I don’t think that many people read this blog. At least not many Lindy Hop instructors do. If they did, then they would know better than to put up all of the craptacular instructor bio’s I’ve been looking at lately. One of my first posts on this blog was about dancer bios. I’m in the middle of a little project that has me checking out a ton of Lindy event and dancer websites. I’ll reveal the reason for that in the near future. But as I’m going through all these sites, it’s becoming apparent that people don’t seem to understand the reason for a bio.
If you don’t want people to know basic information about you, then why bother writing one at all? For some reason, many instructors seem to treat the bio as an opportunity to tell inside jokes that only their friends would get—the very people who are least likely read such a thing.
Here’s one of the worst examples out there:
Lindy Hopper. Belly dancer. Hair-removal Laser Technician. The mysterious figure that is known only as "Nina" (and sometimes "Naomi") has many titles from prestigious dance competitions. But that's only a small part of her accomplishments. For instance, she can swivel in midair. She can simultaneously create vintage-style dresses and then destroy them while dancing. She can make 12-minute biscuits in 10 minutes. She writes upbeat musical theatre involving funeral homes. And last, but not least, she is a part of the award-winning Lindy Hop team the Silver Shadows, which sounds like it's a group of super heroes. And that's what she is. A Super Hero--one whose main super power is doing swivels in midair. And one day, they might save the world. Until then, she lives in Washington D.C. and falls down a lot.
This is a terrible example of a bio if your name isn’t Nina Gilkenson. Even for her, its barely acceptable. She can get away with it because she’s one of the most recognizable dancers in the Lindy Hop scene. Even if she stopped dancing tomorrow to have octuplets, (and I’m not saying that’s about to happen, but I wouldn’t rule it out as a possibility) she’d still be one of the most famous dancers of this generation.
I’m sure everyone has read it because it seems like many instructor bio’s try to sound just like it. People trying to copy everything that Nina does is nothing new. But like her movements, people miss the point and do all the obvious stuff badly while ignoring why it's done that way.
It’s Nina’s case, it’s satire about perceptions. In your case, I guarantee you that no one knows who you are, so no one has a perception of you, which means you have nothing to satirize.
When I, as someone who doesn’t know who you are, read a bio, I need to know a few very basic pieces of information. Yes, you are essentially helping potential creeps me harmless strangers stalk you. You might have some privacy issues, but if you’ve put yourself in a position where you want me to pay you money to learn to dance, then you’re just going to have to get over it.
Here's a few tips that can also apply to anyone writing a short professional summary. I just happen to be making fun of helping Lindy Hop teachers. At the bare minimum, once I’m done reading a bio, I should know the following:
Your FULL name: You can’t imagine the amount of detective work I sometimes to do just to figure out the full names of some of you people. How hard is it to put your first AND last name in your bio? Remember that you don’t know what context your bio will be re-posted online. If you don’t include your full name and the event promoter does something cute (re: stupid) like refer to all the instructors by only their first names, then no one will know who the hell you are. There are very few people that are known just with their first names. You are not one of them.
When you started dancing/teaching or whatever you are doing for whatever event you are hired: Structure this by indicating what year instead of saying X number of years ago because you know you won’t bother updating it, or if you return to an event, they may re-use it without asking for an updated one from you.
Good Example: I started dancing in 2000
Bad example: I started dancing 10 years ago
Where are you from and where you live currently: The reason is simple: Future potential business. Maybe I’m from there or will be passing through on business. I can look you up for a private lesson while I'm in town or may refer a friend who lives close to you. Also, combined with when you started, this will tell a grizzled veteran like me a lot more about your dance education than anything you can ever write.
A SHORT summary of your dance related accomplishments: I don’t need to see a full list. This isn’t a CV or resume. Sommer & Dorry altering an an algorithm to match up kidney donors faster would be a really cool exception, but even they don’t list that on their dance bio.
I just want to know what you’ve done to assure me that you have some idea that you know what you’re doing. You might want to list a couple significant contest wins, but I really don’t need to know that you made the Jill & Jack finals at OLHC (Obscure Lindy Hop Competition). I think any kind of teaching experience, even if its not dance related, is more useful for prospective students to know than the number of times you lost a contest registration fee. My favorite phrase from a bio for not even placing in a competition: “You may have seen me in competitions such as [name drop here].”
Journalism 101 students have probably noticed that we’ve covered four out of six of the basic questions anyone should ask to understand something or someone. Why & How are questions that are best addressed outside of a bio for an event. The main mistake that people make is taking the “bio” part too literally. Just because someone asks for your bio doesn’t really mean that they want to know your life story.
Generally your typical bio should be one paragraph. If you’re feeling particularly loquacious, then leave a longer one for your website. In fact, put your website in your bio. If someone really wants to know everything about you, then they’ll go to your site. As I’m scanning info about an event and the 10 other instructors, I don’t want to spend a lot of time reading your novella.
Whatever you write, assume that whoever is reading won’t know who you are. Because if they know already, then they won’t be reading it anyway.
Saracsm and irony are bad ideas. True story: an unnamed dancer *cough*michael*cough*seguin*cough wrote in his bio that he was on the run from the law for killing a man. Let’s just say that even though some people can speak the same language, humor doesn’t always translate. There will be time for jokes a plenty after students have given you their money and you're all in a locked classroom where it would be rude of them to run away or point out that your grammar sucks.
Monologuing. A bio is not the place to discuss the meaning of the dance because I’m already asleep by the end of the first paragraph. Save that for your blog. Don’t have one? Well if you’re so inspired to write so much about yourself and what you think about everything, then maybe you should consider getting one.
Name dropping. This could be a problem especially if said person ends up in jail. This has happened more than a few times. Your bio is about you. Don’t make it about somebody else.
Semantic Gymnastics. You did not "study under Frankie Manning." Dropping in halfway through his Shim Sham class does not qualify you as his apprentice.
Bonus Pro Tip: Read your bio where ever it gets posted to make sure it doesn’t start out with something that will distract from everything else you wrote like “From the vibrate Lindy movement in . . .” This was actually posted somewhere. I'd quote the rest, but you won't remember anything else other than those first few words.
Just remember this is not a creative writing exercise. I don’t want to read haiku’s and I don’t want to wade through so much noise that I have to look up the WRRC website to find out where you’re from.
Here’s a good example of what a bio should look like:
Nina Gilkenson and Andy Reid hail from Washington DC. They are competitors, performers and teachers of Lindy Hop. Between them, Nina and Andy can lay claim to more than 25 national Lindy Hop titles from some of the most prestigious swing dancing competitions in the world, including the North Atlantic Dance Championships, the American Lindy Hop Championships, Hellzapoppin', and the Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown. Performance credits include television appearances on PBS; Apollo Theatre; Lincoln Center and concert performances with the Brian Setzer Orchestra and Aretha Franklin. Their classes focus on authentic Lindy Hop technique, musical interpretation and the history of the dance.
Nina and Andy are two of the founding members of Silver Shadows, a recently formed troupe who performed in Harlem, NY at a tribute event for the surviving members of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, as well as tap legends Jimmy Slyde and Fayard Nicholas.
When Andy and Nina are not dancing together, you can often see her drop kicking him. In fact, sometimes she dropkicks him while dancing in front of hundreds of people who paid a lot of money to watch. Life is funny sometimes.
Notice that it’s structured so I can cut off one or both of the last two paragraphs if I need space or seriousness. In fact you get everything you need to know in that first one. Also, that last paragraph is funny because it’s true; not some made up BS for BS’s sake.
Lesson for today: If you can't be both honest and creative, at least lean towards honest.