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Monday, May 31, 2010

The Power of Community

It is the eve of the end of what I've come to think of as the month of the vote. Every day in May, our dance community--and frankly anyone who came into our range--were encouraged to vote for Hudson Valley Community Dance's Pepsi Grant Proposal to bring professional swing dance instruction to two Poughkeepsie High Schools.

Ed Berkel and the grant organizers worked very hard, collecting proxy votes and driving the message home. To vote was to make a difference in the community...and in the lives of neighborhood teens.

It's the eve of the end of the vote. By tomorrow it will all be over and we will have won the grant or we will have lost it. But either way, I want to take the time now to acknowledge those who worked so hard to organize the grant, to collect and enter proxy votes and to amass a large enough amount of support that for most of the 31 days we managed to stay in the top 10, most of those days hovering in the 5-6 range. That is no small feat.

In the last few days, everyone who has been involved knows that we've been teetering on the edge of 9 & 10.

If it is still May when you are reading this, and you did not vote today, please pause and do so now. Every vote still counts until midnight. If it is June already then visit the pepsi site to see the outcome of the vote. If you voted along with us, we thank you.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Swing Dance: Creating Community in the Schools

When Chester and I began teaching swing dance full time in 2004, it was mostly my idea. Burnt out from corporate life, I wanted to do something that brought us joy. Little did I realize how much joy it would bring to others.

Now our passion has grown to become the passion of so many others throughout the Hudson Valley. As word of mouth spreads our classes continue to swell with smiles.

Since 2006, we've been bringing those smiles to the faces of children as well as adults through our Teaching in the Schools program. Our 2010 program at the Violet Avenue Elementary School was profiled in the Poughkeepsie Journal on April 27, along with over 30 photographs of the kids in action posted on the Poughkeepsie Journal website Gallery of Photos.

We love being part of the transformation that happens when people of all ages learn to dance together.

And now, the Hudson Valley Community Dance has taken our mission of spreading the joy of swing dancing and made it part of a Pepsi grant proposal.

Join us in voting every day in the month of May to bring professional swing dance instruction to two high schools in Poughkeepsie, NY.

Truly every vote counts in this endeavor as only 10 proposals will win the May grant and winning is by popular vote. The top ten with the most votes win the grants.

The voting starts May 1 and ends May 31. That's 31 days to make a difference.

Vote for Swing Every Day in the Month of May. Visit the Hudson Valley Community Dance website for more information.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

To Register or Not To Register: That is the Question

How many times in your life have you intended to do something and it just never happened? I'm one of those people who wants to do everything--I have a dreaded fear of missing out! When I was in college I could never be the first one to leave any party, even if the "party" was just hanging out in the hallway, because I was always sure the minute I left something incredible would happen.

And so it goes with dance. Workshops, classes, dances, there's so much happening near and far and I wish I could do it all!! But we can't. These days the decision making is a lot easier since it invariably boils down to one question: are we available? And since Chester and I are normally booked months in advance, available time is usually at a premium.

Every time I find out about an event, class or workshop I really want to attend, I mark the dates in my calendar and hope that nothing bumps it out of the way. Since we make our living teaching dance, the most common bumper for us is a paying gig. You would think we could schedule our classes around things we want to do, but it isn't that easy when we teach consecutive weeks. It took us years to find the available time to go to the Balboa Rendezvous in California, even though it was on my most-want-to-do list forever. (This year it falls on our Second Saturday Swing Dance date -- April 10!).

So step number one is to find the date available on my calendar.

Step number 2 is to register.

If I have the room on my calendar and I know I want to do something, I register for it. This makes the commitment real for me so that I know anything else that comes up will have to work around that commitment.

It also helps the organizer.

Registrations are crucial to helping to make a successful event. They tell you who to expect so that you can create a class or workshop suited to those people. For us, when we know who are taking our classes, we can take into consideration their skill level when developing the curriculum and draw students from other classes if we have a leader/follower imbalance.

And sometimes it means the difference between a class being held or cancelled. When outside agencies sponsor us to teach, they need to know that they will get sufficient enrollment through their registration process. The Ballroom series we teach at SUNY Ulster is always packed, but one year they wanted to cancel because they only had six students the week before the first class. I convinced them to hold the class open and sure enough six more registered the day of the first class.

When I was involved with Landmark Education we used to say that there was no such thing as trying. You either commit to something or you don't. And once you commit to something, the world will open up to assist you.

