The Soapbox Archives:
"You can tell the newbies that I've been dancing for 14 years, and still do 90% of the asking. If I want to dance, I have to ask. I'd die of asphyxiation [holding her breath] if I actually waited to be asked (although I do get a lot of follows who ask me to dance!)"
I got into an email discussion with someone about bands and dance music. The person in question made some comments that got me thinking and I thought I'd share some of them with you. The other person's comments are provided for context.
I’ve been a huge Love Dogs fan since they started – I go see them (and Toni Lynn [Washington]) at swing dances AND at blues clubs. My friend has recently (in the last year or two) found them [i.e., The Love Dogs] boring; she says they “phone it in,” and always play the same songs. Nevertheless, I always enjoy the band and Ed Scheer in particular.
The Love Dogs play best when they're *not* playing for a dance, when they don't have to fit a formula. They play *really* well when they're just jammin'. Amazingly enough, it's also great for dancing. All you have to do is listen to a mediocre band play before The Love Dogs and then you realize how good they really are. They *do not* just phone it in...ever. They play their hearts out every time.
No offense, but you seem to have a narrow, rigid view of what constitutes “swing.” Many, if not most, blues songs you can swing dance to (6-count or 8-count). Ditto for some of the Motown and rock and roll songs that Eight to the Bar plays. Personally, I’d much rather swing dance to, for example, “Route 66” than “Satin Doll.”
Songs that you "can" dance to are very different from songs that you "want" to dance to. Any song can be great and any song can be a dud, depending on who plays it. If it's a "blues" song, then it's not swing. Sure, you can dance swing to it. You can dance swing to anything. I've seen people dance swing to tango music. This is an argument we've had with the West Coast Swing crowd for years. We dance swing to swing music; they dance West Coast Swing to.....whatever it is at the time. There's no such thing as West Coast Swing music.
The band playing that music is very important. For instance, "Route 66" played by Doc Scanlon or Asleep at the Wheel (!) is going to be a lot more exciting for dancing than when it's played by Gordon Webster or Compaq Big Band. After 19 years of dancing, it's not that my view of swing music is narrow, it's that some music excites me and a lot doesn't. I don't have to get up and dance every song anymore. I can afford to sit out a bad song that doesn't "swing". It's all about the rhythm. Some rhythms make me get up to dance; some make me stay in the chair. Same for the bands.
The kids are taught that they can be a "bystander" and whine about not wanting to get involved or that they don't have any influence or power to make changes. A bystander does nothing (to help).
Or they can be an "upstander" and get off their butts and make a difference.
Today (Sunday) is October 10, 2010....or 10/10/10. 101010 is "42" in binary. I wonder if this is the day we find out about "life, the universe, and everything".
One dance organizer, within the last year or so, diminished the value of "community building" and indicated that it was all just a business and "may the best man win".
I didn't realize it was a competition.
It was amusing (and quite ironic) that this same organizer also recently complained about the advantage, power, and influence that another venue had over his. Apparently, bands had no problems cancelling gigs with his venue in order to play for the second venue. Wasn't that his whole point?
Another dance organizer expressed concern about appearing to "steal" bands and/or customers. In a "community", the dance businesses share customers. In a community, the dance businesses work *together* so they grow the pie and don't have to worry about competing with any other businesses.
I also heard that someone thought that having several dance venues in the same area was good. The example used was a jeweler's conclave in NYC that seemed to generate more traffic to the area. That's hardly a good example because such a destination just generates more "window shopping" than real purchases. Once you've bought at one vendor, you're not going to buy the same thing at another venue on the same trip. Likewise, with two similar dance venues on the same night in the same area, most people aren't going to pay the admission to one venue and then pay it a second time to a different venue if they decide that they don't like the first. They're just going to go home.
I'm not against "competition" because it does force the vendors to work harder to bring in customers. However, having the same product at the same time in the same area doesn't help differentiate one venue from another.
