The modern Lindy Hop community used to spend a lot of time at West Coast Swing crossover events. The American Swing Dance Championships , The Virginia State Open, North Atlantic Dance Championships, Swingin’ New England, Swing Fling, Summer Hummer, Boogie By The Bay, and of course, The US Open. ASDC ended in 1998. NADC in 2004. Lindy participation in other events has been steadily on the decline to the point where some those events are eliminating Lindy from their schedule altogether; Swingtime In The Rockies being the most recent example. The lone exception has been The Boston Tea Party whose crossover aspect really took off after NADC folded. I used to love going to crossover events when I first started, but this weekend was my first Tea Party.
We drove up 9 hours, so I was a little out of it most of Friday evening. I also had this odd feeling of déjà vu, until I confirmed with someone that this was the same hotel where West Coast Swing promoter, Bill Cameron, used to hold his New Year’s Weekend Dance Extravaganza, which I last attended over 2003/2004. That hotel has seen a lot of Lindy Hop over the years. Andy Reid told me that he’s been to an event in that hotel every year for the past 10 years. It’s the same hotel where the infamous Mad Dog performance took place.
That video was taken at a weird angle because no video recording was permitted, so it was taken in the least conspicuous way possible. Imagine how the Lindy scene would have developed without its first viral video. I thought about that as I looked at the obnoxious “We want you to put down that camera” signs with Doug Silton’s signature hung around the hotel. Apparently you even had to buy a pass just to take pictures.
Working a bunch of events with different promoters, I’ve had this discussion many times about the futility of trying to regulate people recording at events. This is grist for another blog on another day, but the short answer is that you can’t. At BTP, you had to pay for a photo or video pass, and all they gave you was a round green sticker with word “paid” hand written on it. There was nothing stopping me from going to a nearby store and getting a pack of those things for $0.99 and giving them away. Due to current events, you could easily upload a video to YouTube tagged with Boston Tea Party and it would probably very difficult for someone to find and report. Just sayin’.
Otherwise Steve and Rebecca Drzewiczewski have a reputation for running a pretty good event, and the whole weekend went very smoothly with everything running on time more or less. I only decided to go to BTP just a few days before, so I didn’t register beforehand. I think I spent a total of two minutes at the registration desk to fill out the form, pay, and get my wristband. I was also impressed by how fast finalists were posted after each of the prelims ended for each competition division.
Tea Party is a pretty chill event overall. There are no performance divisions; all the competitions are unchoreographed social ones of varying levels from Novice West Coast Jack & Jill to Invitational Strictly Lindy. This makes it accessible to more casual competitors who can just show up and throw down without worrying about extensive rehearsals for routines. This gives them more time to be more social and stick around for late night dancing.
Probably the highlight of the weekend, or the most annoying thing ever depending on your mood, was the cheering section from Baltimore. The orange foam fingered lindy fans energized the crowd and even inspired a bunch of westies to go and buy blue foam feet to wave during the crossover J & J. I thought they brought a great, positive vibe to the event. Watching a couple hours of all skate preliminary rounds isn’t the most exciting thing to happen at most competition events. In fact Karen Turman and Andrew Thigpen lampooned the difficulty of keeping track of anyone in an all skate by dressing up as Waldo. However, B’more made those preliminary rounds the two most entertaining hours of the weekend for me. Although, I still haven’t decided how to categorize their underwear run during the Saturday late night.
Even without the Baltimoreans, the competitions were a lot of fun to watch. I was very intrigued by the Invitational Strictly WCS competition. Since they never program live music for their events, the WCS community struggles quite a bit with keeping the music fresh especially for top level competitors that do these sort of things maybe two or three times a month.
BTP took an interesting approach by using a lot of 60’s & 70’s rock & roll music for their WCS Strictly Invitational. Since a lot of contemporary pop music is usually used for these contests, it was very apparent that many of the dancers were in unfamiliar territory. In that sense the unconventional music selections were a success. WCS dancers like to brag that they can dance to any kind of music, and the really great dancers got to prove that this weekend. It was also interesting to see some of the older dancers like Robert Cordoba, Debra Szekely and Bill Cameron were able to make it a much closer contest because they were more familiar with that kind of music than a younger dancer like Arjay Centeno who took awhile to warm up to the music selection during his spotlight.
Even though the Crossover Jack & Jill is the billed main event at Boston Tea Party, the Strictly Advanced Lindy Hop finals stole the show on Saturday night. To be sure, it wasn’t the prettiest danced contest, but those dancers left it all on the floor in the same way Mad Dog did seven years ago. Ever since that performance, people have gone out of their way to brag about how raw their dancing is, but usually come up short.
However, there were no slackers here. At one point, Michael Seguin and Sarah Sullivan from Baltimore tried a reverse Snatch with her trying to catch him, but mistimed it so it just ended with him tackling her and rolling on the ground. Normally a crowd would wince in embarrassment, but their sheer audacity for even trying got the crowd even hotter. And so it went down the line, the intensity building on the floor and in the crowd as each couple went out into the jam twice each. When they were done they took a bow and tried to walk off. The key word here is "tried."
