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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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 😉

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:

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Showdown Elimination Battle (Prelims)

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French Market Social Dancing

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Free Private Lessons Contest Winners!

Congratulations to all 10 of the Free Private Lesson Contest winners! Each of these contestants correctly identified the name of the song that I first started swing dancing to, Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen.

  1. John Delois
  2. Carol Peebles
  3. Tomoko Takeda
  4. Lisa Buchanan
  5. Kali C.
  6. Frank Thorne
  7. Reba Brinkley
  8. Mike Fauteux
  9. Kimetha Vanderveen
  10. Shirley Yap

For those of you who didn’t make it to the Top 10, you can still take advantage of a $10 discount on private lessons that I’m offering for the month of April.

Here are the original contest rules.

Free Private Lessons Contest!

Dear Friends,

Sunday, April 5th is my birthday and to celebrate I’d actually like to give away the presents this year: free private dance lessons!

Yeah. That’s right. Free.

The first 10 individuals or couples who can answer the personal trivia question at the end of this message may each claim a free 1-hour private dance lesson.

Lesson Details:

  • 1-hour private lesson w/ Nathan Dias
  • taught at Nathan’s home dance studio in the Inner Sunset, SF
  • lesson times available on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday evenings + weekdays during the day
  • limit 1 lesson per individual or couple

Use this opportunity to:

  • learn the basics in a private setting
  • refine & improve your technique w/ individual feedback
  • learn new moves, footwork, styling and more
  • practice class material with an experienced partner
  • learn to dance for your wedding or special event

I’m also offering a $10 discount on private lessons for the month of April, in case you miss being one of the lucky 10.

And now for the personal trivia question:

What is the name of the song that Nathan first started swing dancing to?

(Hint: you can find the answer somewhere on my website)

Email me, call me or come and talk to me at a dance with the answer to claim your lesson.

Cheers and happy dancing…oh, and Happy Birthday to all the other Aries/April Birthday people out there 😉

How I Started Swing Dancing (part 2)

A common variation on the question “How did you start swing dancing?” is “When did you start swing dancing?”

My invariable response is that I started swing dancing in 1997 and lindy hopping in 2001. The point of that distinction is that I mostly danced East Coast Swing for my first four years, and it wasn’t until much later that I got hooked on what came to be my real passion, Lindy Hop.

I think it’s pretty common for people to start out swing dancing by learning East Coast Swing. A few months later, those who want to stick with swing for the long-term usually gravitate toward learning Lindy Hop, which is, in my opinion, the more versatile, challenging and rewarding dance. Lindy Hop is often called the granddaddy of swing dances, having evolved in the 1930s and 40s in the Harlem Ballrooms of New York City.

The reason it took so long for me to start Lindy Hopping is that I was attending college in New York City for those first four years; school took priority. Nevertheless, during those four years, I made it out swing dancing whenever I could. That meant heading downtown once or twice a month to dance to the great live bands of the time: Yallopin’ Hounds, Nick Palumbo & the Flipped Fedoras, Bim Bam Baby and more. The swanky clubs like Swing 46 and Jack’s Joint usually offered a short East Coast Swing dance lesson before the bands, and I devoured each and every move they taught. There were also a few semesters when one of the New York dance studios sent an instructor out to teach swing on campus, and I took those classes religiously every week.

During the summers, while at home in San Francisco, I would drag whomever I could scrounge up out to the swing dance lessons and dance party at what was then the Metronome Ballroom. The first summer before I shipped off to college, and a few months after my ferryboat dance lesson, the Metronome was holding swing classes at the smaller Block Party studio on De Haro Street. When I returned the following summer, however, swing had become The Thing, and the dance lessons were held in the enormous main studio with throngs of people in attendance.

The first time I saw Lindy Hop was at Swing 46 in New York City. I was out with a friend, a follower, and we saw several of the dancers out on the floor doing some fancy steps, but we just couldn’t figure out what they were doing. We finally asked someone and they told us it was Lindy Hop, and they tried to break down the 8-count basic step for us. I think my friend kind of picked it up, but I really wasn’t getting it, so I just pretended I wasn’t really into it and stuck with my comfortable 6-count repertoire.

