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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Legendary Betrayal

There probably isn't anyone in this country who doesn't feel betrayed by the recent news surrounding Bill Cosby. How could a man who so many considered the kindly father of comedy be the same man accused of raping so many women? What is it about the position of power that some men find themselves in that gives them a sense of immunity?

In the last few days the Lindy Hop world has been reeling with similar allegations against one of our teaching legends: Steven Mitchell.

In the hierarchy of Lindy Hop, Frankie Manning--one of the originators--had two direct descendents: Steven Mitchell and Ryan Francois. Chester and I considered ourselves lucky to have studied with all three of these men for many years. Some of our own students have had the advantage of studying more recently with Steven at Swing Out New Hampshire.

Here's the post that started it all:

Since this post other women have come forward with accounts of their own personal encounters with Steven Mitchell. What they all have in common is the absolute abuse of power: An older (in some cases decades older) "famous" dancer preying on those with less self esteem and taking advantage of his status to force himself on them.

I find the entire situation entirely sad, and entirely believable.  What makes it so sad is that the situation is not rare. Is so believable. Is, in fact, almost imbedded in our society. Just the players are different. When Chester was in High School his band director was fired for having an affair with a student. The list can go on and on: the football players, the actors, the bosses, the wealthy, the teachers, even the relatives. Just about anyone in a position of power or authority can lord it over someone for sexual favors. For far too long it was considered the cost of doing business. It is abhorrent and abusive.

It is not okay. And I am proud of the women who are standing up and saying no. Of the women speaking out and taking back their power.

There are those who blame the dance community, who blame the women, who blame Steven. But I say it is society at large and the environment we have created that allows such things to happen. We will never stop worshiping and idolizing the famous. But we can pull back and say, "I am just as important." And that will make all the difference.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

7 Habits of Creative Freedom for Dancers

At a writers' conference this year, I was given a list of the 7 Habits of Creative Freedom by Dara Lurie (inspired, of course, by Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). Lurie's list was intended for writers, but I find it equally applicable to dancers. So I've elaborated on each of her headings to create 7 Habits of Creative Freedom for Dancers. Applying these seven habits to your dancing will propel you further and faster along your own growth path.

1. Be open to not-knowing.
I'm always surprised when people contact me for a private lesson before taking their first group class. It seems they think they should already know something even to call themselves a beginner. The truth is each of us should always be in a state of not-knowing. It's only from that state that you can learn.Too often students who think they know what they are doing are unable to adapt. This is what creates bad habits. But if you are open to not-knowing you are open to learning.

2. Be willing to suspend judgment.
We are our harshest critic. Make dance class the no-judgment zone. In fact, don't even think, "This is right" or "This is wrong." Instead think: "This is what I've got right now." You'll be surprised at how much faster you can improve if you don't get stuck in judging your ability.

3. Allow yourself to make mistakes (you are a work-in-progress).
I love this! Remember Swing Dancing has been around since the late 1920's and many of the moves originated as mistakes. There are no mistakes, just innovations. Make a "mistake" and we might be teaching it as your cool move in the next class!

4. Forgive yourself for any perceived failures.
Ditto above. If you don't fail you can't succeed.

5. Allow your ideas to percolate.
This is where the dance starts to become really exciting. Start to add your own personality to the dance and incorporate your own ideas.

6. Acknowledge your fear of failure and keep moving.
Nobody is looking at you in class except the teachers. If all of you saw what we see, you'd realize you have nothing to worry about. You're not the only one "not getting it." Fear of "doing it wrong" can be paralyzing. Just go for it.