I heard that some people were concerned about the tone of these editorials, that they're "angry" all the time. Well, isn't that the whole point? People are usually too busy to write in when things are going well. But people *do* love to write in to complain and they love it even more when I write about their favorite hot button so they won't have to take the heat for it. If you read about something here, you can be sure that someone talked to me about it first. I probably should post the notes from people who *agree* with what I write in this space.
Many years ago, probably in 1995, before I started this website, I was the "publisher" of the newsletter for the Boston Swing Dance Society (I ran the organization before that). The newsletter staff had received an honest and sincere, though somewhat "negative", letter to the Editor that we felt had merit and should be published as is (after editing for grammar). The board of directors of the BSDS caught on and decided that it was *too* negative and shouldn't be published or should be "edited". In short, the letter was censored and rewritten, with the reluctant consent of the original author. The newsletter staff printed that "revised" letter and then promptly resigned.
I started this website as a way to learn how to create a website. I was already sending out an electronic newsletter every week and that was the basis for the original DanceNet website. I also decided that I would run everything myself so I wouldn't have to ask anyone for permission to print anything that was worth publishing. And I don't have to kiss up to any promoters. What a great sense of freedom that is. I don't charge anyone to be listed and I don't charge anyone to use this website. I certainly don't force anyone to read this editorial. And with the amount of unpaid work I've put into this website every week for the last 14 or 15 years, I think I've earned the right to say what I want in this small part of the website. I dare anyone to say otherwise.
Do I have to be so "negative"? Well, I got *your* attention, didn't I? I'd be perfectly happy to not have any problems to write about. A properly written Soapbox takes *more* time to write than editing the rest of the website every week. However, the "negativity" of these editorials isn't the real issue. The existing problems of the dance community are in more dire need of our attention; I'm just drawing attention to them. For instance, it's clear that if one of the Friday night venues goes away, it's not an automatic gimme that people will just flock over to the other venue. Some people will look forward to the fact that they have a Friday off and stay home. The pool of dance customers gets smaller. *That* deserves much more attention than the tone of my editorials.
It was suggested that I used this space to highlight and promote various dance venues and events. Sure, I already do that. However, I'm not about to promote activities that I don't know or like. You have to *earn* Benson's Seal of Approval. I suspect that my readers appreciate that honesty.
Alan Cormier of Dance2Swing in Leominster had a comment:
I wanted to share a thought with you on your last soap box on 10/10/10. It's one of the reasons why I read the Soap box every week. Someone once told me something that I had to think about for a while before I understood it as the simple universal truth that it is, and it was that negative energy is a great teacher.Thanks for writing in, Alan. While negative energy can be a great teacher, it can also be a detriment if that's *all* you hear. I think that's the motivational guide to improving oneself in the Chinese culture. ("Only an A- in Math? You're a terrible student!") As a kid, if all you hear is criticism, you might decide to be as "bad" as they say you are. Oh, wait. I think what you meant is that you're glad to learn from someone else's mistakes. Yep, that works for me.
With regard to the dance community, the intent is to educate the dance venues that their perception of the dance community is not necessarily what everyone else thinks of them and that we're paying attention. This is their opportunity to fix those problems before their audience decides that they'd rather go elsewhere. For instance, if a venue unknownly creates an environment that attracts snobs and encourages exclusiveness, then the venue should know about it and fix it because it could otherwise drive away other customers.
I'm almost sure I've written about this before but I'm too lazy to look it up.
At one point, all the local swing dance teachers knew each other well and (more or less) got an automatic free admission to a dance held by another teacher, more so, really, because they were friends than anything else. It was also good publicity if other instructors thought your dance was worth going to.
Later on, we noticed a lot of people "hanging out a shingle" and starting to teach swing dance classes. Naturally these people thought they were dance teachers and expected to get into dances for free. Everything came to a boil when a certain teacher rolled into town and "demanded" to be let in for free just because they were a teacher. This forced all dance venues to come up an official policy on who gets on the guest list (this is a lot more politically correct than telling the person "Forget it. You're a jerk and I hate your guts").
