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
(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.

 

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!

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’:

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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:
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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!

4 Jazz Routines Every Lindy Hopper Should Know (Part 2 of 3)

Welcome back to Part 2 of our 3 Part series on Jazz Dances that Every Lindy Hopper Should Know. Next up:

3. The Tranky Doo (difficulty: medium)

Performance by Nathan & Audrey’s Sunset Lindy Hoppers:

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The Tranky Doo is another 1940s jazz line dance that has staged a recent comeback among modern Lindy Hop dancers.  The dance likely originated in the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, and like the Shim Sham Shimmy, the Tranky Doo is danced in a line formation. The dance incorporates a wider variety of steps than the Shim Sham, as well as steps with more interesting and challenging rhythmic syncopation.

Most accounts cite either Pepsi Bethel or Frankie Manning as the choreographers of the dance, and in fact there are at least two common versions of the routine being taught these days. The most widely known version is based on a performance by Al Minns, Leon James & Pepsi Bethel that was recorded on film and is included in the 1986 dance documentary the Spirit Moves. I learned the second, lesser known version of the Tranky Doo from modern Lindy Hopper Manu Smith, who had in turn learned it directly from Frankie Manning. When teaching the routines these days, I make a point to distinguish the two versions calling the first the “classic” or “common”  Tranky Doo and referring to the second more specifically as “Frankie’s Tranky Doo.” Which one came first? The jury is out.

Classic Tranky Doo from the Spirit Moves:

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Frankie’s Tranky Doo taught by Manu Smith & Ria Debiase:

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The classic Tranky Doo and Frankie’s Tranky Doo both start out with a signature sequence of steps that includes Fall Off The Log, Shuffles, the Lowdown, Shoe-Shine & Boogie Forward, but the routines quickly diverge. Watching Frankie’s Tranky Doo, you’ll probably notice a motif of variations on the Fall Off the Log step, that is noticeably absent in the classic Tranky Doo.

I once had an opportunity to ask Frankie about the origins of the dance. His partner Judy Pritchett conveyed the question, “who choreographed the Tranky Doo?” and Frankie responded something like “oh yeah, I did that Tranky Doo.” In my mind there was still some ambiguity about whether Frankie was the original choreographer, especially since so many other sources credit Pepsi Bethel. This is purely my own speculation, but I could imagine the dance evolving collaboratively among a group of dancers with many variations and versions being developed, mixed and matched and propagated, but eventually dying out to history.

During the 1940s, dancers commonly performed the Tranky Doo to Erskine Hawkins tune Tuxedo Junction. These days modern Lindy Hoppers will often jump on the dance floor and perform the Tranky Doo to the song the Dipsy Doodle (with versions by Tommy Dorsey and Ella Fitzgerald especially popular). This is due to the fact that Tommy Dorsey’s Dipsy Doodle is dubbed over as the audio track in the Spirit Moves film clip; note that the original archive footage had no audio.

Next Month: Part 3 – the Big Apple Routine!

4 Jazz Routines Every Lindy Hopper Should Know (Part 1 of 3)

Jazz steps and solo movement are an important part of the historic roots of Lindy Hop that are often overlooked among new dancers. Whether utilized to show off during an individual “shine” moment, or danced with a partner in a lead and follow manner, jazz steps are great for decorating and embellishing your dancing…like sprinkles on a cake.

There are many reasons to learn jazz steps and routines, including:

  • you can dance them even if you don’t have partner at the moment
  • practicing individual movements helps  improve your balance, coordination and quality of movement which help greatly when partner dancing too
  • learning, experiencing and preserving the historic roots of the dance
  • becoming familiar with common rhythms and syncopation of jazz and swing dancing
  • it can be a good workout
  • they’re fun!

Of the many jazz routines in the history of Lindy Hop, four stand out to me as essential knowledge for every serious Lindy Hopper. These are the Shim Sham, Jitterbug Stroll, Tranky Doo and Big Apple. This three part post explores some of the history and noteworthy aspects of these dances.

1. the Shim Sham Shimmy (easy)

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The Shim Sham Shimmy (or just Shim Sham) was originally a tap dance. During the 1920s and 1930s, stage performers would often dance the Shim Sham together as a final dance routine of their show, with cast members performing to their ability: dancers would incorporate tap dance variations, while musicians and singers would shuffle along as well as they could.