7. Tell the truth. Hiding it takes too much energy.
This is interesting. I once failed a dance audition quite spectacularly. I was so nervous I couldn't stop shaking, which greatly inhibited my ability to follow what my partner was leading. I was nervous mostly because I wasn't practicing any of the habits I've itemized here. In fact, I was doing the exact opposite--judging myself, afraid to make mistakes, feeling like a failure, and pretending I could learn quicker than I can--what a disaster! It was probably the most painful experience of my life. After the audition, the director said I should "Face the truth about my dancing." And at that moment I realized how wrong he was, that the "truth" about my dancing had nothing to do with what he saw at the audition. The audition had absolutely nothing to do with my dance ability. It had only to do with the crap in my head that was keeping me from displaying the truth about my dancing. So if you don't get something, it's worse to pretend you do. Everyone learns at his or her own pace and in his or her own way. I will always envy dancers who can see something once and replicate it perfectly. I am not that kind of a learner. I'm more of the fine wine variety. I get better with time.

See you on the dance floor!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Moving from the Desk to the Dance Floor

On November 1, 2014 we will be hosting our Ten-Year Anniversary Celebration. Ten years of turning non-dancers into dancers and strangers into friends.

This is the story of how that came to be...

I had everything an employee could want. A virtual office (yes, I was a lucky telecommuter), a staff of employees around the country, global responsibilities, an attractive steady income, and a wall of awards I had received over the years. I had a great boss and was an exemplary employee. An over-achiever. I put together global conferences and spoke before 500 people. I wrote speeches for the CEO. I had total creative license and a large budget. I had autonomy. I had creativity. I had a full and vibrant career and two master's degrees. For many years as I climbed the corporate ladder, this was where I thought I wanted to be.

Until I started dancing. Then a strange thing happened. I no longer wanted to stay late for meetings or work through the weekend. I wanted to get to my dance classes. I wanted to spend my weekends at dance events. I wanted to read about dancing. I wanted to study dance videos. I was enthralled with learning everything I could about swing dance--not only how to do it well, but also about its origins and history.

I became a swing dance nerd.

And I wanted to share everything I was learning and everything I was doing with others. So in 2004, I gave up the part of my life that guaranteed a steady income, awards and corporate perks. My collegues were dumbfounded, but also, I think, awed.

Ten years ago I made a leap that most people find impossible. I was lucky. My husband was as passionate about swing dance as I was...and he was a gifted choreographer and performer by then (he had joined a performance team in NYC while I supported us). I had years of marketing, communications and teaching experience (my somewhat lofty titles had ranged from Vice President of Marketing to Executive Director of Global Communications and Employee Learning). Now I could use those skills to promote a service I truly believed in: us.

I was lucky. I had always been a saver and had a much-needed nest egg to cushion us during our first year in business. By our second year word of mouth had spread. Our students told their friends and more people came to learn to dance.

And ten years later they are still telling their friends. Most of our business is built on word-of-mouth. Happiness is easy to spread.

Our success is based on two simple premises:
1. Share what you love.
2. Love the people with whom you share it.

Do I miss the corporate perks and big salary? Not really. Nothing can compare to the richness and rewards of turning non-dancers into dancers and strangers into friends. What can be better than transformation on a weekly basis?

Join us on Saturday, November 1 as we celebrate with our friends and honor our students who have been with us for five years or more. Here's to 10 years and counting...


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Personal Tips for Partner Dancing

Last night in class I gave what has become my standard speech in every beginner swing dance class about the importance of bringing extra shirts to change into during social dances. Swing dance is a highly engaging activity and the music is addictive. You go to a dance and dance, dance, dance. But after awhile, you might sweat, sweat, sweat.

This is healthy for you. But not the best thing to enhance your partner connection. Here's a typical scene from when I first started dancing:

Guy: (shirt so drenched it's sticking to him, sweat pouring off forehead dripping down onto follower's skirt) Would you like to dance?

Me: Um, ok.

Not to be stereotypical, but guys can get drenched and dripping after just a few dances. But new dancers simply don't realize how wet they might get, so when I started teaching I decided to incorporate social dance awareness into my class instruction. It's made a world of difference.

