to dance 80-90% of the movement on the opposite side of their body, and all of that without having to break down and re-drill the movement again. I will also admit that this was a class of advanced-level students, but I think that there is something that all students can learn from.

I’m not sure how to word the lesson exactly, but it has something to do with effortless-effort, with trusting yourself to know what you know — that your mind and body already know what they need to know at the moment, and you just have to let them do it.

Okay, that’s it for today. The next part of this three part series will feature my former tap dance teacher, Kathe Burick, and a lesson in clearing one’s mind to become a receptacle for knowledge.

Zen Thoughts on Learning to Dance (part 1)

I’ve been reading and exploring a lot of Buddhist material in my personal life these days, so I’ve taken that as inspiration to write a little about some Zen-like bits of experience that I’ve picked up while learning to dance over the years. Each of the three experiences I’ll relate was with a different dance teacher, and I hope they don’t mind my mentioning their names here. This will be a 3-part series, with one teacher per post.

1) Beginner’s Mind from Chad Kubo

Chad Kubo is a local swing and lindy hop instructor in San Francisco. He ran the Doghouse Saturday dance party for many years and was a co-founder of Lindy in the Park. After taking several beginning lindy hop classes with various local instructors, I finally settled on taking beginning and intermediate classes with Chad & Brandee at the Metronome Ballroom.

Before Chad taught Lindy Hop he trained and taught as a martial artist for many years. I don’t quite remember all the specific forms he studied, but I did appreciate the synthesis of martial arts principles that he incorporated in his classes, including classes on aerials technique. He frequently talked about how to use and redirect a partner’s momentum on the dance floor. I remember a great demo he did of how keeping one’s connected hand lower than your partner’s center of mass is more effective for moving them on the dance floor.

Chad also had a running joke about repeatedly practicing basic footwork until you had it in muscle memory: “The martial arts masters say that you must perform a motion 1000 times before you have mastered it…and you’ve only done your basic step, what? 12 times? Keep practicing.”

Th real Zen lesson Chad imparted to me that I want to share is about having a Beginner’s Mind when attending a class. He was referring to the fact that sometimes students in his classes would come to him with previous dance experience or having learned lindy hop with a different teacher and would question his teaching. I think that anyone who has taken a dance class has met that student…the know-it-all who knows, or thinks he knows,  more than the instructor.

Anyway, I liked Chad’s idea that even if you think you know more than your instructor, you can still be respectful of the instructor, clear your mind of previous knowledge and come to the class with a truly open mind. Absorb all you can from your instructor while you’re with them, and then, when you’re on your own you can synthesize and decide what you do or do not want to take away from the lesson.

Okay, that’s it for today…next time, the Zen of Ambidexterity with Steven Mitchell.