Once I was back in my regular weekly campus swing class, however, I practically begged our swing dance instructor to show us some Lindy Hop. He reluctantly agreed and in the final weeks he taught us what he knew of Lindy Hop. Looking back, I cant’ quite remember if he actually taught us a swingout or just some fancier East Coast swing steps, but at that time, it didn’t really matter…because we were dancing to Zoot Suit Riot. It was a grand and innocent time.

I remember purchasing  my “vintage” swing outfit, which consisted of a pair of khaki pants, a vertical pinstripe shirt, a newsboy cap and suspsenders! I had seen many of the advanced swing dancers dancing in their black and white two-toned shoes (Blyers), but I had made a solemn agreement with my swing dance buddies that we would only let ourselves purchase the shoes when we got really good.

That was the crux of my first four years of swing dancing, mostly East Coast Swing, but all of this is simply the back story to what I would call one of the defining moments in my swing dance story…and that is the summer that I encountered my Lindy Hop Angel.

It was summer before my junior year and I was back in San Francisco for the break. My high school friend, Alex, who’d been a part of the ferry boat dance lesson, called me up and invited me to go to an outdoor jazz festival where some swing bands were playing. I met him at the stage where Lee Press-On and the Nails were playing. It was a gorgeous day outside, and the band was putting on an entertaining show. There we were, dressed in our swing outfits, bopping our heads, tapping our feet and wishing desperately that some cute swing dance girls would show up to dance with us.

As if in answer to our silent prayers, a beautiful girl walked towards us. She was drop-dead gorgeous, a total knockout, blond-bombshell, dressed in a flowing, glowing white Marilyn Monroe-esque dress — the type that flares out when you spin. Sporting black sunglasses, she was beautifully tanned and curvaceous to the max. My eyes just about popped out of my head. Alex too. She asked if either of us boys wanted to dance, and me being somewhat shy, somewhat in shock, and always the gentleman, let Alex take her out for a spin.

He returned a little later beaming with excitement, but she was no longer with him. He told me that she had to go because she was heading out to this place called the Doghouse to go dance, and she had offered us a ride in her, get this, gleaming white Camaro. A beautiful swing dance babe, dressed all in white, driving an all-white Camaro; how can that not be a sign from above? Don’t ask me how, but somehow we turned her down! I know! What were we thinking?

Back at our respective homes, Alex and I were on the phone scolding ourselves and trying to figure out how to redeem ourselves. The only thing we could come up with was to get to the Doghouse and find the girl. The problem was that there was no listing for a club called the Doghouse in the phone book. These were the early days of the internet too, so it wasn’t like you could just google the answer. Somehow, by some stroke of luck, I figured out that the Doghouse was the Saturday swing dance at a dance studio called Rhythm and Motion. I called the place up and learned that they had a beginner dance lesson before the DJed dance started. I called Alex back with this info, but he dropped another bomb; it was Saturday, Shabbat, and he had to stay in. Aye caramba! I had no wingman, but I wanted to dance and I wanted to find the girl!

So I went. I showed up  for the beginning swing dance lesson, heading upstairs to the main studio with its enormous bay windows beckoning onto Mission Street and balconies on either side of the dance floor that reminded me of my own mental imagery of the interrogations from Kafka’s the Trial.

The swing dance lesson was a little scary because I was one of only a handful of students out in the middle of the dance floor along with the instructor, but I stuck with it, and then sat to watch the Intermediate dance lesson. I recall that at that point in the evening, I wasn’t very impressed, not to mention that our Angel was nowhere in sight.

The intermediate lesson wrapped up and I was just about was on the verge of leaving when people suddenly started trickling in and taking partners on the dance floor. Most were dressed casually, but hip: jeans, track pants, brightly-colored trendy T-shirts and sporty sneakers. As the sun set, causing the room light to dim and casting warm shadows about the hall, the dancers started dancing, only this dancing was unlike any swing dancing I had seen before! I was mesmerized. The dancers were flowing, floating, gliding effortlessly, grooving, swaying and swinging  gracefully to the elegant sounds of Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee and more. This was new music to me too, because I had grown familiar with the hard-hitting sounds of the neo-swing craze — bands like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. This kind of dancing was so much cooler, hip…groovier. I just sat and watched, transfixed.

This was Lindy Hop.