Here are some tips to make your dancing experience a pleasure for you and your partners:

1. Bring extra shirts and use them. (See above).
2. Bring a small towel or handkerchief to wipe your brow if needed.
3. Use deodorant (this is not always as obvious as it seems. We've had to have "the talk" more than once with students).
4. Have breath fresheners or gum available if needed.
5. Do not douse yourself with perfume. Less or none is better.
6. If you have long hair and wear it in a high ponytail, be aware if you are whipping your leader in the face with every spin (this has happened to Chester) and make adjustments.
7. Avoid spike heels that could injure those around you. (This has happened to me. Her heel sliced my ankle! Those rock steps can be dangerous!)
8. If you have a skirt that twirls up make sure you are wearing shorts underneath.
9. Avoid wearing bangles, big rings, long necklaces and heavy jewelery/earrings. (I was asked to do an unexpected demo and was wearing a long necklace that whipped around my neck like a lasso. Quite distracting!)
10. Drink plenty of water. Water is available at most dances, but a water bottle is a good thing to have at all times. Bring water to class.
11. Dress appropriately. Swing dance classes are always casual as are most of the dances. Cute dresses and skirts are always appropriate. Unless noted for special events, there is no need for a shirt and tie or "formal" attire. Our 2nd Friday Swing Salon is dressier than our 1st Saturday dances. Look at the photos of people who attend. Comfort is always key.
12. Dress to dance. Beware of flying scarves, shawls and clothing that gets in the way of dancing.
13. Wear layers. You may get warmer while dancing and cooler when sitting in air conditioning.
14. Have fun and keep dancing!

Anything you'd like to add??
In my next post, I'll talk about the Swing Dance Culture and Etiquette.

Join me at next social dances, classes and workshops:

Aug 2. 1st Saturday Swing Dance at Mac Fitness in Kingston with Speigeltent Performance Sneak Peek!
Aug 7. 1st Thursday Swing Dance at the Newburgh Brewery with lesson & live music.
Aug 8. 2nd Friday Swing Salon at Uptown Gallery in Kingston with lesson. BYOB & snacks!
Aug 21. 3rd Thursday Hep Cat Lindy Hop Practice in Red Hook

July 26 Saturday Beginner Swing Dance Workshop on Liberty Street in Newburgh 6-7:30pm
July 30. New Blues class series in Highland
Aug 2. Technique Clinic Stops & Drops before our 1st Saturday dance 
Aug 4. Monday night classes begin in Kingston
Aug 5. Tuesday night classes begin in Wallkill


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Why I write this blog.

When I first began learning to dance I found the most difficult thing was not learning the steps. The most difficult thing was getting past my own belief that I was never going to be a good dancer.  After all, I was already an adult (Belief #1: "You can't teach an old dog new tricks") and had never had a dance lesson in my life. On top of that, I had never played a musical instrument and couldn't even carry a tune. I was one of those people who only pretended to sing in chorus. And forget about clapping to the beat. I would wait till everyone else was clapping and then simply join in. (Belief #2: "You gotta have rhythm and I don't.")

Meanwhile my husband, Chester, had been a drum major in marching band in High School and had gone on to a music program in college. He had what I envied as natural rhythm.

So there I was in 1999, an adult with no rhythm and two left feet. Who else is out there with those same issues?

For some reason I thought dance lessons would be fun. So I signed us up. It was totally my idea. Something to do besides watch TV.

Turned out Chester's natural rhythm came in handy, but so did his innate sense of style and his ability to learn moves with lightning fast accuracy. He loved it. Soon he was the leader all the followers wanted to dance with. The trouble was that none of the leaders wanted to dance with me. Enter Belief #3 "I'm not good enough."

Then we went away to dance camp and Chester was put in a level above me (actually we were supposed to both be in that level but I had never actually been taught to follow, didn't know what any of the leaders were doing, couldn't grasp the new moves fast enough and got demoted...awwww.) Talk about an inferiority complex! (Belief #4: "I totally suck.")

So Chester kept getting better and I kept feeling worse. But he loved it. He excelled at it. So I was determined to become a better dancer. I made goals, I practiced, I went to class. Trouble was everywhere I went I carried around with me the belief that I would never really get any better. So even though I progressed, I was still convinced deep down that no one wanted to dance with me and that I totally sucked as a follower. In fact, when anyone tried to teach me anything, say in a private lesson, my mind was so busy telling me I couldn't get it that I couldn't even take in what the teacher was saying. I had no room in my clogged mind and made everything way more complicated than it really was.