In modern times, the Shim Sham has become sort of an Electric Slide of swing dancing…a relatively simple routine that many people know, which they can perform together as a communal sort of dance. Legendary dancers Frankie Manning, Norma Miller and dancers from the original swing era have played no small part in popularizing its performance at swing dance events and keeping this part of swing history alive.

The routine consists of 16 8-counts of material which conveniently fit many pieces of  jazz music written with a 32 bar swing chorus song structure. A common theme (and memory aid) in the routine is to dance 3 8-counts of a signature step followed by a “break step.” It was popularly danced to songs including Stompin’ at the Savoy (Benny Goodman) and  Tuxedo Junction (Erskine Hawkins). Frankie Manning helped create a tradition of dancing the Shim Sham to Jimmie Lunceford’s ‘T’aint What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It), including his pantomime of a father instructing his son during the middle part of the song.

Of the 4 routines mentioned in this post series, the Shim Sham is definitely the most popular and commonly danced…and probably the one you should learn first.

2. the Jitterbug Stroll (easy)

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The Jitterbug Stroll is actually a modern contribution to jazz dancing. Swing dance teacher Ryan Francois (Great Britain) choreographed the routine which was originally danced to the song Woodchopper’s Ball by Woody Herman. Lindy Hoppers also commonly dance the routine to “The Jitterbug Stroll”, a song recorded by swing dance teacher Steven Mitchell, in which  the lyrics call out the dance steps in order, making it extremely easy for new dancers to catch on. Because of the song, Steven Mitchell is sometimes mistakenly credited with choreographing the dance.

The Jitterbug Stroll consists of 24 8-counts of material divided into 4 groups of 6 8-counts. Its structure lends itself well to dancing to songs that have a 12-bar blues musical structure. For each of the 4 sections of the routine, a signature step is danced 3 times, followed by “pivoting around”, another repetition of the signature step, punctuated by a break step.

One of my favorite aspects of the Jitterbug Stroll choreography is that most of the signature steps in the dance are actually mashups of two separate jazz steps. The first step, for instance combines a chug motion with boogie forward. The second signature step of the routine combines knee slaps with the Shorty George step. The concept of taking two separate movements and combining them in a new  way is a great way to expand and indeed invent your own vocabulary of jazz steps.

In Part 2: the Tranky Doo

Herrang Dance Camp

Herrang Dance Camp

What is Herrang Dance Camp?

Herrang Dance Camp is an annual swing dance camp that takes place in the small mining village of Herrang, Sweden every July. Started in 1982 with 25 attendees (mostly Swedish) participating for a single week of classes and social dancing, the camp has since grown into the world’s largest and most comprehensive dance camp focused on the African-American swing and jazz dance traditions, especially Lindy Hop, Charleston, Jazz & Tap. These days, the camp serves thousands of international dancers travelling from across the world who gather for up to 5 weeks every July to participate in workshop classes with renowned dance champions, social dance, exchange dance and cultural ideas, spread the joy of Lindy Hop…and leave inspired!

Why should every Lindy Hopper go to Herrang Dance Camp at least once in their lifetime?

  • the practically 24/7 total immersion in swing and Lindy Hop dancing will improve your dancing by leaps and bounds
  • you’ll meet and make friends with dancers from all over the world, who share your passion for swing dancing and culture
  • you’ll take classes with the best dancers in the world…champions and accomplished performance dancers who will relate and pass on the history of the dance as well as share their innovative dance ideas that push the boundaries of swing
  • the sheer and collective creativity of those attending, coupled with Herrang’s northerly location where the sun sets for a mere 6 hours, leads to a magically surreal experience where it seems like time has stopped, boundaries fall away and just about anything can happen!
  • the brownies at the dance camp’s Cafe. To Die For.
  • Fun – mind and soul expanding Fun
Herrang is Lindy Hop Heaven. It’s quite simply a mecca of swing dancing, that every serious lindy hopper should visit at least once. This Lindy Hopper attended 3 years already, and intends to make it back again in 2012 for the 30th Year Anniversary! [update: yes, Nathan did actually make it to Herrang for 2 weeks in 2012! woo-hoo!]

What is a typical Herrang Dance Camp experience?

A week of classes at Herrang runs Sunday – Friday, and there are 5 weeks total. Saturday is check-in and check-out day. While some campers from neighboring European countries may have the luxury to stay the full 5 weeks, most visitors from other parts of the world, including the US, attend for one or two selected weeks. The initial weeks of class are geared toward beginner & intermediate dancers, and the class levels increase through the weeks of the camp. Certain class tracks such as Balboa, Tap, Jazz, Boogie Woogie or Competition and Show are offered only during specific weeks, whereas Lindy Hop is offered throughout the 5 week period.