My advice to any teacher is to run a field trip with their students and demonstrate that the teacher is a asset/resource for that dance venue. Do this regularly. Show that your presence helps that organizer's business. No one, including me, is "entitled" to free admission to any dance. Don't ask for free admission and be embarassed when you get turned down (unless of course you have no shame at all). If the dance is worth going to, it's worth paying for it. Let the dance organizer recognize that you're worth adding to the guest list.
I've been trying for a while to come up with a killer argument for women to ask guys to dance. A lot of the older crowd were brought up with the notion that nice girls waited for the guys to ask them to dance; they didn't "chase" after the guys. The rationale that I've used in the past to change this attitude included:
I was talking to a young lady the other night. She had started going swing dancing recently so I told her to go and ask some guy to dance and that it was okay to do so. I gave her my usual spiel about asking guys to dance. In return, she gave me the usual response that she was brought up to wait for guys to ask...except for me. She has no problems asking *me* to dance. I had to wonder about that.
I remember telling her once that while I hadn't seen her for a while, she always stood out in my mind because she was always "on beat" even though she didn't know the dance well, and I think I danced with her in a way that didn't stress her out (she also had a genuinely happy smile, but I didn't mention that). She had a good time and she never felt like she was a burden to me, and she remembered that. That inspired a better reason why a woman should ask a guy to dance. She's letting him know that she likes dancing with him, that he's doing the right things, and/or that she likes his dancing. If a guy does all the asking, he might think that the woman is only humoring him or giving him a "pity" dance.
And guys? Make that partner remember that you were nice to dance with and maybe she'll *want* to dance with you again.
The following came from Mike Hibarger; many of you know him as either "Mike #3" (one of the original "Five Guys Named Mike), "Retro Mike" or "Elvis Mike" (Gee, I hope he knew about all those names before now). He's also the president of Boston Swing Central and he wanted to share his excitement about the upcoming Skye Humphries and Naomi Uyama workshops hosted by Hop To The Beat dance studios in November.
I should note that I neither agree or disagree with Mike's assessment below because I really don't know the teaching and/or dancing abilities of the instructors, except to say that hosts of the workshops, Tony & Aurelie of Hop To The Beat, have pretty high standards for the teachers they're willing to host. That speaks well of Skye and Naomi.
There is some irony to this that I'll elaborate later on.
Years ago, I went to my first Beantown Dance Camp it was a real eye-opener. I was blown away by the awesome level of dancing there. I didn't realize people could be that good. I spent the days in classes learning, and the evenings watching wide-eyed at the kids who were dancing, they were really great, they danced with intensity and energy. One of these kids was Skye Humphries...he was 15 or 16 then and he had been dancing for several years and he was fantastic! He was part of a group of high school students from Ithaca, NY called Minnie's Moochers. The Moochers (as we called them) were child prodigies of swing. They were so talented, you could see the future of swing in their movements.
I later went to Frankie Manning's 85th Birthday where the Moochers did a routine that was awe inspiring... Over the years I've gotten to know Skye by seeing him at competitions, workshops and camps. He is a an exemplary ambassador for swing. Always polite, warm and gracious. He exudes confidence and the principles that Frankie Manning instilled him. He is generous and patient in class and sometimes a little goofy, he is also one of the best lindy hop teachers in the world.
My introduction to Naomi was similar, I saw her as dancer first and was immediately taken by her authentic style and spirit. I would see her at many of out-of-town workshops like Steven & Virginie in Philly or here in Boston for Johnny Lloyd. Naomi is from DC and was travelling everywhere she could to learn more lindy hop. This was 10 years ago. She is now a master.
Today, the Moochers have morphed into the Silver Shadows. The Silver Shadows contain a few Moochers, including both Naomi and Skye. They are an elite performance team that consists of world-renowned teachers and dancers. Their spirit and dedication to the promotion and preservation of the lindy hop has put them in a position of leadership and stewardship of our dance community. In order to know where this dance has been and where it's headed, taking class from any of these instructors is essential.
I am a little disappointed that the Boston Swing Scene doesn't seem to be a culture of learning. For a city with so many educational institutions, this is somewhat surprising. The last Skye & Naomi workshop I attended seemed half-full. And I've been to many classes and workshops recently that echoed this. I realize that people are busy, the economy is bad, they have no money and no time. And yet, I see a lot of folks out two or three times a week, but they are not in classes.