Anyone out there have those issues?

It was only after a while that I realized that the biggest challenge I had in learning to dance was NOT my dance ability, or my learning ability, but getting past my belief that I would never be a good dancer. Since I'd already decided that subconsciously, I could never relax, never just enjoy myself. (Belief #5: "Dancing is hard and complicated.")

It was only after I realized that I was my own greatest critic that I began to realize I wasn't always the only one in class who was struggling. Sure, there were those who got things as quickly as Chester, but there were also those who got things even slower than me!

Then some guy told me he was afraid to dance with me because he was intimidated by the fact that Chester was my regular partner. So it turned out I wasn't getting asked to dance because the leaders felt inferior, not because they thought I was inferior! (Holy cow.)

I began to realize that my frame of mind was as important as my dance frame.

As a dance teacher, I see hundreds of students go through the same internal struggle that I did.  I see how it paralyzes them. So I created this blog to let them --and everyone--know that I know how it is. I've been there myself. It's not something to hide. It's something to uncover. So we can dance.

This past month, Chester and I had the privilege of teaching a Zen of Swing Dance workshop at Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck, NY. We spent the whole weekend working with students not only on dance moves, but on issues like these that get in the way of our ability to take in new information. It was an incredible weekend. And we got to see a group transform from people who believed they couldn't dance to people who believed they could. And were having a ball doing it.

I ran into two of them at Lincoln Center last week where Chester was performing with the Big Apple Lindy Hoppers for opening night of Midsummer Night Swing. These two people hadn't known each other before our weekend, and the woman said she'd wanted to go to Midsummer Night Swing for years but had always felt too intimidated. "Your workshop gave me the courage to come tonight," she said. "And it also gave me someone to come with. I am loving it!"

That is my goal for everyone and why I am so passionate about the Zen of Dance blog. Be in the moment, not mired in the mind. Follow this blog. And get into the Zen of Dance!

Four-week blues series in Highland on Wednesday nights starts July 2 
Four-week swing series in Kingston Monday nights starts July 7 (three levels available)
Four-week beginner swing in Wallkill Tuesday Nights starts July 8
Four-week blues series in Highland on Wednesday nights starts July 2
Summer class info:

Saturday workshop Nimble Feet in Kingston July 5 before our dance at Mac Fitness
Saturday workshop Beginner Swing in Newburgh 6-7:30pm July 26

Thursday, July 3, Swingin' Newburgh at the Brewery
Saturday, July 5, 1st Saturday Swing Infusion at the Mac in Kingston
Friday, July 11, 2nd Friday Swing Salon at Uptown Gallery in Kingston


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The BEST PARTY EVER!! Frankie100 in NYC May 22-26

For someone like me who lives in fear of missing out on any great happening (which is why I nudge my students to attend events--it's all about my not wanting anyone to miss out on anything), I am SO GLAD I spent the weekend at the Frankie100 event in NYC. It was hands down the best party ever! Since many of you were not able to attend, I'm going to give you a backstage pass... Follow along with us...

Thursday, May 22.
This was opening day of the five-day extravaganza. As volunteers, Chester and I went our separate ways for most of the weekend. He taught a couple of workshops at Alvin Ailey on Thursday while I helped check people in. After a full afternoon at our respective duties, we met two of our dance students Susan Simon and Beth Jones for dinner uptown in preparation for our NIGHT AT THE APOLLO.

Chester & Linda Waiting For the Show to Start!

The Classics Club! Dancers who started teaching in the '80s.

 Here's a link to Apollo Show Excerpts on YouTube.


Friday, May 23
A full day for both of us. Chester performed with the Big Apple Lindy Hoppers in Central Park. Here's a link to the performance taken with someone's phone.

I ushered all day at panel discussions and film festivals. Those who know me know that I am a total dance nerd when it comes to dance history and information. I can't get enough, so I was thrilled to be up close and personal with dance greats and history all weekend.