The camp actually takes place at the Herrang Town Hall (Folkets Hus) and the neighboring school house building. The camp also erects a growing number of outdoor, tent-covered dance floor/classrooms to accommodate the increasing number of attendees.

Here’s a typcial week at Herrang:

Saturday: arrive, check-in, finish paying for your classes/registration if you haven’t already, audition if you are enrolling in classes that require one (such as intermediate/advanced or advanced), settle into your accommodations, attend camp meeting at Folkets Hus, social dance

Sunday – Friday: main camp with your assigned track classes from about 10am – 7pm, extra evening classes with volunteer instructors, camp meeting at 9pm, social dancing 10pm until the last person leaves, sometimes as late/early as 8am!

Theme Nights: certain evenings of social dancing have specific themes

Tuesdays – Slow Drag Night. Campers dress to impress and dance to slow and sultry vintage blues. The perfect chance to make a move on that cute guy or girl you’ve been eyeing in class.

Thursdays – Cabaret Night. All campers are invited to put on an act in the weekly cabaret, and prove their creative talents extend well beyond dancing. Magic, comedy, burlesque, and more!

Friday – Masquerade Ball. Volunteers work all day long to decorate and transform the Folkets Hus into a totally rad theme party venue. Past theme nights have included: Studio 54, Woodstock, Horror Night, the Olympics, etc. Campers bring or make costumes, and there are always zany contests and activities to go with the theme.

Other things not to be missed:

Camp Meetings – held each night in the Folkets Hus, make sure to arrive early to grab a seat. The meetings are a chance to share the daily news and happenings of the camp, as well as watch and discuss special selections of vintage dance clips. Traditionally, legendary dancers such as Frankie Manning, Norma Miller, Sugar Sullivan, Dawn Hampton and other have been on hand to share their special perspectives. Lennart Westerlund, one of the camp’s early founders, usually hosts the meeting with a comedic deadpan that makes the meeting feel like a sort of Swedish David Letterman show.

Evening Classes – camp attendees offer classes of their own for a variety of topics that extend beyond the traditional camp curriculum. For instance: hip hop, bhangra, belly dancing, modern dance, acrobatics, etc.

Cultural Activities Day – a chance to do something other than dance. Take a hike, a trip to the lakeside beach, fly in a vintage airplane, take a hot air balloon ride, and experience Herrang in a totally different way.

Housing and Accommodations

Basic weekly camp costs include budget accommodations, essentially a one person bunk (featuring IKEA bunk beds!) in the school house gym. Expect extremely close and communal quarters, large camper to bathroom ratio, and very little privacy. Earplugs and eye mask recommended. Another budget form of accommodation: bring a tent and camp outdoors (free!)

Private Accommodations: the local residents earn a little money on the side by renting out their homes while vacationing themselves. These accommodations are actually semi-private in that a single house will often be shared by multiple persons. Still, you’ll have better person to bathroom ratio, possible kitchen access, and a quieter living space. A trade-off may be that you’ll have to rent a bike to get yourself to and from classes and the Folkets Hus each day. Level of accommodations will obviously vary. A good way to book private accomodations is to coordinate with friends and book a house to yourselves.

Food & Beverage

Food is not included with the camp costs. For an additional fee, you can opt to join the meal plan which offers two meals a day, breakfast and dinner. Meal plan reviews vary, with many Scandinavians loving it, and foreigners often complaining. If nothing else, the cafeteria is a good place to hang out and make friends outside of dance class while commiserating about the food.

Folkets Hus “Blue Moon Cafe” – coffee, tea, cookies, brownies, ice cream and other treats for individual purchase

Folkets Hus “Bar Bedlam”– serves cooked meals for individual purchase that are, in my opinion, tasty and much better quality than the cafeteria meal plan

Ice Cream Parlor – offers ice cream, sandwiches and small snacks

Burger Kiosk – Swedish style burger stand….mmm, burger

Kuggen Grocery Store – there is a small grocery store a short walk from the Folkets Hus where you can buy supplies to prepare a meal in your kitchen if your’e staying in private accommodations, or in the camp’s single community kitchen…if you find time to squeeze yourself in. If you have time, you can also take a bus ride into neighboring Hallstavik which has a more comprehensive supermarket.