So when you see a class, event, or workshop you want to take--register for it. You'll be amazed how that commitment will enhance the experience.

Classes begin week of April 5
SUNY Ulster Ballroom Series begins April 9
Technique clinic Intermediate Concepts April 10
Balboa April 11 and 25
Laura Jeffers & the Big Apple Lindy Hoppers Workshop Weekend April 17 & 18

Saturday, February 27, 2010

How I Raised $6000 for Haiti in Two Weeks (10 Lessons you can apply to your dancing)

Oh no! It's already almost March and I haven't blogged since the end of last year. But I do have a darn good excuse...

Chester and I spent the last part of 2009 visiting his family in Louisiana. On the drive down we were waylaid by a major snowstorm in Virginia and spent two days holed up at a Days Inn. And we were so lucky! Many others caught on the highway only had their car roof over their heads.

We returned early in the new year to the rush of new classes and dances and then on January 12, 2010 the earthquake hit Haiti. On February 5, I held a major Swing Dance Fundraiser and raised over $6000.

In this blog I outline how I created such a successful event in such a short amount of time, and the 10 lessons from it that we can use as dancers.

Lesson #1. Commit to It.
On January 20th I received an email from a swing dancer in California, Rusty Frank sharing her idea to create HOP FOR HAITI a multi-city effort by swing dancers to raise money for Haiti.

I loved the idea. Why not do what I do best...and do it for Haiti? I looked at my calendar and found I had one free Friday coming up in two weeks and immediately committed to organizing a major swing dance fundraiser here in the Hudson Valley with all proceeds going to Doctors without Borders.

As I've written about so often in my Zen of Dance, once you fully commit to something, the world opens its doors to you. Have you truly committed to your dancing? Increasing your skills, going beyond your self-imposed limitations?

Lesson #2. Envision it.
First I called the church where we usually have our 2nd Saturday night dances, a beautiful church hall with a terrific 2000 square foot wood floor. It was a shoe-in that they would donate the space--after all they were a church, and of course they said yes. But as I got off the phone I didn't feel joyous. I wanted this event to be out-of-the-ordinary and so I asked myself where in all the Hudson Valley I would want to hold this event if I could hold it anywhere....

I closed my eyes and envisioned having an extraordinary location and band and within two hours I had secured them both: the beautiful LOCUST GROVE Samuel Morse Historic Site in Poughkeepsie and the wonderful SAINTS OF SWING band to play.

When was the last time you closed your eyes and envisioned yourself dancing in the best possible way? Have you ever? How about now?

Lesson #3. Get Help.
Then I remembered I should mention my intention to Chester. After all, I was also committing him by implication. Luckily he also thought it was a wonderful idea. I was on a roll.

Now I had a venue, a band and we'd be teaching the lesson. But I envisioned more. I wanted a silent auction, a bake sale, a 50/50 raffle, performances.

I called a local dancer who had run a Dance For Peace fundraiser in the summer and asked for advice (thank you, Sherrill). Her major suggestion was that I get help. I formed a small committee (you can move faster with a small committee) of silent auction coordinators (thank you, Lauranne and Beth) and a bake sale coordinator (thank you, Susan) and sent out an announcement and asked for volunteers. In the next two weeks we had nearly 60 goods and services donated for the silent auction (thank you Hudson Valley businesses).

The dance world is full of help to make your dancing better. Classes, workshops, dance camps, social dances and lots and lots of other dancers. All out there. Waiting for you. Check out our full schedule on

Lesson #4. Let People Know.
You can't create in a vacuum. Rusty Frank kept me updated on what she was doing and supplied art work. I wrote a press release and called the reporters I knew. We got covered in the Poughkeepsie Journal and Southern Dutchess News. Chester and I talked it up on our radio show The Swing Shift on WHVW 950AM (1st and 3rd Mondays 10-11am). I sent announcements out to all 1000 people on my email list. Our students posted flyers and told others.

Have you let other people in your life know that you dance...or do you keep it hidden? Let everyone know. You might even find a new dance partner that way!

Lesson #5. Get out of your Comfort Zone.
A night of entertainment has got to include great performances! Chester and our long-time student, Dorrie, would perform JEEP JOCKEY JUMP, which had won Dorrie second place in the pro-am divsion of the American Lindy Hop Championships. Thank you, Chester and Dorrie.

We wanted to have the BIG APPLE LINDY HOPPERS perform but enough of them weren't available on such short notice. (They'll be here on April 17 & 18 though!!)