From left, panel moderator Manu Smith, Chazz Young (Frankie's son), Norma Miller (last surviving member of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers) and Dawn Hampton (Caberet singer & dancer)

Close up of Chazz Young. Frankie & Chazz performed on the road together for the last 30 years.

After all the educational panels, it was a pleasure to head over to the dancing! Friday night kicked off four nights of dancing with amazing bands.The venue, Terminal 5 had three floors of dancing! 

Over 2000 Dancers from 47 Countries.

Saturday, May 24
Front page of the NY Times notes Frankie100! Read it & see the photos!
Another day of panels for me, and two performances for Chester and the Big Apple Lindy Hoppers. One at a Youth Program at Lincoln Center and another at the evening dance put out by the Frankie Trifecta. (Yes, we weren't even at the same dance that night!).

Of course we all did the Shim Sham, and they opened up the floor to everyone who knew the Lindy Chorus! I joined the fun with a partner from Germany. Here's a link to the official video of our Lindy Hop class doing Frankie's Lindy Chorus that was posted for Frankie100.

Bands were George Gee and the David Berger Band till 4am (I made it till 3!)

Sunday, May 25
Countdown to Frankie's Birthday! At midnight hundreds of balloons were released over the dancers, and we all were served Frankie's favorite: Sweet potato pie (even vegan and gluten free versions were available! The organizers thought of everything!). Band was Gordon Webster. (I made it almost to 4am!)

Monday, May 26
Happy Birthday Frankie! We gathered at the Savoy Plaque where the Savoy Ballroom once stood. There was an official proclamation of May 26 being World Lindy Hop Day read by NY dignitaries. We then paraded through the streets of Harlem, passing all the important sites, and waving at people hanging out their windows to see what all the music and dancing was about. It was AWESOME to be part of this parade and the best was when a woman came out of a building, tossed her cane aside and started lindy hopping with a random dancer from the parade. The parade culminated with the Harlem Renaissance Orchestra playing at a school yard on Malcom X Blvd and W 135th Street.

See you Dancing!

Thursday, June 5, Swingin' Newburgh at the Brewery
Saturday, June 7, 1st Saturday Swing Infusion at the Mac in Kingston
Friday, June 13, 2nd Friday Swing Salon at Uptown Gallery in Kingston

Register Today!

Plus June Classes & Workshops




Thursday, May 1, 2014

Remembering Frankie 1914-2009

Linda & Frankie, 2006
As thousands of swing dancers around the world get ready to commemorate the legendary swing dancer Frankie Manning in this the month that marks his centennial year celebration, I turn inward to my personal reflections on the man and what he brought to me and to so many people.

We were lucky. Frankie was here to hold our hands and count us in when we were learning how to swing dance. It is his voice I hear in my head when I dance, like so many of our students say they hear Chester's.

I feel it is part of our job as dance teachers to not only teach the dance, but the legacy behind it. Frankie Manning is that legacy.

For those of you who have not read his book, the Ambassador of Lindy Hop, which I had the great fortune of editing in manuscript form, or who have not seen the documentary, Frankie Manning: Never Stop Swinging (airing on PBS on May 16 at 10:30pm), or were not swing dancing yet when he was still teaching up until almost his 95th birthday, here is a synopsis of Frankie:

Frankie was eight years old in 1922, the heart of the jazz age. His mother loved to dance but she couldn't afford a baby sitter so she took her young son around to her "social events", which mostly included rent parties (dance parties held in someone's apartment in which a 25cent admission would be charged and bathtub gin was 10cents a mug to help pay the rent) and dance halls. Soon Frankie had one aspiration: to be a dancer. But the first time he tried to show off to his mother, she admonished, "You'll never be a dancer, you're too stiff."

Boy, did he prove her wrong. He became one of the leading dancers of Harlem's Savoy Ballroom, selected by the ballroom's bouncer-turned-businessman Herbert "Whitey" White to be a part of the cats corner (an invitation-only area of the ballroom) and eventually to be part of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, the award-winning performance troupe. Segments of the troupe performed at various venues around the world, including the Cotton Club and in films, including famous dance sequences in the movies Hellzapoppin and in the Marx Brothers' Day at the Races (join us for a special screening of  Day at the Races on May 11 at 2pm at the Rosendale Theatre).