Marina Bar & Pizza Parlor – a little further away from the camp is a marina on the lake, and a restaurant that serves drinks as well as European style thin-crust pizzas and a few other dishes

Last Notes, Tips and Advice

  • Be prepared for mosquitos and purchase your insect repellent in Sweden. Apparently the US brand repellents don’t work on those foreign buggers.
  • Maximize your trip to Herrang by sandwiching it between a trip to other parts of Europe.
  • Plan to spend a day or two in Stockholm on your way in and out…the city is beautiful, especially during July.
  • If it’s your first time, coordinate to travel with a group of friends from your local dance scene…instant support group for your adventure.
  • Followers: unfortunately, Herrang does have a reputation for being follower heavy, so you’ll have to be assertive about asking for dances. Tip: do your best to make some leader dance friends during your afternoon classes…so that you have go-to people for the evening social dances.
  • The social dance floors are often super crowded from 9pm-2am. My best dancing happened when I went home after the camp meeting and slept from 9-2am, then woke up to social dance from 2am-6am when there was plenty of dance space, and some of my favorite partners were out. The downside: make sure you wake up in time…or miss a whole night of dancing!
  • Register for two weeks instead of one…that way if you get sick during one of the weeks, you have a chance to enjoy the other week in a recovered state.
  • Be outgoing and push yourself to make friends from other countries. It’s extremely easy to just hang out with your English speaking friends from your local scene or country, but the rewards of stepping out of your comfort zone are countless.

Okay, that’s it. Hope to see you in Herrang this year!

Norma Miller: Queen of Swing

Norma Miller, nicknamed the “Queen of Swing,” is one of the few remaining original Lindy Hoppers who danced in the Savoy Ballroom and NYC in the 1930s and 40s. Vivacious and spunky as ever, she currently tours the world, spreading the joy and history of Lindy Hop to new generations of swing dancers and interested audiences. Bay Area swing dancers will have a special opportunity to meet this legendary dancer and hear her stories at the end of February 2012 at the Swingin’ at the Savoy Workshop, conveniently coinciding with Black History month. This month’s Lindy 101 article provides a brief biography of Ms. Miller’s extraordinary life and experience in show business.

Born in 1919, Norma Miller’s first exposure to dancing was at her mother’s rent parties and weekend dance lessons in the Harlem district of New York. At the young age of 12, she was discovered dancing on the sidewalks outside the Savoy Ballroom by Twistmouth George. Too young to actually enter the ballroom, she had been soaking up dance steps from dancers who were coming and going, and she became expert in the Black Bottom, the Shimmy, Picking Cherries & the Shim Sham. Three years later, Herbert White invited her to join his one his elite dance group Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers as its youngest member.

Whitey had several teams of dancers, and Norma was a part of the group fortunate to travel and perform in the movies in Los Angeles. She appeared in two of the most famous recorded works by Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, the Marx Brother’s films, A Day at the Races (1937) and Hellzapoppin’ (1941). A contemporary and lifelong friend of Frankie Manning, she danced with him in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X as well as in Debbie Allen’s TV Film Stompin at the Savoy.

After Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers disbanded in the early 1940s, Norma Miller continued to make her mark on stage and screen. During the rest of the 1940s she ran Norma Miller’s Dance Company which performed at Club Alabam in L.A. During the 1950s, she performed with Billy Ricker & Michael Silver as the del Rio Trio. In the late 1950s she formed and performed with the group Norma Miller & Her Jazz Men, whose ranks included Frankie Manning’s son Chazz Young.

Norma eventually made the leap into other forms of entertainment. She performed at Red Foxx’s comedy club in the 1960s, and joined him on his 70s television show Sanford and Son. She also performed on film and television with the likes of Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby and Ella Fitzgerald.

After the passing of Al Minns in 1985 and Frankie Manning in 2009, Miller is the last member of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers remaining alive to teach, lecture and share her link to the history of swing dancing. Contrasting Frankie’s often soft spoken nature, Ms. Miller is an extremely outspoken individual and most often the life of the party. You can get a taste of her humor and spirit in this video  clip of a talk she gave in 2010 at the Cat’s Corner Swing Dance Party in San Francisco:

She has written and co-authored several books, including Swing Baby Swing which chronicles the evolution of swing dancing into the 21st century, as well as “Swingin’ at the Savoy: A Memoir of a Jazz Dancer.” Her life is featured in the documentary “Queen of Swing.”

 

Josephine Baker

The original Banana Girl?