If you love this dance, you owe it to yourself to make learning a priority. There are many low cost or free options in this town for learning swing dancing (lessons before dances, practice sessions, classes by local instructors).
It is easy to put up barriers in your mind and that's always a big issue. Perhaps you think you're done learning, and you're "good enough" or you have fears about attending workshops and classes. Don't be fearful, be courageous.
Even if you don't have a lot of time or money, you can still probably find time for a workshop every now and then, it might require missing out on a dance or two if you're that strapped for cash. For me, I'd take a part-time job if I couldn't afford dance. Many dances and workshops have volunteering that will get you in for free at a discount. Take them up on it...but find a way to get your ass to class. You can start with Skye and Naomi, you won't be disappointed, if you really can't afford the time or money take just one or two classes...
I hear a lot of people complain about, "dance snobs"...it's an age old complaint. But could it be that these people who are "snobs" have just worked harder on their dance? And in so doing they are looking for those who share a common skill level and passion to dance with? Perhaps they attend the same classes or workshops and have forged friendships that go beyond the particular dance that they happen to attend. We can watch others get better from the outside and consider them snobby for not wanting to dance with us, or we can try and improve ourselves and join them. The choice is ours.
Anything in life that's worth something is worth working for. And while there are a few people who are naturally gifted, all of the really good dancers I know have worked their butts off and attended lots of class...
Perhaps if we returned our culture to that of an education-based culture instead of an immediate gratification culture we would understand the hard work that it takes to be a really good dancer. I see the work that some of the people put into their dancing in this town and I am inspired to do the same, it's not easy and it's not for everyone, but we can all do ourselves a favor and invest in ourselves.
I certainly echo Mike's encouragement of all dancers to take dance classes, though I would like to describe it a little differently.
Dancing is a form of communication. It has to be when two people are dancing in a dark and very loud room where you really can't communicate verbally. It's all done through the language of the dance. Lindy Hop, East Coast "Swing", Blues, Balboa, West Coast Swing, they're all different languages or dialects of dance. Just as the spoken Chinese languages of Mandarin and Cantonese are radically different (albeit the same written language) or even the difference between a Bostonian and a "southern" accent, two people dancing different styles with each other will find it hard to communicate; A simple move like a Whip in West Coast Swing isn't done exactly the same as it's done in East Coast Swing. Getting the move to look and feel good between two dancers requires a similar language and a similar understanding of that language. The best way to get that understanding is to take classes.
I'm still upset at "Hat Boy" back in the Swing Fad days (the late 90s and the stupid "Gap commercial"). He discouraged people from taking classes in order to "preserve your natural style". The people who knew how to dance just wanted to smack him into next year because he discouraged people from learning to speak the same language as us. Likewise with women who say "Just lead me. I can follow anything"; they just want the instant gratification of dancing without the work and don't understand how much pain they inflict on us dancers. Trying to speak German with someone who only understands Russian is pretty frustrating; trying to have a Lindy Hop dance with someone who's never learned even a basic Lindy Turn is a fate deserved by those who've must have done something really bad in a previous life.
And when you find that someone who hears the music exactly the way you do, who dances exactly the way you do, who "speaks" the same language of dance as you, you'll understand what the perfect dance really feels like. And you'll want more.
By the way, regarding the "dance snobs" who appear to be disinclined to dance with you, I'd like to say something. They (the "snob") might (now) have a better understanding of how to do the dance better; their standards for a good dance might be pickier than yours. If the song is uninspiring, they'll wait for a better song and they might not be excited about asking *anyone* for a dance right then. However, it doesn't mean they won't dance with *you*. Many of them would be perfectly happy to dance with you if you just went up to them to remind them that someone wanted to dance with them. Remember last week's Soapbox: ask them to dance; don't wait for an engraved invitation.
On the other hand, if they act like a snob because they're really a jerk, write a big "L" (for Loser) on their forehead and go find someone nice to dance with. Life is too short to dance with mean people.