He created the first air step, tossing his partner in the air and landing in time with the music. He won awards. He choreographed. He toured. He performed professionally into the 1950s, when with a family to support he retired from professional dancing and got a job at the post office, where he worked for the next 30 years.

We should all have multiple chapters to our lives. The 1980's brought Frankie's.

A strange thing started occurring all over the world. After decades of independent body flailing that people called dancing, late night movies started sparking an interest in what looked like a really cool way to dance with a partner. People began rediscovering this old dance called Lindy Hop. And they wanted to know how to do it. So they reached out and found some of those dancers and brought them back to the dance floor.

When dancer Erin Stevens found Frankie's name in the phone book and called him, the famous phone call went like this:

Erin: Is this Frankie Manning the dancer?
Frankie: No, this is Frankie Manning the postal worker.

It took a lot of convincing to get him to teach her and her then-partner Stephen Mitchell. Some of you may know the sweatshirt our student Chris Cullen had specially made for me that says. "The Only Count I Know is Count Basie." That was is a famous quote of Frankie's when he was asked to teach. He was a performer, not a teacher. And he hadn't done that in thirty years.

But ultimately he did teach and in doing so, he changed our history, leading a tidal wave of dance enthusiasm around the globe. So huge that no matter where you go in the world, you can find swing dancers.

He changed our lives and the lives of so many people as more and more became swing dancers and some of those he taught became teachers. Global change. One man. Not bad. How did he do it? With wisdom and grace.

He was a performer with a personality that lit up a room. He had astounding energy. He was 92 when we brought him to teach and share stories in the Hudson Valley, but you would never have guessed his age.

He was also modest. It was never about him. It was about the dance. He did what he loved and he loved what he did, and everyone loved him, and he loved everyone and it showed.

Here's one of the best film compilations I've seen about Frankie made for his 95th birthday celebration in NYC, which was held shortly after his passing.

Working on his manuscript was a terrific honor for me, and I am forever grateful for the privilege to play a small part in bringing Frankie's book to light. Cynthia Millman, his co-author, had been working diligently on the book for years. I was eager to read it, eager to find out how such a famous man could have gone underground for thirty years, how people all over the world suddenly wanted to know how to swing dance, how it all happened. By lending my editorial skills, I was able to read it all in manuscript and help shape Frankie's huge number of terrific stories and Cynthia's incredible research.

Frankie's voice lives on in the pages of his book, in the many films (like the one I've included here), documentaries and video clips that people shot of Frankie both personally and professionally over the years. Frankie lives on in every dance move we do, and every dance move we teach. And most of all, Frankie lives on as a voice in our heads, a picture in our minds, with love in our hearts, and as we spread our passion for lindy hop every time we hit the dance floor.

And he lives on in you and in each and every one of the students we teach to swing dance.

1. May 2. Frankie Tribute Dance in Albany by Chester's Cool Cats & Kittens
2. May 3. All About Frankie Workshop in Kingston, NY 6-7:30pm
3. May 3. Frankie Tribute Dance at 2nd Saturday Swing Dance Infusion 7:30-10:30 performance at 9pm
4. May 5-June 2. Frankie-inspired swing outs in Lindy Hop class series Monday nights 8-9pm in Kingston
5. May 11. Frankie Tribute Day. Screening of Marx Brothers A Day at the Races, Video Tribute & Q&A with Judy Pritchett at the Rosendale Theatre, followed by a Swing Dance Party at the Belltower.


Weekend of May 22-26. Frankie 100 Centennial Bash in NYC.
May 23-25. Frankietrifecta in NYC.

BUY THE BOOK! The Ambassador of Lindy Hop
SEE THE DOCUMENTARY! May 16, 10:30pm: Frankie Manning: Never Stop Swinging channel 13, PBS
Chester Freeman, Cynthia Millman, Linda Freeman, Frankie Manning