Our Lindy Hop Angel never showed up to the dance. It didn’t matter. I knew at that moment, at that tiny instant when everything clicked: I was going to learn to Lindy Hop.


How I started swing dancing (part 1)

Every swing dancer and lindy hopper I know has their version of The Story — the unique tale of how they got started (and eventually addicted) to swing. Etched permanetly in memory,  we are only too eager to recount it as soon as anyone asks, “So, what got you started swing dancing?”

Girls.

For me, it was plain and simple. Girls. I’m not even going to bother sugar-coating it. I’m convinced that 75-100% of the swing dancers out there originally started dancing to meet members of opposite sex, so I have nothing to be embarrassed about. Creativity? Exercise? To learn a new hobby? Give me a break! Dance is one-part mating ritual after all.

In my case it was actually two girls in particular who introduced me to the dance. Nina and Cate were two lovely ladies on my high school rowing team. One day after a Saturday morning practice , I happened to catch a ride home with them, and we got into a conversation something like this:

Them: Hey Nathan, wanna come swing dancing with us tonight?!

Me: Swing dancing? (eyebrows perplexedly scrunched) what’s that?

Them: Swing dancing. You know, like from the 40s and 50s…it’s oldies kind of dancing.

Me: (incredulously) Umm…uhh…I don’t know. I’ve got homework.

Them: Homework?!? It’s Saturday! (their turn to be incredulous)

Me: Yeah, I should probably stay home and study. But maybe next time. (I was extremely nerdy back in high school).

I never actually went dancing that evening, but the girls had piqued my curiosity and planted the seed. It was not until months later that the seed began to sprout.

I was aboard a ferry boat from Vancouver to Seattle along with the whole rest of my crew team. We were returning from an away competition in Brentwood Canada, most of us tired from an intense weekend of racing. We had a few hours to wait, not much to do, and I happened to once again be hanging out with Nina and Cate.

There was a tiny, run-down wooden dance floor on the ferry’s second level. I’m not sure who suggested it, but one of the girls got the idea that they were going to teach me how to swing dance. With a bit of skepticism and secretly a whole lot of interest, I allowed them to “drag” me onto the floor, where they proceeded to demonstrate the now infamous basic step:

“Step, step, rock-step…step, step, rock-step…”

It didn’t make much sense to me; it was my first dance lesson. One of my teammates Alex, who had done a bit of this so-called swing dancing himself, tried to show me the leader’s part. It still didn’t make sense.

Duh. We didn’t have any music!

I had my personal CD player with me, but only two artists to choose from…Led Zeppelin and Queen. The triumverate of Nina, Cate & Alex listened to song after song, almost to no avail, until they finally found one song that worked:

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

Alas, I only had headphones for one person, so there was no way for all four of us to hear the music at the same time! At this point, however, this little lesson had turned into a quest of sorts, and so, taking a bit of initiative,  I made my way with CD player and music up to the captain’s deck and started talking to one of the ship’s pilots. I explained what we were trying to do: “we’re learning how to swing dance, and umm…we need music. Is there anyway we can play this CD downstairs near the dance floor?” The captain turned it over in his mind for a second, and then said, actually, yes they should be able to plug the CD player into their system. Woo-hoo! So we asked them to put our song in repeat mode, and we rushed downstairs to the dance floor.

That was my first lesson in swing dancing. Learning the basic step with two girls, Nina and Cate, plus a guy, Alex, aboard a ferryboat, to the infinitely repeating, but wonderfully swinging tune of Queen’s Crazy Little Thing Called Love.

Coincidence? Or just plain weird?

I have two interesting coincidences to relate regarding this first swing dance story.

For the first one, you have to understand a little about the sport of rowing. The pinacle of competitive rowing is 8 people racing across the water in a sleek shell, pulling oars in perfect synchronicity. There is usually a ninth person in the boat, the coxswain, whose sole purpose is to shout out the rhythm and motivate the crew. Rowing requires a lot of muscle and brute strength, but beyond that there is actually a holy grail that the crew strives for, and that is to get into such a perfect resonance together that the boat begins to glide between release and catch of their strokes…as if the boat is moving on its own, at a speed and power that is beyond the simple summation of each individual rower’s strength. It’s quite a magical experience when that happens.