Oh? Oh yeah, I mentioned "irony" earlier. There was a time about 16 years ago when "visiting instructors" were the rage and dancers were dismissing the local teachers as having nothing left to teach them. One local teacher, Bob Thomas (currently living in Germany) wrote a letter to the editor of the Boston Swing Dance Society newsletter lamenting the lack of respect for the local teachers. This letter was heavily edited by the board of the BSDS before publication and was the reason why I left and went off on my own. This resulted in the creation of this website. It's amazing how times and attitudes have changed.
I did say I had nothing to write this week, didn't I? Nope, I edited that out.
Don't forget to vote on Tuesday, November 2, 2010. If I ever hear you complain about the government, my first question to you will be "Did you vote?".
I was just thinking (yeah, right).
Many of you know that I also run a website for Argentine Tango. I gave up the dance about 10 years ago because I wasn't "getting it" and I'd never be as good as I was in swing dancing. Besides, I was told that I "dance tango like a swing dancer" (yes, that is a quote).
I recently attended a party of tango dancers where I was the only non-tango dancer. It was a great opportunity to put a face to all the names on my tango site and it was an opportunity to prove to the current generation of tango dancers that I really exist.
Why do I maintain a website for a dance I don't even do anymore? I still have a lot of friends in the tango scene. At one time, the Tango Society of Boston was trying to be *the* resource for tango in the local region. However, they also offered classes and held dances. That meant that they were in direct competition with the individual dance teachers and dancing venues. My tango website was intended to provide a level playing field for the tango teachers and dancing venues so they could all compete fairly. I felt that information for a whole dance community should not be in the hands of an organization that also had a vested interest in attracting customers to its own offerings. The teachers and organizers in the tango scene do appreciate an independent information resource that doesn't play favorites so they support my efforts. I haven't heard a peep out of the tango community in years about unfair competition.
Here on the swing dance scene, my goals are similar with the addition of providing as much information to the dancers so they can make an informed choice about where they want to spend their dancing dollars. Everyone has a different reason for dancing and each dancing venue has to decide what kind of crowd they want to attract.
Some people who are in the dance business have a vested interest in keeping their customers within their own sphere of influence and away from any other dance businesses. Do you teach dance? Do you run dances? Do you rent out space to a dance venue? If so, you're in the dance business and if I were another dance venue, I wouldn't feel comfortable with you as an unbiased and reliable source of information for the entire dance community. Of course, that just assumes that you even have the time to do a decent job of maintaining such an information resource.
Over the years some dance organizers have expressed dismay at the unrestricted number of swing dance venues that seem to pop up all over the place without rhyme or reason. We refer to it as "hanging out a shingle". In some cases, people just took lessons and felt qualified to be a dance teacher. Someone (or some people) have suggested that the only way to combat such encroaching upstarts is to band together to create barriers in the marketplace so that newcomers won't have an easy time if they try to start new classes or create a new dance venue.
Naturally, I disagree. And I don't even think it's possible for such an idea to work.
One of the reasons I run this website is to keep the source of all swing dance information out of the hands of the dance businesses so they can't use it to prevent a new venue from gaining any traction and so they can't restrict the choices available to the dancers. It's even ludicrous to assume that it's even possible to tell dancers where they can or can not go dancing. Trying to use artificial means to keep the number of venues low isn't going to work in swing dancing. Dancers will go where they want to go dancing. This website exists to support the dancers, not the businesses.
I might use this website to *help* certain dance businesses that I especially like, though it wouldn't be any fun to just say how one achieves that status. However, everyone gets listed and no one gets left out. This website will not be used to hurt a dance venue (even if it's people I *really* don't like). I leave it to the customers (and their feet) to decide which venues should live and which ones should go away.
Note, however, that I'm not above using this website to encourage nice behavior. I once temporarily banned a dance teacher from this website for exhibiting anti-social behavior. The dance community shouldn't have to put up with people like that. I have no problems doing that again.
PS: To all dance venues, you still have to get your information to me in a clear and easy-to-read format. Don't make me look for it; I don't work for you.