This was the first time I ever saw a crowd stop a contest from ending by chanting “ALL SKATE! ALL SKATE! ALL SKATE!” Then the contestants delivered again by swinging the s#!t out of that last song, a serving of "Lafayette" from the Kansas City Soundtrack. That song has a great brooding intro, followed by a thumping rhythm section that leads into a musical assault on the senses. That cacophony of sound matched the hard swinging-outs and the bodies flying all over the floor. Sarah and Michael even successfully pulled off their aerial to bring the crowd to a near riot. At the end, those twelve couples were rewarded with a sustained and well deserved standing ovation by Lindy Hoppers and Westies alike.
Props also to Naomi Uyama who selected all the competition songs for the Lindy comps. She’s been my favorite social dance dj for years, but she’s also become the go to contest DJ in the past year or so at BTP last year and at this year's Lone Star Championships. We had talked a bit before about how hard it is to select competition music because you want to strike a balance between challenging and fun while not overusing well worn popular songs. I think she did a great job maintaining that balance for all the comps. She did a picture perfect job of selecting two songs that exactly fit 12 couples dancing for eight-8’s for the Strictly Lindy Final that also got the dancers and the crowd super pumped up. Did I mention that she’s a featured teacher, judge and DJ at ILHC this year? Well, she is.
I noticed that her song selection of “Big Ten Inch” raised a few eyebrows among the Westies during the Crossover J & J, which is surprising considering that they dance to a lot more graphically descriptive songs at their events. Next time we should probably treat them to some Bessie Jackson.
While not as outrageous as last year’s spectacle, this year’s crossover was still a lot of fun. Participants for this competition qualify by finishing as one of the top five couples from the Invitational Strictly West Coast Swing and Lindy divisions which occurred on Friday night. Competition is a deceptive word when describing the crossover, since everyone in it realizes that it’s more of a show than anything else. Everyone who made the finals made a lot of effort to help other dancers with their techniques and wardrobe selection leading up to the comp. The westie leads got a little clever with their introduction at the start of the division by snapping themselves in West Side story style, but Peter Strom and Nick Williams one upped them by leaping into their own impromptu quote from that movie.
My top secret source informs me that Max Pitruzzella & Sarah Vann Drake took first place, but a shout out should go to Kelly Arsenault with that leg wrap around the neck of Arjay Centeno Kyle Redd thingy. It was much cooler than I can describe it. I’m also sure the ladies (and a few men) would like to thank Melina Ramirez for getting Peter Strom to show everyone what color underwear he had on that night.
Since I was so tired on Friday I didn’t get to do much social dancing until Saturday, but I got my weekend’s worth during the late night which was DJ’d by Alain Wong and Naomi Uyama. There was a Crossover room adjacent to the Lindy room, which was meant for Westies and Lindy Hoppers to mix and mingle to a range of R&B and soul music. I got a good warm up there on Friday night, but didn’t spend too much time there on Saturday because it seemed to have a much more low key vibe than what was going on in the Lindy room.
Naomi kept up a good energy through her set and even triggered a jam that lasted for four songs. I sat up at the DJ table with her and spent as much time admiring her manage the jam as I did watching the dancers.
I don’t see very many jams to DJ’d music any more because we dance to so much live music these days. DJ’d jams are tricky because you don’t want to cut off a hot jam, but you don’t want to get stuck in that awkward time when you have a blazing song and no one interested in getting out there.
I think she ended it at the right time. It could have gone longer, but by the forth song, she admitted that she was burning her hottest song. Anything after that would have been a let down. I’m a big fan of ending on a high note anyway. Sometimes people will turn to a DJ who kills a jam earlier than they would like. No one did that here, but Naomi played it smart and followed the jam with “Shiny Stocking” which no one in their right mind would ever think of booing.
Here’s video of a more surreal, exhaustion based jam that happened around 5 am.
The event wasn’t all excitement. In fact it was a pretty relaxing weekend for me. I liked how the schedule on Saturday didn’t have any Lindy comps starting until 4 pm. It allowed me time to go and sit in the lobby to try to get some blog related work done. I didn’t get far because the main sitting area was very socially situated in front of the bar by the hotel check in desk, the in house Starbucks, and at the intersection between the two main dance areas.
I’m a fan of hotel events, and I think the make or break factor is how and where lounge areas are set up. At Tea Party it worked out so I got to see and chat with a all kinds of people. I even got to spend meals with people working the event which I don’t usually expect to do since everyone is so busy during these things. Combined with the schedule, it was nice to have that time to be social so I didn’t have to take time out of actual dancing during the late nights.
Same sort of thing happened on Sunday before the Jack & Jill finals which all went very well. It wasn’t as super crazy as the night was before, but it was still fun to cheer on new and old friends. Even the balboa people were able to spice things up in their final, by debuting their version of the California Routine. Dare I call it the Bal-ifornia Routine?
Results are online. I usually like to nitpick placements, but everyone performed so strongly this weekend that to would be hard to definitively argue a radical disagreement in my opinion. However, in the Advanced Lindy J & J, the top three couples were all people that are or were regular dance partners. That was a freak occurrence, but it happens mostly because I think the pool of really good dancers out there that can also get to certain events is relatively small. I don’t think there’s much to do about that other than to enjoy some good dancing.
Overall, the weekend was a fun way to celebrate the camaraderie that’s develop between the West Coast Swing and Lindy Hop scenes over the years. It’s too bad more events aren’t able to follow suit successfully, but that’s what makes Boston Tea Party such a unique and fun weekend.
And I'll leave you with a video that illustrates the kind of fun people that run this event