For quite some time, my standard answer for how long I’ve been dancing has been “about 10 years.” It’s getting to a point where I need to re-evaluate that answer. I took my first Lindy Hop class in January of 1999, almost 13 years ago, from a woman who still inspires me to this day.
She now lives in Minneapolis, MN along with the guy in this next video which I’ve probably watched more than any others this year.
Midwest Lindyfest 2011 - Invitational Jack and Jill - Niki Amundson & Peter Strom
In a lot of ways, this video embodies a lot of the things I mentioned in my 2011 year in review. It’s a fun dance with someone that he’s known for over 10 years. In fact, I think it’s the dance you can only have with someone you’ve known for a long time. For awhile, Niki was one of those young dancers that appeared in and won a lot of competitions. She doesn’t travel very much these days, but she represents a lot of dancers who have moved on in their lives, but can still throw it down and inspire the rest of us from time to time. The beginning of that dance is interesting to me because of the way guitarist Robert Bell puts down some funky beats because he’s also known Peter for some time and knows his predilection for Soul and R&B music.
I think the latest highpoint in dancer-musician relations happened at DCLX 2011 where two big bands led by Glenn Crytzer and Jonathan Stout showed the world that classic jazz for dancing can still cause 500+ young people to stomp their feet, clap their hands, and yell their voices hoarse after playing for three and a half hours straight. Everyone who was there remembers “DIXIELAND BAND?!?,” or the trumpet/drummer exchanges between Bria Skonberg & Mike Daugherty or Brett Lemley & Paul Lines. But my favorite part came towards the end with the back to back clarinet solo’s from Seattle’s Craig Flory and Russ Reinberg from California. At the end of Russ’s solo, Glenn asked Craig to take another, but he humbly demurred. This night wasn’t really about battling.
DCLX 2011 Battle of The Bands-The Jonathan Stout Orchestra & Crytzer’s Blue Rhythm Band
Music is what brings us all together, on the dance floor and even on this blog. Earlier this year I posted to the Wandering & Pondering Facebook Page my favorite Ella Fitzgerald song, a live version of “St. Louis Blues” recorded in the Savoy Ballroom with Chick Webb’s band not long after he passed away. I lamented that the radio announcer crashes the ending, and doesn’t allow the song a proper ending. I thought that it would disqualify it from ever being performed for a routine. Apparently, the people down in Austin decided to take up the challenge, and put together my favorite team performance from this year which succinctly and subtly solved the problem of the ending.
ILHC 2011 - Team - Lindy Hoppers Dozen
Peter & Nikki’s dance is probably my favorite social dance to watch, but Skye Humphries & Frida Segerdahl’s dance in the Champions Invitational Strictly at the European Swing Dance Championships is damn near perfect. What I love about this dance is how simple and elegant it is. Watch the other spotlights from that competition, and you’ll notice how most everyone tries to be entertaining and do some crazy fun stuff. Skye & Frida don’t even bother because they just like dancing and they say what they mean and mean what they say.
ESDC 2011 - INVITATIONAL STRICTLY LINDY HOP Finals (Skye & Frida)
My favorite part occurs before they even start. Frida sarcastically spins him for his introduction, slightly mocking more formal competitions and the way leads traditionally present their follows. His spin is ironic, but still skillfully elegant. She responds by whimsically leaping to meet him. Physical inside jokes.
Then they start. They swingout. Then they do it again. And again until they come to close with the end of the phrase. Then it’s side by side charleston four times, which is about 3 three more times than most advanced dancers are comfortable doing with the rest of the world watching.
This isn’t an exhibition of mind boggling tricks or aerials. This is Lindy Hop 101.
Not that there isn’t any skill involved. The old song goes “T’aint what you do, it’s the way that you do it.” At 1:09 of that video, he comes out of back to back charleston with a stop on the dime spin so wickedly quick and precise that half of the leads sitting behind him would have to spend several months to come close to duplicating it.
Why are we infatuated with it? Why are beginners in awe of it? Why do their peers admire it? Why do old timers nod knowingly?
It’s because Skye & Frida embody the very thing we look for when we come to this dance. What Skye & Frida represent in their mastery of skill and uninhibitedness in the face of numerous and often times unreasonable expectation is Freedom. Capital F intended.