Josephine BakerJosephine Baker had a style all to her own.  Her unique aesthetic and bold choreography are still studied today as paradigms of 20s and 30s vernacular jazz movements.  Not only is she an important figure in the Swing world, but her political significance trumps many of her contemporaries. She was the first African American female to star in motion pictures and to perform at a racially integrated American Concert Hall. She aided the French resistance in WWII which won her the prestigious military award of the Croix de Guerre and she is especially noted for her contributions to the American Civil Rights movement in the 1970s.

Political clout aside, her moves were a tour de force all by themselves. Here is some essential knowledge that every swing dancer should know about Josephine Baker:

1. Signature Moves- Frenzied Charleston, leggy Knee Rocks, Camel Walk variations, etc.

Originally hailing from Missouri, this “Creole Goddess” (as the French called her) exploded onto Parisian stages in 1927. Not soon after this, she started her movie career and shot right up to became the highest paid female performer in Europe and assumed the appellation of the Most Photographed Woman in the World.  This clip is from La Revue Des Revues. See if you can pick out the signature moves mentioned above!

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2. Baker’s Banana Dance is probably one of the most famous dances during that era.

Whether it’s the bananas or the way she moves with them, this dance has gone down in history and is something every dancer should know about. (Little Fact:  This performance is also noted in academia as one of the main embodiment of a euro-centric fascination for the “Exotic Other.” Hmmm…)

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3. Singer and Parisian Night Club Owner”J’ai deux amours” was her biggest hit.

She also went on to own of the top jazz clubs in Paris called Chez Josephine where many of the elite nightlife went to dance and sing.

4. Exotic Clothing Style

Josephine BakerBaker was known for her “barely there” clothing, her pet cheetah on a leash (which would consistently run into the orchestra pit, and skirts made out of feathers or bananas (of course!).

“Shorty” George Snowden

Shorty George Snowden dancing with partner Big Bea“Shorty” George Snowden  ranks among the most famous of the original Lindy Hop dancers at the Savoy Ballroom and had a huge impact on the dance as it developed. Here are some of the noteworthy facts that every Lindy Hopper should know about Shorty George:

1) Shorty George was one of the top dancers at the Savoy Ballroom in the late 1920s through early 1930s.

He was the reigning dance champion at Savoy, until up-and-comer Frankie Manning and Frieda Washington unseated him in a dance contest in 1935 in which they introduced the first airstep to Lindy Hop.

 

2) He was short, barely reaching 5 feet tall, but used his small stature to great comedic effect while dancing.

Big Bea carries Shorty George offHis signature dance step the Shorty George, appropriately named after him, involved Shorty walking forward while tucking one knee behind the other and pointing his fingers downward, which accentuated his proximity to the floor. Indeed, the Shorty George makes an appearance in all four of the major group jazz dances of the era: the Shim Sham, Jitterbug Stroll, Big Apple and Tranky Doo.

Shorty George also put his height to use while dancing with his partner, Big Bea, who towered over him. For certain underarm turns, Shorty would literally jump so that his arms would clear Big Bea’s head! One of the duo’s classic ways to end a song was with Big Bea picking Shorty George up on her back and carrying him off!

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3) He formed and led the first professional Lindy Hop dance troupe, the Shorty Snowden Dancers.

the Shorty Snowden DancersThe group danced at the Paradise Club in downtown New York City throughout most of the 1930s, performing along with Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra. According to Frankie Manning, there were three teams of dancers: Madeline and Freddie Lewis, Little Bea and Leroy “Stretch” Jones, and Big Bea and Shorty Snowden. Unlike later ensemble Lindy Hop performances captured on film, such as those by Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, the Shorty Snowden dancers performed as individual couples, as if dancing in a contest or challenge dance. You can see this clearly in the clip of the Shorty Snowden dancers in the film After Seben.

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4) He is credited with coining the name Lindy Hop for the new swing dance that was emerging in New York City in the late 1920s and early 30s.

According to legend, during a 1928 dance marathon in New York City, a reporter saw Shorty George break away from his partner and improvise a step in the current of the style of the Harlem dancers and asked Shorty to name the step. With newspaper headlines of Charles Lindbergh’s historic transatlantic flight (or “Hop”) at the top of people’s minds, Shorty paused a second and then responded that he was “doin’ the Hop…the Lindy Hop!”

Although some dance historians question the legend, Frankie Manning vouched for the story’s authenticity, and the following newspaper clipping seems to support the claim:

Newspaper Article Mentions Shorty George and Lindbergh's Hop

Regardless, it makes a great story!