You know what the coxswains chant to their crew to get them in sync? No, it’s not “pull, pull, pull.”  Actually the mantra I’d been hearing for over 4 years on the Pacific Rowing Club was:

“Swing -2-3-4, SWING-2-3-4, Harder!-2-3-4, Swing!”

Makes me wonder if that has anything to do with why I stuck with swing for so long.

Okay, coincidence #2. It’s late 2006, and I’ve moved into a new flat in the Inner Sunset, having taken up brief residence with at my parents home while I sorted out my changing career path. By this time, I had been stepping up my efforts at teaching dancing, something that had been a secret dream since about 2001 when I started lindy hopping, but I was also bumping up against symptoms of burnout. The questions on my mind were: Is this was the right path for me? Could I sustain myself on dance income alone? Was I right to pursue my passion, or did I need to be practical? Am I still as interested in dancing as when I started? Am I burning out? Will I get through this plateau to the next steep hill in my dance story? As if in answer to these questions, while walking down the hill one afternoon, I spotted a short, brown-haired girl crossing the street who looked eerily familiar.

“Nina?”

“Oh my God! Nathan?! Is that you?!”

I had come full circle to run into one of the angels who had set me walking this very path.  Turns out that she had been living just around the block from me for the past few months. It was 1997 when we first danced aboard the ferry boat and now it was nine years later, 2006. I know, I know, you’re reading this thinking, “interesting coincidence,” but it was much more than that to me. Vex desperately about any one question, and sooner or later the  Universe pipes in to guide you. Needless to say, I’m still dancing these days.

Okay, last but not least, Crazy Little Thing Called Love. It’s still one of my all time favorite songs, and whenever they play it (and thankfully they do quite often at Lindy in the Park), I always feel compelled to grab a favorite dance partner and rock out, memories of my first fateful dance lessons swinging and singing pleasantly through my head.

I’ve gotta be cool. Relax. Get in and get on my tracks.

Take a back seat. Hitchhike. Take a long ride on my motorbike,

‘Til I’m ready. Crazy little thing called love.

Happy New Year everyone!

Welcome to the Swing or Nothing Blog!

What is this blog about?

I intend to cover Swing Dancing & Music and everything related (and possibly tangent) to it. Don’t be surprised if I place extra emphasis on the specific swing dance Lindy Hop, just because it’s my favorite and my specialty. Over the course of this blog, I hope to share my insights, musings, opinions, memories, and experiences in the wide world of swing. Some of the topics I may cover include:

  • swing dance history
  • music
  • evolution of the dance
  • local, national and international lindy dance events
  • social, psychological and philosophical aspects of partner dancing
  • musicality
  • connection
  • performing
  • competing
  • etiquette
  • learning strategies
  • working as a dancer & teacher

Who are you?

I’m Nathan Dias, a swing and lindy hop dance teacher, DJ and entertainer based in San Francisco. I started swing dancing in 1997, and Lindy Hopping in 2001. Since then, I’ve taken tons of classes, clocked thousands of hours on the social dance floor, performed with several dance groups, competed in dance contests, traveled across the continent and world to dance, taught lessons and put on local swing dance events. I’ve also made many friends and shared strange and wonderful experiences with them along the way.

Why are you writing this?

My friend, neighbor and lindy hopping friend Charlie spurred me on to start writing a blog. He suggested that my 11 years of accumulated dance knowledge and insights might be of value to my students and dancers out there. He also suggested that a blog would be a good way to establish my voice as an up-and-(hopefully)-coming teacher here in San Francisco. I really liked those suggestions. Thank you Charlie!

I must also confess that, as someone experienced in web design and search engine optimization, I am aware that Blogs can be extremely useful for promoting web traffic. As someone making a living from dance, that is an awesome benefit. I will ask your forgiveness in advance if I ever stray too far off topic, and I encourage feedback and criticism to help me stay on track. The mark of success for this blog will be if you, the reader, find it to be more of an informational and recreational resource and never notice the marketing aspects.

One more word about the blog’s title. Swing or Nothing is a misheard lyrical take on the title of one of my favorite swing dance tunes, “Swingin’ on Nothing”. At some point soon, I’ll figure out who wrote and orginally performed it.

Okay, with that introduction out of the way…may the blogging begin!