I had received a few queries from local west coast swing dancers asking if there would be WCS music played at this event. At first I was surprised that they would put the music before the cause, but then I realized I would wonder the same thing if the dance shoe was on the other foot--so to speak. If a WCS Dance was putting on a benefit I might donate, but did I want to dance?

This, I realized, was a time to bridge the divide. A cross-over dancer (who dances both east and west coast) volunteered to DJ the break (thank you, Jun), and two noted WCS dancers/instructors, Lee and Denis agreed to perform. Thank you, Denis and Lee!

Then I really reached out. Dawn Hampton is probably the most famous performer in the lindy hop world. She is an icon. She also happens to adore Chester. She once said there were only three people she loved to dance with--and he is one of them. So it wasn't a stretch for me to ask her if she would come and perform, even if the Hudson Valley is a good two hours from where she lives. And come she did. This 81-year-old firecracker popped everyones eyes out with her Bonghra performance. Thank you, Dawn!

What are you resisting doing? Taking a performance class? Trying Balboa? Breaking out of 6-count into 8-count lindy? Learning the Shim Sham or other line dances like the Jitterbug Stroll? Asking a certain person to dance? Taking a class at the next level? What are you sure you can't do?

Lesson #6. Learn from Mistakes. And Turn them into Something Even Better.
I had worked hard on the press releases and made sure that the newspapers received them on time to print them, so I was surprised when the week of the event came to see that my own local newspapers hadn't picked up the story. So I contacted the paper directly to see why. Turns out the release hadn't made it out of the calendar reporter's folder. So I took the next step. Since it was too late to promote the event in the paper (it was the day of the event) I asked if he would send a reporter to cover it instead. As a result we had a full-page extremely well-written and researched article with photos about the event in the Southern Ulster Times. Thank you, Carl and Mark.

Some of the best social dance moves were created because someone made a mistake and it became a new cool move. Don't be afraid to try out the moves you learn in class or see on the dance floor. Take risks and play. As Chester always says, "If you don't fall down and you don't hurt your partner, you meant to do that."

Lesson #7. Lead AND Follow. Just Not at the Same Time.
Once I had help I still needed to take the lead. After all, it was my vision. However, I wisely knew when I had to follow as well. I turned to others who had more experience than me in putting together and running silent auctions and bake sales and followed their lead. This created a perfect partnership of skills and experience to make the event go smoothly.

When you dance are you allowing your leader to lead or your follower to follow? Leaders must develop the decision-making skills to plan and clearly guide your follower through moves. Followers must have the confidence to not anticipate, help or take control. And both must have the frame and connection necessary to execute the moves. Mark your calendar for our next Intermediate Concepts Technique Clinic before our dance on April 10 and for our Frame & Connection Technique Clinic before our dance on June 12.

Lesson #8. Set a Goal. And Make it Outrageous.
One of my committee members asked me what my financial goal was. I told her I wanted to surpass what Rusty had accomplished in California, which at the time was $6000. She looked at me and smiled and said, "Great. Now what's a realistic goal? How about $3000?"

I nodded. Now I had a realistic goal and an outrageous one and I set out to manifest the outrageous one.

And we did. We raised $6020.84. All of it for Doctors without Borders for their work in Haiti.

What is your unrealistic dancing goal? And when will you achieve it by?

Lesson #9. Follow up.
You can't just show up and be done with it. You need to follow up. We worked as hard after the event was over as we did prior to the event. We had to tally up and let everyone know the results and send tax statements to all our donors.

Do you just show up for class and hope to be able to dance better or do you follow up and practice at home or at social dances? In the Hudson Valley you can lindy socially at least once a week, sometimes more without leaving town! From our second Saturday Swing Dance Socials to Hudson Valley Community Dance 1st Sunday and 4th Friday dances to the weekly dance at Po'Town Swing. And if you venture to NYC, Albany, Westchester or Connecticut, you can dance even more!

Lesson #10. Thank the People Who Made a Difference.
I could not have done this event without the help of all the people I have mentioned in this blog and all the additional volunteers who brought in silent auction items and services, hawked raffle tickets (thank you, Lois and Karen), sat at the front desk (thank you, Deb), came early or stayed late to carry tables and chairs (thanks Steve, Patrick, Ron), missed out on dancing to help during the evening (thanks Stacie, Amie and Mindy). And so many more who pitched in and pulled out their wallets. Your generosity is really how I raised over $6000 for Haiti. We did it together.

Who has made a difference in your dancing? Have you thanked them?