Here’s the thing, Skye & Frida know that you’re watching. They know that you expect them to do something amazing every other eight counts, but they’re over that. They’re going to swingout and Charleston and perfectly match the phrasing and feeling of the music with moves and their movements, and they’re going to do it not to impress you or to win first place. The reason why they look so relaxed and are having fun is because they are. They’re not hamming it up for the judges or even each other. They just enjoy each others’ company and express that best through dance.
Most people may not realize it, but this is what you’re looking for when you take all those lessons and try to figure out how to become a “good” dancer. Face it, not all of us are ever going to win a competition. No matter how many or how few people are in a given contest, there’s only going to be one winner. But you put all the time into it, so you can you can to turn to your partner and say, “Right here, in this moment, we are going to have the time of our lives.” And then be able say that with every damn dance you have with a straight face.
It may be awhile before some of us get to that point, if ever. But there are those ever so brief and fleeting moments when you feel like “This is it. I got this.”
Jason Hizon & Georgia Glover Lone Star Championships 2011 Intermediate J&J Finals
At 0:37 Georgia throws in a little hip check at just the right moment. Check out Jason’s reaction to it. Listen to all the people cheer right after it happens. That’s what it’s like for that one moment when you’re master of the space time continuum.
The thing about Lindy Hop is that you can never do it by yourself. By definition, as a partner dance, you need one other person to be involved to get it done. Even if no one else gets what you’re doing, if your partner is right there with you, then that’s all that matters in that moment.
ILHC 2011 - Invitational Jack & Jill - Andy Reid & Mia Goldsmith
This whole dance is just lovely, which is not a word I’d normally associate with Andy. One moment in particular stands out like Georgia’s hip check. A series of moments actually. Andy kicks with the music at 0:50. When he does it again a second time, but Mia is right there with him. Those are the times when you know a dance is really clicking, when you and your partner are on the same wavelength.
Most of those times aren’t captured on camera in front of a lot of people. We’re incredibly lucky when they are, and other people are allowed to experience them. That was part of the message behind Karen Turman & Andrew Thigpen’s evolution routine from last year, and is a theme they subtly continued with their follow up piece.
Lindy Focus IX - Showcase - Andrew Thigpen & Karen Turman
Ok. Maybe subtle isn’t the right word, but behind the bombast, the bright purple clothes, and the video intro and epilogue, they’re expressing the feeling that got them into this dance in the first place.
Do you remember when you started out and you were pretty bad, but in your mind’s eye you were amazing? When we get better at dancing we take a bite out of the apple and grow ashamed at our ignorance. It takes a lot of work to match up our ability to where we want it to be. What gets us to that point? With this routine, Karen & Andrew remind us that its equal parts attitude as it is execution. That ineffable quality that makes a light go off in your head and go from “I can do that?” to “I can do that!”
There’s a moment where they appropriate something that Jo Hoffberg & Todd Yannacone did in the Champions Strictly Lindy Hop Finals at ILHC 2010 (at 5:30) The knee slapping and head shaking is so simple, but so catchy that you see several of the competitors start bobbing their heads with them. When Karen & Andrew repeat it several months later, you can see some of the judges up front do the same exact thing. That’s when you know you’re doing something right. It’s not just the cheers, but the fact that you’re making other people want to do it too. This is how a dance community grows and continues.
It’s not just about two people making a dance work. It’s about how we build onto that. Going from being inspired to being inspiring. And the thing is, everyone here is looking for that. Even our competitions aren’t truly competitive in the cut throat sense. They’re very collaborative actually. We want each other to do well; to give us something else to add to the vocabulary of our vernacular.
ILHC 2011 - Juniors - Kevin Tucker & Hannah Abel
I think that’s the reason why the junior division at ILHC was so emotional this year. I think people who saw it also saw bit of themselves on that floor with those kids. You should have seen the crowd from where I was standing with everyone cheering and smiling. Even the judges. Especially the judges. Some of them, like Lennart Westurlund, Sylvia Sykes, Kenneth & Helena Norbelie have been around for a long time, and they know that if we’re going to keep the dance going, we’re going to need the kind of energy, effort, and courage that kids like Hannah and Kevin showed on that floor.
It’s a cycle. It starts with one dancer, and then transmitted to your partner, and then eventually (hopefully) involving those around you.
Jeff Camozzi & Liz Camozzi Lindy Focus IX – Showcase
I think Jeff & Liz captured this sentiment perfectly with their performance at Lindy Focus IX. It’s not a complicated or flashy routine. It’s just a simple story of two people that eventually involves so many others. It’s everyone’s story; one that starts every time we ask that next person for a dance.
Happy New Year! Make it count.